New culture? New advice columns needed.
1. Shortly before Thanksgiving, "Dear Abby" — which your great-grandmother read when it started in 1956 — addressed a family's holiday invitation situation:
For the past few holidays we have had to accept the fact that my sister-in-law was bringing her husband AND her boyfriend to family holiday dinners. Last year we protested, saying it was ridiculous and that we wouldn't come. (We don't want our kids thinking this is appropriate.) We relented when my mother-in-law said we were being unreasonable because the husband and boyfriend are OK with the situation.
We have ended up going in the past, but Thanksgiving is nearly here again and we're not "thankful" for this arrangement. How do you think we should handle this?
Relatively Odd In Jacksonville
Dear Relatively Odd: If your children are small, they will accept the "odd" man at the table as simply a good friend of their aunt and uncle, so I see no reason why you shouldn't join the family unless you personally dislike the man. However, if your children are old enough to understand that there is something romantic going on, make other plans for the holidays. To do otherwise would make it appear that you approve of what's going on, which you do not.
Franklin Veaux of xeromag poly pages fame called out this reply as
infantilizing and reactionary. It misses a great opportunity to actually talk openly to a child about things like, "We may not make the same decisions or hold the same values that our relatives do, but this is how we can behave with courtesy and respect toward other people even if they are different from us."
2. A newer columnist at the weekly Now in Toronto delved in deep:
Multiple partners, multiple questions, multiple solutions
What do you do when you are a monogamous person in a long-term committed relationship with someone who is polyamorous and he falls in love with his lover?
I am a firm believer that you can only love one person and that’s the person you share your home and life with. If my partner is in love with someone else... how do I handle the feeling that I am compromising my belief system? I love my partner deeply, but I love myself too, and stay true to my sense of integrity.
I’m in a pickle and unsure whether to keep trying to work on understanding (which I can’t seem to do), dissociate from it altogether, or cut my losses, end the relationship and start a new life....
— Up the Creek
The term “polyamorous” implies that your partner doesn’t simply maintain a primary relationship with you and have casual sex with other people, but is free to cultivate love relationships outside of your commitment.
As Andrea Zanin, who conducts workshops on open relationships, points out, “[Up The Creek is] asserting a belief system that is fundamentally incompatible with polyamory — even though she’s using the term and seems to have willingly engaged in a relationship with someone who identifies as polyamorous. If that wasn’t okay with her, why is she with him in the first place? This seems indicative of some problems in world view and/or communication that likely predated this new development.”
If what you agreed upon was that your partner was only to have noncommittal sex outside of your relationship, a model known as partnered non-monogamy, then he has broken your agreement. But this is by no means uncommon. “Once you open up your relationship,” Tristan Taormino writes in Opening Up, “there is always a risk, since the way people connect and the depths of emotions that arise cannot be predicted.”...
What you are describing, the “fun without the work,” sounds a lot like what Taormino calls “new relationship energy” (NRE), and for many of us it’s one of the most challenging aspects of an open relationship....
...But, as Zanin says, “Relationships should be fun as well as truthful and honest, and most of them do require lots of work, too. I have no idea how much work this new partnership is for him, but regardless, it sounds like [Up The Creek is] just resentful that he’s having fun with someone else, period — as though their work entitled her to all his “fun” energy.
“Fortunately, fun is not a finite resource, but if she’s going to be upset knowing that he’s enjoying another relationship, then poly is not for her....”
Sounds like a hell of a lot of negotiation, self-reflection and attitude adjustment doesn’t it? It is.
“It seems that [Up The Creek is] choosing her belief system over what appears to be the actual situation,” says Zanin. “Has her partner fallen out of love with her, declared that he no longer loves her, etc.? Or is he simply stating, in a way that’s perfectly in keeping with his own belief system, that he’s now in love with his other partner as well?
“If Up The Creek is absolutely convinced that loving more than one person is impossible, she’s going to hear anything he says to the contrary as a lie even if he’s perfectly sincere.”...
“On the other hand, if she does want to try and work on this, I’d send her, or better yet the two of them, to a poly-friendly therapist who can help them untangle things a bit without automatically judging polyamory itself as the problem.”
Zanin recommends Philip Strapp at new-choices.ca. As for reading, [Tristan] Taormino’s book Opening Up and Wendy-O Matik’s Redefining Our Relationships are good choices. As Zanin says of Wendy-O Matik, “She has such an expansive and inspiring view of what love is and how to cultivate it everywhere in life.”
Read the whole column (Jan. 30, 2010). It also appeared in the lefty Rabble.ca.
3. In The Frisky online:
Dear Wendy: “I’ve Fallen In Love With Another Man”
By Wendy Atterberry
I am a 28-year-old married woman, who has been with my husband for 10 years (married for two). Last year my husband confessed that he had a “hot wife” fantasy and wanted me to experiment with sexual relationships outside of our marriage. At first I was appalled... but after months of talking about it, I became open-minded to the idea. So, this past January, I met a single man I was extremely attracted to. Needless to say, I told him that I was in an open-marriage and within a matter of weeks we were involved in a hot and heavy sexual relationship.
I have been with my lover now for three months and have a huge problem: I’ve fallen in love with him. I know he is not in love with me (he is dating other women) and it hasn’t changed the fact that I love my husband. But I can’t stop thinking about or lusting for my lover, and lately have even felt a bit jealous about his other relationships. I told my husband and he believes our relationship is strong enough to handle this. I’m afraid to tell my lover for fear that he’ll end the affair, which would devastate me. I’m so confused about how to proceed; can I be in love with two men and somehow make this work?
— Twice In Love
Admittedly, I don’t know much about open marriages or polyamorous relationships in general, but I do know that in order for them to work the primary relationship (your marriage with your husband, in this case) has to be the central focus. When that focus begins to shift, you’re basically screwed. And it seems to me, if you’ve fallen in love with the other man and you “can’t stop thinking or lusting” after him, your focus has certainly shifted. If it were me, I’d end the relationship with the lover and start couples therapy with my husband to decide if opening your marriage is, in fact, best for the two of you and how you can create some boundaries to ensure your primary relationship with each other remains the central focus.
There are some great resources for couples in open marriages at OpeningUp.net, where you can find helpful book recommendations and online groups. Hopefully someone can help you find an open-minded therapist in your area who will guide you through opening your marriage in a healthy way if you decide you want to continue down this path.
Read the whole column (May 25, 2010).
A month later Wendy ran a followup letter from the writer:
...I’m still in love with both men and luckily for me, things have smoothed over. While I wasn’t ready to end things with my lover, I did take your advice about going to Openingup.net and I found a lot of good books and local online polyamory groups that I could look to for guidance. So after a lot of introspection and honest communication, I’m finding a balance between the two. At the end of the day, I definitely think I’m a polyamorist (I just can’t do the casual sex required of my husband’s “hot wife” fantasy) and he is happy with the arrangement I have with my lover — especially now that I’ve shifted my approach to make it perfectly clear that he comes first. Meanwhile, my lover isn’t seeing anyone besides me because he’s happy to have a regular, loving partner without the stress of a traditional relationship.
This is still one of the most challenging experiences I’ve ever been through, but also one of the most rewarding. I’m learning a lot about myself, about love and about relationships so in the end, I think that it’s worth it. Thanks for your help!
And thanks also to today's poly community, in particular to Tristan's OpeningUp.net site, for existing and providing that orientation and help. Looks like you saved a relationship and changed somebody's life.
4. At Care 2 Make A Difference:
Ask the Loveologist: Polyamory, More Love or More Confusion?
By Wendy Strgar
I have been with the same man for a couple of years and he just asked me whether I would want to be in an open relationship with him. He has met another couple through his work that practices polyamory and he is interested in exploring a relationship with them. I am not sure about this but I am trying to be open-minded. Can “open” relationships really work? Is polyamory just another way to have more sexual partners? I know that I can and do get jealous and it seems like tempting fate, but I don’t want to lose him because of this....
The idea of polyamory is not new.... Books that started the movement, like Open Marriage, have been followed recently by Jenny Block’s Open and Opening Up by sex columnist Tristan Taormino....
Polyamory distinguishes itself from other forms of multiple relationships by its central idea that all relationships, whether they are sexual or emotional, [should] exist within the knowledge and consent of all parties.... Their belief that human beings have the ability to love more than one person intimately in committed, sustainable, multiple relationships is how they view the future of all relationships. They say that the practice of Polyamory is about maturity and overcoming our jealousies.
...Conceptually this is all good, but humans are hardwired for jealousy, so don’t worry, it isn’t just you. Whether this practice goes against human nature is a question that many have asked. I believe that it adds a level of complexity and challenge to intimate relationships, which are already pretty challenging in their most basic coupling for most of us. Asking whether this kind of arrangement can work for both of you is both a healthy and essential question to begin with because based on their philosophy, you being in agreement is critical to its success.
So although polyamory might seem like an ideal solution to combat the familiarity and boredom often associated with monogamy, its practice is no simpler and often much more complicated than monogamous relationships....
I have heard polyamory referred to as “polyagony,” if that gives you a clue as to how far off the multiple relationship arrangements can get....
I have had many a conversation about “love styles” in my Good Clean Love traveling booth over the years. Many people discuss things there that they might not otherwise because it is so difficult to find non-judgmental spaces to explore our intimate choices. I remember well a conversation with a couple that had come out of 20 years of living in a polyamory community in Hawaii. They told me that although the idea of polyamory is appealing in principle, it often becomes an easy way to avoid the deep issues that arise in our primary relationships. Rather than people getting better at relating, the diffusion and confusion of so many people’s needs doesn’t often translate into more loving.
I have long believed that as difficult as monogamy is for so many of us, learning how to deeply and completely love another person actually opens up the way to understanding what it means to love everyone. But that’s just me.
Read the whole column (Jan. 19, 2010).
Annie Ory of Mapping Love ("become the person you want to be in love with") is contributing a poly-specific advice column to ModernPoly.com. She's up to column #10.
BTW: Keep an eye on ModernPoly.com; these folks are serious about building it into something big for the long haul. Already they've established a useful and up-to-date Local Poly Group Registry, with a zoomable map. You can add your own local group and information into it.
New and enthusiastic Poly Advice Nurse site and podcasts, by Betty Baker.
Interesting thread on LiveJournal's Polyamory Community, also started by Betty Baker: If you could tell everybody who's about to try polyamory (or new to it) just three things, what would you say?
And, here are my last 20 posts in the "advice columns" category (including this one; scroll down). They include a bunch more from within the last year.
Labels: advice columns