Regular commenter Theophrastus sends me the link to this article about – what else? – polyamory:
Sam and I have been together for almost a year now, and I don’t think he took me seriously when I first, briefly, mentioned that perhaps monogamy wasn’t for me.
One of the things which strikes me about polyamory is how soon its practitioners get into it. I could perhaps imagine a couple who’ve been together twenty or thirty years wanting to spice things up a bit, but these articles seem to feature people who, in relationship terms, have barely got out of the starting blocks. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that in many cases polyamory is an option taken by those who are bored in a relationship but lack the courage to end it. That seems to be the case here, at any rate.
But as time has worn on, we’ve butted up against my resolve like rubber ducks against an iceberg.
They’ve been together a year, and time has worn on since she first mentioned she wanted to sleep around. When did she originally bring it up, the first week?
Non-monogamy seems to be having a moment.
Among lefties with mental illnesses, yes.
I’ve never been a hardline monogamist. In my last (monogamous) relationship, I always contended that if my partner slept with someone else, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that it was, y’know, done.
In what way was this a relationship, I wonder? There doesn’t seem to have been much by way of mutual respect: he was shagging around, and she didn’t care.
It seemed reductive to boil down the suppers, red-wine-stained kisses, whispered secrets, adventures and grievances and confidences we shared…
Is she referring to her own relationship, or one she’s read about in Jane Austen book? Because I can’t imagine her relationship had much by way of shared confidences.
…the sheer everything of a relationship, to a shag.
On the contrary, the one thing which defines a polyamorous relationship as distinct from a normal one is, as she puts it, a shag.
If our relationship existed on so many levels – friends, teammates, confidantes, lovers – then it couldn’t be undone by one act; and that’s quite a noble thought, isn’t it?
I suspect the “if” which starts that sentence is doing a lot of heavy lifting.
Polyamory has been getting a lot of press.
Oh, I know.
It basically means having concurrent relationships with more than one person. You might have one primary, but everyone you choose to be with is more or less equal in your affections. My preferred configuration isn’t actually that radical: ethical non-monogamy is basically a good old-fashioned open relationship.
Or shagging around, as it’s otherwise known.
There would only ever be two of us in it, but I’d like to trust that person so implicitly, and value them so wholeheartedly, that if they slept with someone else it wouldn’t damage us. I’d like for the other person to trust and value me just as much so that if I did the same…
Let me stop you there: any man who is happy to let you sleep with someone else doesn’t value you much at all.
…we’d be able to look at it for what it is: a banal act that is fun or weird or intimate or exciting, but ultimately not a threat to our harmony.
If it’s that banal, why construct your entire romantic life around it?
“A sort of flexitarian approach to relationships,” I said to Sam. “You have a primary partner, and they’re the important one… ” He rolled his eyes, and I told him he was being too middle class about it.
A freelance writer wittering on about sex in The Guardian thinks someone else is being too middle class. The barriers to entry into the world of polyamory may be low, but a complete lack of self-awareness is most certainly among them.
Finally, he admitted to me: “Maybe because of the traditional expectations that are put on men, it’s more difficult for us to be open about it. There’s something a bit embarrassing about the woman you’re dating wanting to sleep with other people; as if maybe you’re inadequate.”
Well, yes. Perhaps if you grew a pair you’d not find yourself in this situation.
Earlier this year we’d reached something of an impasse…
Meaning, she was bored, assuming she was ever interested in the first place.
Because we don’t like the idea of our partner being with someone else. But generally, it’s because we’ve been taught to believe this means that our partner will leave us.
Well they have left you, of a sort. If they’re not with you, and are with someone else, how else would you describe it?
Of course,” she continued, “the key point of non-monogamy is that even though your partner might be with another lover, they’re actually coming back to you.
Like all good ideas, it’s obvious once explained.
And that extra joy and love and happiness might even fuel and rekindle the relationship they have with you.
This is the kind of thing blokes say to their wives when they’ve been caught shagging the secretary. It’s rather odd to hear a bunch of enlightened feminists coming out with it, though.
We’ve been conditioned to believe other people are a threat to our relationships, but what if they aren’t?”
We’ve been conditioned to believe turds taste awful, but what if they don’t?
I soon put this to the test, when Sam failed to meet me one night as promised and instead went home with another woman.
These people deserve each other.
A little scab developed over the wound of not being chosen over a nameless woman in a shitty bar.
Say what you like about the guys on Jackass, at least their self-beatings are funny.
And we have had the conversation, over and over with each other, but also with others – incredulous friends who can’t quite believe that it’s “a thing”. We field the questions in turn: no, it’s not perfect; yes, we do row sometimes; yes, there are rules; no, we don’t know how long it’ll last.
I get the impression this is another reason why dull individuals get into polyamory: it makes them look edgy in front of their friends, and gives them an identity in the absence of any other.
And, yes, sometimes I get tense and irritable when we sit down to eat and he’s too tired to talk because he spent half the night with someone else.
Can’t you just feel the love?
As far as I’m concerned, hardline monogamy is a recipe for disappointment…
As far as you’re concerned, I’m sure I agree.
…because even if you manage it, there will always be a part of you – that bit that has crushes on colleagues, and fantasises about handsome strangers – that your partner cannot share.
That’s why functional adults have such a thing called impulse control, and learn not to sacrifice long-term happiness for short-term gratification.
Maybe we should just burn them all down, these narrow streets that we’ve paved so that our desires move in straight lines.
I have severe personality disorders which prevent me from building lasting relationships, so we should burn everything to the ground.
Maybe it’s not committed relationships that non-monogamists are rejecting, but the idea that those relationships have to end when the romantic part does.
If relationships ended when the romantic part does, the divorce rates would be around 100% following the birth of the first child.
And isn’t that desire – to keep those crucial people in your life – deeply romantic in its own way?
Crucial for what? Paying the rent? How romantic.