Everyone’s heard about open relationships, but what does it really mean to be in one? Just mentioning the concept can provoke intense debates, but because it touches on so many fears, insecurities and assumptions, those debates often leave us with bruised egos and little understanding.
So we decided to invite someone really special to talk with us about what ‘being open’ means in theory and practice. We’ve wanted to have the incredibly talented musician/artist/writer/game developer Carsie Blanton on the show for well over a year, and this was the perfect moment to invite her. Not only does Carsie’s music and writing explore love, lust, jealousy and insecurity with a thrilling degree of honesty, she’s also been in an open marriage for over a decade.
But ‘openness’ isn’t just about open relationships – it’s an attitude and posture that’s absolutely essential if we want to truly connect with another person. It’s about not shutting down in the face of fear and insecurity. It’s realising how important it is not only to learn and grow with another person, but of sharing what we do and don’t want in a relationship. Open relationships bring all these elements under the microscope, but these are issues we all face, regardless of who and how we date.
Carsie certainly knows a thing or two about openness: not only is her music a beautiful and ferocious expression of ‘This is me, like it or not’, but her father, Brad, pioneered the Radical Honesty movement which insists that we would all be infinitely happier if we simply told the truth, the whole truth, all the time.
Like Carsie, we don’t follow her dad’s approach all the way. Sometimes honesty can be a blunt instrument, so in this episode we explore a more subtle way of thinking about it that involves discernment and timing:
Honesty […] is something that takes effort and energy, and so for me it’s a question of which relationships I value to such a degree that I want to spend that kind of energy on them.
– Carsie Blanton
Jon brings his own experiences of open relationships to the table and we go deep on how to set up the ‘rules’, talk about extracurricular sexcapades, and how to navigate the inevitable appearance of jealousy.
Beyond the personal level, there’s some big questions to play with, too. Is monogamy just a recent invention designed to control our sexuality? Would we all be having open relationships if we could only overcome our deep-seated insecurities about not being ‘enough’ for our partner?
In order to understand any of these questions, we need to practise talking about them (which is why we started this podcast series in the first place). If we don’t share our experiences and perspectives, we can feel trapped within cultural expectations that don’t necessarily suit us, but we also have no idea what our neighbours, our best friends, or even our parents actually get up to in their sex lives. Where there’s shame, there’s silence; where there’s silence, there’s a hell of a lot of ignorance and misconceptions at play.
That’s why Carsie developed a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign to create The F’ing Truth – a cross between ‘Never-Have-I-Ever’ and Bingo. This amazingly fun and sometimes revelatory game playfully invites us to start opening up about how we feel and think about sex, as well as what we actually get up to… And, believe us, once you make it fun to talk about, it’s amazing the kinky and exciting shit that comes up!
But even if we’re not playing The F’ing Truth, if we want to enjoy love and sex, Carsie insists that we need to be less precious about our insecurities – almost all of us have essentially the same set, to one degree or another, so thinking they make us a special snowflake is not only to ignore our qualities, it’s also pretty damn tedious.
It can be cathartic to talk about your insecurities, but at the same time it gets old very fast.
– Carsie Blanton
So let’s talk about love instead. But what is love? We use the word so liberally, yet it can mean vastly different things to each of us. If we’re unwilling to explore different kinds and experiences of love with others, we face a huge barrier to mutual understanding and connection.
Very often, we think of love as a finite resource, or something which we should only feel in one particular way, with one person at a time. But why should we think of love as being in short supply? Think about friendship instead: if you make a new friend, are you any less friends with the people you like already? Couldn’t the same principle apply to (certain kinds of) love?
And why do we think that love has to come with certain forms of commitment?
Love is […] this really wonderful activity that you can share with people and that you can give to people as a gift. And I think that’s how I experience the feeling of love if I’m able to separate it form questions of what the future is, what it means about me and what it means about you, and whether you’re going to give me something to reciprocate… If I can sort of sever it from those thoughts, which I think are really insecurity-driven in a lot of cases, then it’s just like, ‘Oh, what is this beautiful feeling I have?’, and that I can communicate to this person, and then they can get this beautiful feeling. That’s this magic thing we get to share as humans.
– Carsie Blanton
Culturally, there’s a lot of stress placed on the idea that your relationship somehow determines your worth. But there’s a real danger of losing your identity if you subsume it within a relationship. Our sense of self ultimately has to come from within, or what’s left of you if your partner decides to leave? Jon shares his own painful experience of that very dynamic and, as he puts it, ‘However you want to slice it, there’s no “us” without “me”‘.
We also talk about how to cultivate personal worth in other areas of our lives (in our passions, art, and friendships), rather than placing the burden solely on our romantic relationships; when and how to lay your cards on the table when you start dating someone; and why we face so much moral judgement for having casual sex.
Towards the end of the episode, we get a bit more political and ask how far economics determine sexual behaviour: how far have things changed for women over the past few decades, and would a Universal Basic Income lead to more sexual openness and polyamory?
I think of it like culture and economics are in this constant state of affecting each other, and you can change things from both ends. And so I think our concept of relationships is more formed by our economic history than we sometimes think it is, but also that you can change things from the top-down by changing people’s cultural expectations…
– Carsie Blanton
It was a real honour to have Carsie on the show, and we’re excited to hear your questions, thoughts and reactions to everything we got into this episode. Hit us up on the socials and don’t forget to join our new discussion group over on Facebook!
- MDMA as a tool for building closer relationships
- Setting out your non-negotiables in a relationship
- Are there really big gender differences in how we experience sex?
- Carsie’s take on the Me Too movement
- When being Progressive and being sexual come into conflict
- Why are queer people seemingly more kinky?
Find Out More:
- The F’ing Truth game is on sale now!
- Carsie’s website, and lots of her music available on a pay-what-you-want model
- Brad Blanton’s Radical Honesty programme