"Thirty years after the sexual revolution: How is it possible that I didn't know this existed!"
The long, slow arc of world history bends toward human betterment. At least that's what most of the Western world has believed since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The ideal of historical progress toward ever greater knowledge, humanism, civilization, and reason an ideal aborted in the United States continues in Europe, the place that gave birth to the Enlightenment and the concept of historical progress itself. These ideals remain especially strong in the Northern European countries.
So in a place like the Netherlands, people tend to be unthreatened by new ideas about better human relations.
European societies do tend to behave more traditionally around issues of home, family, and community than Americans do what with our own ideals of individualism, private gain, and mobility, which have led to social fragmentation. Few of us Americans pay much attention to our neighbors any more or even know who they are. This individualism does give American polys a lot of breathing room, despite the hostile ruling ideology.
But in societies that believe in the idea of progress that we are here to throw off the darknesses and cruelties of the past, and to strive for a happier, more humane future (as America itself once believed) in such places, the notion of polyamory lands on friendlier ground.
All this is by way of introduction to a letter I got from GeekFox in Amsterdam:
The magazine "Onkruid" ["The Weed"], which is the main 'alternative' print magazine here in the Netherlands [with a New Age slant], has 8 pages dedicated to polyamory in its Juli/August 2008 number. Much of this is an interview with Ageeth Veenemans, whom you mentioned on May 17, 2008.
The article is called Dertig jaar na de seksuele revolutie: van partnerruil naar polyamorie, or "Thirty years after the sexual revolution, from partner swapping to polyamory". It starts by talking about the ability to love multiple people, as opposed to just have sex with multiple people as was long the focus of the sexual revolution.
The suite of articles includes a column by Iteke Weeda, a Dutch sociologist who has written books and columns about the concept since the mid-80's, when it was called liefde in meervoud, "love in plurality". There are also sub-articles dealing with the origins of polyamory, a rather simple test to see how poly you are, "From Jealousy to Frubble", "Polyamory and Spirituality", and "Polyamory as a Trend".
He has translated the main article for us, shown below. "It wasn't easy," he writes, "as Dutch has a lot of flowery sayings and idioms, and the article has used a lot of them. ^.^ I've tried to keep close to the original; I hope this hasn't created clunky English."
Thirty years after the sexual revolution: from partner swapping to polyamory
By Judith van der Graaf
Do you remember... the sexual revolution and its effects? Or is that way before your time, and are you more into monogamous relationships as came afterwards? In either case, summer is a good time for love. However, what to do if you're already in a relationship and have butterflies in your stomach over someone else? Cheating is cumbersome, and 'swinging' doesn't have all the answers either. Polyamory might provide you with an alternative: Openly loving more than one person at the same time. In a conversation with Ageeth Veenemans who wrote a book about it, we'll shed some light on this phenomenon and take a look at its spiritual content. Also, a look-back by Bob Snoijink and Iteke Weeda as experts on the achievements of 30 years of sexual revolution.
Ageeth Veenemans (age 44) has made polyamory her life's work. She wrote the book Ik hou van twee mannen (I love two men). A book about her personal struggle with love and falling in love while being married, with a happy ending. At the same time it's a guide: how do you actually do this, and how do you become a full-fledged 'polyamorist'?
Q: What is polyamory?
A: "Polyamory is a life-philosophy in which you admit that you can love more than one person and that you can be loyal, open and respectful towards each other. Typical qualities can be: Friendship, intimacy, emotional or spiritual closeness, and/or sexuality. In essence it is love, not sex. it's about love without limitations rather then sex without limitations. Love is an energy that you can feel, and that you can show by loving. I see sex as the most beautiful and intense way of communicating love. However that is where the taboo lies: having sex with someone else than your partner"
Is polyamory limited to gender and age?
"Often men are more interested in sex and women more interested in intimacy. In a sense you could say that polyamory is more of a woman's thing. However, in principle it's not connected to gender or age. In the forums most people are 35-plus. This is natural: by then you will have had a steady relationship for a while, and it is possible that you will fall in love with someone else. There are people in their 20's who practice it. These usually are students who are very conscious about their life. I even know people aged 80 and above who have been practising polyamory for several decades!"
Do you belief that deep in their hearts, everybody is polyamorous?
"I belief that everybody can feel love for several people at a time. But not everybody will be suited to the polyamorous life. I sometimes call it 'love for advanced students', because in practice, it's not an easy road."
What to do when your partner is polyamorous and you are not, or the other way around?
"Indeed, it is tricky if you differ from your partner in that way. however I don't believe in perpetrators and victims."
What do you think about 50-plus men who say: my wife is getting old, with all the wrinkles, I'm going to add a younger woman?
"I see two or three people who will have to work that out. Sometimes you'll see, especially in older generations, that such a wife has learned to sacrifice herself and take care of her husband. In return she expects his sexual fidelity. How awkward that he should fall in love with another. I'd want to challenge such a woman: take care of yourself, assume responsibility. Don't become a victim of the situation. That will be bad for your self-image. But I can see how difficult that is!"
And the man, does falling in love with 'a young flower' offer him any chances on self-development?
"I think he does, often involving insecurity about his age and looks. I find it hard to understand this focus on superficialities. For me it's all about the 'click'. On the other hand I do seem to fall for taller men, so perhaps I have some things to work out about my height!"
What is the link between polyamory and 'swinging'?
"The morality needs to adjust itself to the reality. Swinging is a way to deal with that: sex with other people is allowed, but restricted by rules. Love is often not allowed. Sometimes it works. I know people who experience an enormous amount of freedom, by only having the guts to do that, and who develop beautiful friendships because of it. Personally I feel that sex for the sex is in no way comparable with loving sex. In polyamory it's all about the love, and is sex a possible result, not a purpose."
What is your personal mission in writing this book and doing this work?
"I was raised Catholic and monogamous, got married, had three children, and thought that this would be the way it would be for the rest of my life. Until seven years ago when I fell in love with a co-worker: Bob. Cheating was a big personal taboo, and I condemned it strongly in other people. However when he kissed me, all the fuses blew and I started a secret affair.
"I was so much in love, that I considered leaving husband and children for him. Maybe you should experience something like that yourself to understand how this can happen in a life. My brother had the same experience: He had a relationship of 17 years and a child a year old when he fell head over heels for another woman. He was convicted by people around him, his wife left him, taking his child, and he lost everything he had in one fell swoop. One time we talked about it, and I saw him cry. About how intense his love felt, but also about how he still loved his wife, and missed his child. Unfortunately he had a cardiac arrest a few months later in this stressing period of his life, which cost his life.
"I have literally seen what kind of misery the monogamous norm can bring. I myself went through a harsh time: I confessed to my husband and said my farewells to Bob. I was completely open to my husband about that, because I didn't want to cheat any more.
"But what was the alternative? That was when I found the website (www.polyamory.nl) and thought: how is it possible that I didn't know that this existed! I immediately decided: I'm going to write a book about this! The writing began to process my own experience, but also to lend support to all the people in that situation.
"Polyamory saved my marriage. Only when we were able to talk about this, could our relationship improve. Finally I could show my sorrow for my lost love, and my husband could show his emotions about my deceit, and through all this openness we came to each other again.
"Before I went public under my own name, I extensively talked with my husband about it. I like the way we live and want to express it. And I have experienced that you can do it: I continued to live, and feel that people even respect us. Only the pre-war [WWII] generation cannot seem to muster understanding. The generation that experienced the sexual revolution is usually quite open to it.
"I couldn't consider leaving my husband any more and would be extremely embarrassed if I had taken the care of their father away from my children. An important part of my mission is: Assume responsibility for your children. Sometimes divorce is the way to go. But I want to show: This is the alternative, take a look, maybe it's something for you."
GeekFox also translated the sidebar on Iteke Weeda:
Sociologist and love-researcher Iteke Weeda (age 65):
'It should be possible' becomes 'It should be allowed if it can be done'.
"Polyamory is one of the biggest taboos; still, a majority of people have to deal with love-experiences with others in their relationship. Isn't that weird, a taboo for something that lives with most of society!"
Iteke Weeda has been talking about 'love in plurality' [liefde in meervoud] for years, a term that she coined for the phenomenon of erotic feelings of love for several people at the same time. She has an enormous amount of letters and depositions from men and women who have experience of this.
"In the 50's the sexual morality was very strict: you find your true love between your 18th and 25th year of age, and you marry him, without having sex before marriage. It was rather immature if you fell in love after 30. If you had a partner, flirting with another was not done, and cheating was direct cause for divorce.
The period 1965-1975 was a a time filled with experiment to topple the sacred ideals, especially in the more elitist groups: the time of communes, anti-authoritarian raising of children and partner-swapping. Actually partner-swapping was still a bit traditional because you experimented within marriage, and emotions wore not allowed. 'It should be possible' became the new motto. Of course it wasn't that simple: new love and jealousy did develop, with many divorces as a result."
In the second half of the 70's the number of experiment declined; monogamy was nourished more. In the 80's AIDS reinforced this trend. Did the sexual revolution fail because of that?
"Oh no, I see it this way: first we ran ahead 25 steps and then we fell back 15. But those 10 remaining steps we kept: we never returned to the way of thinking of the 50's. Slowly we developed ourselves further, we become emotionally stronger. And this is the requisite for such experiments as polyamory; this allows you to cope with the painful emotions that sometimes come with it. The new morality is turning into 'everything should be allowed if it can be done'. I meet many people who are finding their way into polyamory. It can be an enrichment if all parties can deal with it, and if it can happen in the open. Through secrecy, you distort the intuition of the other, who really can tell that something is happening. This doesn't mean that you should share everything, including the tiniest bed-details. There is something like privacy."
The magazine didn't put the articles on its website. If it does, remember that you can translate (very roughly) a whole site by pasting the URL into Google Language Tools.
Update: In the Amsterdam newspaper The Telegraph for Feb. 14, 2009, there's a short article "Do You Believe in Monogamy?" with many reader comments.