We attended a fascinating SexPositive Reno Meetup earlier this week about Ethical Non-Monogamy, sometimes called Consensual Non-Monogamy. If those terms are new to you, we’re talking about having sexual and love relationships with more than person at the same time. Openly, honestly, and intentionally.
This sometimes looks like swinging from internet hookups, sex parties, and swing clubs. Other times it’s called polyamory, having multiple acknowledged love relationships. There are as many ways to relate to more than one than there are personal opinions about politics. But they’re all based on the premise that you can love more than one, that you can screw more than one, and you can still love the one you’re with even more.
The reality is that we all have a huge untapped capacity to love and make love with more than one. Can you love more than one sport, music group, or hobby? Can you have more than one BFF? Can you love your parents, your kids, and your spouse at the same time? Sure you can.
Being alive means you will be attracted to others. Whatever your age, intelligence, education, culture, or lifestyle, life will trigger desires, urges, and fantasies that involve others. The question is how do we deal with them. The default for most traditionalists is to suppress these attractions, hide them, and keep them secret. Now how well does that work for you? It’s never worked for me. But I’ve always negotiated at least the freedom to have them, reveal them, and enjoy them even when my agreements didn’t give permission to pursue them.
ENM or CNM is a far cry from giving in to secret desires, clandestine flings, private internet flirting, and cheating. Eharmony did a study that showed 75% of men and 68% of women have cheated at some point in their relationships. As a lifelong rebel, I don’t think outside affairs are so bad if they’re done openly. But if that many partners are lying about it, you can understand why breakups and divorces are so prevalent. And you can see why so many people are questioning the cultural standard of being faithful to just one partner.
Several studies have shown that about 5% of the population publicly acknowledges that they practice some form of non-monogamy.
Dealing With Jealousy and Drama
The Meetup presenter, Kim, was a woman who was experienced, had been a sex worker at one time, but was never comfortable in a monogamous relationship. Though she came across as a little shy and nervous, the balanced, rational thinking that her slides showed was brilliant. The more Kim talked, the more I was attracted to her. (Sorry, that’s not my point here.)
Much of the rousing discussion amongst some veterans and some newbies centered around the challenges of these non-traditional love structures. Top of the list was jealousy which many adherents call “the green eyed monster.” Making agreements and dealing with expectations, especially unspoken ones, figured in prominently. As well, there was lots of talk about the whole range of emotions such practices can stir up.
The tried-and-true rules for managing drama and upsets all center around dealing with lovers’ insecurities. Will he be a better lover than me? Will she fall in love with him and leave me? What’s wrong with me if he/she wants to be with someone else?
I know the knee-jerk reaction of most people, myself included, is to blame, judge, and criticize our partner when we get emotionally charged. But as the speaker pointed out, that doesn’t work. From her extensive experience, she proposed that an essential discipline to making open relationships work is self-awareness. You know, being willing, able, and committed to looking at yourself.
That’s been my belief in my twenty-something years of experimenting. In fact, I once coined Somraj’s Relationship Rule: “Look at yourself and things get better, look at the other and they get worse.”
Kim gave us workable tools to use and insightful questions to ask ourselves. These processes that worked for her can help us look inside and find what’s causing a dramatic reaction out of proportion to what’s actually going on. Often, the root cause is an earlier unresolved hurt or trauma. Undisclosed expectations or unstated agreements cause a lot of these stressful conflicts. Sometimes it’s an inherited or programmed belief that just isn’t serving you.
I remember one of our first adult play parties. We made an agreement that we wouldn’t go off with someone else without checking in with our partner first. Maybe just two hours later my sweetie went into our bedroom with some hot hunk without telling me. At first, I was pretty pissed-off until I considered who I was in relationship with. She was a spontaneous, passionate, and willful woman. That I love. When I considered if she could be herself and enjoy life following our agreement, I changed my belief. I decided to trust that she loved me no matter what she did. And that new premise has been serving us both for the last fifteen years in and out of multiple extended romantic and erotic connections.
So if you don’t have the tools and dedication to witness what’s going on inside yourself and change when necessary, don’t try CNM.
There’s A Second Key
After we talked about the Meetup, I realized there was another element to making self-awareness work. Partner-awareness.
Now I know my rule says if you look at the other party things get worse. But this is different. It’s not judging them harshly, no far from it. Partner-awareness means looking at the situation from your partner’s point of view. What’s their personal perspective? How do they see things? How are they experiencing what’s happening?
When I recalled the earlier example, I remembered trying to put myself in her shoes. I tried to figure out why she would go into the bedroom with that guy just after we’d agreed to check-in first. Knowing her, it was clear she was swept away with his attention, inspired by his romanticism, and turned-on by the erotic possibilities. All of that was completely non-mental which is, of course, where agreements and the ability to follow them come from. Putting myself in her position was how I decided to change my belief about her fling. If I wanted the freedom to get infatuated like she did, could I give her the freedom to go with the flow? I decided yes.
The first spiritual philosophy I studied called this “granting of beingness.” When you take the time and trouble to deeply understand WHO that other person is, you’ll be comprehending their being fully. Then the question becomes, “Is it OK with me for them to be the way they are?” Can I grant them the right to be themselves? Or more simply, can I accept them as they are? Can I just let them be?
If you really love someone, you’ve got to answer a resounding “YES!” But unless we can get through our own garbage and clearly see life through their eyes, how can we honestly grant them the right to be themselves?
As deranged as I can be during relationship stress, I’ve always wanted to let my partner be, grow, and evolve totally in harmony with who their inner being is guiding them to be. Sometimes I’m better at practicing my rule than others. But I always come back to this center. Am I loving some mocked-up image of my beloved, or the real authentic person I fell for?
I think this highlights a major problem in so many modern relationships. To get along, some people need to get their partner to change so they don’t push their buttons. Or satisfy some antiquated social norms. Or meet some fantasy of soul-mate-ness.
The Bottom Line
Relationship is personal growth experience. If you’re willing to look at yourself and see things from your beloved’s point of view, you’ll learn how to be a better partner. And if your partner does the same, so will they. And things will get better.
If you’re not getting along emotionally, in bed, dealing with money, parenting, and staying healthy, I don’t recommend jumping into ENM or CNM. Because it will put lots more pressure on your one-on-one connection. And it can result in explosive drama. If you can’t handle the stuff that normal life together brings up, will you be able to handle all that extra garbage?
But if you’re harmonious and in love, you might well find yourselves wanting more. You can love more than one and you can enjoy sex and intimacy with more than one. And with the right approach, you can do it together.
Just be aware that when you go for the gold of open relationships, lots more stuff will likely come up. Be prepared to deal with it.
At the end of the Meetup I did pipe up that just dealing with the negatives was depressing. My life is so much fuller because I have other lovers. In fact, we’re celebrating this weekend because a long-time boyfriend is joining us for a little party for the first time in six years.
Is it worth it? For us, absolutely. I guess you’ve got to decide if it’s worth it to you. The two of you.