For most of us, have sexual attraction for many different people at once is a normal part of life that we have to accept and move past if we are going to maintain successful long term relationships. But for the polyamorous person, the pursuit of new lovers is an emotional necessity. “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” Oscar Wilde famously said. Is it possible to yield to passions, not knowing where they might lead, without jeopardizing a long term relationship?
A woman who has a boyfriend, no kids, and is poly-curious, emailed this comment: I would like you to explore how to navigate a change to the “contract” of marriage. It seems what was unforgivable (to you) was that this contract was not renegotiated before (your husband) just did what (he) wanted. I think this is your overall point. Don’t use polyamory as your excuse for being slutty. But it would be interesting to explore what happens when one partner feels feelings that are not monogamous. Are they unfaithful for wanting to explore being poly if done correctly? Is there a way to renegotiate your contract?
A polyamorous person would argue that we can’t have all of our needs satisfied by one person, and by restricting ourselves to monogamy, we are limiting our opportunities for personal growth and putting too much pressure on one romantic partner to give us everything we need and desire. Might there have been a way for my husband and I to open up our relationship that allowed us to be true to the spirit of our vows of fidelity while giving us the freedom to satisfy our desires for romantic variety?
In our case no, for the simple reason that I am completely uninterested in taking time away from my family to pursue romantic relationships with other people. Honestly, I would have preferred to deep clean the kitchen than go out in pursuit of sex with a relative stranger. So this meant that my husband was asking me to stay home alone with our young children while he had sex with other women. That is a Big Ask. But he didn’t frame it that way. He “came out” to me as poly, stating that he couldn’t be happy without his sexual freedom. This left me with no choice but to accept his misery, accept his infidelity, or leave. I tried all three. It was the last one that stuck.
Listen up: for all you would-be polyamorists in monogamous relationships, I would suggest taking a more humble tact. Acknowledge to your partner that you are asking to change your relationship contract, that you understand the significance of this, and are prepared address all the feelings and concerns that come up for your partner around it. The successful polyamorist has to be a consummate communicator. They also have to be prepared to take “No” for an answer. This might mean ending the relationship. If so, own your part.
A mother in a monogamous relationship had this to say: Part of the strength of my relationship with my man comes from the sheer amount of time we spend together. Especially now that we have a kid, I cannot imagine him trying to stretch himself or me trying to take time away from them in order to meet and sleep with other people. I think the argument that someone cannot truly (be satisfied) with one partner is bogus because we all feel that way sometimes. We just deal with it, in the same way we don’t all eat chocolate cake for dinner, even if it’s what we desire.
I have to agree. How someone could choose to spend time with a lover instead of their young family seems nothing short of immoral, not to mention exhausting and childish. But I wonder how I would react if society told me that I had to give up something I was passionate about because it took time away from my family. Do we have to put our single selves on the shelf to be good spouses and parents? To what extent can we reasonably ask our partners for the space to maintain our interests and identities outside of our family lives? I think maintaining separate interests is important, but I don’t believe extramarital romantic relationships qualify as interests in the same way a hobby or passion might. I personally believe that, particularly in the case of marriages with young children, side romantic relationships are inherently a threat because of the time, attention, and emotional energy they consume. What do you think?
Please email your comments and personal stories to Nina Swift at [email protected].