Open Relationships and Friendship

August 25th, 2013 by Steve Pavlina

One thing that surprised me about getting into open relationships for the past several years is that my relationships with my male friends improved markedly as well. When I was in an exclusive mono relationship for 15 years, I got into the habit of limiting how I shared intimacy. Physical and emotional intimacy were restricted to my marriage, so everyone else was “just a friend.”

Most of the time, I saw nothing wrong with this. It was just the way things were. Of course I’d expect to be closest with my primary partner. It seemed unreasonable to share that level of closeness with anyone else. That’s what made the primary relationship special.

But when that relationship ended (in 2009), and I decided to explore a more open and less constrained path in my relationship life, I had a chance to really delve into the gray area between friend and lover. Since I’m a straight guy, I only did this with women. This led to many beautiful experiences as I let go of past limitations and allowed myself to explore each new connection on its own merits. It felt tremendously freeing not to place predetermined limits on where a connection should go because of arbitrary social rules… and instead to allow each connection to flow and develop in ways that felt good to all involved. I got very good at being unattached to outcomes.

An unexpected side effect of this expansion, openness, and flow in my connections with women was that the general attitude became infectious and spread to my relationships with my guy friends too. Those connections became generally stronger, more supportive, more heart-centered, more inviting, and a lot more fun. I attracted more male friends with whom I felt a stronger spiritual resonance as well, guys I could relate to very easily and feel a real sense of kinship with. I’m not sure if English really has a good word to describe that kind of connection, but even if it’s not well articulated, it’s easy to perceive.

I understand that for many people, open relationships may sound scary, threatening, immoral, contrary to one’s beliefs, or nothing more than wanton sex with strangers. I’ve probably felt all of those things at some point as well, so I can understand where those people are coming from.┬áBut having explored this path for years now, I very much feel that the grass is indeed greener on this side.

It is not my goal to convert other people to open relationships. But it is one of my goals to help people relate to each other more consciously. Sometimes, but not always, the conscious path runs contrary to the popular path. These days the most popular path seems to be to experience serial monogamy, get married, have kids, cheat on the side or have your partner cheat (usually), get divorced (usually), and repeat.

The most popular path, however, is not always the most conscious path, although it can be a stepping stone to something more fulfilling.

I’d say the biggest benefit of these explorations has been a newfound love for people. This began with learning to love myself more deeply, including giving myself permission to fully pursue what I enjoy most in life (such as traveling). Then from there, I learned to share loving connections with women and to appreciate each woman who came into my life for her own uniqueness. Then this led to a marked improvement in my relationships with other men. And beyond that, I would say I’ve also sensed a significant evolution in my relationship with life itself. I feel much happier and more optimistic about my life overall.

In a single exclusive relationship, it was often fairly difficult to get all of my needs met across the domains of body, mind, heart, and spirit. In one or more of those areas, I frequently felt a sense of lack. It took me many years to realize that I didn’t have to look to one woman to meet so many of those needs year after year. Today I feel that putting such a burden upon just one person would be pretty unfair, even if the other person seems willing. I’ve been able to meet these needs by creating a more abundant partnership with life itself, which has resulted in a more than sufficient flow of connections to keep me feeling happy and fulfilled across the board — thereby enjoying great physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual connections.

The net result is that I feel very content, peaceful, and happy with my relationships and social life. That sense of neediness and lack is gone. I don’t want to idealize this and say that everything is perfect. I still have my share of social challenges to deal with. But compared to where I was before, it’s hard to feel anything but gratitude and appreciation most of the time. It’s like being financially broke for a long time and finally getting into the flow of abundance; if you just remember where you came from, that alone can make you smile.

The less needy I am, the easier it is to attract and enjoy delightful connections. Men and women alike really seem to enjoy connecting with me these days, and I’ve been experiencing a wonderful flow of invitations. I think one reason for this is that I genuinely feel that I don’t need anything from other people right now. I just enjoy connecting with people, I appreciate their company, and I’m happy to let our connection run its natural course without feeling I need to push, persuade, convince, guide, or lead. The types of experiences I used to want but not have — now they just show up.

Perhaps the most important key to fulfillment on this path is to strive to feel whole, complete, and happy with ourselves as individuals. Create the abundance we seek within ourselves first.

Then from that place of inner abundance, reach out and connect with the intention of sharing yourself with others, and invite them to share a part of your journey with you… as opposed to coming from a place of neediness and lack and expecting others to give you what you haven’t yet given yourself (such as validation or security).


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