Thursday, July 17, 2008

A New Kettle Of Relationship Fish

A month or so ago, I published an article on WomenBloom on polyamory. For those of you as in the dark as I was about this concept, it is basically having intimate or ‘romantic’relationships that are open, with the full consent of all concerned, to other sexually intimate relationships.

BTW, we’re not talking swinging here. ‘Polys’ as they call themselves, are about relationships, not just sex. They believe no one person can fill an individual’s emotional, intellectual, and physical needs and so, why can’t you love more than one person concurrently? Yep, if you’re not sure whether you feel like spending time and your bed tonight with Pierce Brosnan or George Clooney, you don’t have to choose. Well, maybe you have to choose for one night (or maybe not!), but you don’t have to limit yourself. And, George and Pierce are fine with that.

I admit it blew my mind when a friend told me that she was involved in one of these relationships. I couldn’t quite get my head around it. It seemed like a crazy idea. So, I did what any snoopy and curious nerd like me does when confronted with a mind bender like that, I researched.

Long story short, what I came to see is that, while certainly not for everyone, I do believe it is a viable alternative for some. And, it stretched my own ideas of what relationships can be although I’m still a good ole monogamist.

Last night I went to a book discussion led by my friend Karen Kreps who writes True Intimacies for The Good Life Magazine. Jenny Block, who was there, is a successful writer and a bi-sexual woman who has written a book called Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage. She and her husband of many years have had other relationships while married. And, they are still happily married, despite that Jenny also has a girlfriend she’s been seeing for almost 2 years. Out of the 45 or so people there at the discussion, a good 70 percent identified themselves as polys AND most of those were well into midlife.

This past year, I’ve had a housemate who is lesbian so I’ve gotten to know that community pretty well. Suddenly that experience and listening to all these poly folks last night crystallized something for me that’s been cooking. And that is, it’s REALLY hard to put human behavior around sexuality and relationships in a neat little box. Our behavior is so diverse and what works for people so varied that it seems more and more unrealistic to me to say that traditional, ‘cleave unto no other’, monogamous marriage is the standard. We like to pretend it is, but let me tell you when you get out there and start listening to lots of people, it just isn’t.

We talked last night about how ‘cheating’ is more accepted in our society than open relationships. The stats on cheating are high, peeps. Most experts guess it’s 40 to 60% of people in supposedly committed relationships have strayed. And yet, people in the group noted that folks often say the equivalent of “If you’re cheating, at least have the decency not to tell your boyfriend/husband/whatever”. Hmm, so cheating and lying is better than being honest about what is going on. As someone wisely pointed out, “well, being honest about open relationships is challenging The Rules, cheating and lying help preserve the status quo so it’s less threatening in some ways.”

I’m not sure if I’m just getting a skewed view or not, but I do know it seems as though there is a lot of redefining going on with regard to relationships. With women more financially independent, we have more options. Which means we can focus on how our relationships meet our emotional needs rather than having to have them meet our economic needs.

How people get their emotional needs met is a WHOLE other kettle of fish....what is y’all’s experience with how relationships are shifting? Or, are they from your perspective?


Rhea said...

Very interesting stuff! I always thought it was unnatural to 'shut off' your attractions to other people simply because you've chosen an individual to spend the majority of your life with. But this is a complicated subject for a culture that is very marriage-oriented. I've had a number of friends over the years (straight and gay) who have had open relationships. It seems to work quite well for them, but I'm sure not everyone could handle it, with all the heavy socialization we receive about how relationships 'should' be conducted. It's a very compelling topic.

Midlife Slices said...

I see a rapid decline in moral's these days and I don't like it. The fact that we're becoming calloused to things that were apalling a couple of years ago saddens me. Call me old fashion but I just don't get it. Besides, I'm too territorial for that kind of lifestyle but I guess to each his own.

WomenBloom said...


Yes, I find it a compelling topic because it is so more widespread than I ever would have believed. Of course, being in Austin I have to remember that we are very tolerant of diversity which may make this skewed. But, still. And, even knowing a number of polys who are happy, I still know that I could never live that lifestyle myself. Takes relationship complications to whole new level!

Midlife Slices:

I know what you mean, I can understand why all this would be unsettling to say the least. And, I'm with you, not interested in sharing my significant other (if I had one right now :)) with anyone else. Heck, one relationship is plenty complicated for me.

The thing that strikes me though is that evidently there is quite a gap between what we say we believe and what we do (people in general I mean). I prefer people be open about their behavior even it involves something out of the mainstream than cheat and lie about their behavior. Then people have the information they need to make a decision about whether they stay or leave a partner or spouse.

It is all a bit confounding to be sure....

Jenny B said...

Hi Allison,

Thank you so much for coming to the event and for blogging about it. It's great to have the opportunity to really talk about relationships in an open and honest way!

Wishing you all the best,
Jenny Block
Author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage"

WomenBloom said...


Thanks for visiting, and for giving a fascinating glimpse into the 'open' world.

*C* said...

I'm in a polygamist marriage. It's a little different than polyamory because we are in a commited relationship and no one is 'dating.'

I know people have a first reaction of disbeleif or disapproval, but I think polygamy is better than serial monogamy.

Isn't it funny that if my husband divorced me and married someone else no one would blink an eye? But if he remains commited to me as well as his second wife, suddely we're all sickos?

People have kids out of wedlock all the time. And men have affairs all the time. But if and husband and wife decide to stay together and include another woman in their marriage, then THAT is somehow immoral.

I guess polyamory is different, because there isn't always that level of commitment... but it's worth bearing in mind that being honest about loving more than one person is better than what most people do.

KJ said...

Interesting. I recently discovered that one of my writer friends calls herself polyamory. She said the same thing about the whole idea being much more about loving relationships than sex. This after she talked about a one-night stand with a few people.

I'm not buying all of it.


WomenBloom said...

You point out some interesting things...I guess what learning more about this has done has helped me see how much of a social and religious construction our views on this are. There is nothing wrong with that (since most things are :) but it's good to recognize that's what they are rather than an immutable law.

Thanks for your input!


Yep, us humans can pretty much rationalize all kinds of things. I suspect that for some it is an excuse to just 'sleep around' and cover it with a more acceptable term.

On the other hand, there is so much 'cheating' by people who claim to be committed to one someone that I don't think the polys are any less human in that respect than us monogamists.

Human nature....

Sexie Sadie~ said...

Human nature exactly! I think poly's threaten the social standard and that freaks a lot of people out. Their ideals run so deep, their morals so programmed, that anyone who challenges the status quo is then deemed inferior somehow.

I, like Jenny, choose polyamory over monogamy. It works for my husband and me! Quite well, actually. But, just like any other marriage, it takes work. But, it works for us, and that, essentially, is all that matters :)

Anonymous said...

I think it's a bunch of B.S. Call me old fashioned, but attraction and lust is one thing; love is another. I don't believe you can deeply love more than one person on a romantic level. I'm attracted to a lot of people besides my signifcant other. I even lust after the hot guys on my job on a near daily basis, but that's as far as that goes. I take it for what it is. I may even have my little crushes, but it would be trouble if I started trying to get to really "know" these guys. I prefer one man to one woman at a time. But that's me.

WomenBloom said...

I'm with you sistah! However, in all my talking with those folks who identify themselves as 'plys' I've concluded that there are in fact people for whom this works. What they like about it is that they can get one set of emotional needs met from one person and another set from someone else. I can kinda see that, but if depth is what you're looking for, it's hard to see, just from a sheet time spent together standpoint if nothing else, how you could achieve that kind of depth when you're spreading your attention around.

I dunno, I know it wouldn't work for me.

Thanks for your viewpoint!