In this installment, we discuss CHAPTER 3, “Is an Open Relationship for You?”
While books like Sex At Dawn make a compelling argument that humans did not evolve as monogamous creatures, all of us have grown up surrounded by examples of monogamy. Even for the lucky few raised around openly nonmonogamous parents or role-models, all of us matured in a culture which told us that lifelong monogamy in the context of a heterosexual, sexually closed, married relationship is what everyone “normal” wants.
“Don’t attempt an open relationship because you think it’s the cool, hip thing to do or because everyone around you is in one.” -Tristan Taormino, Opening Up
There’s no prize for becoming nonmonogamous before you are ready. The above quotation may seem strange to some of my readers who are in rural or more conservative areas, but there can indeed be peer pressure to become nonmonogamous particularly within some subcultures like the Burning Man or kink communities. Some people find that one style of relationship works for them at certain times in their lives or with certain partners, and that their desires change completely under other circumstances. There’s not a correct way of doing things, just what works for you & your loved ones.
Chapter 3 of Opening Up starts by outlining a number of important questions to ask yourself when considering nonmonogamy. We often talk about the idea that polyamorous relationships need good communication, but there are other factors to consider as well. Self-knowledge is of utmost importance — all the communication skills possible don’t help if you don’t understand your desires or your emotional state well enough to talk about it. Questions like “What does sex mean to you?” and “how would you feel if your partner fell in love with someone new?” have to be examined honestly and directly. Time is a factor too — someone with a very busy life might not have time to add more serious relationships (but might still have time for more casual encounters).
“Many long-term couples find that having additional sexual partners keeps their relationship fresh, breaks up monotony and routine, adds excitement to their sex life, and brings them closer to each other.” –Tristan Taormino, Opening Up
This chapter also looks at why people seek out nonmonogamy. There’s often an assumption that nonmonogamy ‘dilutes’ our energies or passions. Many who explore find that instead it recharges existing relationships in many ways — by getting couples worked up for each other or simply by building trust. There’s a powerful feeling of desirability one can experience when a partner spends time with another lover, only to return for more of what you offer. Sexual fulfillment & variety are important to many of us too. We’re all very different, both in and out of the bedroom, and what we experience with each lover is unique. It may be as simple as a shared fetish one lover has that another does not, but it might also be more subtle — even the same acts shared with different people are distinct. Taormino points out other reasons for being nonmonogamous, including spiritual or religious choices & to accommodate differences in sexual orientation.
Rather than trying to cram a nontraditional relationship into the framework of a traditional one, nonmonogamous people want to redefine relationships, commitment, fidelity, partnership — an even marriage — on their terms.” –Tristan Taormino, Opening Up
The chapter closes with another request not to judge others for their choices. What is most important to the author — and to me, when I write this blog or answer frequent questions from my friends — is not whether a person chooses monogamy or nonmonogamy, but simply that they spend some time examining their choices and make decisions consciously, not based simply on societal expectations.
I have gone through periods of monogamy. When I began dating in my teens and very early twenties, I was still getting a grasp on how to be with even one person. I encountered the idea of nonmonogamy early on the Internet, but it didn’t fit my life at the time. Then I grew enough to embrace polyamory and it’s been the way that feels right ever since. When I tried going back temporarily for a partner during a stressful time in a past relationship, and it taught me how poorly monogamy fits me now. Even when I do not actively seek new sexual or romantic partners, having a sense of freedom makes me more comfortable in my existing commitments. And it is a part of my spiritual path, to the extent I have one — when I embraced polyamory it was in part because I embraced hedonism in the belief that it was important, even sacred, to experience & share pleasure when possible, as much as possible.
Be part of this discussion with me — if you’re polyamorous or nonmonogamous, talk about some of the reasons you’ve chosen this lifestyle. Were their times when you chose something else, and why? If you’re new to this, share some of why you’re interested in nonmonogamy, or what your fears are? Are there pros and cons to this way of living which you have identified? Share your list with us.
Thanks for your patience during the long pause between installments. I’ll continue this read-along soon — hopefully next week. Chapter 4 is “What Makes Polyamory Work?”