Why my partner and I decided to be each other's "trial run" for future relationships
On my first Tinder date with J last September, I sensed that he would be an important person in my life. Our bond was instant, and we came to understand each other quickly. During a long walk on the beach, where our conversation spanned from music to metaphysics, I learned we had a lot in common: We’d both recently moved to L.A. and we both felt like outsiders, struggling with self-isolation. He also opened up to me about negative experiences with sex and relationships—experiences I shared—and we learned that we were both trying to heal. After meeting him, I felt hopeful that perhaps I had someone to heal with—someone who could relate to me.
Though we didn’t know each other long, through our discussions, I found that J and I both valued the same things, like strong emotional connections over small talk. It felt like we’d known each other forever, and all our dates ended up lasting a full day, where we’d cuddle on my bed and open up to each other. By our third date, we were open books to one another. He admitted that he was afraid to get close to me because he felt like he didn’t have much to offer. I confided that I was afraid to get close to him because of my history of sexual trauma. We decided then and there to work through these fears and stay present with each other anyway. And we did.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we dove in more to our past relationships and the wounds that they had caused. I told J that my last relationship had ended because I realized I couldn’t be monogamous, making it clear to him that I needed to be able to see other people. He was understanding of this, and we established an arrangement right away where we could both do that. It shattered so many illusions for me to see that I could find a partner who supported my desire to be sexual outside the relationship, rather than making me feel bad about it.
From there, J and I touched on a whole range of other intimate topics, like our body image struggles and the baggage our families had given us. We also stretched our comfort zones by doing things like going to shamanic ceremonies and a sex party. (Funnily enough, we went to the sex party before we’d even had sex—all we did there was make out.) I’d been doing those kinds of things for a while, and J wanted to do something he wasn’t used to, so I brought him with me.
A heart-to-heart about our unconventional yet fulfilling relationship and the role it played in each of our lives came up while we were on our sixth date. “I feel like, one day, we’re just going to be good friends, but we’re supposed to be dating now,” I felt comfortable telling J. “It’s like we’re healing each other’s relationship wounds.”
It felt as if we were preparing each other for future relationships, rather than being it for each other.
Our relationship felt special in that way. And even though we were both a little worried about our separation hurting when things ended, we reassured each other that we’d prevent any messiness by staying in really good communication about our feelings around the relationship.
After reaching that level of understanding, we had the space to candidly discuss the performance anxieties we struggled with in the bedroom. In many ways, our issues were complementary: He had insecurities about his ability to please women, as well as his desirability as a partner, and I had insecurities about my ability to experience pleasure. It wasn’t until our seventh date that we actually had sex. We moved slowly and talked through the feelings associated with my sexual trauma and his performance anxiety. As our sexual relationship developed, he told me his confidence had increased—and so had my ability to trust men. Within a few weeks, I no longer had doubts about my ability to orgasm with a partner, which had been holding me back in previous relationships. I started going into other sexual encounters excited and confident, rather than anxious and insecure.
During our conversation about the future life partnerships we envisioned—and even though we felt that our relationship was right at that moment—we agreed that we needed to keep searching and exploring. Both of us were interested in meeting a number of different people who could help us discover who we were, romantically and sexually. Neither of us loved hearing about each other’s dates and hookups, but we put our commitment to each other’s happiness above any jealous feelings. Because we were in similar situations, we were able to understand each other’s desire to see other people, rather than take it personally.
One Friday afternoon, I met up with J at his apartment, and he seemed to have an extra spring in his step. While we were cuddling in his bed, he told me a woman who he’d always had a strong feeling for had contacted him, and that he was excited about the potential. Once again, we were in parallel situations. Just a few days prior, I’d had a really beautiful night with a guy I’d previously thought of as a hookup buddy but was starting to see very long-term potential with.
To my surprise, I didn’t feel any jealousy, and he didn’t either. “Can we just be excited for each other, then?” I laughed. He nodded, and we hugged.
A few weeks later, about three months after meeting, we went on a trip together, and something unexpected happened. Even though I still enjoyed J’s company, I stopped feeling romantic or sexual attraction toward him. Perhaps because we both had other people on our minds, our feelings for each other were fading. The following week, we talked about it, and he’d experienced the same shift in his own emotions.
It was as if we’d done the work we needed to do on each other, so we’d both intuited that it was time to move on and let each other find our next partners.
Since we were on the same page, the transition to friendship was easy. We cuddled during our first non-date hangout but, by the following week, we didn’t have the desire to do that either. The next time I saw him, we both felt we could be platonic friends, and we talked about our love lives the way we would with any other friend. And yet our dynamic is different from any relationship either of us has had with another friend, because we know each other in a way that nobody else does. We’ve heard each other’s deepest fears and insecurities, worked through them together, and seen each other come out on the other side. There is nothing J doesn’t know about me and, because of that, I can trust and confide in him like no one else in my life. I’m happy to know that, even though we’re not dating anymore, we’re still as close, just in a different way.
Sometimes, a romantic relationship is meant to last a long time. Other times, it’s simply meant to put a beautiful and solid foundation underneath a lifelong friendship. My relationship with J taught me that I can love in a way that’s bigger than labels, jealousy, or attachment to future outcomes—and, because of that, I can now offer a greater form of love to future partners.