"Open relationships: The people making it work"
In its April 6th weekend edition, The Guardian one of Britain's and the world's major liberal newspapers just published a 2,500-word feature article on open relationships done intelligently. Maybe the paper decided a counterpiece was in order to all the sad celebrity breakups and lowlife crime drama that fill anyone's mailbox who has a Google News Alert set for "open marriage." The article is also on the Guardian's website, which gets 4 million visitors a day worldwide.
The article starts in the usual sort of way but then has some interesting twists.
Open relationships: The people making it work
By Arianne Cohen
...Like most open couples, we began with dozens of rules: who should call who when, what partners would be OK. But it quickly became clear that these attempts at control were aimed at avoiding jealousy, and that most negative feelings were not jealousy at all: they were my own fears – that he would leave me, or that I wasn't the epitome of sexuality in his eyes....
As I became more secure in the relationship, the rules faded away, leaving just one: no surprises, which means pre-scheduled dates and no sudden, "I just slept with Susie!" announcements....
...We rarely see each other's partners; some people do it differently. Claire, a small business owner and amateur musician, and Bill, a technology consultant from Oxford, frequently socialise together with their lovers. They are in their mid-40s and have been together for 24 years. She has a boyfriend, Chris, of seven years; Bill has a girlfriend, Julie, of eight years, who is in a long-term relationship with her partner George. "From an emotional point of view, it's been pretty straightforward for the last many, many years," Claire says. Bill and Chris sometimes attend Claire's performances: "People probably wonder why I keep turning up to my gigs with two blokes. They've never said anything, naturally."
The relationship works so well that Claire struggles to think of recent friction. "Two years ago, there was a moment when Bill ran up and said, 'Julie's pregnant.' And I said, 'By George, right?' And he said, 'Yes.' That was the right answer."...
Both George and Julie have other lovers, and an extra bedroom devoted to the purpose; as far as the child will be concerned, these are just Mum and Dad's good friends.
The assumption that Bill or Claire would be racked by jealousy is called mono-normative thinking – an assumption made by monogamists....
What is most intriguing, though, is that despite Claire's laid-back attitude, she keeps her relationship choices a secret. "My family – we're pretty private people in that regard. It's not their business. They have met our partners socially, but not had them introduced as such. I devoutly hope my parents know nothing at all."
This seems to be a particularly British take on non-monogamy: comfort with the act, mixed with a compulsive need for privacy....
...Non-monogamous relationships are surprisingly common and the numbers are increasing, according to Darren Langdridge, a clinical therapist, professor at the Open University and co-author with Meg Barker of Understanding Non-Monogamies.
...A large minority of non-monogamous adults are midlife divorcees who, after long-term monogamy, are keen to try something else.
..."I think," Max says, "that people look at us and see whatever they are afraid of. So they say, 'You must feel so jealous.'...
Lori Smith, 36, a university administrator [and partner Jon]... began a five-year habit of monthly [swinging] parties. By 2006, Lori found that the parties were "wearing thin, not quite as exciting. Jon was spending time with a woman he'd met on Facebook. And it was fine, just sex" – but very different from their swinging agreements. "We thought, well, what's the difference if we wanted to go further and have a romantic relationship instead? We had big long chats about how we'd feel. We wanted to have the discussion beforehand, not when one of us came home and said, 'I've fallen in love.'"
Lori decided to begin calling herself "polyamorous" – a term that means pursuing multiple consensual love/romantic relationships. It's a subset of non-monogamy, the blanket term for more than one sexual partner. The term polyamory is only 20 years old, and has entered the lexicon because it emphasises love: it's much more socially acceptable to talk publicly about multiple loving relationships than multiple fuckbuddies. The polyamory movement is driven by grass-roots activists – around 200 people appeared at London's PolyDay last August.
In the US, polyamory has a hip connotation, and suffers from an epidemic of promiscuous people hiding behind the word. In the UK, polyamorists tend to be more hidden. "What I see in the [UK] movement is it's the radical fringe – people with pink hair and tattoos," says Deborah Taj Anapol, a clinical psychologist and author of Polyamory In The 21st Century. "These are people who don't mind being judged or excluded from mainstream society – in fact, that's their intent. That's all fine, but I'd like to see a quicker normalisation." Which is why many non-monogamous Britons won't use the word. "It seems to be a loaded term," Lori says. "For a while we said non-monogamous, but now we just say 'poly'."
Once Jon and Lori decided to be polyamorous, Jon joined the free dating site OkCupid, known for its large non-monogamous contingent, and began enjoying weekend dates with a woman who lived just outside London. Lori dated a photography classmate, but struggled more than Jon with the situation. "Once a month Jon's girlfriend came around, or we'd all go out for dinner. And we got on fine, but I just felt really uneasy when they were spending time without me. I couldn't wrap my head around it, so I saw a therapist." Lori realised she suspected that the woman would hurt Jon. "I realised that I needed to let go, let him explore this for himself."
Jon now has a different girlfriend of a year, Amanda. Lori asked to meet her a few weeks in – and discovered that they got on well. "We meet for coffee or lunch a few times a week. At the start, we both thought it was a bit strange, but now not at all. We love each other, but not in a romantic or sexual way. We're best friends." Jon spends Wednesday nights at Amanda's house; she visits most weekends. They have all had sex together, but not often. "When all three of us sleep in the same bed, it's just sleeping. It's nice to spend time together and not have to have sex be part of it."
Read the whole article (April 6, 2012). And join the comments.