It happened in Portugal in the summer of 2014.
I had spent the whole night with Peter. We were cuddling in the morning hours when somebody knocked on the door. It was his partner and mother of his son, Iris. She wanted to speak to me. Scared and not knowing what to expect, I went to greet her at the door.
I had met Peter at a party on a permaculture farm near Sintra. The following week I found myself in one of his Tantra workshops. He needed someone to demonstrate tantric massage on, and I volunteered. The massage lasted for hours and kept on going even after all the workshop participants had already fallen asleep.
I didn’t know much about Peter. I just enjoyed being close to him. I loved looking into his eyes for hours. We felt more than attraction for each other. There was a deep connection, trust, and love.
We explored this connection further and opened our hearts and bodies to each other. Since we didn’t need many words, it wasn’t until later that I found out about his partner, Iris. Before the summer, they had split up their long-term relationship, and when I first met Peter they were living in separate homes.
But shortly after this, Iris experienced a breakthrough in which she realized that she really wanted to be with Peter despite their challenges. While he was with me they reconciled on the basis of an “open relationship.”
I had met Iris twice very briefly, but never talked to her. Now she was in front of the door wanting to speak to me.
She was clearly nervous and asked if she could speak in French rather than English. “Bien sur (for sure)”, I answered. I looked at her with curiosity when she explained that she came by to get to know me better. She asked if it was okay to stand still and look each other in the eyes. Feeling slightly anxious, but in awe of her courage, I agreed.
We stood there for several minutes looking way further than just our eyeballs. I saw her beauty, but also her fears. I saw her power and strength. I saw how she respected me for loving her partner, but also how her inner child was afraid to lose the person she loves the most.
Then she took my hand, squeezed it, and said thanks. No more words were spoken, but we exchanged what needed to be said with our eyes. Iris walked back toward her car, and Peter joined her. I watched as they drove away.
What had just happened? It blew my mind. I went back into Peter’s house. All my conditioned beliefs about love and relationships spun around my head, leaving me dizzy but, to my surprise, also relieved.
I realized that I had finally found what I had been looking for: a love so pure and committed to growth that it sets everybody free.
Three times in my life, I had felt love for two men at the same time. I wanted to be with both of them, share my affection, tenderness, and passion. But it was never well received. Huge dramas played out because my partners were convinced: “If you love more than one, it cannot be true love.” It’s a statement that sounds foreign to me today, but I believed it back then. I was sure that there must be something wrong with me. I suffered from thoughts like: “I cannot love;” “I cannot create a lasting relationship;” “I need to fix myself.”
So I went to therapy. But the tools the therapist suggested to make me decide didn’t work for me. The judgment I perceived from her made me feel like a failure.
Little did I know that I did not need any fixing. I just needed to find a partner who sees love the same way I do. A love that sets you free.
And then I met Peter and Iris. Iris respected Peter’s love for me even though it brought up a lot of insecurities in her. They faced her fears together. And while they worked on their relationship, Iris treated me like a sister. I lived at Peter’s place for a little while, went on long walks with both of them, and was part of their family trip to Lisbon together with Peter’s sister and mum.
During one of our walks in the woods with Iris she stopped me, looked deeply into my eyes and thanked me for coming into their lives. She didn’t say why, and I didn’t ask. And it wasn’t even important. What mattered was that we were all able to be ourselves and see each other without negative judgments.
Shortly after they reconciled, Peter and I stopped being romantic. Iris decided it was too much stress for her to be in an open relationship, and Peter felt the importance to cultivate some deep healing within their union. As I respected their love for each other and their little family, I accepted that choice with a slightly sad heart. At the same time, I looked back at all the trust and affection they had given me and felt a profound gratitude for their kindness.
Iris and Peter were not the only people that showed me another way to love. During that summer in Portugal, the topic of polyamory was ever present. I met different couples and learned about their way of dealing with the uncomfortable emotions that commonly surfaced when more than two people are involved.
Fear, insecurity, self-doubt, and jealousy are natural byproducts of such relationships. I observed how they can only work if both partners are able to hold space for each other, be responsible for their own personal needs, and are totally honest in their communication with each other.
I also met people that use the freedom of open relationships to escape intimacy. As soon as conflict arises, they run to the next partner—never fully opening up and showing their vulnerability.
But I found that it gets as real and raw as it can get if you combine free love with a willingness to feel and be open. It is the opportunity to experience true love that goes way beyond partnerships that are based on a false illusion of security.
A love that sets us free has the potential to catalyze the partners into spiritual growth, often bringing up deep-rooted fears from the past. A love that sets us free is a new chance to embrace everything that we are with love and transcend our fears.
That’s also what I told Christoph when we started dating after I came back home from Portugal. I let him know about my fascination with polyamory and expressed frankly that conventional relationships had never worked well for me.
Being a philosopher, Christoph loved to think outside the box, and it seemed like he was not opposed to my unusual ideas. But when I met Mark several months later and felt a strong attraction to him, it seemed like Christoph was not that open to open relationships anymore.
Mark was the opposite of Christoph. While I loved Christoph for the stability he brought into my life and the way he grounded me, Mark gave me freedom without roots and reminded me of my passion for life and adventure. Mark made me fly and Christoph helped me land. Having both energies in my life felt wonderful to me. That was exactly what I wished for. Whilst Mark was excited about the idea of a triangle relationship, Christoph was struggling.
He was convinced that an open relationship practice would end up in drama and hoped that this kind of pain would not be necessary in order to heal our wounds. He was afraid of it becoming a tool to escape rather than to connect.
I understood his point of view, but that didn’t change mine. For the first time in my life, I knew there was nothing wrong with me. I knew my desires and was very clear in my communication. I wanted Christoph as my primary partner who would always be my priority—while also exploring intimacy with Mark.
Christoph and I had long nights of deep and meaningful conversations. His fears made him open up like he had never before. Together we held space for his insecurities and became more intimate with each other than ever. We visited a relationship counselor who helped us to even better understand how each couple can define their relationship the way they want it to be. Slowly Christoph became okay with the idea of me visiting Mark, giving me the full freedom to be myself and allow all of my needs to be fulfilled.
So I traveled to Mark’s home country of Malta and stayed for 10 days. Even though Christoph had given me his green light to go all the way, I held back from sleeping with Mark because I honored Christoph’s courage to face his fears. I felt less of a need to connect on a body-to-body level, so Mark and I connected purely emotionally.
Being very conscious and open with the two men made me realize my subconscious reason for creating triangle relationships were rooted in my childhood. While I always thought that it must be related to the divorce of my parents, the source of this behavioral pattern turned out to be a different one.
My mother and I used to have a very problematic relationship, full of projections, fights, and arguments. The bond between my grandmother and I was very loving and affectionate. I loved both deeply but it seemed to me that my mother felt jealous of the harmony between her own mother and me. It was never openly spoken about and yet, I felt guilty for loving both and tried to hide and block my feelings instead.
In my adult life, I subconsciously had been trying to solve this dilemma by getting permission to love two men at the same time. The day that first myself and then both Mark and Christoph allowed me to be who I am without judgment was the day that set my inner child free. I felt grandiose. Overwhelmed with happiness, tears of joy ran down my face. All I needed was a true sense of freedom to lose my desire to be with both at the same time.
This didn’t make me monogamous though. Christoph and I continued to experiment with concepts of relationships for a while, went through ups and downs, and learned valuable lessons.
After two years, we decided to go our separate ways because our paths led us in different directions, and many of our needs were not compatible. To this day, I am deeply grateful for his courage to face his fears and go with me through this difficult but rewarding journey to unconditional love.
Am I still fascinated with the idea of free love? Hell, yes! But what does “free love” even mean?
There are so many ways a relationship can look. Sometimes we get trapped in the belief that there are only two options. Either monogamy or polygamy. Either restriction or total freedom with no boundaries. But these are just extremes and there are so many options in between.
Each couple can find what fits them best. What matters is that both feel that they can truly and openly be themselves without feeling trapped.
Maybe free love for you means that you commit to one partner only. Maybe it means you want to be fully open to every sexual encounter along the way. Whatever it is, real love will not ask us to restrain ourselves and hold back. Love sets free.
I have found out for myself that I want a committed partnership that will be my top priority, while I can also express my attraction to other men openly and—if it’s healing for our personal lives and our relationship, or a genuine heart desire—also connect more deeply with another man. I want us to be there for each other if fears trouble us and embrace every aspect of our beings with love.
I wish for a conscious union in which we take responsibility for our feelings instead of blaming and trying to control the other. I wish for my partner to understand the importance of freedom in my life but also to see that I will be absolutely loyal to and honest with the one I settle with.
And as needs and wishes are ever-changing, I want the definition of our relationship to remain free to adapt to our potentially transforming boundaries.
The clearer we are in our wants and desires, the easier we will attract the perfect match into our lives.
Let’s strip the conditioning of the past and open ourselves to another way to love than society has taught us.
Let’s find your way to love, my way to love, our way to love.
Ever changing, ever transforming, like the waves in the ocean. This is how I want to live, love, and die.
Author: Alice Dea Smeets
Image: Henry & June, IMDB
Editor: Travis May