"Open marriages have own rules of engagement"
Canada's nationwide conservative newspaper presents a long article on open-marriage polyamory. The article features a couple and their agreement to do very hierarchical relationships which the careless writer, unfortunately, presents as being the definition of polyamory in general:
Love & Mixed Doubles
An open marriage has its own rules of play
By Zosia Bielski
Samantha Fraser has a few rules for a successful marriage. She keeps a regular Wednesday lunch date with her husband, Stéph, and they make a point of reserving weekends exclusively for each other. Their best time is typically in bed just before sleep, when the two talk about "something new that brings us closer together."
But the Frasers, married since 2004, have other rules, too. That is because they are in an open marriage: The couple has practised polyamory having several sexual or emotional relationships at once for two years. Samantha, 28, has one sexual partner outside of the union, as does Stéph, 31....
They reserve the right to veto these partners, though this has happened only once. They also try to introduce each other to their respective dates. Sleepovers are forbidden, unless someone is too drunk to get home.
"We used to do sleepovers more last year and it contributed to some issues with us getting too close to people," said Fraser, who works in Toronto's digital media sector and details the perks and challenges of polyamory in her blog, Not Your Mother's Playground.
...To the uninitiated, polyamory may look like a return to the hedonistic free love of the 1960s, but its current proponents say today's open relationships are often regimented by more rules than monogamous ones, largely because the polyamorist's main challenge appears to be jealousy.
The reason their open relationships work is because of constant negotiations between partners, or what Fraser calls "checking in on all partners."
Often labelled as swinging, which usually involves a couple having sex with other people together, polyamorous relationships are highly hierarchical: Primary partners are strongly attached, while secondary partners float in and out, ideally without the emotional or economic commitments of the married couple.
GAAK! Not always, please. Not even usually.
...Several Toronto sex shops have hosted workshops on polyamory and jealousy, while a group called the Toronto Ethical Lover Group meets regularly at the University of Toronto to discuss happy "poly/non-monogamous relationships." At least two polyamory how-to guides hit Canadian bookstores last month, and support groups have sprouted online for polyamorists in Vancouver, Montreal, Newfoundland, Ottawa and Tobermory. Meanwhile, polyamory conferences some of them nude were held in New York, Pennsylvania and California this month.
...The practice has also been examined in a paper presented recently in Vancouver. In "Is Polyamory an alternative to marriage? A sociology inquiry into jealousy," PhD candidate Jillian Deri posits that jealousy is an "outcrop of the institution of monogamy and Western ideas about love and marriage." She believes jealousy is "being resisted and rewritten by those who practice polyamory."
Asked how they deal with that nasty emotion, polyamorists often insist that having more partners can actually help people cope with jealousy and ultimately have better relationships.
Many seem keen to question the underpinnings of jealousy. "I believe that jealousy is a learned behaviour, one that is reinforced and rewarded all around us every day in every form of media and behaviour. There's an expectation that if you love someone and they find someone else attractive, you need to be jealous and, if not, that's strange," says Tristan Taormino, a Village Voice columnist, porn director and author of Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.
...At the Toronto sex shop Come As You Are, Dana Shaw recently gave a workshop on "Taming the Green-Eyed Monster: Polyamory and Jealousy," which drew couples hoping to enter into an open relationship and those already in one. "We are each taught very early in the socialization process that someone else doing something that excludes us is selfish, but that's not necessarily the case," says Shaw, who has been in polyamorous relationships for 20 years.
She says monogamists could benefit from the discussions polyamorists have constantly: "Jealousy is about responding to a fear that someone will do something to hurt you. Those fears can be about abandonment, lack of attractiveness or low self-worth. They point to an individual's triggers for feeling badly about themselves and projecting that fear on to the other person. The opportunity in polyamory is to look at the fear response and ask yourself really important questions about those triggers."
The article does include a list of some different types of poly, taken from Taormino's book, which contradicts the narrow definition in the article:
A Who's Who of Polyamorists
Partnered non-monogamy. Two partners committed to each other who have secondary experiences that are sexual, casual and uncommitted. Otherwise known as the sex buddy.
Solo polyamorist. An individual has multiple partners but none are primary. These partners do not share children, finances or a home. People may look at them as single, but single is not quite the right word for them because they have multiple partners and they're not looking to settle down.
Polyfidelity. A polyamorous relationship with more than two people who are all committed to each other: Three is a triad and four is a quad, and so on.
Mono-poly combo. One partner is monogamous and the other partner polyamorous.
Swingers. These partners engage in joint extramarital sexual encounters, revolving around couples. Most swingers consider themselves emotionally monogamous and sexually non-monogamous. Swinging has its own distinct history, community and culture.
Read the whole article (Sept. 19, 2008).
I don't find any place to leave comments. Instead, post a letter to the editor here.
Samantha herself comments about the article on her blog; also see her comment below. Apparently the writer had a hard time getting the paper to print it at all. Did a conservative editor give it a working over? Is that why it comes off as clinical and joyless?
But at least it gets the concept out there for people who need to know.