Back in the summer of 2004 I went out to California for a workshop on love, sexuality, and intimacy. There were multiple levels of this workshop series, and the 3rd level just happened to be out on the west coast that July. Now, this post is going to be tricky because when you take these workshops you promise not to divulge what happens during them or who was in attendance, so as not to color a possible participant’s experience, but there is just no way to write this without breaking that promise, so here goes nothing. I will try my best to be vague where I can be.
At the time when I made the decision to travel to California to do level 3, I had just started dating someone casually about a month prior. We met while I was re-taking level 1 earlier that April. Re-taking levels is not as powerful an experience as it is the first time you take a workshop, mostly because you know what’s coming and can plan your choices around that knowledge. In short, you can manipulate your experience to suit your desires or needs. Meeting Peter in that workshop influenced a lot of my choices.
When I met BackPeter I was in an open relationship with someone else. I wasn’t in love with that person, and truth be told, he was a real dick. He was, however, convenient, and was my rebound relationship. These two things I know in hindsight, but was not fully aware of at the time.
Peter was in an open-marriage, and oddly enough, his wife was dating one of my FWB’s. This was how I came to be introduced to him.
Confused yet? Welcome to the wide world of sports…open relationship style.
On the evening of my first date with Peter, he confided to me how much he hated being in an open marriage, and that as much as he loved his wife, he really didn’t want to be sharing her with other people. It was because of this that he had decided to divorce her. He felt he was only being poly as a drastic measure to keep his marriage, but that it was very much not what he wanted. He wanted monogamy. Whoa.
It’s important to know this backstory just so that what I am about to share resonates on the level of WTF? that it should.
So fast forward to July. By this time I had stopped dating jerk boyfriend and was only seeing Peter. We were still not what I considered to be monogamous, or at least we had put no such declarations on our dating one another. Especially seeing as he was still married, and even if he was no longer having sex with his wife, I wasn’t putting all my eggs in his basket. However, things between us were in that wonderfully sweet NRE stage (new relationship energy). You know, the stage where you’re totally enamored with each other, love even the annoying things one another does, and are shagging like rabbits every chance you get? Yep, that was us.
I had planned to go to California on my own. Those plans were made long before this thing with Peter became a “thing”. My flights were booked, and I was set for adventure. Peter had been trying to convince me to do some other workshop he had done, and off the cuff I had said “Why don’t you come to California and do level 3 with me?”, never expecting that he actually would. And then he called me at work a few days later to say he was going. My response was “Going where?” Ha! That was how much I didn’t expect it, and yet, now I was excited that he would be joining me. Even more so because I had planned it so that I was playing tourist in northern California for a few days once the workshop was over, so now I had a travel companion. After all, in the very short time we had been seeing one another we had managed to do the first 2 levels of this workshop series together. I guess it seemed to just click into place.
Now, in keeping with the title of “love, intimacy, and sexuality”, the workshops can get rather intense as they progress through the levels. The evening before we were to head up to the workshop, we had been forewarned by someone we had met that had done it previously that when they say “If you came with a partner, you might want to check in with them and see if you want to do this next exercise together”, that it was in our best interest to ALWAYS do those exercises together. It was because of this advice that we started having a discussion about our relationship boundaries, and from this talk, we decided two things: 1) we would always do those exercises together as suggested, and 2) we would be monogamous with one another while there.
For me, I remember thinking that it made no sense to possibly ruin a potentially wonderful relationship by having a fling with someone who lived 3,000+ miles away from me. For Peter, I am guessing he based his decision on his feelings over non-monogamy with his wife.
I almost immediately regretted this decision.
The workshop began on a Friday night, and would conclude on Sunday morning. Here we were, nestled in this beautiful northern Californian mountain range just north of the Napa Valley, surrounded by lush forrest, in a tiny town that most people have never heard of, secluded far from our daily lives. The workshop was held at a clothing optional retreat center. It was very easy to feel almost removed from what you knew your life to be while there.
We weren’t too far into the beginning of the workshop when it became obvious that a short, Australian, blonde girl similar in age to me (29) had taken a real interest in Peter (42). It went above interest to almost a level of competitiveness, as if she felt she was looking to “steal my man”, which I found a tad odd for the kind of workshop we were in, but she exuded that energy nonetheless. Peter, well, he was totally loving the attention, and wasn’t at all shy in returning flirtations with her of his own. Dare I say, he was very encouraging.
As for me, I saw what I wanted the moment we arrived and were in line to check in. He was everything that catches my eye: tall, confident, broad shouldered, with dark wavy hair and almost icy hazel eyes, and I immediately needed to know him. This is where I regretted my previous decision of monogamy because, oh my god, I wanted to climb that man like a tree. Of course, I am also practical, so I reminded myself that a fling with someone who lived on the other side of the country from me wasn’t as important to me as the possibility of what I had going with Peter, and also, I had no idea if this bronze statuesque man was even available for that sort of thing.
As it got later into the first evening of the workshop, Peter and I did our own thing, sitting together when we were all in a large group, but off on our own for various exercises. We had yet to encounter those “check in with your partner” ones yet. Nothing was uncomfortable. Nothing except this girl’s relentless pursuit of Peter while she eyed me. Who knows, maybe she was looking for a foursome? She did come paired with some skinny, somewhat effeminate gay boyfriend, who I just assumed with my “Gaydar” was more “friend” than lover. Perhaps he was bi, but he sure seemed to love her competitiveness with me. Peter seemed to be soaking it up. It was this kind of energy that just made things feel weird.
I kept a safe, across the room, distance from the man I had eyes for. If he came towards me, I went the other way. At some point, somehow, it was revealed that he was indeed, poly. Obstacle one, removed, only made me want him more. To this day I still cannot remember his name, and I wish i did.
The workshop concluded for the night at around 11pm, and Pete and I decided to go up the hill to the more private pools for a swim. I remember walking about the hill, along the paved road, under this blanket of navy blue velvet sky, gazing up at the hundreds of silver stars that decorated it, and having this deep discussion about what was going on with this girl and him. All the while I never said anything about my desire for Mr. Tall Dark and Delicious.
Peter talked his way through all the thoughts that he was having about this Aussie lass, and her obvious pursuit of him, and how he wouldn’t mind returning those advances more fully and having a dalliance with her, but how he felt it would mean pulling away from me, and he didn’t want that. He was there with me, and this all was momentary anyway. I breached a sigh of relief in some ways to hear we were on the same page as far as that went.
I remember mentioning my same thoughts over the guy I’d been eyeing. He seemed quite opposed to that.
What I found most interesting, somewhat hurtful, and in some ways, most hypocritical, was that for someone that seemed to be so staunchly non-monogamous, he seemed to be very easily swayed. I mean, honestly, don’t chastise your wife for wanting to be poly and insist that you don’t, when you’re really way keener on the idea than you let on. And I guess you could say I was hypocritical for having the same feelings and desires, but the difference for me is that I was not the one who proposed the rules for our workshop participation, but I did agree to them. I was also, how shall I say, much more subtle with my admiring of others.
So, now we have really come to the question I have been pondering lately, why do we choose the things we choose?
Fast forward to Saturday morning’s workshop exercise…still not one of “those” exercises, but still to this day ranks as one of the sensuous experiences I have ever had.
The men were lead out into another room, and all of us women stayed in the main room. We had no idea what is being said to the men while they were away, we were just laying there on the floor waiting for them to return. There was some soft, New Agey type music playing and I’m sure the workshop facilitator is saying something of importance, but I don’t remember it. When the men were let back into the room, they were told to pick a female partner and kneel down beside her. I am having some mild ambivalence about who will pick me, only because you never knew with the nature of these things just what would be happening, but then he knelt down beside me.
I’d done my best to avoid him when I could, but there was nothing I could do now. He had chosen me. Mr. Tall, Dark, and Delicious was kneeling next to me looking into my eyes, and I could not escape, and I didm’t want to either. Oh, it should also be noted that we were both naked. (Almost everyone was naked, or in some half-dressed sort of state. At the beginning of each day they offer you the choice to be naked, and every day I chose this option, as did most people) I was so thrilled he had chosen me, and never once did I wonder who Peter chose. I was fairly certain I knew anyway. In this moment I was completely captivated by this man.
The instructions came that the men were to take the small bottle of nail polish they held, and to begin painting our nails. He had chosen this pearlescent pink-white color, which I thought oddly matched me perfectly. No words ever passed between us. The whole room was instructed to remain silent.
He held each of my long, slender, fingers tenderly in his hand, and one by one, painted each nail slowly. Each long, languid, stroke became like a well-placed caress painted across my skin, and he held my gaze to make certain I knew that was his intention. His eyes would travel the length of my body, and then return with hunger. A hunger he found reflected back from mine. It wasn’t a ravenous hunger, no restrained beast was being reined in. His eyes, his touch, his hands, all said he would take his time with me. His ravaging of my body would be a slow, sensual feasting.
He repeated the same gestures with my left hand. The entire experience then, and when I recall it now, all seemed to be almost dreamlike. It seemed to both go on forever, and yet, pass by far too quickly. It was like being lost in another world, and not necessarily wanting to return.
And just like that, the exercise was over. Voices returned to break the silence, and the dreamlike bubble I was existing in with this man, dissolved. Shortly after this, we broke for lunch. We all made plates indoors from a buffet at the back of the room, and then took them to sit outside on the deck where sunlight filtered through the trees and blue skies hung above. Peter and I ended up sharing a round patio table with several other people, one of whom was my sensual nail painter. It was a quiet lunch, even though I remember we all enjoyed talking together. I remember admiring my nails and thanking him for doing such an impressive job, and I remember wanting to say more, but instead being lost in that quiet, wordless gaze that happens between two people when they’re not sure just what or how to say it.
Even to this day, I’m not sure I ever really shared with Peter just how deep and sensuous that experience with that man had been for me, or how I had really wished it had been more. We both kept our agreements to one another during the rest of the workshop,, with some minor bending which we both agreed to. He told Aussie girl to cool her jets, and she did. I kept myself in check with my own interest.
As for the “check in with your partner” exercises, there were two, and I was exceptionally thankful that we heeded the advice of that previous attendee. One of them, and by far the most intense, involved stimulating your partner to orgasm via her g-spot. That could have gone SO badly had I been paired with someone else. In fact, unless it had been my nail painting friend, I know I would’ve opted out, because I don’t like being touched by people I am unattracted to, let alone let their fingers have a play date in my vagina. Whoever that guy was that gave us that advice, I am eternally thankful to you, my friend! I was also thankful that fate had it so Peter ended up in California with me for that workshop. That was not something, nor was the 2nd exercise of similar risk that followed, I had been been prepared to be open to experiencing with a roomful of strangers present.
All of that aside, it doesn’t even really begin to speak to how either of us would have felt emotionally had we not listened to that advice, and instead chose different partners. What if I ended up with a partner that I didn’t want to do the exercise with, and what if he ended up strumming Aussie girl to her edge while I sat on the sideline? What if he chose not to do the exercise for some reason, and I ended up with Mr. Tall, Dark, and Delicious making me thrust and squirt all over his fingers? I’m fairly certain when I say this that neither of us would’ve been the least bit okay with experiencing that emotional torpedo.
So, obviously, some boundaries are in place for good reason. We choose some agreements in relationships that make sense, and others that leave us questioning. Years later I find myself wondering why we even bothered choosing to be monogamous at that point in the first place. It was obvious that each of us had desires that lead elsewhere, but that we quelled. And while I suppose at any time we could have decided otherwise, we still chose to not follow them.
In weighing out all the possibilities and the consequences, real or perceived, I think we all make the best choices we can in the moment we have to make them. The question remains, why do we?