Conventional women over 40 "deciding to try polyamory"
In its April issue, "Canada's magazine celebrating women over 40" presents a serious but rather tentative article on conventional couples who have tried exploring polyamory. It's positive overall but has a certain toe-in-the-water feel. For an old-style, home-and-family magazine aimed at older readers, however, this is quite a step.
The article is also on the magazine's website:
Polyamory: Inside an open marriage
Before you dismiss the idea of open marriage as aberrant, consider that polyamory is on the rise, especially among couples of a certain age.
By Anne Bokma
Deciding to try polyamory
When Jill Barrett's* close friend Marguerite Palmer* lost her husband after a lengthy illness, Jill was there to offer support in any way she could: going to the funeral, coming over to cook meals, and planning shopping trips as a diversion from the loneliness that had seized her friend. Jill's husband, Leonard*, was also there for Marguerite: helping to repair a dripping faucet, taking her out on the lake in his boat, holding her and letting her cry in his arms.
As the months passed, Marguerite and Leonard found themselves attracted to each other and longed to move beyond consoling hugs to sexual intimacy. But instead of starting an illicit affair — the discovery of which carried the risk of ruining both a solid marriage and a long-standing friendship — they talked openly about their feelings.
Leonard told his wife about his sexual desire for Marguerite. Marguerite told Jill she was lonely, had gone a year without sex and longed for the loving touch of a man she could trust. And Jill? She gave the pair her blessing to go forth and fornicate, to enter into a sexual relationship without any guilt, shame or fear of getting caught. "My own feelings surprised me," says Jill. "But the fact is, I trust my husband and I trust my friend. Life is short; why should I stop them from having this experience?"
...Open marriage the next sexual revolution?
Before you label this couple an anomaly, deluded or deviant, consider that the open marriage Jill and Leonard are practising is far more common than you might think.
"Ethical non-monogamy" or "polyamory" (literally translated as "many loves") means having loving, intimate relationships with more than one person with the full consent of everyone involved.
The phenomenon is on the rise in North America, including among midlife couples seeking new sexual adventures and emotional connections after being with the same partner for many years. Some believe this type of marriage has such broad appeal that over the next decade it will become accepted as a viable lifestyle choice. A recent Newsweek report, noting an estimated 500,000 Americans are practising polyamory, proposed that it could be "the next sexual revolution." And in Canada, there are online polyamory support groups in every province.
..."There's nothing unusual about people who choose open marriage, except perhaps that we opt to tell the truth to ourselves and to one another," says [author Jenny] Block, who believes there are legions of marriages that may seem traditional to outsiders, but are actually much more unconventional than they appear. "The majority of us may be in hiding, perhaps out of fear of being judged or misunderstood."
...Women in their forties and fifties — freed from the bonds of child rearing, flush with a sexual confidence they might not have had in their younger days and secure in their long-term marriages — may be especially ready to forge new intimate relationships at this stage of life.
Jill Barrett says age definitely had something to do with her willingness to try an open marriage. "I'm much more comfortable with the idea at 40 than I would have been at 30," she says. "As you get older, you're often more willing to experiment, go outside your comfort zone and maybe realize it's a lot wider than you thought."
As vast as that comfort zone might become, those who practise polyamory work hard at dealing with jealousy. They believe it's possible to not only tame the green gene, but actually experience its opposite — something called compersion — taking joy in the pleasure your partner receives from another person. "It's like the happiness you feel when a friend has something good happen to them," says Deri. "Buddhists talk about this concept all the time. It's the opposite of self-sacrificing — it's self-elevating." Author Taormino says jealousy is a learned behaviour, not an instinctual one, and that it can be overcome. "The first step to achieving compersion is to work on unlearning jealousy — letting go of feelings of insecurity, possessiveness and fear. You are striving for a shift in consciousness."
The difference between theory and practice
But does this type of clinical approach work when it comes to regulating matters of the heart? William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul and a marriage and family therapist who wrote Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World that Pulls Us Apart, doesn't think so. Women, he says, are especially vulnerable to emotionally attaching themselves to a new lover — and putting their marriage at risk. "A woman's heart tends to follow her body; men are more capable of sex without strong attachment." He's against the idea of open marriage primarily because of the risk of marital breakdown and the negative impact this has on children. "These people are putting their relationship in danger for something that's completely optional — a variety of sexual partners is not a core human need." Why then do we feel a biological desire for people we aren't married to? "Of course we are attracted to multiple people, but if we followed up on all of that, we'd be ruined," says Doherty. "We have impulses in other areas too — to lie, to cheat, to steal and kill. And we know those are wrong."
Certainly there are those who have experimented with polyamory and were unhappy with the results.... [example follows]
Yet there are also plenty of poly success stories.... [example follows]
Making polyamory work
One of the strategies couples in open marriages use to resist jealousy is to develop specific ground rules about how they will conduct their multiple relationships. These might include having veto power over whom your partner is intimate with (none of your friends, for example), deciding what types of sexual activities are acceptable, and how much contact you or your partner will have with lovers. Many polyamory websites even post sample "relationship contracts."
Jill Barrett says opening up her marriage brought her closer to her husband. "Some of my friends are in marriages that aren't happy and they aren't doing anything about it," she says. "It wouldn't even cross their minds to explore something like this, but I've come to see that this is a very mature approach to love and sex."
When polyamory has to end
That said, she recently asked Leonard to end his six-month sexual relationship with Marguerite because his time with her was starting to make Jill feel resentful. It wasn't jealousy, she insists, it was having her husband — a salesman who already travels three or four days a week — away from home one more day a week to make the two-hour trip to visit Marguerite. "Things at home weren't getting done and I was feeling a bit like a single parent.
I needed him here more," says Jill. "When all this started, it seemed like a fun experiment and I didn't think it would be a long-term thing." Although Jill admits the breakup has been difficult for Leonard ("He definitely felt torn"), it hasn't had any ill effects on her marriage or her friendship with Marguerite. "I haven't changed my views on open marriage — I think there are some people who can make it work and more power to them. I would never say it's a bad thing or that I regret anything."...
The article comes with a sidebar, "Find out if polyamory is right for you." Its suggestions are sensible as far as they go:
Opening wide? Polyamory might be for you, if...
...you trust your partner. "It sounds like a contradiction, but one of the most profound things I have learned from people in non-monogamous relationships is how confident and content they feel about the strength of their partnerships," says Tristan Taormino, author of Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.
...there is mutual consent....
...you aren't the jealous type....
...you have good communication skills....
...you have the time and energy to devote to other people....
...you know the risks....
To that I'd add, "if you're secure enough in yourself to violate social conventions fearlessly and guilt-free — and to, when the going gets rough, devise your own solutions rather than retreat to convention." Notice the great emphasis that this conventional magazine puts on justifying poly by how many people are doing it now, and by the fact that it's a growing trend rather than just "an anomaly" or "aberrant." (The teaser on the cover: "Open Marriage: Is this trend coming to your neighbourhood?")
Baaaaaad way to judge! If more people were shoplifting now, would it be okay to shoplift?
I know that a lot of mainstream people do poly well, but the fact is it's still pretty damn revolutionary, and to lead an alt life successfully you need a healthy indifference to what most people think.
Kinda by definition.
The first comment on the site is from Kitwench, a longtime poly internet chatter, who offers a penetrating criticism of two of the article's stories:
I wanted to like this article, but unfortunately it ignores the real feelings involved. Your partner's other partner isn't a golf habit or a book club that, when it starts to take up too much time, can easily be set aside.... Simply deciding unilaterally to say 'OK, fun over, end this now' and expecting everyone involved to be fine with simply walking away is naive and unrealistic.
Jill may think things are fine, but why didn't we hear from Leonard and Marguerite on how they feel? Polyamorous relationships are not about treating people as if they are disposable conveniences for your fun. It's about ETHICAL non-monogamy, and there is nothing ethical in acting as though you can easily set aside another human being's feelings and pretend all is well. The same applies to Samantha, who wasn't being honest with herself at all. She simply wanted her poly partner to be HER 'primary' and divorce his wife of 26 years - that's not polyamory, that's serial monogamy under false colors.
Read the whole article.