Family Matters

A Monogamish Love Triangle

The Painful Geometry of an Open Relationship

Magazine Issue
May/June 2024

I once had a husband and a boyfriend—an open relationship and love triangle that nearly broke me in two. But I came out more whole in the end.

I hadn’t gone looking for it. In marriage, I was all in. My husband and I worked from home side by side, and caring for our two young daughters was a 50-50 affair. Besties, partners, confidantes, parents. An embarrassment of “we” pronouns.

Maybe all that togetherness did us in, because one steamy summer I found myself attracted to another man. The infatuation came on suddenly, like a car crash: my body knew first, and it took a minute for my brain to catch up. Once it did, I felt a strange mixture of pleasure and dread. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

Making him even more off-limits, the man I lusted for was my yoga student. I taught once a week at an intimate studio in my small town. As yogis we’re expected to OM through our desires, yet a yoga class is dripping with pheromones. This man—an artist and a carpenter with a Greek name and sculpted arms—had recently become a regular.

Curiously, it was my husband who broached the topic of open relationships around the same time that my crush gripped me. He’d been listening with fascination to a sex-advice podcast about “monogamish”—a relationship that’s mostly monogamous yet leaves room for outside play. He wasn’t proposing anything, just talking. When he brought it up two or three times that summer, a door of possibility cracked open in my mind.

Pre-crush, an arrangement like monogamish would’ve seemed preposterous to me, unthinkable for any committed couple, especially parents. Now it looked rational, doable. Other people made polyamory work. Why couldn’t we?

Emboldened, yet without clearance from my husband, I asked my crush to stay after class one day. After wiping down sweaty yoga mats and stowing them away, we sat in a room that was heady with incense. I confessed my attraction, blushing. His eyes lit up.

“I’m attracted to you, too,” he said. “I thought you were married.”

“I am. But there’s this thing called monogamish,” I offered hopefully.

“I don’t think I could do that,” he said.

He was divorced with two teenage kids and looking for a partner. We tried not to touch each other and mostly managed. But the air between us sparked with longing.

Two days later, after putting my kids to bed, I gathered up the courage to tell my husband. Out spilled my shared attraction with the artist-carpenter, and my husband wasn’t jealous—only titillated.

Understandably, he felt betrayed that I’d talked to my crush first and not to him. I’d crossed a line, but I tried to gloss over it. I asked if he really did want to explore an open relationship or if that was just hypothetical. He paced around our bedroom and said he wanted a week to think about it.

With studious focus, my husband read everything he could find about monogamish and discovered an entire community of people who ventured to love outside the box. There were forums, meetups, even potlucks for the polyamorous. It didn’t take long for him to find real-life polys and get their advice.

He came back with a verdict: we would give openness a try. I had a free pass, as long as I could play by a few rules. Use a condom. No staying the night. Remember his place as the “primary” partner and keep the artist-carpenter in his “secondary” position. My husband would have a free pass, too. For the sake of fairness, I wanted him to use it.

I told my crush the news and he invited me over, only to air hesitations of his own. He had no desire to break up a marriage and had his own heart to protect. I tried to tell him not to worry, and somehow we started to kiss. With the sculpted arms that I’d admired, he carried me to his bed.

I found myself breaking rules from the get-go. The condoms didn’t last long after we established that STDs weren’t an issue and I had an IUD. Leaving after sex felt cheap, so I bargained with my husband to stay the night. I clung to the third rule—keeping my husband primary. Since my visits with the artist-carpenter were only twice a month based on kid schedules, I didn’t think this would be hard to do.

What followed were the salad days of our open relationship. We all seemed to glow in it. I basked in my daughters: their peach-fuzz skin, the sweet smell of them, their needs, all of it more vivid and delicious than before. My yoga classes drew people in with magnetic energy. My husband and I were having a renaissance in the bedroom. And twice each month, like a life-force infusion, I had my nights with the artist-carpenter.

There were insecurities—nervous texts from my husband would interrupt my interludes. Mostly, we grew confident in those early months, and we had the support of a polyamory-friendly therapist guiding our way. My husband and I marveled that we’d figured out the secret to happiness in marriage. We confided in a few friends about our adventures. Most raised their eyebrows. Some said, “If anyone can do this, you two can.”

Exploring on his own, my husband met a woman from Canada at an artists’ retreat. They started a mostly virtual relationship that got heated quickly and flamed out just as suddenly. She balked at being the secondary partner, wanting more. Who could blame her? My husband grew frustrated, saying it was harder for a married man to find a willing poly woman.

The artist-carpenter and I had difficulties too. Soft-spoken and affectionate, he relaxed me so much that I called him my quaaludes. It was a joke, but I was hooked. The more time I spent with him, the more I wanted to be with him. Sensing danger, we broke off the relationship twice. Both times we found our way back to it, encouraged by my husband, who seemed to crave the spice of the open marriage.

With my husband’s permission, I took my boyfriend to a B&B in Lake George for his birthday weekend. We’d been involved part-time for nearly a year, and this would be our most concentrated stretch together. There was hiking and hand-holding, unfettered vacation sex, and stargazing from the deck at night.

We’d planned this getaway weeks ago, before our love triangle had started to fray at the edges. My husband valiantly took care of our kids, as he did through all of my trysts with the artist-carpenter. But he was starting to get little in return emotionally and physically, as I struggled to divide my passion between two people.

I came home from Lake George with souvenirs for the girls and a confused heart. I also had a husband who needed reassurance, and I couldn’t give it. He felt vulnerable, then resentful. I couldn’t play by the rules. Primary and secondary were all mixed up. I was failing at poly.

The next weekend, my husband had plans to attend a poly potluck upstate. He didn’t go. Instead, he looked for his own house and soon signed a lease for one.

His move was an ultimatum. I had to choose between my husband and my boyfriend—a choice that my brain and heart could not agree on. My brain said, “Save your marriage,” but my heart pinned me down. I ached to keep my family whole, to stay together for our kids. But my husband wanted me to stay for him, for us.

On his first night alone in a little blue house, he texted me: “I miss the old us.”

I wrote back, “I do too.”

“We did this together,” he said. “You had the explosives. I lit the match.”

A few weeks later, I asked my husband to please come home. Briefly, he did. But we fought about trust, and I retreated for comfort to the artist-carpenter. That hurt my husband deeply. There was no going back.

Fallout was inevitable. For months I’d find myself crying in Corpse Pose on my yoga mat. An old gut ailment came back to ravage me as I struggled to digest what was happening. I grew thin. I trolled through labyrinths of anguish in solo therapy sessions. Four times, I tried to break it off with the artist-carpenter. He waited out each storm with astonishing patience, taking me in under an umbrella every time.

In some ways my daughters liked the novelty of two houses and more neighborhood kids to play with. But they cried for the parent who wasn’t there, and that gutted me. Sometimes I’d slip into the little blue house to read them a story or snuggle my youngest girl to sleep—whatever would ease the transition to our new normal.

My husband’s grief gave way to anger. He said that he’d never really wanted to do monogamish, that I had led the way all along. I’d naïvely believed that if we walked in the truth of an open relationship, we could not do wrong. But the virtue of openness didn’t save us.

Twelve years later, my former husband is with someone else. We’re on good terms and peacefully co-parenting. I’m still with the artist-carpenter, unmarried, our lives loosely yet dependably woven together. We had our own trials as we slipped into monogamous love. But we’re still here, trying to get it right.

Not exactly a we, he and I are more like two I’s side by side—quick to lean on each other, happy to be parallel, resolute on staying upright for our children. I know where I end and he begins. Funny that a botched foray into polyamory left me feeling, more singularly, myself.

Nowadays, friends confide in me about their open relationship curiosities and ask my advice. I warn them about the dangers ahead, the potential for devastation. But I can’t tell them not to do it. I won’t snuff a lit match. Who am I to put rules on their heart?

Wendy Kagan

Wendy Kagan is a writer and poet based in New York’s Catskill Mountain foothills. For more information, visit