The Sunday Observer Tails Jenny Block
One poly commentator calls the piece "sarcastic... full of inaccuracies and bad assumptions," but overall I think it's rather good. The writer endorses Open as a "heartfelt memoir... an articulately argued and enjoyably readable defence of her marriage, not least because this kind of bedroom nitty-gritty can hardly fail to fascinate." The article portrays Block, and the possibilities of ethical, happy multipartnering, rather favorably to an audience inclined to assume the worst about both. What do you think?
How not to become a desperate housewife
By Louise France
Sunday brunch at a dim sum restaurant in Seattle with the local polyamory group. I'm sitting between two men. One has a T-shirt that reads 'Two's Company'. The other's wearing the slogan 'Screw Abstinence'. Welcome to the neighbourhood 'sex-positive' community, a club where anything goes, just so long as it's between consenting adults and latex is involved.
They're a friendly bunch (well, I guess you'd have to be. It doesn't do to be stand-offish and polyamorous). There is E, who has known she was polyamorous since she was 18; then J, who first discussed this kind of lifestyle with his wife back in 1962 (they're still together); and a woman who describes herself as temple priestess, sex educator and counsellor, which must keep her busy.
Guest of honour is Jenny Block, America's poster girl for open marriage. Block is a 38-year-old writer who has flown in from Dallas where she lives in one of the outlying suburbs with her husband Christopher, an IT consultant, and their nine-year-old daughter Emily....
Briefly, Jenny has a sexual relationship with both Christopher and Jemma though her husband and her girlfriend don't sleep with each other. Christopher, should he choose, could sleep with anyone he fancies (so long as it's not in the neighbourhood; they have a strict 'not in town' rule). So could Jemma, although she says she doesn't want to. Jenny used to hook up with other people, men and women, she met on work trips and writer retreats, but at the moment she's content with just the two of them. In poly-speak this means she's in a 'vee' relationship (in which one person has two lovers who aren't involved with each other) as oppose to a 'triad' or a 'quad' which sound even more exciting, or exhausting, depending on your point of view.
She's just written a book about these unusual (although, according to Jenny, not that unusual) domestic arrangements.... Which is how, by the end of two days following Jenny on her book tour, I know more about her than I do about some of my closest friends....
Before Jenny Block and I met in Seattle, she emailed me saying I was to expect 'the girl next door'. Usually this kind of description makes a journalist's heart sink but in this case it makes her story more intriguing. As one of Seattle's tattooed and pierced polyamorists tells her: 'What's great is that you look so much like one of them' - by which he means America's supposedly monogamous majority. 'You're really screwing with them.' In more ways than one.
She looks like someone who might anchor the evening news: petite, doll-like, large expressive brown eyes, immaculately groomed, with a glossy bob and cute frock. A wedding ring, engagement ring and anniversary ring on the third finger of her left hand (plus, on her right hand, a ring from Jemma, bought in Mexico).... 'People make assumptions about me and then when they see me they get confused,' she explains. 'They say you're much more conservative than I expected.'
...So what, I wonder, are the myths about this kind of arrangement? 'Number one, being open does not mean being promiscuous,' she says, counting out her arguments with her fingers. 'Number two, that you have a bad marriage and you are doing this instead of getting divorced. Number three, that people are not careful in terms of protecting themselves in my experience anyone who has more than one partner is militant on that score. Number four, that we're into S&M. If you do one, you must do the other.'
...Later on Sunday afternoon, Seattle's swingers reconvene at their headquarters, two neighbouring cinderblock buildings a short drive from the centre of the city. There would be a nameplate on the door reading 'Centre for Sex Positive Culture' but for the fact that this might encourage 'unwelcome voyeurs' from the local college (as opposed to the welcome variety).
...Next door Jenny reads from her book to a rapt audience of couples, many of them holding hands, some of them remarkably conventional-looking. In the discussion afterwards they talk of a coming sexual revolution when open marriage is more accepted. Block is a natural speaker likable, articulate, funny, confident, able to laugh at herself....
Read the whole article.
Meanwhile, a columnist for the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal talks sympathetically about Block's book and also Tristan Taormino's big new manual Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (see my review).
New rules for open marriage
By Rita Watson
July 6, 2008
IN A YEAR when “Virginity Rules” became an abstinence movement motto, the pendulum swings to new rules for an open marriage. With recent statistics from 13 countries showing that marriage is down while living together is up and monogamy being challenged by polyamory will the words “for better or worse, until death do us part” become obsolete?
Polyamory means sharing more than one intimate partner at the same time. Unlike the ménage à trois or Updikean wife-swapping, polyamory is characterized by multiple-relationship arrangements with the consent of all partners and defined by specific boundaries....
But then, couples have been choosing alternative arrangements for years look at Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt (and his mistresses), Nelson Rockefeller and his mistresses, and the open relationship between John Lennon and Yoko Ono. In the 1800s, the married Amherst College treasurer, Austin Dickinson, spent 13 years involved with a young professor’s wife. In writing about their relationship, Mabel Loomis Todd proclaimed she could love two men at the same time. (Poet Emily Dickinson helped her brother and Mabel keep the affair alive.
...Written or unwritten rules that include mutual respect, agreements, and even contracts between various partners appear to set apart today’s open marriages from the swinging ’60s. Tristan Taormino, in Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, describes a variety of arrangements, including monogamy with benefits, triad couples and solo polyamory. The resource list of polyamorous groups is broken down by state and country.
Taormino says her goal is “to empower people to let go of societal expectations of what relationships should look like and create customized relationships that meet their needs and desires.”
Jenny Block’s Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage is a memoir. She wrote me and said, “I do think that polyamory might well work for many people. That’s not to say that I have any problem with monogamy. I think it is great when a couple is actually practicing it and not just giving lip-service to the concept.”...
Read the whole article, and send a letter to the editor (to letters at projo dot com).