In what way does being intimate with multiple people interfere with our personal daily functioning?
Throughout working on my Master’s in Women and Gender Studies I’ve had conflicting issues with the basis of monogamy, specifically marriage and all of its patriarchal glory.
If even close to 50% of marriages end in divorce, why are people still getting married?
If one of the root causes of divorce is infidelity, why aren’t we working on concepts outside of monogamy?
Lately I’ve been exploring ideas of what it would be like to have an open relationship. Mainly I’ve been debating the good and bad of polyamory—poly meaning more than one; amory meaning love—together, meaning to love more than one at a time.
Because I live mostly in a theoretical world in which polyamory and open relationships work on paper, I thought I’d go through what makes me hesitant and excited about opening up my existent four-year (and counting) relationship and what it would be like to give this outside-the-norm style of love a try.
The Good—Ahhh…More Sex.
Whether with one or more partners sex can benefit people in multiple ways, including stress relief, cardiovascular health, better sleep, and perhaps even enlightenment, just to name a few. Also, sexual exploration can help with a lack of stagnation; as most people who have been in long-term relationships can attest, we all go through peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows.
The Bad— Time.
Having sex all the time really puts a damper on doing much of anything else. If I chose to open my relationship and I met new, interesting people who I wanted to spend time with, well, I’d have to own a pretty badass planner to fit everyone in. And right now, it seems difficult to have enough time for just one other person.
The Ugly— Slutopia and STD’s.
The majority of our population doesn’t really find non-monogamy appropriate no matter its label (open relationship, polyamory, etc.) these people generally seem to think that those who are open are promiscuous amoral sluts with STDs. But, there is a right way to be a proper ethical slut, (and even a guide book for those who want more info); part of it includes always using protection and not screwing every person you meet. People who are out doing everyone without protection have low self-esteem and a death wish.
The other problem I could encounter is that some monogamous people may look at me as a threat—a loose cannon who could blow up their existing relationship by trying to get closer to one of them. I am not a sex tornado, I respect other people’s limits and choices, so I find this concept quite frustrating as no one person is attracted to every other person in existence.
We all have our standards. I for one am not generally attracted to the mountain dew drinker, the renaissance fair attendee, the anime watcher, or the peace-pipe smoking hippie but those types seem to be the majority of poly-people who have “come out;” that, or they’re old. I guess if I do it I’ll need to start looking harder.
The Good—More Fulfilling Relationships Overall.
Sometimes when people are in relationships they will put a barrier around said relationship so as to not cross over the intimacy line with other people. This can cause an inability to make more fulfilling longer lasting friendships (or more-than friendships) due to the fact that one person in a monogamous relationship doesn’t want to hurt the other by connecting closely to someone else. The most exciting part of the polyamory concept to me is the ability to have no fear when meeting new people. I can go for it completely. I can get as deep with another as I want without feeling I am crossing over into the “danger zone.” Partly it’s because I’m already with someone, and thus in a way, I always have backup in case of rejection and I always have a support system if something (or someone) becomes dysfunctional.
I’ve always been the sort of narcissistic egomaniac that finds it okay for me to do something, but completely ridiculous and rude if someone else does the same thing, for example I can flirt, but my boyfriend better not. And here in lies the major problem. However, I am working on getting passed that—as jealousy is not an innate reaction to a lover loving someone else but is more of a socially developed dilemma. I was reading an autobiography of the beat poet Diane De Prima and in it she told the story of her girlfriend coming home late, crying profusely, and confessing her “sin” of cheating. De Prima was confused. She said she didn’t understand why she should be upset that someone she loved shared an intimate moment with someone else; it in no way hurt her. Something about that story really clicked with me. In what way does being intimate with multiple people interfere with our personal daily functioning?
The Ugly— Loneliness.
How can a person be alone in a non-monogamous polyamorous open relationship? Well, probably pretty easily if one’s partner goes on a date with someone else and leaves said person to fend for herself for the night. The book The Ethical Slut lists plenty of things one can do to “treat” oneself. It also suggests we make lists such as 10 ways to be Kind to Yourself and 15 Reasons He’s Lucky/15 Reasons You’re Lucky. Don’t get my wrong, I love making lists, but am I really going to remember to read my list when the dreaded loneliness starts looming? Or am I going to reach for a bottle of wine and pour my soul into an existential crisis where I question every decision I’ve ever made? And that is where it gets ugly. No one wants to go there. That is where egotistical narcissism would come in handy, or at least some high self-esteem and a bit more confidence than the average bear.
The Good— Better Communication.
The best suited people for any arrangement of non-monogamy are Type A’s, who love planning and scheduling and being on top of it all. Because that’s what it takes. It seems like participating in this type of relationship would improve communication skills because people would first need to set boundaries and discuss what they want in relationships in general and specifically. And they would need to be completely honest at all times in regards to everyone’s boundaries.
If, for example, I didn’t want other people in my bed, there better never be anyone else in my bed. If he wanted me to give 24 hour warning I better give a day’s warning. Monogamous couples don’t have as many rules, basically, don’t touch anyone else in any way (mentally, spiritually, physically etc.) and it will be fine. I’m not sure if that is the best way to have a relationship for every person on the planet.
The Bad— Breaking the Rules.
Obviously humans are not perfect and though we all try to abide by our own ethical standards sometimes we slip. When this happens it can be emotionally painful both for the person admitting they broke the rules and for the person hearing the news. We are adults and we need to be responsible for our own actions and reactions. Some situations can be forgiven and some just may not be, that is all dependent on individual standards. I personally, do not know how forgiving I can be but at the same time I don’t want to find out.
The Ugly— Breaking Up.
An observation I’ve noticed about married couples is that they often don’t talk to each other, about anything. There is a security in knowing that the other one is always going to come home, but there is also a monotonousness to it that seems utterly depressing. What appears to be missing over time, when the bore begins to occur, is a deeper understanding of oneself through the connection with another human being—a cut off, an invisibility, a routine with no positivity. The worst thing that could happen if we decided to try out this whole polyamory thing is that we’d break up and move on—but it seems like a worthy risk. One that could lead to a more fulfilling life overall. Or one that could at least give me a good story to write about when I’m 50 and reflecting on my youthful ideology, my idealism, my inability to conform to the conventional relationship standards of our day.
I will never know unless I try and I still cannot decide…
[Update: Read How More Sex with More People was Good, then Bad, then Ugly.]