Finding the right partners (and even the right relationship styles) in the world of consensual non-monogamy is a bit like choosing the right cannabis product. When faced with a plethora of options, it helps to figure out what you need most in this moment (both physically and emotionally), what has historically worked well for you in the past, what hasn’t and if the thing you’re choosing is one that aligns with your values. Has it been lab tested? Is it being acquired through reputable, ethical sources? Do you have time to allocate to this experience, or would it require a lot of re-prioritizing? Once you have that figured out, you have to communicate (with your budtender) in order to get the things you need.
Many folks imagine open relationships as some kind of sexual smorgasbord. In reality, they tend to look more like this comic. Honesty, openness, and transparency are important for all healthy relationships, but especially for non-monogamous relationships. There are many different ways to do non-monogamy, so you have to find the one that works best for you. It might be polyamory, swinging, relationship anarchy, or a yet-to-be-named configuration that you just created.
It’s important to have awareness about your relationship needs so that you can communicate them. Consent is the operative word in consensual non-monogamy, and consent has two components: it must be informed (know what you’re agreeing to) and it must be mutual (both parties have to agree to the same thing). People’s needs can change over the course of a relationship, which can often be a source of conflict, so being able to access your needs and have conversations about them is a vital skillset.
I find cannabis to be immensely helpful when doing internal processing work. Every so often I sit down, pack a bowl of something creative and thought provoking like Juicy Jack, and I spent some time journaling about what I’m looking for in a partner at this particular moment. I pull out a notebook that I keep just for this purpose and I label four pages (along with the date, so I can see how I’ve changed over time):
- What do I need right now? Am I looking for companionship? Sexual pleasure? A romantic relationship? Emotional support? Some combination of all of the above?
- Wants: If you could order your ideal relationship like a pizza, what attributes would it have? What are the core values? This is your wish list, so get creative! If you’re currently in a relationship, also use this space to brainstorm ways the relationship could be even better.
- Dealbreakers: What are the hard limits for you in a partner or potential partner? Maybe you refuse to date people whose political views conflict with yours. Maybe you only want someone who is available for a certain level of commitment.
- Current commitments: What are the things that currently require my attention? This could be other relationships, kids, work or hobbies. How much time do you legitimately have to offer to another human?
If you’re in a relationship and find yourself getting anxious, consider choosing cannabis products that help you feel more calm and centered. A 2012 article in Biological Psychiatry: A Journal of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Therapeutics stated, “when evaluating the outcome probabilities of ambiguous future life events, anxious individuals unrealistically judge negative outcomes to be more likely than positive one.” In other words, if you tend toward anxiety, often your brain will try to convince you that the thing you’re worried about is the thing that’s most likely to happen. For instance, recently I was having a conversation with one of my lovers about what deepening our connection would look like. I could feel my heart pounding and my hands starting to shake, imagining the worst case scenario of how the conversation would go, even though I had no rational basis for thinking that it would go poorly. Luckily, I had a vape pen in my purse, so I stepped outside, took a few puffs of my CBD vape pen along with a few deep breaths, and within minutes felt calm enough to resume the conversation from a neutral listening space, rather than a place of anticipatory dread.
When I notice my anxiety spiking like that typically, I take a few puffs of something soothing like Gorilla Glue #4 or Granddaddy Purple. Strains high in the terpene linalool tend to be especially helpful. This terpene, also found in lavender, is known for its stress relieving properties. However, those might be too strong for an intense conversation. Strains that are 1:1 CBD to THC (or greater) are great for reducing anxiety while keeping your head clear and present. Cannatonic is a popular 1:1, while Harlequin is 5:2, and Tora Bora is 2:1. “Avoid Landrace sativa strains like Lamb’s Bread, Acapulco Gold and Durban Poison,” says budtender Andrew Mieure of Top Shelf Budtending. “They can cause anxiety or an elevated mood that feels like being on edge.”
Setting context for difficult conversations can also help lessen anxiety. We spend our formative years learning history, math, and literature, and very little time learning how to navigate conflict gracefully. Setting agreements before you begin allows you to set expectations and create a sense of safety. Some helpful ones I’ve used are:
- Stating explicitly before starting that there is mutual affection and respect and that the intention of the conversation is to promote understanding and compassion. Sometimes just saying this helps the conversation go well.
- Agreeing to take breaks when needed. This tends to land better than, “I just can’t be here right now” and leaving in the middle of a conflict. If someone knows they can step away for a bit to get some fresh air and clear their head without upsetting their partner, they’re less likely to feel claustrophobic and need to bolt for real.
- Tabling major decisions until everyone’s emotions are back to baseline. Making decisions when you’re anxious or agitated can lead to regrets later. Decide in advance that you’re both going to say what you need to say, but that you’ll take 24 hours (or however long feels appropriate) to marinate on the conversation before making a decision.
Have you ever been in a non-monogamous relationship? What are some of your best tips and tricks for success?