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The Ethical Slut Read-along: Couples

Posted in Polyamory, and The Ethical Slut Read Along

I am leading a read-through of The Ethical Slut, 2nd editionIf you’d like to catch up on past installments, check the list at the bottom of the series introductionComments on the topics in this discussion are welcome anytime, even from people who aren’t following along in the book.

This week, the read-along continues with a discussion based on CHAPTER 18, “Couples”

It’s been a month since we continued this series, so thanks to all my readers for their patience and continued interest. We’re heading into the end of this book — in the next couple months we will finish it and be ready to move on to another! I hope it’s been an educational experience so far and that you enjoy the rest. Remember, if you would like to show your appreciation for the hard work which goes into this series, there are lots of ways to Support Kit.

The Ethical Slut, Second Edition by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy

There are different approaches to polyamory — some people spend a long time acting as a single who dates a network of people but others eventually create larger units like couples. The decisions they make about topics that concern their own relationship such as cohabitation and about non-monogamy may change from the ones they had to make as singles. In this chapter, the authors take a look at committed polyamorous relationships and the challenges they face.

Our culture has enshrined the couple — the goal of any relationship, supposedly, is to become a cohabiting, monogamous, married couple that raises children together. We are sometimes even told by anthropologists and other scientists that this is the natural, default state for humanity — a myth that Sex At Dawn devotes many pages to debunking. Suffice to say that throughout the history of humanity, people have made other choices from what is now considered normal and not only survived, but thrived.

Non-monogamous or otherwise non-traditional couples then face not only the assumptions of the people around them (and their own upbringing), but many complex choices as a result of diverging from those norms. Though these couples gain a host of benefits which already outlined in this series — such as knowing a partner’s other lovers instead of worrying about a mysterious “other” — they also face special challenges. For example, monogamously cohabiting couples have never had to face the choice of what to do when their partner has another lover over with whom they do not share sexual intimacy.

“We really like conscious choices,” state Easton & Hardy, playfully stating one of the major themes of The Ethical Slut. This chapter encourages would-be couples to question every possible aspect of their relationship, from how to handle other people to whether or not to ever cohabit. The authors even envision a future where marriage does not exist, but instead people choose from a menu of options for their personal relationship “contract,” with sample options contracts — the equivalent of today’s marriages — offered by churches or the government. Overall, the authors do a great job avoiding assumptions themselves by going to extra lengths to make the chapter accessible to people in larger groupings like triads or quads. The use of terms like “primary” or “secondary” are also overall avoided. Repeated mention is made of Hardy & Easton’s own relationship, which has gone on for over a decade and a half despite the knowledge that they will never nor should ever live together.

Conscious choices and clear communication become more important then ever when we begin long-term relationships. Photo by Andrea.

The authors devote some detail to the topic of whether couples should live together, but I didn’t feel like there was enough detail on what kind of decisions are necessary if you do make that decision. There are so many things which the culture assumes about cohabitation that a guide to making conscious choices in this area could probably fill up its own book, or at least a larger section than a single chapter. After spending the first year and a half of our relationship living hours apart, Pet and I spent a few weeks living together in a too-small space. She has her own place now, and we’re beginning to consider the future — the idea of living together has appeal on many levels, but at the same time we know many challenges we’d have to overcome to do so.

Even the topic of bedrooms grows more complex the deeper you look into it. Should polyamorous couples ever really live in a one-bedroom apartment? Does this mean they only play with other lovers outside the home or that one person is ‘kicked out’ of their bedroom for the duration of a visit, possibly even sleeping on the couch? If separate bedrooms are desired, then there are multiple ways to handle that — from each couple having completely separate sleeping spaces to a bedroom for the cohabitating couple and a guest bedroom just for use when other lovers come over. Do these visitors need advance warning or can they just drop in? Will one lover feel comfortable listening to another be intimate? If not, what are they to do with themselves when company is over? Once you start, the questions keep coming.

I’m interested in hearing about what decisions you’ve made in your committed relationships, past or present. You can share them here in the comments or even get in touch with me privately about writing a guest post — I love having guest bloggers here on Approximately, 8,000 Words.

Our next chapter will be Chapter 19, “The Single Slut.” I hope to post this next Thursday, August 25.

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