In college, I had a steady stream of lovers come and go through the revolving door of my dorm room. The lack of attachment allowed me to enjoy a smorgasbord of sexual experiences, and I flung myself into each encounter wholeheartedly.
But after the sheets had dried, I realized that these trysts were not enough. Although I’d had a lot of good, unclean fun, I had not had a single experience I could call intimate.
I made a conscious decision to try dating one man at a time. Far from boring, I found commitment appealingly warm, fuzzy and safe-that is, until one serious relationship ended badly.
I was still reeling from the aftermath a year later, when I met Scott. I told him I wanted to take things slowly, so we spent our first months becoming friends.
Scott seemed happy with the snaillike pace of our relationship, and his gentle, non-pressuring manner made me feel very comfortable with him. Maybe too comfortable-by the time we became lovers, I’d started secretly having visions of domesticity.
Because I am female and see things in Chick Vision, I thought our relationship would progress with a forward momentum, ultimately leading to a monogamous commitment. But the first time I mentioned this to Scott, I realized he saw our relationship through testosterone-colored lenses.
“I want the option of dating other people,” he informed me.
I was crushed. Doubts about my attractiveness and my worthiness as a life mate crowded into my mind. Wasn’t I good enough?
Hurt, I retaliated. “Okay,” I said. “I have phone calls to make. By the time you leave my apartment, I’ll have five dates.”
He quickly agreed to monogamy.
Two months later, a petty argument at a friend’s party snowballed into an explosive fight. In the heat of the moment, I threw our commitment back at Scott. I demanded to know how soon we could begin dating other people. What were the terms and conditions of our non-monogamy, the “rules of engagement”? I regretted my words the moment I spoke them. Spitting my foot out of my mouth, I asked for monogamy again.
But Scott was less eager to drop the can of worms I had opened. I voiced my paranoia loudly; I was afraid he would find somebody he cared about more than me. He assured me that would never happen. Eventually, though, my continued insecurity wore Scott down.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” he sighed reluctantly. Any feeling of security I might have gained dissipated when I heard his defeated tone. I saw that I had won the battle but lost the war.
Later, while packing for a vacation I had planned several months earlier, Scott offered to relieve me of the shackles of commitment for the duration of my trip. “Have fun,” he said. “Enjoy yourself” Once again, it struck me that, to him, a closed relationship was not warm and comfortable, but tedious and confining.
I stepped back and took a look at our relationship. We had the intimacy that I had lacked in my early dating experiences; nothing could change that. But Scott’s desire to have an open relationship seemed a frustrating step away from the attachment I sought.
Still, I realized the only meaningful commitment would be one he offered freely. That couldn’t happen unless I stopped pressuring him. I told Scott-this time honestly, without resentment-that I thought we should date other people. He agreed, and I sought the amatory comfort of a male acquaintance on my weeklong vacation.
Scott’s reaction astonished me.
“You’re one of the highest priorities in my life,” he declared. “I want to dedicate myself to making you happy. I love you. I want to be monogamous.” He was actually saying the words I had waited to hear for almost two years. My first thought was: Who is this man, and what has he done with Scott?
But after I recovered from the initial shock, I realized I was deeply angry.
His sudden willingness to commit did not make me feel triumphant or happy. It took me some time to pinpoint the source of my fury: His offer of exclusivity was born of paranoia, not love. He didn’t want me so much as he wanted to keep me from other men.
When pressed, he argued that he’d always wanted a commitment. “I just never got around to telling you,” he insisted. But I could not believe him, nor could I trust him. So, despite Scott’s having ostensibly given me what I wanted, I ended our relationship.
Looking back, 1 see now that Scott and I spent a lot of time reacting to each other’s insecurities. It was not only unhealthy, it was also exhausting, and it made me feel as if we could never be on the same side. Perhaps things would’ve been different if I hadn’t tried to change him. If we’d agreed-really agreed-to non-monogamy in the beginning, we might’ve had fun, and it’s possible Scott would have gradually wanted the relationship to become more serious. Or maybe I just would have found out a lot sooner that he could dish it out, but he couldn’t take it.
I still love Scott a great deal, but some relationships are not to be.