The number-one tenet of my own non-monoggo relationship is: Don’t tell me anything unless I ask—but be honest if I do. Like, let’s say I’m on my luxury yacht, the Amy Rows-Your-Boat-Ashore, with my two biggest celebrity crushes, Martha Stewart and Kendrick Lamar, and after a few glasses of rosé, things get frisky, and we have a three-way makeout (this is just a hypothetical and not a true story, so DROP THOSE PENS, Us Weekly!). The next day, I’m hanging out with Ben, and he asks, “So, did you get with anyone last night?” Not even maritime law exempts me from telling him the truth about this stuff, so I say yes. He is either satisfied with that answer and moves on or is feeling a little jealous and would rather know the reality of what happened than let his mind start spinning out paranoid fantasies. If he asks for more information, I answer him factually, but only to the extent to which I feel comfortable. I draw the line at describing nuanced details of physical encounters or identifying characteristics of the person (or celebrity businesswoman-rapper duo) I was fooling around with, for the sake of both our brains. While some people are cool with spilling everything about whose hands were on which deck, we know we’re not OK with hearing all the salty details, and we respect each other’s limitations.
That last thing doesn’t come up much, though: Ben and I don’t really ask each other, “Well, WHO WAS IT, huh?” It’s largely irrelevant, because our number-two rule is: Don’t get with anyone that I know or am likely to meet at some point. We don’t want to run the risk of bumping into each other’s sides of fries for reasons that have as much to do with manners as they do with wanting to avoid stoking jealousy—for the most part, I’m not trying to make polite small talk with someone my person has recently gotten with. This isn’t because I wish that person ill; it’s more that it’s just awkward for everyone, especially for the fries-piece to my romantic cheeseburger of a self, because they’ll be wondering if I know, and oh my god this is so uncomfortable ugghhhh.
Our final rule is that we involve ourselves with other people only when we’re not physically available to each other. If I felt like Ben was prioritizing spending time with someone else instead of me, I would be devastated and probably key his car, and he’s told me he would feel the same way if the sheets were swapped (and if I had a driver’s license, which I don’t). Luckily, when we’re together, we feel a nuclear-grade infatuation toward each other that makes that potential difficulty and automotive disfigurement a non-issue.
3. Accept jealousy as an intractable factable of life.
From time to time an acquaintance will see me macking on someone other than my boyfriend or overhear me waxing feverish about some new person, and look confused. When I explain my romantical arrangement, they almost always gasp, “I can’t believe you don’t get jealous!” But it’s like, YO, OF COURSE I DO, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I am one of the most jealous broads on the planet, if I let myself be!
In some of the “monogamous” relationships of my teenage past, I would get paranoid every time one of my boyfriends went out without me. Since I was a cheater, I suspected everyone else was too. Even though I knew on an intellectual level that I was being waaaaay too sensitive, I still did things like sulk if we were watching TV and a deodorant commercial came on and I thought the girl in it was prettier than me, which, of course, was a totally valid and logical reason to give my mystified boyfriends the silent treatment for the rest of whatever South Park episode we were probably watching at the time. I also remember, on one occasion, ripping up a drawing that a mutual female friend had done for a guy I dated in high school and blaming it on “a dog” like an uncreative homework-hating second grader, despite the fact that it was in his car and neither of us had pets. (I think the fictional canine was owned by an equally fictional neighbor who came over to talk while I was sitting in the passenger seat with the door open?) You would think that a seasoned two-timer like me would have come up with a better lie! Of course, no one believed me, and it was real embarrassing. My darlings, I was truly on one, and it severely damaged my self-esteem. As you might guess, my boyfriends were not too into my paranoid policing of their every movement.
Thankfully, I outgrew this jealous-fugue period in my mid-teens, when I realized the extent to which it made everyone miserable. Every now and then, though, I still feel a diluted version of the self-doubt that incited it. As you probably know firsthand, a large part of being a person, especially a young female one, is trying to squelch the feeling that you’re not attractive enough, or smart enough, or otherwise worthy enough of love. Even on my best days, these doubts skulk through my head and refuse to stop poking and prodding at the things I dislike most about myself, and so I project them onto other people—usually the ones I’m in relationships with, because when I’m in love with a person, I consider them the next-closest thing to myself in some ways, and therefore the most obvious recipients of these very self-based hatreds. When I’m feeling shitty about my writing, or I suspect I cut my hair too short (ugh, it’s more than just a suspicion, I know I totally did), those insecurities feed my fear that NO ONE COULD EVER LOVE ME and OF COURSE MY PERSON SECRETLY WANTS A MUCH MORE INTELLIGENT AND/OR LONGER-HAIRED GIRLFRIEND.
But here’s the really great thing about non-monogamy: Having realized that my issues have far more to do with my own brain than with what my partner chooses to do with his D, it’s actually the hugest relief to me that, on the surface, the reality of my relationship with Ben (he and I sleep with other people) is the exact worst-case scenario I would have imagined in my previous history of loving people. The difference is that back then, these dalliances would be hidden, and if I found out about them they would break my heart (and then I would break everything he’s ever found comfort or enjoyment in) (maybe); whereas now, I’m secure in the knowledge that none of that affects how massively in love we are with each other. Instead of feeling cataclysmic, sex is just fun, and if I ever feel jealous, we just talk about it. I don’t let it melt my brain into a rage-magma that overwhelms all my rationality, empathy, and happiness. Basically, not being pressured to stay sexually faithful to the person I’m committed to has driven home the point that boning ≠ love, even though they obviously involve each other quite deeply in most relationships (including mine). This, in turn, has helped me mentally redistribute my self-worth so that I don’t freak out quite as much about increasing the amount of my hair/advanced degrees in comparative literature.
4. If you’re having sex with more than one person, BE SAFE.
I mean, be safe no matter what kind of sex you’re having with anybody, as I know you are smart enough to always do, but if you have multiple partners, USE CONDOMS AND/OR OTHER BARRIER METHODS OF PROTECTION AND COMMON SENSE 357% of the time, with everybody, including your #1 paramour. I cannot stress this enough. Putting your partner’s sexual health at risk is not only inconsiderate, it can be harmful to them in the long run. So please make a custom of being extra-safe.