“If you love somebody, set them free. If they return to you, it’s beautiful.” — Anonymous, often falsely attributed to Richard Bach.
SUMMARY: Open relationships in which the partners are by and large free to do as they please aren’t all roses and sparkles, but they can solve some common enough problems with more conventional relationships.
(About a 7 minute read)
Give me a free spirited woman! After more than twenty years of being happily celibate, I most certainly wouldn’t know what to do with one, but that does not mean I would not — if the right one came along — seriously consider getting into one of those romantic thingies with her.
You know, one of those friendships where you get to do sexy stuff like…um…I forget now. Oh yeah! Like blow up condoms and bounce them around the bedroom together! At least, that’s what I recall condoms are for. I’m pretty sure they make lousy garbage can liners, so it’s logically got to be balloons, right?
“If you love somebody, set them free.” That takes guts you know. Because obviously they might not come back, and then you’d be left all alone with a whole family-size package of condoms you have no communal use for — although, I suppose you could fill them with sticky sugar-water and throw them at the mail carrier when they came.
“Here, you sweet thing! Now your dog will finally lick you! Nah nah nah! So, what’s in the mail?” That’s what I’d do, except these days the carrier leaves my mail at the house three blocks down from my cottage.
Also, if you set someone free, they might come back with an STD, like I always did back in the day my partners would set me free. Ok. Ok. They didn’t actually set me free. They kind of evicted me. But same principle, right?
It not only takes guts to set your partner free, it’s pretty much counter-intuitive for most of us. Most of us are looking for some kind of relationship, and relationships — if you ask me — are devil’s bargains to begin with.
Sure you get some kind of emotional security. Not absolute emotional security because — at least in my experience — there’s always the possibility your partner might fall in love with the mail carrier and start licking him, but usually when you get into a relationship with someone, you are at least supposed to get some kind of emotional security out of it, right?
Big problem here, though! Big problem! By the very nature of relationships, the more security you manage to obtain, the more the relationship tends to be stifling — both for your partner and often for you too.
Suppose, for example, you agree to only bounce condoms around the bedroom with John or Jennifer, or at least someone who would mean just as much to you as John or Jennifer, if only they had as cool of a name as “John” or “Jennifer”. Everything goes alright for awhile — maybe even a long while — but sooner or later, the sparkles go out of the relationship.
So you’re no longer feeling light about it. When you come home after a long day of scrubbing down and hosing off the mail carrier due to the court’s order, you don’t feel like “We can tell each other anything!” or “We can do anything together!”, but rather you’ve learned there are all sorts of topics he or she doesn’t want to discuss — or worse, they’re pretty much bored hearing the same stories of your childhood over and over again.
Plus, you’ve learned they have these taste and preference thingies that mean in practice you’re not going to do just anything you really, really want to do together. Like, the days when you could say, “Hey! I just had an idea! Let’s go write naughty lyrics in public restroom stalls together and then French kiss each other on the steps of the mayor’s house.” — those days are gone.
Instead, they’re like, “That’s silly. I don’t want to do those things. Grow up! Let’s anonymously blackmail your uncle instead, and make tons of money.” And suddenly you realize that half the things they want to do, you don’t want to do, and half the things you want to do, they don’t want to do. So you end up watching Netflix like six gazillion other couples that night while secretly dreaming of scandalously tangoing half-naked through crowded restaurants instead. Bummer!
Couples don’t always end up in ruts, but falling into ruts is such a huge human tendency that most couples sooner or later do. Once in a rut, it’s harder than smacking into a lamppost while running away from the mayor’s steps to get out of it.
Some of that is preventable. Very preventable. Not all of it, of course. You can’t entirely eliminate boredom with each other, getting into ruts, or — in my experience — totally avoid court ordered community service time hosing down mail carriers, but I believe you can to one extent or another greatly ameliorate such things, and keep the sparkles in your relationship.
How do you do that? Well, you guessed it! You set each other free — hopefully from the very start.
I’ve had two relationships more or less like that. In both cases, the relationships were relatively brief because — in both cases —
she ran off with the mail carrier, who was a whole lot sweeter than I was I had to move out of town (Yes, life is tough sometimes, but the good news is you can get a T-shirt that says, “Life is Tough Sometimes”), but even though the relationships were relatively brief, they lasted long enough — one lasted a little over two years — for me to realize they weren’t dulling down at the normal and usual pace.
You see, when you set someone free — sure there’s a realistic chance that they might “do” the entire Bulgarian Military Marching Band — but you tend not to take each other for granted. Instead, you tend to end up courting each other over and over, which really keeps things alive.
And yet, that’s not even close to the best reason to set someone free.
“If they return to you, it’s beautiful.” That’s the second half of the saying, but what exactly does it mean? What, precisely, is beautiful about it?
Being set free gives people a chance to be as authentic, or true to themselves, as is reasonably possible. They don’t always take that chance, but you have just eliminated one of the biggest reasons that people sometimes are not true to themselves — their partner’s expectations and demands made on them.
Lucky you, because now — if they do in fact seize the opportunity to be true to themselves — you get to hang out with an authentic person, which can be amazing. Amazing because there seems to be something about authentic people that not only feels liberating, but that also encourages us to become more authentic ourselves. In fact, the two of you might now find yourselves in a sort of dance in which you each encourage and support the other in his or her efforts to be authentic.
Being authentic can be such a heady experience! Most of us scarcely know what it really feels like because — and this is truly sad — most of us are far less authentic than we actually could be, and still be socially and environmentally responsible. The pressures to live up to other people’s standards and expectations have gotten to us little by little over the years, usually in such small increments that we didn’t even notice we were losing ourselves.
Beyond all that, I have discovered that — when you give someone reign to be themselves — they tend to appreciate it unless, of course, they’re kind of messed up — maybe from having too many sugar water condoms thrown at them in life without explanation by random miscreants. They tend to appreciate it and stick with you. If they actually do run off, they come back. If fact, it’s my impression that most people who run off with the mail carrier and never come back, were too confined by their partners, rather than too free by them.
Were I to set rules in an open, free relationship, there would be only a few. Most likely I’d want to agree with my partner that we would not:
- Bring home any strange diseases.
- Bring home any strange babies to raise.
- Bring home any unsavory characters.
By “unsavory characters”, I myself primarily mean suspiciously sweet mail carriers. I mean who on earth coats themselves with sugar water just to get people to lick them? There’s got to be something wrong with folks like that, right?