It's now or never.
I take a deep sip of my drink, lean forward and whisper: "I want to kiss you."
The woman opposite me shoots back a smile and loops an arm around my waist, drawing me in close.
She tastes of sweet wine and strawberry Chapstick.
"I'd love to see you again," I text on the Uber ride home, still buzzing from our kiss.
My boyfriend is sitting on the couch when I get in.
"So …? How was it?" he asks, with a knowing smile.
Though we rarely talk about it, we're in an open relationship.
"Open relationship" is an umbrella term for varying forms of consensual non-monogamy, so it can mean different things to different people. For us, it's sleeping with other people on the odd occasion, but otherwise being one another's primary partners. We are – as American sex columnist Dan Savage calls it – "monogamish".
Savage, who's been married to his husband Terry Miller for 15 years, and consensually non-monogamous for more than a decade of that, has never been backward about expressing his controversial views on sexual fidelity. He points out the often-ignored fact that, up until this past century, non-monogamy was the norm.
"For all of recorded history, men have had concubines and wh**es; then 60 years ago straight relationships began to become more egalitarian and it was less of a property transaction," Savage explained in a 2011 interview with Big Think.
"Instead of deciding to allow women to have the same sort of freedom and leeway men did, we decided to impose the same limitations that women had on men … And we have watched the consequences of that, which are a lot of short-term relationships and a lot of divorce."
As someone who's in a similar position to Savage, I receive dozens of emails from unhappily married readers in sexless relationships every week. And I've been in one myself. Perhaps this makes me biased, but I think few people would disagree with me that monogamy is hard work.
Does this mean we should quit on our partners the second the going gets tough? Of course not. But it may provide a case for redefining our sexual ethics to better align with the lived reality – rather than romantic ideal of – long-term monogamy.
Clearly, there's a need for it. According to research, more people than ever are seeking out alternative relationship models; online searches for "polyamory" and "open relationships" have trended upwards over the past decade.
So, what exactly does an open relationship look like? And how does it even work, anyway?
A few months ago, I decided to broach the topic with my boyfriend and learn first-hand. (This job has taken me to sex parties, BDSM dungeons and live porn sets, so test-driving non-monogamy in my own relationship, frankly, seemed like a walk in the park.)
"Has there ever been a time you've wanted to have sex with someone other than me?" I asked one evening, as we were plonking down on the couch with takeaway.
"Not really," my boyfriend replied, hesitantly untangling the melted cheese from his slice of pizza.
"What if I told you I think it's a turn on?" I pressed.
"Really?" he replied.
"Really," I shot back with a grin.
Admittedly, I wasn't completely sure how I felt about the prospect of my boyfriend sleeping with other women. What if the sex was better? What if they were more interesting, attractive, or funnier than me? What if I was overcome with jealousy – how would I handle it?
And yet, another part of me was strangely aroused by the idea. It was almost as if being reminded my partner was sexually desired by other people had jolted me out of seeing him in the domesticated light I'd become accustomed to since we moved in together. I was looking at him through a new lens, and it was invigorating.
We talked through our fantasies and fears as the night drew on.
"What if you fall in love with another woman? And what if you realise you don't want to be with me any more?" I put to him.
"That could happen anyway. We don't need to be in an open relationship to develop feelings for someone else or fall out of love. That stuff is always a risk, in any relationship," he replied matter-of-factly.
We agreed not to see people we already knew and never to bring anyone back to the house to keep the boundaries clear. We also came to the conclusion it was more important to know we had the option to sleep with other people, than actually going out and doing it often.
That was three months ago. Since then, I've been with other women – something I'd always wanted to explore further as a bisexual woman. I'm also having the best sex I've ever had in my relationship. There's something about laying all your cards out on the table and being completely authentic with your partner that's incredibly sexually liberating.
My boyfriend and I don't lie to each other about why we stay out late or who we're with either, like a lot of our friends do. We don't have a reason to. The relationship isn't at risk of imploding if one of us gets physical with someone else, because we don't view it as a deal-breaker. And most importantly, we don't see sex and love as inextricably intertwined.
Have we figured it all out yet? Definitely not. But has anyone? If dipping my toes in the waters of consensual non-monogamy has taught me anything, it's that there's no "right way" to have a relationship.
If being open stops working for us, we've built the transparency and trust to talk about it. But for now, at least, I'm going to keep making out with beautiful women at bars and coming home to have hot sex with my boyfriend.