I had this conversation with my boyfriend of eight-and-a-half years the other night.
It was triggered by a random question that a friend got when we played a little game of Q&A by flipping through random pages from What Makes You Tick? The Question Book the night before, when she was having a sleepover at my place. The question was, “Would you want your partner to confess to you if he/she had an affair? Have you come to an agreement about being unfaithful?”
She and I had disagreeing opinions at first, although I guess by the end of it she was swayed by my perspective and decided to also go with my answer. (If you’re curious to know what it was, you’ll have to wait until the nearing end of this post.)
I was then intrigued to ask that to my significant other because only then I realized that in our more than eight years of being together, he and I never really talked about these things. Which perhaps could be a good thing I suppose, considering that the sole reason was that there was never any occasion, i.e., any trigger, which compelled us to have to have a discussion about it.
Nonetheless, as our relationship ages, at some point it becomes important to know where each of us stands on those difficult questions. Because as solid as we hope our longstanding relationship to be, one would never really know what could unfortunately happen in the blink of an eye. And it does no harm to be well-prepared by figuring out each other’s preferences in handling such problems, so that you don’t end up hurting someone thinking that you’re saving them instead.
To answer those questions apparently requires a little throwback to ages ago when we were young, silly, and awfully naïve.
We still remember those days in early 2013, when we would text each other via the good ol’ SMS back and forth all day and night, usually three-page long per text, despite our different operators which made everything extra expensive. From the anticipation yet the surprises, the butterflies yet the jitter, to the platonic-but-not-really kind of awkward stage of not knowing what we are. From all the confusion and question marks that we were somehow thrilled about, all the unexpected responses that we lured each other with, to all the ecstatic feelings that were the highlight of my late teens and his early twenties.
As we officially dated a few months after and the relationship grew for a few subsequent years, sadly, some of those feelings are eventually, yet anticipatedly, no longer. Texts became habitual acts, phone calls became mundane to-dos with a certain sense of duty, and sometimes, even dates became more of an effort and task to maintain our commitment.
We’re obviously still very happy to be together regardless, which goes without saying has been the main reason why we stick together for this long. But we also can’t deny the fact that there are certain types of happiness we can no longer give to each other, simply because those are time-sensitive acts whose validity to offer joy would eventually expire. At a certain point, you can no longer regain a certain excitement you used to share with your partner. Not because things have gone wrong, but simply because it’s already way past the timeframe for those things to remain fascinating. And it’s nobody’s fault that those things feel a little less interesting than they used to.
Then again, you can still recall how it felt. The good parts are imprinted in the back of your head like vintage photographs you can’t quite let go of. Sometimes you miss them. You know those excitements exist, somewhere out there, yet out of your reach for quite some time already. Sure, you experience different kinds of happiness now. The stable, comforting, steady, and peaceful kinds, among all else. And those sound pretty great too, particularly for two adults in their late 20s and early 30s, don’t they?
But sometimes, you still wake up in the middle of the night thinking about those butterflies in your tummy that disappear with time. Where have they gone? Will they ever come back as you reach this plateau phase of love? You wonder if there’s ever a chance to relive those ecstatic feelings again, knowing that those kinds of happiness exist, but you both can no longer serve that to each other. And I suppose it’s absolutely humane to wonder about that.
The Corridor and the Container
Some people may disagree with me and my partner on this, but we care about each other enough to be convinced that each of us deserves to experience any sort of happiness that leads to their fuller life, even those that we can no longer accommodate each other with – as long as we respect one another in the process. Outside this particular lane that we reserve for our partner, there are still things to experience, that offer joy and pleasures while also still conforming to the norms of a monogamous relationship you commit to in the first place. It would be selfish of me to confine his rights to be happy within this specific lane that only I can contribute to, knowing there’s a whole side of life where he could immerse himself in the pursuit of a more fulfilling, complete life, and put his heart to use up to its full amplitude.
Ah, yes. The human’s heart. With its wide range and depth that offer almost too much capacity to contain absolutely just a single person for the rest of one’s life.
It’s true that we’ve reached the point in our relationship where we’re convinced that each of us is one another’s one-in-a-million kind of soul despite how awfully cheesy it might sound, the whole package that no one else could possibly or remotely resemble. But even despite all these, we’re well aware that just because we love and value each other that much, it does not mean that there isn’t a tiny bit of space in our hearts for others to still be able to stop by every once in a while. It might be terrifying to acknowledge at first, but it’s unfortunately realistic. Just because you still won’t have to compete to win, does not mean there won’t be one or two occasions where someone else may come unannounced and hang around in your life for a bit.
You can’t control feelings, but you can (or rather, should) control acts. To us, monogamous relationships are more about the practices to regulate one’s desires – not necessarily feelings – to introduce logic and respect towards our partner into the way we act upon our feelings and emotions.
An old friend told me that every day, you will have to put in some work to choose to give love and receive love, especially when feelings fluctuate because that’s just how they naturally are. Submitting and committing to a monogamous relationship does not forbid you to develop feelings you’d perhaps rather not have at the risk of being unfaithful, but it hopefully does forbid you from deviating from the path that you and your partner have chosen to build with all its spaces and boundaries, despite your dynamic feelings and emotions.
Some people may again disagree with us. But in the fortunate yet unavoidable case where others stop by and our interests are intrigued more than they’re allowed to be, we would prefer our partner to not tell us all about it when it’s happening, because we trust each other enough that we would sort it out by ourselves, from our own end, without having to drag the other in too.
We think there’s absolutely no use for us to be perfectly honest about those issues from the very beginning, issues that we believe our partner will eventually work out. There may not be anything we can contribute to help figure out anyway, since we trust them enough to be able to sort them out. Now that we already confide in our partner to deal with it appropriately, why bother hearing all about it at the risk of damaging our self-esteem for the rest of our lives?
Sometimes, no news is good news – and that ignorance is bliss. Our motto is that there’s no need to risk sinking something that might still be able to be saved or even made better in the future had you not been very unnecessarily upfront about the potential damage it’s facing, as long as you regret whatever causes those issues in the first place and that you promise yourself to avoid those in the future.
We’re well aware that not every couple would agree with this idea, but as long as you’ve built enough trust to commit to one another (and we’ve done nothing but try to prove it by making this perennial relationship work despite spending more than half of it in long-distance, including 2.5 years of being two continents apart), there is no reason to say it’s not justifiable. My partner and I have had our fair share of chances to fool around when we were thousands of miles away from each other and even everything we were familiar with, and yet we didn’t do any of it. It’s hopefully safe to assume that there’s more than sufficient foundation to ensure that if any one-sided issue involving a third person ever turns up, we will deal with it appropriately on our own, knowing and realizing that such temporary pleasure won’t last in the long run and that our true person has always been only one another.
However, we both obviously agree that there’s a limit to which all those feelings and resulting acts are acceptable. There are agreements to which we expect each other to adhere, which means there’s an extent to which beyond that threshold, it finally becomes a crime of being unfaithful.
The major one is definitely to avoid any physical acts. The second one being, if it involves somebody we personally know, then all the things above become irrelevant and instead, we deserve to know from the very beginning – because it definitely would be too embarrassing and disrespectful if we have to hear about it from a mutual friend or acquaintance.
The Platonic Companionship
I told my partner that if he ever had a mini crush on someone else, so be it. I trust that he would figure out how to best deal with it according to all rules we’ve established for ourselves, and all the permissible lanes we allow each other to walk on. And it’s also true for all forms of platonic relationships. I think just because we’re tied in a monogamous relationship, does not mean you have to cut off friends and people who mean something or perhaps a tiny bit more than something, especially when it comes to relationships that are strictly platonic.
I never wanted to be a controller when it comes to my partner’s circle, particularly one who comes across as being possessive or insecure about yourself by telling your partner who to be friends or hang out with or not. Different people offer different kinds of joy to our lives, and my partner deserves to live a rewarding life full of the different spectrums of it, which may be only possible if he’s allowed to explore the different friendships and platonic companionships that come his way.
And I appreciate that he thinks the same way for me too.
For us to be able to discuss all these and come to terms with the depths and ranges of one’s heart does require years of effort to build enough self-esteem for ourselves as well as trust in each other.
After years of being together where we pretty much finally share a very balanced amount of appreciation towards one another, it feels liberating to realize that you can allow your partner to sail on their own for a bit, knowing that at the end of the day, they would eventually come home, because even when there might be a few tiny islands offering exciting sightseeing along the way, there will never be another harbour other than the one you both already build.
Lucky for me that I am on this journey with him. That we can have heart-to-heart conversations about things that might potentially trigger anger, unhealthy conflicts, or unresolved disagreements for some couples who are not ready for such discussion, yet we thankfully manage to carry them like two responsible, functioning adults and arrive at a conclusion that we respect equally. It was absolutely not an easy path because we would perhaps only be able to get here after years of practice, but what’s important is that we’re here at long last.
Your preference with your partner may be completely different from ours, and that’s extremely valid as well, as long as none of you was forced to accept something over another option.
To us, keeping an open mind feels to be the healthiest approach. Just because your partner experiences joy from something, or rather someone, outside of your world, it does not automatically mean that they’re on their way to cheating or replacing you. At the end of the day, you start by empowering yourself to gain your sense of worthiness, and only from there you can begin empowering the both of you to explore different sources of happiness that still obey all the boundaries you both agree upon.
After all, I guess love is way too complex, intricate, multifaceted, and yet delightful at the same time to be held captive in strict rules that do not allow for openness to be experienced fully and wholeheartedly.