No Half-Assing It With Multiple Partners

I take issue with the way you make open relationships out to be a positive thing. I’m a straight dude who’s been in three open relationships, and all I’ve ever gotten out of them has been misery, regret and nasty breakups. Communication wasn’t the problem—we dialogued everything to DEATH. We established terms upon terms, checked in, read tons of shit online, yadda yadda. In the end, it just never felt okay. I didn’t like the feeling like I was in some sort of contest with her for who could get more action.

-Open Relationships Not Operating Tolerably

Are you sure you really want to be in open relationships?

Believe me, I know that anyone who’s not in a traditional monogamous relationship is sick of that response. Those in non-monogamous relationships are told with tiresome regularity that their relationship troubles are all due to the fact that they’re seeing multiple people. This is an annoying double standard—after all, monogamous couples having issues are never advised to try seeing more people—but in your case, ORNOT, I think it’s important to gauge just how much you want to do this. Making a successful non-monogamous relationship takes effort and dedication.

In a culture inundated with monogamy like ours, adjusting to the framework of an open relationship can be tough. From fairy tales to romantic comedies, we’re told that somewhere out there is “the only one,” the soulmate who will fit us so well we’ll never want anyone else. Our entire model for romance and relationships is built on this “only one” premise, which encourages and justifies jealousy—and this can undermine an open relationship.

If you really want to be in an open relationship, you have to radically change your thinking. This means abandoning the assumption that you’ll be the “only one” for your partner(s) except in ways you expressly agree upon. It also means letting go of the guilty pleasure of justified jealousy. You have to recognize the autonomy of your partner(s) and accept that their sex life and/or romantic life does not necessarily revolve around you, all without allowing that to threaten your relationship. While these are definitely relevant to any relationship, their importance in a traditional monogamous relationship is nowhere near as obvious as it is in any case of non-monogamy. Building these up is definitely doable, but it’s not in any way easy.

Which is why I’m asking you if you really want it. If you want to try to make an open relationship work, start by reflecting on why you’re drawn to the idea. Ask yourself if you can be non-monogamous, but also if you could deal with a partner who was, too. Are you interested enough in non-monogamy that you’re willing to let go of the things I mentioned above? If you’re dedicated to the idea and willing to make it work, even when it gets hard, then go for it. You’re in for a ride. But if in the end, that doesn’t feel “okay,” then perhaps non-monogamy isn’t for you. That’s perfectly fine—there’s no shame in monogamy.

Successful open relationships require you to be honest, self-reflective and committed to the idea. What’s more, it helps immensely to have someone you can trust and work through it all with; you can’t build a very stable open relationship if the foundation is shaky. It’s definitely possible, but as so many of the non-monogamous people I know have confirmed, it’s not something you can half-ass.




Filed under: Opinion

Responses


Tammi L. Coles Jan 24, 2013 14:26 PM

I disagree. I think being nonmonogamous is as easy as other multiparty relationships. Can you handle having several best friends at once? Can you love your grandparents on both sides of the family? What about all the kids you have — can you love all of them at once?

I think we poly folks keep telling ourselves “it can be tough” so that we sound like superheroes. We’re not. Anyone can learn to manage jealousy. And you don’t have to teach yourself to desire more than one person at a time — that’s built into the human model naturally.

To wit, the statistics don’t lie: we’re not monogamous (check out those divorce rates!) and the social controls (slut shaming, et al) fail regularly at keeping us from sleeping around. You want monogamy? Try one partner when you become reproductively capable and keep that person for the rest of your life.

Sounds crazy? It is. What takes work is trying to control your desire, never looking at another person openly for fear of offending your partner or spouse, concealing your interest in flirting with an attractive colleague, hiding your porn, etc. etc.

Stop making it out to be a huge task and start expecting it to be good and bad like ALL relationships.


Spencer Jan 24, 2013 20:52 PM

Thanks for the feedback, Tammi!

It sounds like being nonmonogamous is easy for you. That’s awesome, and I’m glad to hear it. But when I say that making a successful nonmonogamous relationship can be difficult, I’m speaking from my own experience, and drawing on what others in the same boat have told me–making that switch can be hard. I’m not saying “it can be hard” so I can look like a hero–I’m saying “it can be hard” because I’ve experienced that firsthand, and I think folks should be prepared for that.

I’m not necessarily saying it’s hard to keep up a monogamous relationship, I’m saying that, given how heavily socialized into monogamy we are, that initial transition can be brutal. I’m not saying that people need to teach themselves to desire more than one person at once–I’m saying the difficulty comes in ridding ourselves of the social conditioning that says doing so is wrong.

Obviously, people are going to have different experiences, and what may be a bitter ordeal for some may be a piece of cake for others. But I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge that the thick prevalence of monogamy in our culture can make the transition to nonmonogamy difficult, and some people may not find it worth it.


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Phillip M. Apr 14, 2013 11:41 AM

This entire piece is heavily laden with the subtext that YOU and your girlfriend(s), Mr. Wharton, have had the cultural imagination to transcend the hegemonic backwards paradigm of monogamy, given the haughty, authoritative and self-confident tone of your response to the reader’s question. Have you truly had ” someone you can trust and work through it all with,” with the complete acceptance that “their sex life and/or romantic life does not necessarily revolve around you”? I know my opinion on the issue is merely anecdotal, but every single male and female friend I have EVER had who has played with “polyamory” has ended up much in the same way as ORNOT – trying SO hard to be different from the common mien as to drive themselves to a unique kind of narcissistic, Whitman-liberal misery. I don’t need you to answer my question, yet I cannot help but feel that you are putting on a very public facade of having a perfectly functioning non-traditional and offbeat sex life, much in the same way many males would boast of sleeping with many more women than they actually have. Pardon my shoddy grammar, but I hope you get my point, Mr. Wharton.


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