Via the comments at David Thompson’s excellent blog I came across this article by Laurie Penny on the subject of polyamory – or “open” relationships, as they are sometimes called – of which she herself is a practitioner.
The reason why I found this interesting is that earlier this year I made the acquaintance of a woman in her early 30s here in Paris who, like Penny, had practiced polyamorous relationships since her early 20s and I strongly suspect still did (regular readers can probably guess who I’m on about). My acquaintance mounted an impassioned defence of polyamory and her participation in open relationships, and during one of several rather lively discussions we had on the subject I asked her what the advantages were of sleeping with several people over having one loving partner other than the obvious – sex. She admitted that it was all rather idealistic, but the answer she gave me was as follows:
“Supposing” she said “you are dating a guy and you really like each other and you get on really well, but he’s not into rock music and you are. Well, if you’re in an open relationship you can also have a partner who is into rock and you can go to a concert with him, and your boyfriend won’t mind.”
“Yes,” I replied “but you can go to a rock concert with a guy who’s into rock when you’re in a normal relationship; people often have hobbies and interests that their partners don’t share.”
“Yes,” she said “but after the concert you can go and have sex.”
My next remark – which made her considerably angry – was that this sounded more like an excuse to fuck around than a substitute for a meaningful relationship, and that the whole polyamory thing was merely an attempt to put a veneer of respectability on it all. As somebody put it afterwards: “this is polyfuckery, not polyamory”.
What I find interesting is that Penny mounts pretty much the same defence in her article:
It’s the conversations. It’s the texts with your girlfriend’s boyfriend about what to get her for her birthday. It’s sharing your Google Calendars to make sure nobody feels neglected.
The Daily Mail would have you believe that polyamory is all wild orgies full of rainbow-haired hedonists rhythmically thrusting aside common decency and battering sexual continence into submission with suspicious bits of rubber. And there is some truth to that. But far more of my polyamorous life involves making tea and talking sensibly about boundaries, safe sex and whose turn it is to do the washing-up.
Conversations, texts about birthday gifts, making tea, and having sensible discussions are indeed pleasurable social activities. But you don’t need to be having sex with multiple partners to enjoy them, do you? So – like going to a rock concert – I’m not sure why these are cited as a benefit of polyamory.
Over the past ten years, I have been a “single poly” with no main partner; I have been in three-person relationships; I have had open relationships and have dated people in open marriages. The best parts of those experiences have overwhelmingly been clothed ones.
Well, quite. If the best part of those experiences have been clothed ones, then why doesn’t she do what most normal people do and keep the clothes on permanently? She’s completely undermined her own case.
Penny unintentionally includes the most succinct explanation of polyamory in her article, probably thinking hers would be the more convincing:
When I told my editor that I wanted to write about polyamory, she adjusted her monocle, puffed on her pipe and said, “In my day, young lady, we just called it shagging around.”