I was having a conversation with a polyamorist last week. She is a young mother with a husband and a lover. Her husband has other lovers of his own. People in open relationships have always fascinated me. Who are these other worldly creatures who would opt for even more sex when there are so many better ways to spend our discretionary time—say a yoga class, a good book, or a bubble bath?
I asked her an obvious question that she has been asked a million times before (originality not being my strong suit), “Don’t you get jealous?”
Us monogamists are like first borns. When our parents told us we were going to have a baby brother or sister — but that they would love us just as much — we looked at them cross-eyed. Us first-borns are smart, and good at math—100% love divided by 2 does not equal 100%. I am four years older than my sister and I used to sneak into her crib to squish her chubby baby fingers until they were raw (turned out to be a poor long-term strategy because she grew up to be way taller and stronger than me, has a memory like an elephant and regularly pummeled the crap out of me).
I have just spent the last hour Googling “polyamory and birth order” and related search terms and have not been able to gather any evidence that the majority of polyamorists are second-borns (or lower in birth order) and thus not used to an exclusive love. Anyway I didn’t find any research but I still bet I’m right. Us first borns cringe when we hear people talk about “sharing the love.” We were the kids in the schoolyard who hated to share our toys. Sharing my husband would be an inconceivable stretch.
But after my conversation with this exceptionally articulate and scary bright young woman I reflected quite deeply about what monogamists like me (for the record my husband and I have been practicing “conscious monogamy” for thirty years— to the best of my knowledge) can learn from polyamorous relationships.
Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Me: I know so many people in my demographic who have broken up because their partner “cheated” on them.
Poly: It makes me sad to see monogamous relationships fail just because someone becomes attracted to another person. They equate monogamy with love. They think that their partner must not be “the one” anymore if they are attracted to someone else. All these notions need to be questioned.
Me: Don’t you get jealous?
Poly: Jealousy isn’t a reason not to be polyamorous. Jealousy is not a fixed emotion. When young children get angry we take it as an opportunity to help them deal better with their anger and not fly off the handle. Jealousy is not that different as an emotion. The ability to cope with jealousy becomes more seamless the more you put yourself into a supportive and healthy relationship.
Me: You do have rules in your relationship like having to have protected sex with other partners. What if your husband “cheated” and had unprotected sex?
Poly: The context would matter. Was it malicious intent done out of disrespect for me, or was it a failure to act appropriately in a given situation. If you really love someone, you accept that they will make mistakes. Even if he did have unprotected sex it might be an opportunity for growth if he owned up to it, and we talked about it. You can break up or find a way to work together to learn from the experience and make the relationship stronger.
This conversation has given me food for thought. I’m still firmly committed to monogamy but am re-considering whether “cheating” would be the deal-breaker I once thought it would be. Would I really throw it all away—an amazing family, financial security, all the work already invested to build a happy life? I need to reflect further.
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