Love & Romance

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A Happy Life in an Open Relationship

A Happy Life in an Open Relationship

The Essential Guide to a Healthy and Fulfilling Nonmonogamous Love Life
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Every Boy I Ever Kissed
Excerpt

Introduction

I COULD ALREADY SEE the morning headlines: Twenty-Year-Old Virgin Found Dead in Mysterious Field Five Minutes from Home.

It was dark, but not particularly late, on a spring evening as I followed my roommate Jess away from campus and toward unexplored avenues of urban development. If I’d been back in my hometown, this would have felt completely benign, but this was the big city and our neighbourhood had a very bad reputation.

“Just trust me,” Jess said we walked deeper into an unlit field. “What’s in the bag?” I asked, but got no reply.

At the time, the chance of us being murdered that night seemed about as likely as the chance that I would wind up an eighty-year-old virgin cat lady. Which is to say: Very Likely.

I followed Jess to where the field ended on the edge of a con- struction site. We stopped on a precipice and looked out over a deep cavernous gorge where back-hoes and dump trucks slum- bered. My friend reached into her bag and pulled out a stack of white dinner plates.

“I think you need this,” she said, handing me an orange Sharpie. “You’re going to write everything that’s bothering you on these plates and then we’re going to smash them!”

I almost cried.

I took the Sharpie and cramped my handwriting in tiny letters across the porcelain plates, worried I would run out of room. I wrote about every boy I’d ever kissed and every ridiculous, unexpected, and shocking moment that had brought me to the edge of that cliff.

***

Ethan lies crying in the gutter at three in the morning, the back of his coat wet with rainwater that hasn’t yet made its way to the sewer. His phone keeps ringing in my purse, but I know what his brother’s voice would say on the other end. “It’s okay,” I keep saying. “Just get up and we’ll go home. We’ll break up and you’ll meet a nice guy; you just have to get out of the street first.” I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to drag him up by his collar and force his feet to walk, but I can’t. I must be patient, patient, and more patient.
***
Something isn’t right. Something always goes wrong. It’s too dark to see, but I can feel the space between our naked bodies getting wider and wider until Ben is beside me instead of above. I hear his voice rise up out of the darkness and I know, both instinctively and from experience, that it will shake with the timbre of an identity crisis. “I think I have a pornography addiction.”
***
In the moonlight from the window, I can see Dave’s face above mine as I lie back in my bed and take off my clothes. His strong jaw, his mas- culine nose. His eyes full of tears. I’m not surprised this time; I know what comes next. The whispered confession of a brand-new secret, the warm, sinking feeling of taking a young man’s body deep into my arms, the gentle stroking of his hair and the assurance that, as always, “It’s okay. It will be okay.”

***

I am the girl who will take your secrets deep inside her vodka- soaked heart at two or three in the morning and in the bright light of the next day, I know I will never see you again. I will turn on the water in the shower so hot that my skin flushes red all over and I will cry where I can’t be heard. I will get back into bed and roll the blankets and pillows up against my back so it feels almost as if there is someone lying there beside me, holding me in his arms. I can almost feel his slow, quiet breath against my neck even though I can only imagine the feeling. I wonder how it’s possible to miss something I’ve never had.

Standing on the edge of that construction site, I smash every single plate. One by one.

***

It would be a cop-out to say I spent the first quarter of my life desperately chasing love because my parents divorced when I was little. And it makes me cringe to write that, for years, I wanted a boyfriend more than anything else. But, to be honest, aren’t we all looking for love?

Let’s face it: as early as I can remember, I wanted to be done with dating. Done with boys and bars and checking my messages every three minutes to see if he’d texted.

At five years old, I put on my mother’s white silk slip, long enough to touch my ankles, and hung a piece of white tulle off my short curly hair. Then I grew up and realized I’m a feminist. A girl- power enthusiast lucky enough to have been born in 1990. I’m not sure I would have known enough to use a word like “feminism” at a young age, but nothing helps you understand female empowerment quite like growing up with a single mother. By my teen years, it no longer seemed appropriate to admit, even to myself, that being someone’s girlfriend was one of my most cherished goals.

Luckily for me, it was a goal that appeared easy enough to accomplish naturally, in time, without requiring too much effort on my part.

Growing up, I took it for granted that I would get good grades, go to university, and probably break a few hearts. Those were inevitable truths, because they came from the lips of adults, and because history dictated I should follow in my mother’s footsteps.

My mother is beautiful. Right down to her core. She appears to leap out of photographs, tall and slim, with miles of raven-black hair and piercing blue eyes. In one family photo from the 1970s, my young mother sits with one leg draped casually over the other. With an unnatural confidence for a teenager, she looks like she belongs in the pages of Vogue Paris, not in the rec room of a suburban Toronto home.

I didn’t look anything like my mother growing up, but I listened to her stories about learning to drive with her high school boyfriend and singing backup for her first husband back when all he played were small nightclubs in Europe, and I believed something similar would one day happen for me. All I had to do was figure out how to be beautiful. Inside and out.

For the first twenty-one years of my life, I pursued love and beauty as aggressively as I pursued academic excellence and some kind of undefined creative career. Like many young women, I had somehow gotten the message that intelligence, independence, creativity, physical attractiveness, and a willingness to run with the boys would inevitably lead to the fun privileges of sex and, eventually, to the ultimate goal: love. Finding a boyfriend, having sex, falling in love … it was all supposed to be simple.

Until that evening, looking out over the construction site with a stack of plates in my hand, when I realized I’d been lied to. Every adult woman I knew, every magazine I’d read, even feminism itself had told me, in one way or another, that having sex was easy. Even too easy.

Everywhere I turn, I run into a baby boomer parent wringing her hands in shock and fear over hookup culture and phone apps that let you order a date like you order takeout. I remember all too well the shame of being a twenty-one-year-old virgin in a world that seems to value sexual savvy above all else.

Years later, I realized I wasn’t alone. Millennials, the alleged trailblazers of the hookup generation, are actually having way less sex than most people think. In fact, as a group, we boast over 50 percent more virgins in the twenty-to-twenty-four age bracket than our hand-wringing boomer parents did when they were that age. So, what gives?

As I watched those plates shatter on the concrete below me, I tried to figure out where exactly I’d gone wrong. I thought I had followed the social script perfectly. The trouble was that I had been prepared for a world that didn’t exist. Everything I had been taught about sex and dating was a myth. And, as a bonus, I discovered I was woefully unprepared for reality.

As I fought my way ever more aggressively toward love — and sex — I slowly discovered all the little lies our generation has been told. The good news is, when you uncover a lie, you also uncover the truth.

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Polyamorous

Polyamorous

Living and Loving More
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Welding

It wasn’t a wedding. It was welding.

For years, I thought I was too commitment-phobic to walk down an aisle without running the other way. Maybe I watched that Julia Roberts movie, Runaway Bride, too many times. But on that June morning, as several friends helped carry layers of scalloped printed newspaper that comprised my gown — stories my partner Adam and I had worked on together over the years at the newspaper as reporter and photographer — I took confident strides toward my unorthodox future.

Several feet away, I could see Adam, beaming, a silver-haired fox. He stood six-foot-plus in his newspaper vest collaged with photos, including one of Iggy Pop from the New York Times Sunday styles section. Charlie sat in the front row, where his encouraging smile caught my eye, and I knew I was making the right choice to unabashedly love two men.

***

Our story began as a love triangle and eventually became a committed V.

In 2015, even though all three of us would have categorized ourselves as monogamous, Charlie and Adam and I started exploring the possibility of polyamory.

I discovered the two loves of my life — Charlie and Adam — a few weeks apart in the summer of 2013 when I felt that spark and connection with both, in different ways. But because we thought monogamy was our only choice, there was a lot of heartbreak for all three of us, with me caught in the middle.

From the get-go, I was always honest with both men — how I cared about and was attracted to both of them and valued each of them in my life. Looking back now, I think that laid the foundation for open communication, and the respect and trust needed in any relationship, but especially poly relationships. Otherwise, things fall apart pretty quickly.

I struggled at the time with what life was supposed to look like: One partner. Monogamy. I was often told “You can’t have it all,” but living an ordinary life just wasn’t me.

Around that time, I discovered Design for Living, a 1933 black-and-white pre–Hays Code film by director Ernst Lubitsch. The film focuses on Gilda, a petite, quirky blonde played by Miriam Hopkins, who ends up in a polyamorous relationship (or as close as you could get to one in those days) after a chance encounter with two men, George and Thomas (Fredric March and Gary Cooper), on a train to Paris.

They both fall hard for her, and she for them, but she cannot decide between the two. So instead, she ends up marrying Max, a stout, rigid, and commanding husband who is very much about “keeping up with the Joneses.”

What changes toward the end of the story (spoiler alert), after Gilda realizes “the normal life” isn’t for her, is that her two loves come and rescue her from her unhappy marriage.

By that point, both men realize they need her and all three realize that each of them brings something different to the relationship. Th e result is balance. The takeaway is that this love — although unconventional — is possible, but it can’t come from a place of starvation or fear. And the two men can still remain friends, even though they had been fighting for the attention of the same woman.

While I don’t agree that Gilda required “rescuing,” her succumbing to a monogamous marriage — even though in her heart she knew George and Thomas were the right people for her — resonated with me as a cautionary tale.

As the film winds to a close, the starlet is in the back of a cab sandwiched between her two loves and they drive off to Paris to live together, not knowing whether it will work or fail. She kisses one and then leans over and kisses the other, and the screen fades to black.

Although my relationships with both Adam and Charlie began a week apart that summer, a number of conflicting factors contributed to my uncertainty about the future: Th e nearly thirty-year age gap between me and Adam. My desire to sooner-rather-than-later become a mom with Charlie. A long-distance relationship. And, of course, being in love with two people at the same time.

***

Charlie and I met on July 24, 2013, in one of those “meant to be” Hollywood-type stories, as our paths crossing was really quite against the odds. I had recently split from my ex after my very messy affair and decided to take a solo road trip to Montreal to check out the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival.

I drove seven hours to Quebec, making stops along the way. I was to be in La Belle Province for trois jours. On the second day, I had some time to kill, so I strolled down boulevard St. Laurent. After falling into a smoked-meat coma at Schwartz’s, I noticed all those obnoxious pictures I took of my food had drained my battery and I wandered into the nearest caf. to find an outlet. It had a pi (3.14) symbol on the front and an advertisement for chess and London fog lattes in the window. Foreshadowing!

My high school French was rusty and embarrassing. The Asian girl with ombre-tipped hair behind the counter asked me if I was “attempting” to order a drink. “Yeah, I guess I am,” I responded in English. She began making random comments about the process of doing ombre highlights at home or in a salon, so I quickly ordered a cold drink and made my escape. Walking back toward the front of the caf., I scanned for available wall outlets. They were all occupied. Except one.

There was a guy sitting at the table, but the plug was free.

Parlez-vous Anglais?” I asked.

“Yes.”

Relief washed over me. I asked if I could sit down and plug in my dying phone.

“No problem,” he said.

He had his headphones on and seemed to be daydreaming. I didn’t want to interrupt, but I also felt awkward just sitting there at the small, intimate round table for two, not saying anything.

So, being the curious reporter, I asked him about his life. He was in Montreal with his sister and brother-in-law. They were all from London, England, and had travelled to Toronto for their father’s remarriage to a Canadian woman. Th e road trip to Quebec was a good excuse to get some poutine with squeaky cheese.

For the next forty minutes, Charlie and I got lost in each other. We talked about our families, our lives in two different cities, places we’d travelled to and places we’d still like to see, and how annoyed we were that our friends were getting married, having kids, and buying houses together. Ironically, some of those things are now what we want as a married couple — the American/ Canadian/British/Millennial dream.

That’s what connected us — talking about these subjects with such confidence and ease. Years later, we still joke about the weirdo behind the café counter.

I had to leave to meet a friend, so we exchanged information. A friend request popped up on my Facebook the following day. I didn’t really think anything of it.

Two nights later, with us both back in Toronto, I offered to take Charlie on the “Scott Pilgrimage,” my own constructed tour of locations around the city that are featured in the namesake movie and graphic novel series.

I wasn’t even sure it was a “date,” per se. I messaged my friend and joked I would text her a safe word to let her know I wasn’t murdered. “Foliage,” I said.

“Michael Scott’s safe word?”

“Damn straight.”

Charlie met me at work and I drove him back to my place, where we walked my dog, Wampa, before going for dinner at Korean Village. I was startled and flattered when he sat beside me instead of across from me in the booth.

Later, I showed him the Metro, the last operating porn theatre in Ontario. He pulled me close to him as a picture of Ron Jeremy reflected at us from the marquee. Th e loud hum of a street sweeper was nearing. He grabbed my hand. And didn’t let go.

After spending the night together, we went our separate ways. He sent me a text saying he just realized he was heading home to London that day. I offered to meet him at the airport to see him off.

We both agreed that we didn’t see this as a booty call, but having just split from my ex, I wanted to take it slow and see where things went. I didn’t want to fall back into my serial monogamist patterns.

Fast-forward a few weeks.

I was covering a Scarborough by-election with Adam, who was my photographer that night. After Mitzie Hunter was declared the winner, we decided to catch up over a beer (for him) and a soft drink (for me — Asian flush barrier). I told him about Charlie, showed him photos, and shared stories about our escapades that night.

Up until that point, Adam and I were, as he calls it, “gal pals” — work confidantes who were comfortable friends. But there was a moment — which, in hindsight, I admittedly felt as well — where we had that “click.” I approached him one day in the newsroom several weeks after the by-election. Adam describes it like that scene in Wayne’s World, where Cassandra is onstage playing heavy metal, but Wayne Campbell can only see her through a misty kaleidoscope with “Dream Weaver” playing.

I emailed Adam one night after that moment, on a long weekend, to tell him I was going to London.

“Without me?” he said.

“I’ll bring you back a chicken pot pie.”

He realized then I was going to see “the other guy.”

And then, for whatever reason, call it my exhibitionist nature, I ended up sending him some sexts. Th at’s the night when we went from gal pals of seven years to something more. Something we couldn’t have ever imagined.

Adam’s been there for me when I’ve needed him most and vice versa. He’s my rock. We’re old souls and he’d always be my first pick when I needed help with a lede. One symbol of our synchronicity throughout the relationship has been the numbers 11:11. We’d randomly check our phones, see it was 11:11 a.m. or p.m., and send screenshots to each other.

I found myself falling fast. But I was also into Charlie, and I wanted to see where that would go.

Th e month after I met Charlie, he invited me on a “second date” in London. I hadn’t been in years and was always up for an adventure, and so I flew over and spent seventy-two hours with him. It was a risky amount of time to spend together, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. He showed me the Natural History Museum, his childhood school, all his favourite haunts. Holding hands, we walked around Regent Street and Clapham. There was something good there, I knew it.

And so, our love triangle formed.

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Daring to Love

Daring to Love

Move Beyond Fear of Intimacy, Embrace Vulnerability, and Create Lasting Connection
edition:Paperback
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