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Why My Completely Open, Boundary-Free Relationship Works

While some may think there's a limit to the amount of love one can give, I discovered in London that the more my family expands, the more I feel the opposite is true.

by Jeff Leavell
Feb 14 2017, 10:37pm

The Swimming Hole, 1884, by Thomas Eakins. Image via Wikimedia

In November, after learning Donald Trump had won the election, I impulsively bought a roundtrip ticket to London, leaving in January. I wanted to be far away from home while that man was inaugurated.

I had never been to London. My friend Hanno said I could have his apartment while he stayed with his boyfriend, and that was all the justification I needed.

I went alone, and friends asked me why I wasn't taking my husband, Alex, and boyfriend, Jon, with me, as if I was violating some sacred contract. While the idea of showing up in a foreign city all by myself was intimidating, I knew that I needed a grand adventure that was all mine.  

I spent my first afternoon wandering the city alone, staring at the expanse of the Thames, the London Eye, and Big Ben. I crossed the Millennium Bridge, the sun breaking through the gray, darkening clouds, and wandered aimlessly through the Tate Modern, searching for Giorgio de Chirico's The Uncertainty of the Poet and Paul Klee's A Young Lady's Adventure. The faded, muted light and color of those paintings captured my mood perfectly—they felt like longing, golden, and hopeful beauty.  

I had tentative plans to meet up with a guy, Noah. Months earlier, he had "woofed" at me on Growlr, a gay-dating app for bears, and we began a months-long conversation. He was originally from Berlin, an architect now living in London.   

I remember the moment he walked out of the bar where we agreed to meet. He was so handsome, shrouded in fog and city lights; I wanted to touch and kiss him right then and there. I have no idea what we talked about; I just remember feeling like I wanted to tell him everything as fast as I could. 

I walked him home. Standing outside his building on Hoxton Street, he said, "I just want to invite you up to cuddle. I want to fall asleep with you." I wasn't sure what I was supposed to say, so I stood there, quietly trying to mask my uncertainty with bravado. Finally, he punctured the tension: "Will you come up?" I fell asleep lying on top of him in the middle of a kiss. 

I write about my relationship a lot, and the comments I receive often sound like this: "Relationships take work. They're built around boundaries and limits, sacrifice and compromise. You can't just run around doing whatever you want. You want to have your cake and eat it, too."

But why the fuck can't I eat my cake? What else would I do with cake? I want to eat my cake and everyone else's cake. I want all the cake. 

When Alex, Jon, and I first decided to open up our triad, we set up all kinds of rules and boundaries for one another. But the thing about rules is that people break them. If I trust Alex and Jon, why did I need to restrict them? Why couldn't I just love them and let them be who they are? The restrictions I put on others are all about my own fears, like my fear of being abandoned, of not being enough, of losing love. So we decided to try something different—to trust one another.

The idea that one of us might meet someone else seemed unlikely, anyway. Alex already had a boyfriend outside our relationship, and I had my own boyfriend, Conor. Jorja, our family therapist, always talks about resources: how much energy, time, and money can you give to someone outside your primary relationship before there's no more left to give? But one thing I've learned in this strange experiment is that the quality and quantity of the love we get to experience in our lives is only limited by the restrictions we place on it. 

Trying to define our triad, Alex recently put it simply: "We are a family." That resonates, feels true. And maybe, as we go on, the family is meant to grow, and our ideas of who we are in this thing will grow. Alex and Jon, Conor—they are my family. Mine.

After Noah went to work the next morning, I went to a cafe in Shoreditch. Everywhere I turned was news of Trump: walls that would be built, restrictions placed, freedoms limited.

That night, Noah and I went to a party for bears and bearded guys. I remember the moment his fingers brushed up against mine, and I felt it: This one is mine. And I am his. 

In the morning, he took me for an English breakfast at a cafe hidden in a courtyard down an old, labyrinthine alley. We drank flat whites, and I tried black pudding, something I probably won't try again. Noah was excited to show me the Barbican and Denys Lasdun's National Theatre, one of London's most controversial Brutalist buildings.  

Standing there with Noah, looking up at the beautiful, almost shocking structure of the National Theatre, I became lost in his excitement as he discussed the dynamics of space in philosophical terms. I felt overwhelmed by the strangeness of the building.

At the Barbican, another Brutalist utopia, we wandered a complex of concrete surfaces and elevated gardens, with Noah pointing out the way the estate represented an ideal of urban living, how private and public worlds intermingle to create community. 

That evening, we went to the Dalston Superstore, a nightclub where DJs play in the basement late into the night. I am always in awe of the kindness of people and the generosity I can find in the world. We danced and kissed in that club, and people seemed to move with us all the while, dancing and kissing and laughing. Something about that night gave me hope for the world, and for the possibility of who we all might become. 

I spent my last day in London in bed with Noah. The smell of him, the way he tasted, the sound of his voice, the way he built ideas out of words, the way he constructed meaning—he became family. 

When I returned to LA, I told Jon and Alex about Noah. We have learned to encourage and support one another, even when it feels scary. And I bought tickets to go see Noah again.

I think of Jorja, and I think about when I might feel that there are no more resources left to give. But I sometimes wonder if it's the opposite—that the more of us there are, and the larger my family grows, the more I will gain. Maybe expansion doesn't have to mean depletion. It's all a grand adventure, and we're just at the beginning. 

But I wouldn't change any of this. All the fucking cake. 

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