Just the Tip is a sex and relationship column hosted by queer non-monogamous kinkster Jera Brown. Here you will find interviews with sexuality researchers and educators as well as smart and compassionate responses to anonymous questions. If you have a sex or love question you’d like Jera to answer, email justthequestions@gmail.com or DM Jera on Instagram or Twitter @thejerabrown.

When a friend wanted to introduce me to a guy she knew, I said, “Sure, but I’m not looking for anything serious.” I was just shy of my 27th birthday and finally felt comfortable being single. She told me he’d said the same thing. Nevertheless, three years later, I found myself browsing wedding dresses online and sending D the links.

We both fell harder than we meant to. D later told me he started falling for me when I carried my 60-pound dog over a section of the sidewalk covered in glass. And one of the things I loved early on was his dedication to his job. Lying in bed before his birthday—the first I’d celebrated with him—he told me he’d rather his parents donate to the youth center where he worked than give him cash. This was coming from a guy on a social worker’s salary who couldn’t afford to fix the tooth he’d broken attempting to skateboard with some of youth center kids. That night his altruism stole my heart.

Our relationship acted as a garden — a nurturing environment in which we both grew as people. I co-founded a music-related nonprofit, and he sat on the board. He tried out stand-up comedy for the first time. I got certified as a personal trainer while he trained for a 5K. We just kept planting new seeds and watching new aspects of our lives blossom.

This kind of support, however, was a double-edged sword. Because it meant we were evolving very rapidly. And in this kind of hypergrowth, it’s easy to grow apart.

A couple of years into the relationship, we both realized what we wanted to do with our lives. I became more serious about writing while D got serious about stand-up. While I spent night after night at a coffee shop writing my grad school samples, D’s career was building momentum and he performed nightly. We stopped having date nights, and even though we lived together, we saw less and less of each other as he did more shows out of town, and I juggled my full-time job and what felt like a full-time dream.

We saw less of each other, but I didn’t want to let go—thus the wedding dresses. The links prompted serious discussions, and it took me a long time to admit that D was right when he said I didn’t know what I really wanted long-term. Did I want to marry him? He saw through my confidence to the undercurrent of doubt about marrying a guy who traveled all the time and (our other major difference) who didn’t share my spiritual practices.

We ended up staying together but holding off on marriage, and a few months after our fifth anniversary, we called it quits. For weeks afterward, every time I was alone in the car or in the bathroom, I’d uncontrollably weep. We didn’t stop loving each other, we just finally accepted our relationship wasn’t working. That was nine years ago.

Polyamory Helped Our Relationship Evolve

After we broke up, we stopped speaking. We were both brokenhearted. We both had anger, guilt, and regret to work through. 

But a few months later, D sent me an email. In it he explained, “The good thing about being poly is that how we relate to each other now can be whatever both of us are comfortable with.  I think I’m starting to move past being hurt and starting to want to try and figure out a way we can still be part of each other’s lives in some sort of meaningful way.”

We started hanging out again. Eventually, we even started sleeping together again. But things were different. For starters, D had met someone else he was falling in love with. And we’d both accepted that while we loved each other, being “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” just didn’t work for us.

But we were able to find a new way of relating. D told me he believes that breaking up allowed us to have the kind of relationship that was best for us. 

While this happens all the time in monogamous relationships, as well — exes who become best friends — for us, being non-monogamous allowed us the space to explore all different possibilities. Lovers, friends, non-anchor partners … There’s a new sense of spaciousness in our relationship that comes from not being attached to particular labels and expectations.

We Were Able to Redefine Success

The success of any particular relationship won’t look the same as another. For instance, sometimes it’s not healthy to keep in touch after a breakup, but that doesn’t mean the relationship itself wasn’t valuable.

For years, I thought I was failing at life in some way by not being married (or not being able to convince my partner to marry me). I had a lot of Christian conditioning to work through. And I needed to work through it to find healthier ways of romantically relating to another person.

Sometimes it’s helpful to re-evaluate what we consider a successful relationship to look like (and why) in order to let go and move on or to allow a relationship to evolve.

Besides the fact that we’re still close after nearly 15 years, here are two other ways that I now measure the success of our relationship:

1) I’m a full-time writer, and D is recording his second comedy album. The seeds that we planted together continue to bear fruit.

2) D once told me that our relationship made him a better partner for his next girlfriend — the one that came after me. And I feel the same: I learned so much about thing things I needed to work on to be a good partner.

We Are Grateful For Every Phase of Our Relationship

Even though we didn’t end up getting married or growing old together on a farm like we’d fantasized about, I’m incredibly grateful for the time we spent living together, trying to make it work. 

But I’m equally grateful for where we are now. D lives hundreds of miles away from me, and we don’t get to see each other often. But we collaborate on creative projects and talk frequently. And we make it a point to visit each other whenever we can. 

D is one of the first people I call when I need to be reminded of who I am — that’s one of the benefits of a decade-and-a-half relationship. There’s someone out there who knows everything about me, can remind me of why I’m wonderful, and has stuck around because of it. And I try to do the same for him.

Jera writes about sexuality, spirituality, and social justice. They are the author of Just the Tip, a queer-friendly, sex-positive, relationship advice column and the editor of Sacred and Subversive,...