Open relationships: "You get to make yourself stronger."
The left/progressive news site AlterNet (originally an outgrowth of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, which I helped to found 34 years ago) presents a long, thoughtful article on the character-building aspects of open relationships. As in basic training, driving yourself to master the obstacle course can make you a stronger and better person, though it may not be fun.
Although whoever wrote the title and tag line apparently didn't see things that way.
Freedom from Sexual Self-Denial: Why Not Have Sex With People Who Aren't Your Partner?
Infidelity is treated as selfish, while monogamy is celebrated. But what's so great about living a life of self-denial?
When my boyfriend, Jason, confessed to having sex with another woman, I cried. I cried almost nonstop for a full weekend, actually, in spite of the fact that I was the one who encouraged him to do it.
For the first two years of our relationship, I constantly teased Jason with dares that he fool around with any girl who hit on him. I maintained that I didn’t feel comfortable demanding monogamy, and that if he wanted to have sex with someone else, all I asked was that he be honest with me about it.
But Jason repeatedly said he was naturally monogamous..... He didn’t like one-night stands — he was picky and prone to germophobia — and he didn’t want to have an ongoing sexual relationship with anyone else while we were together. Together we decided that I would seek out another man, and though Jason would not necessarily look for another partner, he had license to seize the opportunity should it arise. That opportunity arose during a trip to New York, when a waitress gave him her phone number.
...The usual assumption is that polyamorous people are selfish, immature, incapable of commitment, and their primary relationship is therefore doomed to failure.... But what’s so gutsy about living a life full of self-denial and insecurity, where the person you love most is also the person you most need to limit?
...[Janet] W. Hardy, co-author of The Ethical Slut, is quick to point out that being “open” is not necessarily the path of least resistance, and that moving away from monogamy takes courage: “The difference between polyamorous people and monogamous people isn't that poly people never feel jealous we do. The real difference is what we do with our feelings of jealousy. […] By blaming the [unhappy] feelings on their partners, [most monogamous people] are able to make problems someone else's fault. That way, they don't have to feel responsible for figuring out what's causing the feelings, or for finding a solution.” Those who have elected to allow their partner extra-relationship sex don’t “have that luxury. You don't get to distract yourself from your feelings of loss, sorrow, insecurity or whatever by diverting them into anger toward him [or her.]”
This is part of why an open relationship can be such a challenge. In an article that came out earlier this year about one couple’s history of their open marriage, wife Cate specifically said “it seemed worth it to me to push my psychological limits, to just work through it. I wanted to get to a better self […] There were a million not a million, but many painful challenges. Enormous, terrifying. But if you have relationships that have real emotional depth to them, which is what we aspire to, then it is never safe. You're terrified about losing the person. It's high risk.”
Is that the thought process of someone who’s cowardly, careless or motivated only by hedonism?
I found out about such powerful psychological effects firsthand. My logical side was appalled by my crying — I was going to have other partners, too! — but my ego was screaming for comfort.... I knew Jason had practiced safer sex and I knew that he loved me. There was no threat to my safety and no betrayal of trust. So why was I suffering so much? Probably because Jason’s news forced me to confront the way I perceived myself (impervious, rational, independent) versus the reality of how I actually am (insecure, emotional).
Janet Hardy puts this suffering in a positive light, by calling it “a gift, although it doesn't feel like one. It means that you get to make yourself stronger by figuring out what it was that triggered your jealousy, and working to solve it.” And that’s what I started to do....
Read the whole article (June 28, 2010), and join the comments.
Labels: open marriage