When I first entered the dating scene as a teenager, my head was full of the same fairy tales as any other young girl. Someday Prince Charming was going to ask me to the dance, fall madly in love with me, and we'd live happily ever after without worries that some Wicked Witch would lure him away from the marriage bed.
It didn't take me long to realise that I wasn't Cinderella and neither were any of the other girls I knew. I also found out that the Prince Charmings were having just as much trouble keeping their Princesses inside the bounds of their relationships.
It wasn't uncommon for young girls to scratch the names of their boyfriends in hearts on a wall or notebook, fully assured that the relationship was going to last forever. Sure enough, come the following year the old flame's name was dutifully scratched out and a new boy's name written carefully underneath it in much larger lettering than his predecessor's. When questioned about the alteration, the answer was usually either "Oh, he started liking someone else." or "Oh, I met someone that I like better."
Then it happened to me... a boy I'd been seeing started making passes at someone else. As was the proper etiquette, I promptly dumped his cheating hide and fell quickly into a new relationship - which lasted approximately four months before word got to me that he'd been spotted in the company of another girl. Like many women, I started questioning myself and was convinced that I must be in some bad habit or another to scare these blokes away. However, not too long afterward I started attracting the eye of another man - who just happened to be in a very long relationship with a friend of mine.
As I entered adulthood I came to the conclusion that most people just can't stay faithful to one another, as evident by the ever-climbing divorce rate and the revolving relationship doors I saw all around me. It occurred to me that it was not simply a matter of people falling out of love, or else why would so many people go through ridiculous lengths to hide their infidelity from their significant others?
The biggest complaint I heard from the injured partners upon the discovery of an affair was that they automatically assumed that their cheating spouses had fallen in love with someone else and fallen out of love with them. The complaint was always about love, and the idea that a sexual romp purely for novelty and entertainment never entered the thought process. When questioning the guilty party about his/her views, the answers were almost always the same: They were physically attracted to someone else and they "weren't thinking", at least not until the deed was done and they knew they'd be in big trouble if their significant other ever found out.
I began to conclude that the common strong association between sex and love was the root for many of the problems. When looked at logically the idea that people must be in love to have sex is ludicrous, especially given the multi-billion dollar sex industry with strangers hoping into bed all over the place. Either prostitutes and porn stars are the most loving people in the world or the two things are not necessarily connected.
A few hours of watching "The Discovery Channel" was enough to see that the birds and the bees are anything but faithful to one another, and I didn't see any girl birds or boy bees whining to the nature show host about their cheating mates. In fact, many male animals are natural equipped with devices and behaviors to help insure the continuation of their genes after their female mates have already been diddling around with another male. The idea that monogamy was the way that nature intended was beginning to sound more and more like wishful thinking.
Armed with these observations, I started opening up my relationships. With just a handful of rules in place for safety's sake, I told my boyfriends that I didn't have a problem with them sleeping around as long as they were honest with me about it. In return, I offered them the same courtesy. My early relationships suffered blows from the old double-standard rule when the men had no qualms about jumping into the sack with interested women, but they had quite a different attitude when other blokes came sniffing around me.
However, after a couple years I began to meet men who recognized a good deal when they saw it. My husband was known in social circles as being a notorious philanderer, and over the years people have expressed shock to me that he seemed to have "settled down" since he started dating me. Now, I'm not saying that he doesn't enjoy going outside to play once in a while, but in twelve years I've never known him to make any grand effort to actively pursue an affair. Old time wisdom says that it's no fun to steal something that's offered freely, but in my experience it boils down to having a handful of quality lovers from time to time rather than a truckload of whoever is available to sneak around with.
Then another love came into the picture. The freedom to date other people and the security of already being in a relationship to allow you to seek quality over quantity in extra-marital playmates also opened the door for strong emotional bonds to develop outside our marriage. To many people, this sounds like a set-up for that awful predicament of being torn between two lovers. The rules of social opinion dictate that you must throw one of them out like garbage because you cannot really be in love with more than one person at a time. I think the only garbage is that line of thinking. As I write this, I have been in two wonderful and loving relationships simultaneously for almost seven years now.
However, none of this came easily. There were many hurdles to jump over - everything from wrestling with residual jealousy to figuring out how to accommodate three people in situations that are generally reserved for couples only. At first I was called every name in the book, and even members of my own family refused to acknowledge that there was more than one person in my romantic life. However, as time went by those close to me began to recognize the happiness in both my relationships and came to accept that perhaps there are exceptions to the traditional rules of love. I often hear from friends who tearfully confess that their marriages are in shambles over a sexual indiscretion, and they no longer snicker at me when they realise that my practical approach to sex and relationships has spared me a world of stress and heartache.
- Essay written by Shiva