Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

February 3, 2008

"An Open and Shut Marriage"

New York Times

A writer in the Fashion & Style section of the Sunday New York Times tells how she got scared off from opening her marriage. From her story, it seems like the two of them were unaware of anything more than the rudiments of how to proceed wisely. In particular, it never seems to have occurred to them to get information from the community of people who, over the years, have worked out a lot about how to do this successfully. Instead they tried to reinvent, all by themselves, this (often difficult) wheel:


Published: February 3, 2008

Despite my general attitude of acceptance when it comes to people questioning their most troubling emotions, I’ve learned to tread carefully on the conjoined subjects of fidelity and monogamy. My experience tells me that it’s a minefield and that no one except Dr. Phil-inspired talk-show exhibitionists and the admittedly polyamorous are ready to talk openly about it.

...Several years into our marriage, when a good friend of mine told me that she had a crush on my husband, I knew that all of our theorizing about what makes a successful life partnership was about to face its first real-life application.

I didn’t feel particularly threatened by this friend. I trusted her, and I never imagined her to be a woman for whom my husband would leave me. In fact, I never thought he would leave, period.... And if I were to give the two of them permission to “explore their feelings,” it would also give me a chance to dawdle in the feelings I’d developed for a colleague at work. We’d all take baby steps — nothing dramatic — and see how it went.

But we immediately faced logistical concerns. If my husband was out with her, what should I be doing? Did I need to plan my time with my colleague to coincide with the time he spent with her? Did my husband and I need to tell each other whenever we planned to spend time with the other person?

A few solid rules would have been helpful, but without knowing how either relationship might progress, we didn’t know how to set them....

We knew lying was not an option. We had agreed that lying is what made it “cheating,” leading to hurt and distrust and causing the real damage to the relationship. But how much truth could we realistically handle? I wasn’t sure how much I really wanted to know....

...Meanwhile, my good friend and my husband [a photographer] were continuing to have good times taking pictures and going back to her apartment to develop them and continue their mild flirtation. Then one night, when it had gotten too late for my comfort zone, he called to say our Volvo wagon wouldn’t start. I knew the car to be unreliable, but I couldn’t deny a nagging doubt: Could he be lying about the car just to spend the night with her?

That, for me, was the breaking point. It didn’t matter if he was telling the truth. I doubted him anyway, so the result was the same.

...Several arguments and 10 therapy sessions later, we thanked each other for allowing that kind of creative romantic safari into our lives but vowed never to do it again.

Read the whole article.

(Warning, rant zone.) Apparently these people were too sophisticated to think it might be a good idea to look for information when trying something new. Or to tap the resources of the community who've been there, made it work (often not on the first try), and have accumulated lots of practical wisdom and navigational aids. (For instance.)

Certainly polyamory is not for everyone, not for most. And this couple did have the sense to back off before a trainwreck. But hell, if they'd decided to take up sailing, wouldn't it have occurred to them first to learn a bit about sailing from people who know how — rather than get into a sailboat by themselves, get blown around helplessly for a few hundred yards, and then write an article for the New York Times that sailing is nuts?

To push the metaphor: were they even wearing life jackets? If, in their lack of knowledge, they'd tipped the sailboat over, did they know how to swim or how to right the boat? Their only idea of safety was to thrash back to shore and swear off sailboats. And they thought this was sophisticated wisdom to display.

If it sounds like I'm speaking from a high horse here, maybe it's because I'm hastily typing these words before breakfast at the Poly Living conference, sponsored by Loving More. Over 100 people here have been spending the weekend in powerful and informative workshops about many aspects of poly life and how to make it work. If you're not here with us taking sailing lessons, okay. But for pity's sake, this is the internet era, read up on sailing before trying it?

(Update: The article was also reprinted in the Charlotte (NC) Observer for February 15th. You can comment or send a letter.)


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Anonymous Amethest said...

My comment was going to be ever so less eloquent but a lot more succient, "Google is your friend."

February 04, 2008 5:43 AM  
Anonymous Rant93 said...

I agree completely with your sentiment and your judgment is not too harsh.

February 04, 2008 11:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Point granted that they should have put a bit more thought into what they were doing. But, in defense of those of us who figured out our rules in isolation: it’s hard to connect with Real People who have done it. Culling opinions from the Internet is certainly useful, and would have helped out the article’s author if only in that she would’ve realized just by spending some time thinking about it that rules need to be established in advance. But there are a lot of options out there for how to do things successfully- it’s not like there’s a set right way to go about things which, if followed faithfully, will work out best.

My husband and I opened our marriage in 1999; the Internet was not the resource it is now, and we’d never met anyone else who’d done anything like it. We may have been re-inventing the wheel, but honestly the time spent doing so was well-spent.

(One thing that would have and still would be useful is more people to talk about this with in real life. Presumably there are other upstate New Yorkers working this out, but I don’t know them, and I’d feel awkward attending some random poly event in a different city that I read about online- not knowing whether everyone there will know each other, whether it’ll end up being a meat market, whether everyone will be 20 years older than us, etc.)

February 04, 2008 11:11 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

I've read the article and I have to state publicly what I stated to myself privately: This reporter is a complete idiot masquerading as an emotionally semi-coherent human being.

Good on her that she was at least aware enough to stop opening her marriage further. Gods know we don't need more hellbent idiots littering the poly playing field with their poorly executed offal.

February 04, 2008 11:19 AM  
Blogger ~cat said...

sixteen years ago, my then-husband and i "reinvented the wheel". we had no real-world examples of people with open relationships. we'd never heard the word polyamory. we just knew we had to do something about the fact that we both wanted to have relationships with other people. of course, the internet in 1992 was a far cry from what it is now...nevertheless, we were active online and, in fact, started our own for-profit BBS shortly after. and yet, it wouldn't have occurred to us to search for information on polyamory online, because we didn't think it was something anybody actually did.

ultimately, our relationship ended, and we've both moved on - him to monogamy, me to a lovely intimate network of sweeties.

February 04, 2008 5:25 PM  
Blogger Brynn said...

You know, I say the exact same thing to myself when I hear about people who have never ridden a motorcycle going to a dealer, buying a Harley or a GSXRfoobarbaz, and crashing the poor thing within a mile of the dealership. This happens with depressing regularity, and riding a motorcycle is an activity that everyone knows is done - hell, there's even classes you can take throughout the US just for people who have never thrown a leg over a bike before.

I think some people are just like that - they don't learn by doing research or through interacting with veterans of whatever it is, they learn through personal experience. This is part of my litmus test for dating someone new to poly - are they doing the research and/or talking to poly folks, or do they seem to think they're figure it out as they go? The later is a massive red flag for me.

February 12, 2008 12:17 PM  

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