What Does It Mean For A Relationship To “Work”?

My Tuesday evening ritual consists of the following: an hour and a half of yoga and meditation, followed by a hot bubble bath, in which I either drink a glass of wine or eat a Haagen-Daz Coffee Crunch ice cream bar, while wearing a mud mask and lisening to Dan Savage’s Savage Love podcast. I highly recommend this entire evening routine. It makes the following day, Hump Day, that much easier.(If you’re not already a listener of Savage Love, you should be — even if you’re into the most vanilla sex in the entire world or consider yourself a prude or have no interest in participating in even the slightest bit of kink, the podcast is still incredibly interesting and educational. It can also be both heartbreaking and hysterical. This week’s show featured both a young woman who was emotionally abused and deeply betrayed by her first dominant partner, as well as another woman calling about her cum fetish.)

So last night, I was indulging in my relaxation ritual, which was made particularly interesting by that evening’s Savage Love podcast, which was mostly about BDSM. One of the callers was a woman who was just beginning to date a polyamorous man. She wanted to know, point blank, in Dan’s opinion, based on his vast experience, if polyamorous relationships “can work.” That got Dan and his guest host — a dominatrix who was on as the BDSM expert — talking about what it even means for a relationship to work.

For example, say this woman dates her poly boyfriend for two years and then they break up — no doubt, many of her friends (who have expressed doubt about her relationship already) will think or even say, “Well, that’s because open relationships and polyamory don’t work.” And on the flipside, many advocates of polyamory argue that it’s monogamy that doesn’t work — just look at how many marriages end in divorce! But what does it mean for a relationship to work? That you are together forever until one of you dies? How often does that happen? Regardless of how many people are in a relationship — be it monogamous, poly, or open — most relationships don’t last until one of you kicks the bucket. Couples, threesomes, whatever, they break up because love and how long it will last can’t be predicted.

So, if “being together forever” isn’t the defining aspect of a relationship “working” — because if it is, we’re all failures at it — then what is? Savage said:

“Did you get something out it? Was it good for you, was it good for them? Did you grow in this relationship? Do you look back on it with some fondness? In that sense, polyamorous relationships can work, monogamous relationships can work, they can all work … If everybody had a great time and you emerged friends and you felt intimacy and connection and you learned and you grew in that relationship, it f**king worked even if you outlived it.”

I love this. It’s so easy to look back on past relationships as “failures,” but thinking about what made each of them work — or not work — is a much more positive and productive approach to love and commitment. Looking at your own relationships, both current and in the past, how would you define what made them “work”?