Once upon a time in a faraway land called New York City, I met a man who called himself “a Wilde boy.” We chatted about work, the weather and weekend plans. Then we shared our current reads leading to a nerdgasm over Barthes, Sontag and Foucault. Maybe I just missed Vassar or maybe I was just horny, but discussing Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse was a million times hotter than the filthiest sext. So when he told me he graduated from an Ivy and wrote for one of my favorite magazines, I was ready to be ravished.
As we exchanged numbers, I said, “By the way, I’m Matt.”
“Hi, Matt. I’m Brandon*. Pleasure to meet you.”
Brandon and I eventually went for drinks and sushi on a Monday after work. It was a three- hour dinner that felt like three minutes. Our waiter was persistent with the bill and so we left the restaurant to step out into the rain. We walked, we talked, and we kissed goodnight at his subway stop. Once the last of his curly locks disappeared underground, I allowed myself a small squeal in the New York rain.
“You’re, like, so beautiful.” Brandon sent me a text an hour later. “And smart, charming and a good kisser to boot. I would like more soon please.” I was squealing outright and rolling around on the floor of my apartment when a follow-up text came.
“But before we go any further,” he said, “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay with my situation – open relationship and what not.”
I bit my lip. I wasn’t allowed to be surprised. After all, Brandon prefaced our initial meeting with that casual fact. When we first started talking, I thought, how much could I like him anyway? But after martinis and tempura rolls and beguiling smiles, I found myself crushing hard on a handsome, kind, and Ivy-educated magazine editor who was already “in a great open relationship.”
Open relationships were never a wild idea to me, but I could never grasp the logistics. It doesn’t seem fair for an already happy couple to jump back into the dating pool when the rest of us are struggling to stay afloat. Those other fish in the sea suddenly aren’t so available when they’re cheating with consent or waiting for someone better to come along.
And if you’re dating someone who’s already dating someone (who’s probably dating another someone), how far can anyone go? Does it stop at kissing, does it stop at touching, or does it stop at loving? If you have to set limits on dating, I couldn’t help but wonder: just how open are we to open relationships?
I decided I was only misinformed, confused by pop culture perceptions of alternative relationships. I owed it to Brandon and myself to make the effort and understand the rules of this open relationship.
A week later, I met Brandon for Sunday brunch where I grilled him with questions such as “how long have you and your boyfriend been together?” “are there guys other than him and me?” and “why are you in an open relationship?”
Brandon was affable, said I was an intelligent journalist, and answered sincerely. His relationship was three years old, I was the only guy other than his boyfriend, and he was in an open relationship (“It’s different for different people,” he said) to experience different levels of friendship and intimacy with different individuals.
“It’s cliché,” Brandon said, “but it’s like taking a ‘lover.’”
How French, I thought. I could do French.
Still, my mind buzzed with millions of questions, but I allowed myself a final one: I asked why he was in a committed relationship at all. Brandon didn’t miss a beat. “I’m happiest with him.”
I finally understood. It was like any other relationship, one between consenting adults making their own rules. Their rules were just different. He was a Wilde boy and his wishes went against tradition, but Brandon and his boyfriend communicated their desires and emotions with honesty and trust, all the more securing their love for one another. And isn’t that the openness we all want in our relationships, open or otherwise?
After brunch, Brandon and I explored the neighborhood. We sat by a fountain and talked history, politics, and sexuality between kisses that left us high and dazed. The rain came again and he dropped me off at my subway stop, leaving me with a liplock that turned the rainfall into steam.
Truthfully, being Brandon’s lover was the best possible scenario. I only had a month left in New York City and an intern only lives on borrowed time and borrowed apartments. At least when my internship ends, I thought, I’ll go back to school with a new close friend and very chapped lips.
Brandon recently sent me critical articles apropos of our conversation on A Lover’s Discourse. They were fascinating, but if there was one thing I learned from our own lovers’ discourse, it’s that when it comes to different rules, different people, and different relationships, it’s best to keep your heart and your mind open.
In Other Words is a new bi-weekly series exploring sexuality, masculinity, identity, and other fanciful -ities from the perspective of a gay male twenty-something in New York.