Category Archives: Polyamory

What it feels like to have more than one partner

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One woman opens up about the benefits of polyamory

Tired of conventional romances, sex coach Beth Wallace embraced polyamory – being in more than one relationship at a time – and has reaped the emotional rewards

Beth Wallace

By Beth Wallace

I‘ve been in relationships with women and men over my adult life and I guess from my teens onwards, I didn’t have that traditional heterosexual ‘normal’ perspective on relationships.

The idea that you meet someone, marry them, have kids and stay together until the day you die, that works for some people, but I think it’s a relationship choice that’s largely born out of societal norms and expectations. If you throw out that rule book of what a relationship ‘should’ look like, then what goes in its place?

“Polyamory means quite simply having a loving relationship with more than one person at a time, or being open to having a love relationship with more than one person at a time. Imagine a monogamous relationship and then imagine that with several people.

“In previous long-term relationships I’d talked with partners about the idea of having sex or relationships outside the primary relationship but it had never gone beyond the conversation. Then in my 40s I met a man who was already in an open relationship and if I wanted to be in a relationship with him then I had to be okay with how his life was already set up. That took a while to get my head around. We would be out for dinner with 12 or so people including his wife and he and I would leave together to be with each other for the night and she was fine with it. It made me question all the societal norms around relationships and this idea of how we’re supposed to behave. It redefined for me what love is.

“In my experience, polyamory is something like being gay, lesbian or bi, it’s an orientation, it’s who I am, not something that I do. It’s not something I can just switch off. If you’re a polyamorous person who finds it easy to love and be intimate with, and find a connection with, lots of people, you can’t switch that off just because someone isn’t okay with it, because then you’re going to feel like you’re not being true to yourself.

“People make a lot of assumptions. One of the most common reactions I get from women is that they think the men I’m involved with ‘just want to have their cake and eat it’. I find that very insulting because they’re assuming the male in whatever group of people it is the one calling all the shots, which isn’t my experience. Some people also assume I must be very sexually aggressive – I’m aware of some married friends who started holding their husbands a lot closer when I came out of my last relationship! But if someone is in a monogamous relationship then I would never cross that boundary. Polyamorous people are obsessed with talking about boundaries – which is hilarious because monogamous people tend to think we have none!

“In fact there’s so much discussion around boundaries, and time planning that goes on, there’s often more talking than sex. People assume being polyamorous is all about getting as much sex as you can, but it’s not like swinging or open relationships which tend to be more about sex, being polyamorous is about having a full -on relationship.

“It can be a logistical nightmare. Three relationships at once is my max. Recently I was seeing three men, two in Ireland and one outside the country. Each relationship offered me something different. With one of them, we had lots of fun. He was quite a bit younger than me and it was a very fun-based relationship where we laughed a lot and did fun, stupid things. The second guy was quite a bit older and we would have very deep meaningful conversations about life and spirituality, he brought out the philosophical aspect of my personality. The other guy was an artist who brought out the creative side of who I am.

“It can be the most emotionally challenging and difficult relationship to be in, because it really forces you to be vulnerable and deal with insecurities and excruciating jealousies. But, done right, polyamory can teach you to be an excellent communicator, very self-aware and good at listening. It also offers a very deep love for people that transcends what a relationship ‘should’ look like.

“It’s something I would say to somebody early on, because for a lot of people that would be a deal breaker. I’d tend to say ‘this is who I am, if I’m interested in someone else and I feel there’s a connection and something I want to explore, I’ll talk with you about it, but I don’t need your permission to go ahead and do anything’. That doesn’t necessarily go down very well. Most people would think that the majority of men would be super on-board with it but actually my experience is that they’re not. They might be okay with the idea of you having occasional sex outside the relationship but they’re not comfortable with an ongoing relationship. I think societal ideas of relationships are tied up with ownership, this idea that ‘you’re my woman and I don’t want ‘my’ woman having sex or being in a relationship with someone else because that makes me feel less of a man’.

“I’m not saying I would never be in a monogamous relationship, but if someone was to demand it of me, I’d be out the door. A couple of years ago I was with a guy and it got to a point where he said ‘well, you know eventually this has to stop’ and my response was ‘basically you’re saying I have to change who I am and you don’t actually love me for who I really am’ and the relationship ended.

“I’m single at the moment and happy with that. It’s hard to meet like-minded people and I find that quite a lot of openly non-monogamous people in Ireland already know each other.

“People might think that being polyamorous means you have to be in relationships, that you can’t be on your own. But I’ve found that polyamory has made me tackle my own insecurities and realise love isn’t about possession or control.

“I’ve learned not to cling on to people. Just because a relationship ends, doesn’t mean it didn’t work out. I think having the idea that there is ‘The One’ can be quite dangerous. It piles a lot of expectation on to one person and one relationship and no one person can give us everything.

“I think Ireland is becoming more open to non-traditional relationships. My family has mixed feelings about me being polyamorous varying from ‘sure whatever, if it works for you, great!’ through to ‘don’t talk to me about it’. Most of my friends are absolutely fine with my choices, although I reckon a few think ‘Oh Beth just hasn’t met the right man yet, she’ll settle down when she does’ – good luck with that!”

Beth runs a relationship course on polyamory see bethwallace.org.

Complete Article HERE!

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No, Open and Nonmonogamous Relationships Are Not Just for White People

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By Monique Judge

Show of hands: Who here was raised to believe that the only healthy, positive relationships are ones that are monogamous, just one-on-one?

Now a show of hands: Who here thinks monogamy is bullshit?

Many of us were raised on the idea that we would grow up and find one person whom we would marry and be with forever until death do us part. We would have children with this person, buy a home with this person, build a life with this person that would look like some combination of all the “perfect” families we watched on television and live happily ever after in monogamy.

I outgrew the fantasy of a “perfect marriage” in my 20s when I realized that most people can’t or don’t function well in long-term, monogamous relationships. The fact that my parents were my primary examples of this reality didn’t help; their marriage ended in a series of horrible fights and alleged infidelities on both sides, and we kids got to witness it all.

There is an argument to be made for monogamy being a social construct. In my personal experience, I’ve found that not only have I been able to feel romantic love for more than one person at a time, but as I move along this path, I have also found more and more people who think like me and are willing to engage in consensual, nonmonogamous relationships. Most of the relationships have actually been very healthy.

It’s no secret that nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and the number of people who report being cheated on continues to climb steadily. What is it about long-term monogamous relationships that makes them so difficult to maintain, and why do nonmonogamous or open relationships seem to be on the rise?

For me, the decision to be nonmonogamous was an easy one. As I have said before, I have been the unfaithful one in a relationship before. I have known what it is like to love two men at once, both romantically. What was missing was a way to pull those things together and be honest with the people I was dealing with about what I was feeling and experiencing and doing.

I have to tell you that the most freeing part of my nonmonogamous experience is being truthful with all my partners and potential partners. I have also been on the receiving end of dishonest nonmonogamy. A partner lied to me about his new love interest and lied to her about his level of involvement with me, and that shit cut like a knife. It took everything I had in me not to destroy her trust in him the way he had destroyed mine, but I realized it wasn’t her fault, and ultimately not my place to tell her what was going on.

I moved on. I grew up. I licked my wounds and I vowed not to be that person. I vowed not to be dishonest and to be forthright with everyone, because it is the right thing to do. People deserve their choices. They deserve to be able to decide if they want to continue rocking with me while knowing that it may not always be their night.

So what, exactly, is consensual nonmonogamy?

Consensual nonmonogamy, also known as an open relationship or relationships, can describe many types of arrangements that people in love partnerships, committed or otherwise, can participate in.

Those include polyamory, which is being in love or romantically involved with more than one person; polyfidelity, which is a polyamorous arrangement in which a group of people treat all the members of the group as romantic equals and agree to have sex only with people within that designated group; and swinging, which describes the practice of individuals and/or couples meeting up in safe, sex-positive spaces to engage in sex openly and consensually with other people.

Whenever I say that I am nonmonogamous, some people immediately equate that with being a swinger, and while I have participated in the swinger lifestyle, nonmonogamy for me is more about me being open to the idea that there are some people I am going to love and some people I will only want a sexual relationship with, and the two are neither mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive. They can, and often do, exist in the same space.

Nonmonogamy also doesn’t mean that I am currently having sex with everyone I have romantic feelings for. One of the lovers I feel closest to, to whom I bare my soul on a daily basis, is someone I have never had intercourse with. I love him, and there is a level of mutual respect between us that keeps him at the top of my list as far as “lovers” go, even though we have never been intimate. He knows, understands and respects the lifestyle; he is also openly nonmonogamous.

We are sexually attracted to each other, and we agree that it will eventually become a sexual relationship, but right now it is simply a mutual admiration society with lots of long, deep conversations that we never want to end. He gets me, he listens to me and I can be totally myself around him. That’s enough for now.

Then there are the ones that I want only for sex. The sex is not detached or without emotion, but it is a contract entered into knowing that this is what we signed up for: the intentional rubbing together of our pelvises for mutual satisfaction and nothing more. We may converse, we may text throughout the week and we may even attend social gatherings in public together, but the understanding is always there that we are not looking for it to move beyond what it is right now, and that’s OK.

The bottom line is that at the core of nonmonogamy is honesty and mutual respect. You and your partners have to decide how you will navigate the open relationship waters, and once you have agreed on those terms, it is important to stick to them or renegotiate if you think there needs to be a change.

It is not a sexual free-for-all; while a lot of sex may be involved, it is important to remember that safety, consent and honesty play a big role in making this work.

I don’t pretend to be the expert on nonmonogamy. I can only speak on my own lived experience.

I can also provide you with links to more information if you are curious.

In the end, I wrote all this to say that contrary to what Molly said on last night’s episode of Insecure, open relationships and nonmonogamy are not just for white people. More and more black people are discovering and embracing the lifestyle.

I am out here living it, and when I tell you that I know for a fact that I am living my best life right now, it is no exaggeration.

Free up and be open to the possibilities.

Complete Article HERE!

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A new way to love: in praise of polyamory

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Polyamory isn’t monogamy and it isn’t swinging, it’s being open to having loving relationships with different people of different sexes at the same time, and in that way learning to love yourself, too

‘It’s like any normal relationship, except with more time management’: Elf Lyons.

By Elf Lyons

I have never enjoyed typical monogamy. It makes me think of dowries and possessive prairie voles who mate for life, and historically all monogamous relationship models have owned women in some way, with marriage there for financial purposes and the ownership of property.

For the last few years I’ve defined myself as a polyamorist. Friends before defined me as a “friendly philanderer”. I love to kiss people. Friends usually, or women who wear polo-necks. Polyamory is consensual non- monogamy. It’s a philosophy. Rather than the active pursuing of multiple partners in a lascivious way, it’s the embracing and understanding that it’s possible to fall in love, and have relationships, with more than one person at the same time.

Alongside developing CEO-worthy skills in multitasking, polyamory is the most empowering way of loving that I have encountered. It gives women more autonomy than other relationship models ever have. Although monogamous relationship models work for many, they’re not the only way to have relationships in society. In non-monogamous relationships, their success relies on everything being on the table from the start. I believe that it could be the huge relationship revolution that the feminist movement needs.

Many think it’s about sex – it’s not. It’s not swinging. It’s not Pokémon Go, you don’t have to catch them all. It’s about the freedom to be honest about the evolving ways you feel. It opens up the boundaries between friend and lover in a safe and transparent way.

‘As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends’: Elf Lyons.

As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends. When partners mentioned they found other people attractive, I never minded. It made sense. “Why wouldn’t you want to kiss Stephanie? She’s a legend!” Apparently that was not considered a normal way to react.

If I had known as a teenager it was possible to love more than one person, it would have saved so much anxiety, guilt and time spent writing awful poetry. I spent years beating myself up about it. It often caused me to end relationships rashly, giving excuses like “I’m not ready to be in a relationship,” or “I have commitment issues,” or “I’m not into Warhammer as much as you think.” I didn’t want to end the relationships, but admitting how I felt seemed a worse betrayal, so I would lie, breaking friendships in the process.

I discovered polyamory when I was 23. I met a parliament of poly performers at the Adelaide Festival who were hippyish, liberal and kind. These performers spoke about their partners, children, poly-families. There were ex-couples who were working together on shows while their other poly families toured elsewhere, married couples who had live-in partners, triumvirates where they all balanced an equal partnership. I was entranced by their openness. It seemed symbolic of our changing global world, and most peoples developing nomadic lifestyles where we travel for work and find love with others on the way.

So when I went to study at theatre school in Paris (fresh out of a relationship with a 45-year-old French father of three), I decided to embrace my inner Barbarella. And the reality? Non-monogamy is rather ordinary and occasionally dull. Stereotypes of weird Eyes Wide Shut sex parties and Sartre/de Beauvoir/Olga ménages à trois aside, it’s like any normal relationship, except with more time- management, more conversations about “feelings” and more awkward encounters with acquaintances at parties who try to use you as their “Sexual Awakening Friend Bicycle”, ie that shy girl from book club will get drunk and put her hand on your leg, before leaning in to kiss you, hiccuping: “I really loved Orange Is the New Black…”

‘Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent’: Elf Lyons.

There are misconceptions – a date once grabbed me for a kiss unexpectedly despite the fact I had made it clear I was in no way interested (my words were exactly: “This is not going to work. We have entirely different opinions on the EU and you have just told me I am ‘very funny for a woman’.”) When I pushed him away he was shocked. He believed because I was “sexually awakened” he could do what he liked. Luckily my experiences have meant that I am more vocal and confident, and able to stand up for myself. Yes I am open about my relationships and desires, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to touch me without my permission. Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent.

I must admit, when I first dipped my toes into polyamory I misunderstood, went overboard with Tinder. The experience was stressful and would involve me asking awkward questions like: “Do you think crabs think fish can fly?” while wandering around the National Gallery for the third time that month. (There is no denying that polyamory suits the self-employed schedule). I learned that when people don’t know what polyamory is, they misunderstand it as another term for “hook up”, which it’s not. So previous partners have usually been friends I trust.

People often ask: “How can you truly love someone if you want to be with someone else?” and “Don’t you get jealous?” I think these statements enforce unhealthy relationship ideals. I feel it’s dangerous to think that you’re the only person that can complete someone else’s life, and be their confidant, their friend, their support network and their sexual partner. It’s too much pressure! When you take a step back, drop your ego and realise you’re one unique component of someone’s life, it’s liberating and freeing. Jealousy ebbs away and you realise that, of course, they may find another person attractive, because we’re all different pieces of a puzzle. This has made me more comfortable about myself – I am not holding myself up to standards about traditional female beauty, because I can experience it in a hundred different ways.

Of course, there have been tears, heartbreaks, existential crises and moments when I felt left out. I’ve wondered if it was actually making me more free, or more insecure, with jealousy popping up at the most inconvenient times. I’ve dated people who have lied and I’ve had relationships that have ended because they didn’t trust or believe in polyamory.

But, despite the downs, non-monogamy has revolutionised the way I view love. First, it made me less ashamed of my sexuality. I fancied girls way before I fancied boys. But as a teenager at house parties I remember being made to think that female sexual relationships were purely to turn men on. We’d all seen that scene in Cruel Intentions. I remember girls kissing at parties and the guys cheering. It was performative. Except, I wanted to kiss girls because I liked girls.

When I started getting to know people in the poly community it was as liberating as taking off an underwired bra. I have had partners of both genders. I didn’t have to “choose”: the people I met understood that it was possible to give infinite, equal love to both sexes. My confidence soared. I wasn’t hiding. Men and women had equal place in my life. I no longer felt like a pendulum, swinging from one to another. This refreshing awakening did result in many awkward conversations with my mum and dad though, which would go something like this:

Elf: “Mum and Dad, I am queer.” [Mum puts the hummus down.]

Mum: “What does that mean?”

Elf: “It means I have relationships with men and women”. [Mum picks the hummus up.]

Mum: “Oh! Well, I’m queer. Your father’s queer, your grandmother’s queer, we’re all queer darling!”

Elf: “No you don’t understand. I mean I have sex with men and women.” [Mum drops the hummus.]

Mum: “Oh Elfy… No wonder you’re so tired.”

Although I love sex, because of past unpleasant experiences I’m also mildly afraid of it. So when I started experimenting with non-monogamy the idea of being intimate emotionally as well as physically with more than one person was a challenge. But, the choice gave me a power and ownership over my wants which I felt I had lost and been made to feel ashamed about. I’m not saying I jumped in the sack with everyone I met. God no. I’m too busy. But through being less judgemental on myself, I relaxed, opened up to the people I trusted and started loving myself again. It forces you to be really honest, to live life with an undefended heart.

It’s not been plain sailing. But to quote RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love anyone else” – this is integral to non-monogamy. You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed about being socially and sexually confident. Women have been made to feel embarrassed for their desires for too long. It’s about having the trust to speak our minds and behave the way we want to. The moment you start to crumble you need to stop and ask exactly what it is you want and if it makes you happy. Being loved and loving multiple people should make you feel stronger, not weaker.

In a time of censorship on women, increases in assault and constant critiques on how we should behave, polyamory and its manifesto of embracing our evolving feelings, sharing responsibility and communicating and working effectively with people from all around the world could help revolutionise the way we tackle privilege, inequality and control of women’s rights.

I have an authority and a voice that I didn’t feel I had before. My friendships are better, my health is better. Through being polyamorous and being a part of the community I have been made aware of issues, both personal and political, that need to be uncovered and addressed.

The world would be a better place if everybody was more open to polyamory. As well as that traditional idea, that it takes a village to raise a child, it would mean we’d all love more, and love better. Loving different people at the same time is like learning a different language. There are different rules every time and it’s always open for discussion. You start to realise that love is infinite. Every time you say “I love you” to someone it takes on a new meaning. It’s retranslated, and it’s wonderful.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Surprising Conclusion From the Biggest Polyamory Survey Ever

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By Tanya Basu

Historically, polyamory has been seen as a surefire sign of a failing relationship: If your partner is sleeping with others, even with your permission, your relationship is fizzling towards its demise. If you couldn’t satisfy your partner, your relationship was doomed.

But as of late, polyamorous relationships — sometimes referred to among married people as “open relationships” — have gotten a boost of recognition as a viable, healthy way to maintain commitment. And a study published earlier this summer in PLOS One suggests that polyamory actually forms the foundation of stronger primary relationships.

It’s a conclusion that is at once surprising and revolutionary, mostly because polyamory is a practice that’s almost universally stigmatized as “not normal,” and in fact detrimental to the success of a relationship. But modern society is becoming much more accepting of non-monogamous relationships, says co-author Justin J. Lehmiller, director of the social psychology graduate program at Ball State University.

“I don’t think it’s because polyamory is more accepted,” he tells Inverse, saying there continues to be a pervasive bias about the nature of and reasoning behind polyamory. “People are more interested today with consensual non-monogamy

That openness has allowed Lehmiller and his colleagues to collect information from 3,530 self-identifying polyamorists, over half of whom were American.

Lehmiller points out that polyamory has various definitions. The standard definition of consensual non-monogamy — what we call polyamory — is a relationship in which partners agree that they and/or their partners can enter a romantic or sexual relationship with a third party. What complicates this definition is whether the relationship veers from romantic to sexual and whether one or both partners are polyamorous, extending from just one other partner to a “network” of partners.

The team of researchers asked participants online about their relationships and their partners regarding intimacy, communication, companionship, and attraction to both their primary and secondary (the polyamorous) relationship. They found that not only were the partners of polyamorous people accepting of their secondary relationship, but that the primary relationship was supposedly made better because of polyamory.

“People were less likely to keep those relationships secret,” Lehmiller says. “That means the primary relationship got better investment, more acceptance, and more communication.” This, despite the fact that the polyamorous individual was usually reporting more sexual activity with the secondary partner.

 

 

It’s a rare win-win for both polyamorous couples and social scientists like Lehmiller who study non-traditional relationships.

Lehmiller said that studies on polyamory have traditionally suffered from either tiny sample sizes or unreliable answers given the stigmatized nature of polyamorous relationships. But Lehmiller and team contacted participants through polyamory interest groups and sites, explicitly being transparent about study techniques and ensuring the anonymity of participants. Thanks to this approach, Lehmiller says they achieved what might be the largest and most accurate polyamory survey to date.

To Lehmiller, the fact that more partners were satisfied with their secondary relationships, the more partners reported being committed to primary relationships is what’s most interesting. “All these relationships can benefit one another,” he says. “People are tempted to assume that if you have sex with someone else you are less committed. But we have a demonstration here of the Coolidge Effect” — the idea that our sexual arousal and response habituates with the same activity over time, or boredom.

That’s not to say that Lehmiller and his colleagues are suggesting polyamory is the cure to the seven-year itch, or that monogamy is an institution that doesn’t work. In fact, Lehmiller says, his research suggests exactly the opposite: That relationships don’t have a single prescription for success, and that the adage that different couples work differently is true. “There are some people who are perfectly content with monogamy and have satisfying, passionate relationships,” Lehmiller says. “Monogamy works for some people. But I’m hesitant to say that there’s one kind of relationship that is more natural than another.”

The American-focused study — however simple in its construction — also offers fascinating insights about the range of sexual habits. First, it shows that polyamorous people are across the country, in every state and region and across genders. Polyamorous people are your neighbors and friends, and they are found across the political and religious affiliations. What unites them is that they are nonconformists, willing to try something new. “Does that come first, or is that the result of a polyamorous relationship? We don’t know,” Lehmiller says.

If anything, the survey proves that humans weren’t necessarily “designed” to be monogamous, feeding into the debate of whether or not humans are actually a lot more like their animal counterparts in how they mate. That’s a query that will take a long time for us to answer, and before then, Lehmiller says, we have to understand non-traditional relationships more.

The main takeaway of the groundbreaking study, Lehmiller says, is this: “There’s not a model or script for how you navigate your relationships. It’s whatever makes sense to you.”

Abstract: In consensually non-monogamous relationships there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners. Research concerning consensual non-monogamy has grown recently but has just begun to determine how relationships amongst partners in consensually non-monogamous arrangements may vary. The current research examines this issue within one type of consensual non-monogamy, specifically polyamory, using a convenience sample of 1,308 self-identified polyamorous individuals who provided responses to various indices of relationship evaluation (e.g. acceptance, secrecy, investment size, satisfaction level, commitment level, relationship communication, and sexual frequency). Measures were compared between perceptions of two concurrent partners within each polyamorous relationship (i.e., primary and secondary partners). Participants reported less stigma as well as more investment, satisfaction, commitment and greater communication about the relationship with primary compared to secondary relationships, but a greater proportion of time on sexual activity with secondary compared to primary relationships. We discuss how these results inform our understanding of the unique costs and rewards of primary-secondary relationships in polyamory and suggest future directions based on these findings.

Complete Article HERE!

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Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love

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In the prologue to her new book, What Love Is and What It Could Be, philosopher Carrie Jenkins is walking through Vancouver, from her boyfriend’s apartment to the home she has with her husband. She wonders at how the romantic love she experiences firsthand is so different than the model presented by popular culture and academic theory alike. “If indeed romantic love must be monogamous, then I am making some kind of mistake when I say, ‘I’m in love with you’ — meaning romantically — to both my partners,” she writes. “I am not lying, because I am genuinely trying to be as honest as I can. But if romantic love requires monogamy, then despite my best intentions, what I’m saying at those moments is not, strictly speaking, true.”

Her book examines the long, sometimes awkward legacy of philosophers’ thinking on romantic love, and compares that with a new subfield in close-relationships research — consensual nonmonogamy, or CNM. While singers and thinkers alike have been riffing on a “one and only” for decades, she argues that space is being made in the cultural conversation to “question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.” These norms are more fluid than they appear: In Jenkins’s lifetime alone same-sex and cross-ethnicity relationships have become common.

When I asked Jenkins to describe how it feels to have both a husband and a boyfriend — she rejects the “primary relationship” moniker altogether — she said that it’s like having more loving relationships in your life, like a close family member or friend. She and her boyfriend, whom she’s been with for about five years, used to work in the same building; he was teaching creative writing on the floor above her philosophy department, though they didn’t meet until they matched on OkCupid. While both men have met each other, they’re not close; Jenkins describes the relationship as having a “V shape,” rather than a triangle. Both helped in the development of the book: husband refining philosophical arguments; boyfriend editing the writing, and helping her to sound like a normal person, rather than an academic.

Still, CNM faces lots of stigma; even the study of it is stigmatized. Yet in the limited yet rich vein of research out there, the evidence suggests that it’s a style that, in some populations, leads to greater relationship satisfaction than monogamy. In any case, the researchers tell me, the insights into what makes more-than-two relationships work can be applied to any given dyad, given the communicative finesse required when three or more hearts are involved.

In a forthcoming Perspectives in Psychological Science paper, Terri Conley, a University of Michigan psychologist who’s driven the field, defines CNM as “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.” That’s distinguished from the “polygamy” practiced by some religious groups, where it’s not always clear whether wives can opt out of the relationship.

I was surprised to discover how common it is: A 2016 study of two nationally representative samples of single Americans — of 3,905 and 4,813 respondents, respectively — found in each case that about one in five people had practiced it during their lifetime. A 2016 YouGov poll found that 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men thought their ideal relationship would be CNM in some way. Other research indicates that around 4 to 5 percent of Americans in relationships are in some sort of CNM, be it swinging, where partners have sex with people outside their relationship at parties and the like; an open relationship, where it’s cool to have sex with other people but not grow emotionally attached to them; or polyamory, where both partners approve of having close emotional, romantic, and sexual relationships outside of the couple itself. People are curious, too: From 2006 to 2015, Google searches for polyamory and open relationships went up. Other data points to how sticking to the boundaries of monogamy doesn’t come easily to lots of people: A 2007 survey of 70,000 Americans found that one in five had cheated on their current partner.

Jenkins says that as a tenured philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, she’s in a unique, privileged position to openly talk about being in a nonmonogamous marriage. She’d been interested in being in more than one relationship ever since she can remember, but it used to seem like some sort of impossible dream situation — she didn’t realize it could be an option in her real life until she was about 30. (She’s now 37.)

Jenkins met her husband, Jonathan, who’s also a philosopher, back in 2009, at a philosophy workshop that he organized at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; they later got married in the same hall the conference took place. They took one another’s last names as middle names.

Now married for almost eight years, they talked about polyamory early on, though defining the relationship that way came later. As philosophers are wont to do, they soon wrote a bit of a manifesto about their arrangement. They observed that even if their wedding guests were woke in any number of ways — not batting an eyelid if a colleague was gay or bi, eschewing heteronormative assumptions, and the like — there’s still the shared assumption that a nonmonogamous relationship is less sexually safe and less committed than a regular ol’ monogamous one. “Even our very liberal pocket of our relatively liberal society is massively — and, to us, surprisingly— mononormative,” they write. “Acquaintances, friends, and colleagues are constantly assuming that our relationship, and indeed every relationship that they think of as ‘serious’, is a sexually monogamous one.”

To Jenkins, the biggest struggle with polyamory isn’t from managing multiple relationships — though Google Calendar is a crucial tool — but rather the strong, sometimes violently negative reactions that she gets, especially online. When I spoke with her by phone, she was struck by a comment to a YouTube interview of hers, where a pseudonymous user invited “everyone” to read her column in the Chronicle of Higher Education about having multiple loves.

“THIS WOMAN IS A DISGUSTING ANIMAL,” the troll wrote. “Every bit as twisted and queer as the Mormons with their multiple lives [sic]. This femme-pig is the spectral opposite of Trump; a far far left-wing freak that desires to completely overthrow Western Christian Civilization.” Jenkins walked me through a deep reading of the bile: Bundling in politics — the “left-wing freak” bit — with the monogamy norms signals to her that there’s a judgment of what it means to be a good person in here, since politics is about living correctly, collectively. Plus “if you’re an animal, you’re out of the range of humanity,” she says. She’s also gets a lot of “get herpes and die, slut” suggestions, she says, which speaks to the hypersexualization of CNM. Nonmonogamy leads to lots of sex, the presumption goes, and with that STIs, and it proceeds from there. The way news articles covering CNM tend to be illustrated with images of three or four people in a bath or bed doesn’t help, either.

“The way we normally think about romantic love, we don’t imagine that it’s entirely about sex,” she says. “For a lot of people sex is a part of it; if we’re just having a hookup or a friend with benefits, we don’t call that romantic love. When it comes to polyamorous relationships, if you’re in love with more than one person, the same applies — to fall in love with someone is not the same as to sleep with them. We’re clear with that distinction in monogamous relationships, but in CNM that distinction between love and sex gets collapsed.”

Researchers who have studied stigma around CNM have found lots. In a 2012 paper, Conley and her colleagues found that monogamous relationships were better rated on every metric by different sets of the population, including nonmonogamous people. When 132 participants recruited online read relationship vignettes that were identical except for one being monogamous and the other not, the CNM was seen as riskier sexually, more lonely, less acceptable, and having a lower relationship quality. People in CNM were also seen as worse with non-relational things, like making sure to walk their dog or paying their taxes on time. Amy Moors, a co-author on the paper, says it had some of the biggest effect sizes she’s seen in her research. Elisabeth Sheff, a leading polyamory researcher who left academia for lack of grant funding, now frequently serves as an expert witness in custody battles; she says that often a grandmother or a former spouse will find out that a co-parent has multiple relationships, be scandalized, and demand to take the kids — even though her longitudinal research, reported in The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, indicates that kids who grow up in polyamorous families aren’t any more screwed up than average American children.

That same paper finds that there were no differences in relationship functioning between monogamous and nonmonogamous couples. People in CNM had lower jealousy and higher trust — yet also lower sexual satisfaction with their partner. Polyamorists were more satisfied than people in open relationships, perhaps because it’s hard to block of feelings for people you sleep with frequently. Polyamorous people were a special case, with higher satisfaction, commitment, trust, and passionate love than monogamous individuals, though they had lower sexual satisfaction. CNM people also had higher sexual satisfaction with their secondary partners than their primary partners, though that difference fell away when controlling for relationship time, with primary relationships averaging three times the length of secondary relationships.

“Overall, the standard for human responses for relationships is habituation,” Conley says. “That involves a loss of sexual attraction, and we can tell that from stats from therapy. And to the extent that a couple is frustrated sexually, it spills over to other parts of life.”

There are other explanations for high satisfaction scores for polyamorous people, she adds. It could be that they’re just acting out a social desirability bias, given that they’re participating in a study about CNM and want the lifestyle to look good; it could also be that people who enter into polyamory have self-selected themselves into a hypercommunicative population — all the poly self-help books emphasize the importance the need to explicitly talk things out. “People interested in polyamory are more relationship-y than the average person,” she says. “They like thinking about relationships, talking about relationships. That’s great in monogamy, but needed in polyamory.”

All this suggests the kind of people that are the right fit for CNM. Beyond being relationship-y, a Portuguese study out this year found that people with a high sociosexuality, or disposal to casual sex, had less relationship satisfaction when in a monogamous relationship, but those effects disappeared if they were in CNM. Still, they were just as committed to their relationships — signaling that exclusivity and commitment may not be one and the same. Harvard sexologist Justin Lehmiller has found that people who are more erotophilic — i.e., that love sex — will be a better fit for CNM; same with if they’re sensation-seeking.

Amy Moors, the Purdue psychologist, has found that people with higher avoidant attachment — where you’re just not that into intimacy — have positive feelings about and a willingness to engage in polyamory, but they were less likely to actually partake of it. While a correlational study, Moors explained that from a subjective perspective, it makes sense: “When you have avoidant attachment, you like a lot of emotional distance, physical distance, time by yourself,” Moors says, which is not a fit for the relationship-y remands of a poly lifestyle. Also, there’s reason to believe that folks who have relational anxiety, and are thus sensitive to separation, might be prone to the jealousy that’s known to flare up in CNM, though it’s not like that doesn’t happen in monogamy, too.

What motivated Jenkins to write What Love Is, she says, was a gap — or silence — in the philosophical literature, that polyamory was rarely discussed or even acknowledged as a possibility. “Noticing these philosophical silences and denials, while simultaneously being made aware of how society at large viewed me for being a polyamorous woman, made me realize there was something important here that I needed to do,” she says. “To do it meant bringing my personal life and my philosophical work into a conversation with one another. The familiar slogan says that the personal is political, but the personal is philosophical, too.”

Two key themes emerge from reading the book: that love is dual-layered, with social scripts overlaying evolutionary, physiological impulses. And that the “romantic mystique,” like the feminine one before it, assumes that love is mysterious and elusive and corrupted from examination — a sentiment that protects the status quo. But with investigation, and conversation, the mechanics of love reveal themselves, and norms can change socially, and be tailored locally. Like Jenkins, you can custom-fit your relationships to your life — if you dare to talk about them.

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