Sirenita Lake

Sirenita Lake
San Francisco, California,
November 04
I am married in a committed, open relationship that is the anchor of my life. I'm a former high school English teacher, former software technical writer, and graduate of the late, great public interest law school, New College of California School of Law. I'm now on permanent disability from conditions that have finally eased up enough for me to begin exploring the world, at least that part which I can access emotionally, with the recklessness of a teenager. An important part of my life remains my work as a counselor for tenants with legal problems. The rest of the time, I indulge in outrageous adventures in sex and love, which I occasionally write about.


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Editor’s Pick
JUNE 5, 2009 3:35PM

Why I Hate Monogamy

Rate: 134 Flag

I was monogamous once. Hated it. I was living with Tim, with whom I’d had killer sex at the beginning and to whom I’d issued the standard warning: I’m not monogamous. After the first year, things fell apart. I discovered that he had a fatal flaw, a weak personality. He discovered that I drank too much when I was unhappy. Sex became infrequent and then stopped altogether. We still liked each other and it was going to be a lot of work to break up. I had moved to be with Tim, and the thought of the drive back to California with my old, slow Volvo wagon packed with my household goods was an incentive to work it out. Though we weren’t having sex, he asked me not to sleep with anyone else, as that would make him feel inadequate. 

I did not have any particular desire to sleep with anyone and no candidates, but all it took was for me to agree to this sacrifice for a hot opportunity to present itself in the form of a damn cute working class boy of Italian descent. Let your imagination work, you probably can’t make him hotter than he was. I refrained, and I went another year without sex before finally packing up the Volvo and driving home to California, where in my desperation I took up with a rude and messy cello player whose table manners were so primitive, my pet name for him was Troglodyte -- Trog for short. I’m still bitter about that year without sex and the missed opportunity with the Italian boy and the very idea that Tim somehow benefitted from my sexual frustration. I never again agreed to be monogamous with anyone. My husband and I will celebrate 23 mainly happy, non-monogamous years together in June. 

Non-monogamy has been good for me, but it was rough in the beginning. The beginning was, as for most people, high school. I was a smart kid in San Francisco, and I was both astonishingly naive and naturally broad-minded about sex. My first boyfriend was a geek named John. On our first date, his mother drove us to see a comedy with Vanessa Redgrave, unexpectedly double billed with an X-rated Swedish movie about everybody fucking everybody else. We giggled a lot afterward. I suppose my first date was a kind of omen. John and I did the usual kid groping, nothing below the belt. Then one day, he asked me if I wanted to make out with his best friend. Looking back, I guess he was trying to impress his friend. I thought this was a great idea and happily complied. John’s feelings were hurt, and neither boy would talk to me afterward. I was confused. It hadn’t been my idea in the first place. This was my introduction to being blamed for what boys wanted. 

That was upsetting but not world shaking. I began dating Nick, my best friend Tanya’s brother. Later I dated Nick’s cousin Nick, who was attractive and experienced enough to introduce me to some more advanced sexual activities short of intercourse. Then, at a party, I made out with this rat-faced bad boy friend of the Nicks whom I rather fancied, God knows why. To my surprise and bewilderment, I became the object of gossip. Tanya dropped me. The Nicks were over me. The rat-faced boy was cold. A sweet girl named Natalie did me the kindness of explaining that no one wanted to be my friend anymore because I was a slut, before she quit talking to me, too. I was a little indignant -- I was a virgin, for Christ’s sake. Even I knew enough about sex to know I wasn’t a real slut. Not yet.

But no matter. I may have lost all my friends in one weekend, but I moved on to a hipper crowd. It was the sixties, and my academic high school had a hippie clique that I became part of. I dove into the counter-culture. I cut school, took drugs and went down to the Haight. I was embarrassed that I had ever hung out with the uncool kids in Tanya’s crowd. Clearly, those bourgeois, unenlightened teenagers were dupes of an oppressive capitalist system that would collapse if we all made love and not war. Among my new friends, free love was a moral imperative. Selecting one mate and rejecting all others played into the hands of the military-industrial complex, not to mention the patriarchy. I’m pretty sure we didn’t know what we were talking about, and most of my high school hippie friends grew up to have conventional relationships as the counter culture in general retreated from its more experimental territories. But in my naive, wide-eyed way, I knew what was good for me. I embraced free love for life. 

Over time, I’ve understood my preference to be largely personal, but also political. It is both a choice and a recognition of my own nature. I am capable of engaging in more than one relationship at a time. If I’m committed to one partner, the fact that I’m attracted to someone else doesn’t change my commitment. I don’t need to leave one person to be with another. Whatever I’m doing with a person -- marriage, relationship, dating, friendly fucking, one-night stand -- is defined with that person, unaffected by my feelings for any other lover. 

All relationships have some rules, and these pretty much protect the relationship from interference by others. For instance, if I share finances with someone --my husband, for instance -- spending money on a lover is something we discuss. A relationship may require a certain amount of dependable contact, like how often he calls or how many nights he spends at home, or it may be pretty casual. The expectations are set with the partner. My relationships are ranked, because this is what works for my husband and me. That means I have a greater responsibility to my husband than to a boyfriend or casual lover. I’ve never had a lover who didn’t understand boundaries, perhaps because I don’t get confused about them myself. 

I am, of course, perfectly happy to be with someone who is also non-monogamous. I’m not jealous or competitive. I need time alone. I’m self-possessed enough not to be threatened by other, possibly younger and cuter, women. I believe that whoever I’m with is with me because they want to be, not because they have no other choice. I do not believe my husband or a boyfriend will leave me because they meet someone who outclasses me. I don’t get involved with anyone that shallow. My relationships, like everyone’s, end when they no longer suit me or my partner, not because someone outside of the relationship caused them to fail. 

Not only don’t I mind not being monogamous, I’m at a loss to understand what monogamy offers that I don’t have in my non-monogamous relationship. My marriage is a long-term relationship that along the way became legal. We’re still in love. My husband is romantic, sweet, supportive, loyal, a friend. He buys me gifts and loves to take me out. He participates in my family, generously helping take care of my elderly relatives. He reads poetry to me. He looks after me when I’ve had surgery, which is often. He’s taken over a lot of domestic responsibilities as I find them more difficult. He supports me financially now that I don’t work. He and I have great conversations. He’s a terrific lover. What exactly am I missing because he’s got a girlfriend? The satisfaction of knowing my man never has sex with anyone else? I place no value on that. 

I know the objections and stereotypes. “You must have low self-esteem.” No, I’ve always liked myself and expect to be treated well. “Sex isn’t as sweet when you know he has other women.” Yes, it is, and there’s a reason he gets the girls. “He will never quite trust you knowing that you might be with another man.” Yes, he will, because there is no jealousy and no lies. “You are not truly committed to your marriage because you allow others into your lives sexually.” We are very committed; our so-called “open” marriage is not really open to anyone else. We’ve had more than our share of challenges and would not be together today if our marriage didn’t matter a great deal to us. “You can’t avoid jealousy and its corrosive effects.” Yes, you can; it all depends on the interpretation you choose to put on your partner’s sexual autonomy. If you don’t believe you’ve been done wrong, you won’t feel hurt. If you don’t believe that other people are better than you, you won’t feel jealous or threatened. “That might work for you but not for most people.” Monogamy isn’t working for a lot of people, either. It might be time to change attitudes. 

I believe monogamy is way oversold. First of all, very few people are truly monogamous. So-called serial monogamy is not monogamy, if monogamy means having one life partner, as it does for geese and wolves. I don’t know a single person who has mated for life. In fact, among primates, there is one true monogamous species and it’s not us, it’s the Borneo orangutan. Statistics -- divorce statistics and surveys of sexual behavior starting with Kinsey -- demonstrate that the vast majority of Americans have more than one sexual partner in their lives. Even accepting the convenient “one partner at a time” definition of monogamy, a large number of people are not monogamous, having sex outside of their marriages. 

I do not want to accuse anyone of hypocrisy for claiming to be monogamous. There are some people who are by temperament monogamous and I would not deny them the satisfaction of their achievement. There are others who subscribe to monogamy but for whom monogamous behavior is unnatural. As there is scant support for openly rejecting monogamy, they may try and fail to be monogamous, causing themselves and their partners unnecessary pain. 

The American myth of love and marriage is a recipe for emotional disaster. We still pay lip service to the notion that young people will fall in love and meet each other’s physical and emotional needs for the rest of their lives. That’s obviously ridiculous when applied to everyone, but we have no other model of a “good” relationship. When, as is common, one partner has sex with someone else, the marriage suffers an upheaval. There is a painful confrontation with reality. Most couples lack a cognitive framework to understand the behavior. Rather than understanding, there is shouting, crying, slamming doors, packing suitcases, calling lawyers. If the couple manages to “work it out,” the straying partner is required to express guilt and remorse for what is natural behavior and make promises they may not be able to keep. Rarely does anyone really get over the sense of betrayal. The marriage has a storm cloud over it for the remainder of its existence. This scenario is much more common than the happy, mated-for-life one. 

The statistics on who’s having extramarital sex -- 60% of men, 40% of women -- lead to the inevitable conclusion that any married person is as likely as not to have sex with someone else during their marriage. Roughly half of all married people qualify as strayers, adulterers and faithless betrayers. Half of just about everybody is going to commit what is perceived as a dreadful sin against their marriage, yet the numbers are high enough that adultery is equally the norm with monogamy. Our beliefs about marriage are in permanent, unhealthy tension with reality, with around half of marital partners attempting to be monogamous against their nature, like gays in the past who tried to live straight. 

We ought to update the discussion and apply modern knowledge about sex and marriage to it. Why is sex outside of marriage even called adultery, which is a religious concept, not a biological or social one? Long before half of all marriages ended in divorce, we gave up the idea that a divorced woman was a fallen woman. It’s been over 50 years since Kinsey told us masturbation was normal, and we’ve stopped calling it self-abuse. Yet we persist in referring to sex outside of marriage in purely negative terms. We don’t even have an accepted neutral term, other than the overly-specific or the fringe-sounding “polyamory,” “swinging” or “open marriage.” We don’t have the words to discuss this issue in spite of the vastness of the information, not only about the prevalence -- the near-inevitability -- of sex outside of marriage, but also about biology and evolution, which drive this behavior. Sex outside of marriage will happen. We need a benign way to discuss it.

Monogamy was never the biological default. While the situation may not be as simple as we thought in the 60s, there is some truth to the notion that monogamy became important only when inheritance became a societal concern. It’s also clear that monogamy was only for women until recently, men in traditional societies all over the world being allowed the privilege of extramarital sex. In modern America, rather than question the necessity for knowing genetic parentage that justifies monogamy, along with the other norms of traditional marriage, we have merely extended the unreasonable expectation of sexual exclusiveness to men. In a perverse achievement for feminism, we now get to condemn men as well as women for acting on their biological imperatives. 

I have known people, mainly women since more of my friends are women, who were happy in a relationship until they discovered that their partner had made love with someone else. Though nothing changed and she was satisfied with the relationship, this bit of information fundamentally and retroactively altered how she felt about it. The whole marriage was now seen as one big lie. Why? It seems to me to be an question of attitude and not much else. Like someone who yearns for what they can’t have and despises what they do have, the injured spouse chooses to give up her partner, home, shared interests, financial security, mutual friends -- everything that makes up a relationship, which is, after all, more than sex -- because she can’t have the one thing that she chooses to place value on, sexual exclusiveness. 

It makes no sense to me and never has. I’ve been careful never to commit to a sexually exclusive relationship. Other than that one lapse with Tim, I’ve never allowed anyone to dictate to me how I use my body, nor have I ever demanded that a partner renounce all other relationships. I do have high standards for relationships. I expect a partner to treat me with respect, to remain interested, to pay attention. I much prefer a partner to give me the right kind of attention in the amounts (reasonable) that I need it in spite of spending time with other women, than to be taken for granted or bored by someone who never looks at another woman. That seems obvious to me. Of course, it’s not impossible to be in a rich, happy, sexually monogamous relationship, but what surprises me is the high relative value that many people place on exclusivity compared to intensity. They’ll put up with boring as long as he doesn’t share the boredom with anyone else. 

Quite a long time ago, my life became seriously stressful. My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and required increasing intervention. She lived with the illness for fifteen years and her care was my responsibility. There were constant problems and I worried about my mother a lot. My sexual response became erratic; try thinking about your mother and getting turned on. A few years after my mother’s illness began, I became seriously ill myself. For a year and a half, I was felled by hepatitis. I recovered but have periodic episodes of fatigue, where it’s hard to think, much less move. For thirteen years, we were financially stressed by my mother’s illness, having to find the money to pay 24 hour care. 

About eight years ago, I developed arthritis, which led to a hip replacement and a permanent bad back. I have degenerative disc disease, a condition where your spinal discs are destroyed by arthritis and the bones begin to slide out of line and collapse. It hurts sometimes. A few years ago, menopause knocked me flat. I was tired all the time. I went dry. My husband’s penis felt to me like it was covered with broken glass. I could still get sexual release by other methods, but the idea of approaching sex at all was discouraging. 

Before I lost my job in tech, I saw the writing on the wall and applied to law school. My medical problems accelerated while I was getting my law degree, a grueling process in the best of times. I had three of my ten recent surgeries while in law school, as well as numerous diagnostic and palliative procedures, usually involving needles in my back, hips and knees. I began taking pain pills. My sex drive went missing. I mention all these factors because I want to be clear that my sexual withdrawal from my husband had nothing to do with him and was not a result of changed feelings on my part. It was physical and to some extent, social, in that the lack of a safety net focussed the stress of my mother’s long-term illness on me in very damaging way. 

Around the time I started having health problems, my husband and I met Stephanie, a delightful young artist and stripper who worked on our magazine, Frighten the Horses. My husband and Stephanie dated for several years. She remained our friend after they stopped dating. She was always welcome in my house. I liked her because she was a hoot and she treated my husband well. The fact that she was 17 years younger than me and had a perfect body did not faze me; my husband was with me for reasons beyond looks or age, and the bond between us was not altered by this beautiful young woman. If anything, I was relieved that he had someone he loved and who was a refuge from our stresses. 


 Stephanie at 25 in 1994

 A few years later, he began dating Yvonne, a graduate student whose dissertation merges linguistics and physics. She’s one of the few people I’ve met whom I consider smarter than me. She’s also much younger and they seem to have a very hot sexual relationship. I invite Yvonne over once in a while for dinner and we recently did a project together. These are just a couple of the lovely women my husband has dated since we’ve been together, and they are the ones whom I bless for making his life better when I couldn’t. 

A year and a half after I graduated from law school, having resigned myself to a life of illness, stress, seizures and pain, I came out the other side of the turbulence. My mom had passed away. The doctors miraculously patched me up into reasonable shape. Though I’m no longer an athlete, I get around pretty well. I’m not tired anymore. My libido came roaring back to the level I enjoyed in my 30s. Menopause was defeated by life-affirming hormones, and sex no longer feels painful. In fact, it feels great, which is lovely for me and very nice for my husband. 

Now that the horrible period is over, I have the satisfaction of knowing that my husband was not forced to pay for my illness with enforced celibacy. I was never tempted to ask him to share in my sexual limbo. He gave me more than most men would have given, but he did not give up -- nor did I try to take from him -- his identity as a sexual being. We are together because we love each other, have a life together, are emotionally attached. He was heroically faithful to me, taking care of me physically, financially and emotionally. He had lovers with my knowledge and approval. What kind of bitch would I be to begrudge him that R & R when I couldn’t even perform sexually? While I have guilt, perhaps unnecessary, for what I put him through, there is none over denying him sex. In 23 years, he and I have had absolutely no drama over sex. How many married couples can say that?

What’s sauce for the goose, etc. Recently, I began corresponding with an online friend and it turned into sex very quickly. Fooling around on the internet was completely new to me, but I’m a quick study. As many people who have love affairs have discovered, your married sex life improves, too. There has been no negative fallout from my online affair, which has in fact progressed to a couple of face to face meetings. My new lover and I are happy and energized by the affair. Neither of us has any desire to leave our spouses. Neither feels the need to blow up our lives, hurting those who have family and social connections to the couples we are in. 

My husband is happy for me. He supports my love affair, while continuing to enjoy a relationship with Yvonne. We are reclaiming our own sex life. Neither of us tells any lies. Let that sink in. No lies, ever. How many married couples can say that? 

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It's awesome that you can do that without jealousy. I have that bug, so I just can't. I think a part of me is the same sounds exhausting! HA!..I am of limited energy, and already stretched thin...I am impressed.
I read this wanting to refute it, but you taught me something. Education at any age is a good thing. Thank you. --rated--
I am 56 years old and gave up looking for a woman that truly beleived as you do a long time ago. I know lots of women who will give in and agree to something like this because they feel like they have to so that they can stay in the game.... but someone who truly believes that monogamy is both a choice and not an obligation in some way.... where were you?
I think you and your husband are simply amazing. I just had no idea that this could be done.

Thoroughly illuminating.
Ya know the remarkable thing, to me, about this post is that you make your point so well and do so in such a way as I can't see how anyone could be offended. Truly remarkable given the subject matter. Very well done.
My problem Sirineta, is that I think that just about everybody's better than me. What are ya gonna do?
You've tackled a monster here. This is one of those topics few will attempt, let alone express with clarity. You've not only claimed it, you've famed it. Refreshingly candid. Rated.
You need two like minds to be able to tango to this tune. Since it appears that this is exactly what you have, I congratulate you and applaud you for your unabashed bravery in sharing this very personal aspect of your life with us.
Beautifully explained and supported and defended. Highly rated.
I need a man like your husband, or none at all. This was so perfectly written and clearly explained. Glad the editors got this right. HIGHLY rated.
Serenita: I am in awe of you, your husband, your lovers, and this amazing piece. It's as though you've cracked open a cloudy sky...on a planet where nobody knew there was anything behind the clouds.
I'm her husband, and I endorse this message. (Not that it requires my approval or endorsement.)
This was very well written, well presented. I guess I long for monogamy in a way, but I agree that people should not be pressured into it, as almost all of them are. There would be more complications if you had kids, I think, but I am glad that this works for you.
Wow Sirenita you must be tremendously well-grounded. I think I'm more like Persephone - much too jealous for this to ever work for me. Kudos to you for putting it all out there!
shoot, i am offended. i'm monogamous, and it's not my fault, just like it's not your fault that you're not. i even think there is mythology of love and marriage we should actively work against, but this:

"The American myth of love and marriage is a recipe for emotional disaster. We still pay lip service to the notion that young people will fall in love and meet each other’s physical and emotional needs for the rest of their lives. That’s obviously ridiculous but we have no other model of a “good” relationship."

is a shitty thing to read on your anniversary. i hope you're very happy in your relationships, but mine ain't obviously ridiculous. it will be a great day when we can just talk about the ways we construct our lives without assaulting those people who choose differently.
Wonderful post. I agree with Kerry. Very illuminating. I feel more alive just from having read it. Good for you for having lived it.
Wow, I wasn't expecting this much response so quickly.

Persephone, it's not exhausting. Lying and cheating is exhausting. When you can talk about stuff, it's so much easier. I wish I understood jealousy better, I don't have advice about that.

Mr. Mustard, you are as kind as always. Thanks for considering my argument.

Harp, there may be others like me out there, but it's hard to come out of the closet about this. There was a brief moment when it was a cool thing to do, and I just stayed there.

Thank you, denese. It can be done when you're both on the same page.

JK, you nailed it. Jealousy is learned. It's an attitude thing. Growing up, I learned to love and protect my siblings, to share, not compete with them. I guess it's a foundation. It's liberating not to think about yourself and whether you are getting your due all the time.

Kerry, thank you so much for coming by and commenting, and for your support of this piece.

John, nobody's better than you for the right person. Nearly all my husband's women have been better looking than me, but we're right for each other. There is no one better than you for the person or people who you click with.

Scupper, thank you so much and I'm so glad to see you. Yeah, I procrastinated about a month before finally doing this piece because it was intimidating to challenge such a basic idea in our society.
I really respect and admire you for writing this and for being who you are. I have always gotten non monogamy intellectually and have never been the jealous type of anyone or anything and yet........I dont know that I could do this. this is fascinating and rare but you make it sound so matter of fact and frankly all the stats support your way of doing things!. Major kudos to you for being so open. :)
I am digging and since BBE is going to reddit this piece i will finally join reddit so i can do it too!
Sounds like you and your husband have a great relationship and understanding and love for each other. I do have to say I have learned a few things from your post. Both types of relationships can work out but there has to be that mutual understanding. I have had both types in the past. I couldn't really say which one I prefer the best. I have also been the faithful one who got cheated on, and we would have had the understanding that you and your husband have then hey I would have done it also, lord knows I had more opportunities then they did.
Very interesting and well written post.
Blue Eyes, you may have a point, but I suck at lies. Maybe I have to be honest due to lack of lying talent. So why in hell did I study law?

Ablonde, thanks for your kind words and you're absolutely right. Stressful relationships are between people of different temperaments.

Lisa, thank you so much.

Cartouche, I was thinking that I could not stand to be married if I didn't have a man who gave me so much freedom. I need my own space, my own interests, my own friends, to travel alone once in a while. We have so much in common but our marriage is not about togetherness with a gun to your head.

Verbal, thanks so much for your powerful words. I'm glad I was able to part the clouds, as it were.

And Yet, thank you so much.
Very well written, and courageous.

As I've grown older, I've come to believe as you do in a theoretical way. However, I have yet to see any of the polyamorous couples of my acquaintance be as successful as you describe your relationship to be. It is rare in human nature for jealousy to be in abeyance and mutual love and respect to be so enduring. Congratulations on your success.

I am in awe. I suspected this could be done, and probably should be done, and hearing it so logically presented is heartening.

You are one hell of a writer, and I know you did really well in law school.

I admire your honesty and forthright storytelling.
Rated and will digg-nify.
Thank you. I'm actually going to reread this - it was that informative and enlightening.
Wow. I'm actually surprised you two have made this work for so long. When I lived in SF, I had friends that tried the whole non-monogomy thing and jealously always played a part. I admire the idea and respect you and your ideals. But I also am very happily married to my soulmate and do not ever wish for either of us to have sexual relations with someone else. I think that people should just find what works for them. Non-monogamy would not work for us. But, good for you.
Mark, you are so funny, which is one reason I love you!
This is a fascinating look into a way of living I don't know much about. Very well-written. Thank you!
Delia, I know that non-monogamy is not for everyone. The whole kid issue is something I didn't have space to get into, but there may be an assumption that you cannot be responsible to your family and also non-monogamous, which I think is a false assumption. The kid issue also brings up the question of why kids need to be clearly linked to a biological father for support and protection, especially as this is becoming a rarity in our society. Shouldn't we all be responsible for all kids? Can't we love other people's kids?

Hi blue, thank you for reading. I respect other people's choices and their recognition of their own needs. We're not all the same. As long as you're happy.

bstrangely, I'm sorry you felt that my point was directed at you on your anniversary. Most people have several partners in their lives and half of all American marriages end in divorce. Obviously, most people do not meet that one person who fulfills all their needs early in life. Perhaps I should have said it's ridiculous it assume this will happen for everybody, as is the myth.

Juliet, thank you for your wonderful comment!
this does sound workable. and very well written.
forgot to say that i've always wanted to share a man, well, i do now when i'm tired so much of the time. or find a pilot who's not home much. :) there are traditional societies where non-monogamy is the norm and when someone gets jealous, everyone is completely confused and baffled. monogamy is all about economics and men wanting to make sure they are raising their own kids and shit.
Ariana, you are such a good friend! Getting something intellectually is great, that is enough to respect others' life choices even when you don't adopt them for yourself.

fireeyes, thank you, that is a large part of my point. It's far more damaging to make promises you can't keep than to just lay it out there in the first place. You, I'm sure, had and will continue to have lots of opportunities, and aren't opportunities great ;-)
Agree or disagree, this is one remarkable piece of writing, Sirenita. Thanks for taking the risk in putting it out there.
Hey if it works for you and if everyone is truly cool with it great. I don't believe everyone is meant to be monogamous, but I don't believe that everyone is meant NOT to be monogamous either. I think it's an individual thing.

However, in all the multiple partner relationships I've witnessed personally there has always been a lot of drama, pain, denial, and manipulation. It's something that to me sounds great in theory but never quite translated into reality, atleast, not based upon what I've seen. In short, I've seen the same drama and issues go on in a multiple partnership relationship that go on in monogamous ones, they just have been denied for the most part and there is always a veneer of pretending to be "great" and "more advanced" than people who are monogamous while the same dynamics are going on in the background of the psyches, simply expressed in a different form.

I understand why this denial goes on, especially due to the stigma around sexuality and polyamory from the general public but the same issues are there. There are also issues of sexual addiction, avoidance of intimacy using sex, (ironically) people running over their own feelings of monogamy to be with someone who's not, etc.

I guess in summation, I don't think it's any better or worse than monogamy is. I don't think all polyamorist types are slutty and I don't think all monogamists are insecure. I think it's up to the perspective of the people involved and the different issues in their subconscious that draw them to either one.
I am glad you have made that work, but I do not think most people are hardwired for this. I know I demand monogamy from my partner (and I expect it to be demanded of me). It has nothing to do with "control."
Ahhh Sirenita...
This shall be bookmarked. And who could argue?
I think it makes sense. That it works for some and not others is no surprise - and I thank you for writing it, explaining something that would be hard to put into words, I think.
Oh yes indeed they are great! You have some great points of views and I can't argue with any of them. I myself never have been much of the jealous type, now the guys I have been with they were on the most part very extremely jealous.
Like I said I have both the monogamy and the open relationships, I have the fuck buddies, flings, yet I haven't had a one night stand yet. Shucks I heard they are fun. LOL!
Basically if the grounds for the relationship are laid out in the beginning and everyone is in mutual understanding everything will work out. But on the latter if it isn't all laid out in and the mutual understanding isn't there then all hell breaks out. For the most part when a relationship is started most of us just assume that everything is in the clear and what is expected. Most people don't normally discuss the grounds of the relationship until it is too late and the relationship has ended badly. Which is why so many relationship end badly...more like road flares after a huge crash of lust and passion. But then again I no expert on relationships at all... LOL Great post and very nicely written,..loved it.
The world would be such a boring place if we were all exactly the same. I think it’s wonderful that you and your spouse have been able to find so many like-minded people to share your life with you. My wife and I have practiced serial monogamy for the past 25 years (at least that’s what she’s told me ;-). We are pretty open about the attractiveness of others, but we aren’t into sharing. I am not sure how either of us would handle the emotional connection that is tied to the physical act. Personally, I am not willing to find out.

To me, its like that new drug all the kids are trying. It looks like fun. Lot’s of people are into it. Doing it once won’t get me hooked. Who knows, I may even like it.

My answer is still the same. You do your thing and I’ll do mine. We can still be friends, and there’ll be a lot more for you if I don’t participate.
Hey there, Mark!

I was going to say--I know a very few people for whom this sort of thing works. Then I realized that those very few people are actually friends of Sirenita and Mark's, which would seem to bear out the 'VERY few' aspect of it. My views on polyamory as a lifestyle are thus influenced by being a not-always-consenting adult on the fringes of such.

So for the record--please be careful when propositioning single women, as a couple. Not all of us are flattered by the assumption that we will be content to be the third wheel in someone else's relationship.

Ditto with designating 'primary, secondary, and tertiary' relationships. I once had a boyfriend ask me to "commit to being at least seconds." Hello? What does that even MEAN? For him it meant the safety of a 'commitment' without the attendant responsibilities, while for me it meant giving up any sort of reasonable control over my circumstances.

In fact, the reason that polyamory is problematic is less about 'jealousy' (often merely a convenient excuse for shaming someone who is already dealing with having his or her life upended) than about pragmatism. Yes, it's 'pragmatic' to get one's needs met by different people at different times. But it is also difficult to shuffle commitments and responsibilities among an ever-shifting group of people without someone getting landed with WAY more than his or her share of the burdens, particularly when there are children involved. Often, one person's freedom is drastically curtailed, even destroyed, in the name of the 'freedom' of the partner.

I realize that this is a gross over-generalization, based on my own past experiences. I also realize that more traditional relationships are also subject to the same critique. But I do think that polyamory is more than commonly subject to abuse. Most people can scarcely handle ONE major commitment, let alone several.
Jeanette, thank you. It kind of scared the shit out of me to post this.

Neon_Artemis, thank you for your comment and I totally agree with you. You've added something valuable to the discussion.

deepcleav, amen.

APC2008, I'm not sure I agree about the hardwiring. According to statistics and biology, a lot of people, probably most, are not hardwired for monogamy. There's a certain amount of cultural training and personal decision-making that affects your behavior. If you look at primate studies, there is competition and jealousy, but the chimps, for example, are clearly not hardwired for monogamy. Maybe all relationship stuff, like anything biology-based, is messy.
Oh...I thought being together required the gun to the head. I've never lived any other way. Till now. Thank God.
Radical. Eloquent. Seminal. Visionary. Fertile. Inspirational. O! Exhilarating. [Nor do I lightly proffer praise.] Most.Highly.Rated.
I wholeheartedly agree, with one codicil:

I've always said the ideal situation would be a compound, with one big house for communal meals and the like, and a couple three guest houses - one for me, one for the presumed spouse, maybe another for genuine guests. I value my privacy and self-actualization Too Much. The last two husbands always started with the, "Don't you think it's time to go to bed now?" And I hate sleep. Resent the hell out of it. [Next is the, "Are you going to have anOther?!" referring to beer or scotch or wine]
Well, I suppose this is "illuminating" to someone who hasn't been around the block or chooses a simple-minded outlook, but I give this a 100% TFB rating - Total Fucking Bullshit. Not because I feel the need to defend monogomy or whatever, but merely because it's nothing more than an epic piece of self-rationalization - something which you already know. Something which you know most people won't see through.

But here's a clue for you all. Whenever somebody says this: "Neither of us tells any lies", you know you've heard the biggest lie of all. An honest person admits his lies, a dishonest one says he does not lie. Seems everyone's a freaking politician nowadays, always trying to sell their bullshit.
I related to your early forays into making out and sex. I was very adventurous, open-minded and happy about it when I was younger. And, I, too, was surprised that people could not separate sex from romantic involvement.

But for myself, I find that my needs have changed. I partied hardy and enjoyed it, but I've met someone who I'm excited to "settle down" with and marry. We are monogomous and it's a non-issue.

I'm just very impressed that you realized at such an early age that it is YOU who makes the rules in your life. Many people live an entire life without realizing this.

Good luck and thanks for sharing.
Trig, thanks for coming by and I'm glad you're not arguing ;-)

Owl, thank you, and I can't argue with that. It's all about being true to yourself.

"road flares after a huge crash of lust and passion" -- damn, that's good, fireeyes! I too love all the varieties of sexual encounter, although I'm a bit light on the one-night stands myself.

tregibbs, thanks for reading. Actually, I think it's scientifically accurate that monogamy is not the biological default for humans. If you look at species that are truly monogamous, such as wolves, there is no question of going outside of the relationship for sex. That's what it means to be biologically monogamous, as opposed to monogamous by choice, which is also perfectly valid. My point is that monogamous behavior is not automatic in humans.

Thank you, OES!

Spin, I agree with you. It's about doing your own thing and not judging others. The great thing about non-monogamy is, there's lots for everyone, you never run out. ;-)

Petty Lady, excuse me? I don't know you, and Mark and I have certainly never propositioned you or anyone else as a couple. We are not swingers, though I have nothing against those who swing. As it happens, both Mark and I are more propositioned than propositioning, me because I'm a woman and him because he's got a following as an erotic writer. You seem to assume we're sexual predators, always on the hunt. That is not the case. As for making commitments and taking care of his lovers, no one does that better than Mark. Your marriage can take precedence over other relationships without your being an asshole to other lovers. I'm cool with being second string to someone in a committed relationship. It's more important to me not to damage anyone's life than to demand my share of attention from a lover.
I don't want to comment, but thanks, you rock, and rated.
Hmm. Here's the thing: by my definition, you ARE monogamous. You have a single partner and a relationship you regard as permanent. You just have sex both in and outside the bounds of that relationship. Who says sex is the only thing that defines a relationship?

It's been my observation that the majority of people can't manage sex without a transferal of loyalties. The problem most folks with open marriages whom I have known has encountered is that the new young lover becomes the new spouse. The old spouse gets shafted.

Your marriage has endured a lot and obviously works; I question whether it would continue to work so well if one of your husband's lovers got accidentally pregnant and had his child, for example. Or if one of them turned out to be not-so-mellow about playing second fiddle and demanded he leave you. There are just so many things that could go wrong.
a very honest, and unique perspective
jlynne, lol!

LeMichel, thank you so much. I treasure this comment, as I so believe I am and have always been some kind of radical.

Connie, I'm with ya there and I could not be married unless I had the kind of autonomy I have with my husband. He lets me stay up late with very little protest ;-)

Harry, I expected to push some buttons, but that was harsh and personal, and I don't even know what point you're making. Do you think I'm selling something or running for something? In fact, my husband and I do not tell lies about sex, because we don't need to. If something isn't forbidden, you don't need to lie about it. Simple. You think you know me because you, and no other poster, has been around the block? Who's selling what?
I think we all arrive in sexual maturity wired a certain way - some of us for monogamy and some of us for polyamory (I use that term as you suggest no other you like better). I think what makes for satisfying relationships is being open and honest about how we feel on that issue and finding partners who agree with those feelings and accept us as we do them -- but I also think we all should respect people who are wired differently, as long as they live their lives with integrity.

I don't have any issue with anyone's preferences or behavior (it's none of my damn business and FWIW, I agree with your arguments about the hypocrisy and problems in many so-called monogamous relationships). What always bothers me is judgments towards another person's choices or preferences. I get that you've probably encountered a lot of judgment towards yours, but I also hear judgment from you towards monogamy. Perhaps because you say you don't understand it and never will. I think we're doomed to judge what we don't try to understand.

But contrary to what you suggest here, monogamous relationships can also have all the integrity, commitment, sexual passion and depth you describe. So please do not group all monogamous people together, just as you would not wish to be grouped in any way yourself, but (I assume) wish to be seen as an individual.
DaBerm, it's good to meet a fellow high school rebel. I agree, we need different things at different times.

incandescent, thank you. It's a myth that non-monogamous or bi people are always on the prowl. Sex is a lovely, life-giving thing, and it ebbs and flows like everything else in life.

aim, it's mutual!

Allie, you bring up some good points. I think it's critically important to have rules (ethics, moral, whatever you want to call them) especially when going outside the norm. True anarchy is taking responsibility for your behavior, not, as the term is often used, just running riot. The exact same problems can come up in a monogamous relationship except that the blowback is much worse. In our case, we simply committed to our marriage and stuck to it.

Kathy, thank you!
Silkstone, I do believe that some people are appropriately in monogamous relationships, and while it's true I don't get it, I'm really protesting the one size fits all philosophy. I've seen too many tragic outcomes from extra-marital sex to feel that monogamy deserves to be enthroned as it is as the only legitimate way to live. At least, let's talk about it. I believe that a lot of unhappiness comes from accepting the model that's handed to you instead of knowing yourself and choosing wisely.

Feed the Cat, thank you so much!

I appreciate all the comments here and thank everyone who took the time to comment. I need to take a bit of a break but I'll be back and read every single comment. Thanks again.
Just not for me. Twenty years in a faithful intimate relationship. And now for the first time in 8 years since she passed, I want more than anything...for this woman I be in a faithful intimate relationship with me full time. But, those things don't happen overnight. Ah well.

rated for truth and beauty of writing.
Had Karen read this and it completely resonated with her. I am not built like that, unfortunately, or we'd be a better fit. :) Good for you for finding a mate who mirrors your needs!
Wonderful! Thanks for writing this great exposition on something few people have the courage to talk about. I couldn't agree more. The only thing I would add is that the prevalence of monogamy goes hand in hand with an general acceptance of the emotion of jealousy in a relationship. This is a feeling that should be shunned! Jealousy's only roots lie in insecurity, mistrust, and a desire to control. I want to slap a woman in the face when she proclaims how "cute" it is that her husband or boyfriend is jealous of her. If he perceives the relationship is that easily threatened by others, then they have some serious talking to do about what's missing. Either that, or he's incredibly controlling and she should get out of the relationship *immediately*. I've never once worried my husband would leave me for another woman - I wouldn't have married him if I thought that were even possible. On the contrary, our commitment goes much deeper than any sexual encounter ever could, and so we don't worry about that stuff at all and never have. You and I have it right, and pretty much everyone else has it wrong. Thanks again for writing this - I hope a lot of people read it and it helps them question the assumptions they've been raised with. Maybe a relationship or two can be strengthened or saved by reading of your experiences.
It's not for me either, but I'm happy for you and your husband and can't think of a reason in the world to criticize you.

For the record, I don't lie either.
I just date myself, it's easier that way! ;)

Oh yeah, and Online, I'm Don Juan, offline, I'm uh, what is that word on the cue card? OH yeah, I'm Tink. Crap!! ;)

Great article.
Sirenita, I am so glad you wrote this because you did it so well.
I have encouraged my husband to see other women but he is too shy or old-fashioned to actually venture out. I am very insecure because of my looks and it would actually make me feel better if I knew that he had a beautiful woman in his life. We are intellectual equals and have similar interests, however, sometimes I feel that I need someone else in my life but because of his reluctance, I hesitate.
I feel better just knowing there is someone who might understand. Thank you.
A very honest and well, written post. I presume you commented "yikes" because you didn't expect to go on so long. But I think the detail, particularly the inexplicable male behavior you covered early, gives the post quite a view that couldn't have been provided in snapshots. Could have been written by Kinsey himself. And that is intended as high praise.
I learned about the subject of jealousy in an anthropology course. It's an ingrained instinct in us, from way back a long time ago, in our ancestors. I can't remember the exact way it was explained, but to paraphrase, that it's been in our instincts as a way to fend off intruders of other groups (tribes) who want to steal the other partner or their kids, sort of a prehistoric emotion. Some have it more than others.

One would think that the more "cultured" a human is, that the more UN-jealous they should be. But this isn't the case. So to me, this is a natural biological instinct, there for a reason.
Well done. And rated for putting it all out there...and you are absolutely right about it only working as long there are no secrets (lies) or jealousy. Mix those in even a little and that's how it spirals.

But I didn't agree with your opinion on how the "the notion that young people will fall in love and meet each other’s physical and emotional needs for the rest of their lives. That’s obviously ridiculous"

It's not that I don't agree with it because I'm a romantic, or wearing naive's because it can and has happened. But I would agree in saying, which actually might be more to your point and I just missed it, that it's most certainly not across the board. How can any of us know anything pro or con concerning the "rest of any couples lives"

Well done SirenitaLake...glad a woman wrote this...Sadly, I think the comment section might have carried a different tone if this subject was tackled by an equally eloquent man.
This is the first discussion on this topic that has actually made me feel BETTER about it... I'm still undecided, but find myself madly in love with a boy who's polyamorous, and have been conflicted about it since jump street... Thank you SL, for giving your honest take on how this life can work for some people. Rated for the bits that make me go hmm...
Wow. This was sooo good. I'm a monogamous type-o-chick who hadn't really gotten how this type of thing works. Until I read this. I guarantee your piece will come to mind more often than you might suspect. Thank you for the enlightenment!

And of course...

Thanks for sharing your values, journey and lifestyle. No judgement here. A truly organic relationship is hard to come by, trust me - I keep trying. :) Congrats on your continued relationship with your husband. Your understanding of everything involved in dynamics of a relationship must be fascinating :)
I have to hit the sack, but I will be back for this one. Wow! So far, so great!
quite the airbrushing/spin trick that salon editors do sometimes. they chged the title of this from "Why I hate monogamy" as titled by SirenitaLake, into "Celebrating 23 years in an open marriage" on the cover. same post!! its obvious which is more uncontroversial and less confrontational, but I wonder which would get more hits?

Im inspired so this will be a longish reply. attached like a barnacle to your own. it really should be in my blog, but Im not ready to come out of the closet like you yet :p ... when I do write it, I will maybe use this as a rough draft!!

maybe I will entitle it "frighten the horses"!!! brilliant title for your mag!! you should include that full quote there & its origin/history!! maybe in another blog!!

Ive been deviously sprinkling comments on (non)monogamy and polyamory all over the place here on OS since I joined, and recently wrote, "I wish I knew of a post where someone talked about it working". so your post is synchronicity & a sort of cyber godsend. thanks for coming out of the closet in such an "open" way. gives me some courage to do the same. but not yet anyway. its just too personal .... instead I will continue to splatter comments about my true feelings everywhere .... nobody can reconstruct the whole picture that way :)

at least you've dipped your toes in the water, and from the supportive comments, the waters mostly fine...

as for "wiring", I have studied a lot of evolutionary psychology (much of what your article is about without you mentioning it.. it seems you have studied it deeply too) & have a blog post on that.. but even as though I am sympathetic to polyamory, I think something like SEXUAL JEALOUSY is an emotion that is VERY DEEPLY/STRONGLY HARDWIRED into the human brain, and also other animal brains.

I believe it is one of the HARDEST internal human instincts to overcome, and this difficulty is encoded as/reflected in massive cultural resistance. [side note: scientifically, probably, also, homosexuality and heterosexuality are usually genetically encoded & hardwired into the developing brain]

you provide a model for what it might "look like" to overcome sexual jealosy.

in your essay, you do not confront that much what it means to "others" that you date. it is a polyamorist-central perspective. and therefore, polyamory can creep into narcissism. I think it is fair if you are open with them, but... I think some ppl would agree to date you against their own monogamous natures. that is very tricky. hence, imho, polyamorists almost have to be much more highly sensitive..

in polyamory, you have to mindread people and actually extract their inner feelings that may be contradictory to what they confess. they may profess they are ok with polyamory only to be close to you, but then create emotional histrionics related to the lack of monogamy. hence something sort of like "gaydar" but perhaps even more finely attuned.

Ive argued that polyamorists suffer more persecution and intolerance than any of the following groups: gays, lesbians, bisexuals. because they are often targeted for criticism by all of those groups.

the pool is very limited!! in some ways you can only successfully hook up with other polyamorists, because all the [serial] monogamists are really looking for LTRs, long term relationships, or, as in the Matrix, The [Chosen] One.

people talk about polyamory as "exhausting". what really is exhausting is a polyamorist trying to hook up with a monogamist. what is exhausting is trying to have a relationship with anyone who is unclear about their own desires, preferences, boundaries, dark side, shadows. who think love is about immature games eg of possession or ownership.

and heck, even polyamorists suffer unrequited love!! there is no solution for that in 3D!! imagine that you had a strong crush on a monogamist!! even though polyamorists are sort of like "love contortionists", sometimes, love in 3d feels like a rubiks cube. so maybe the real tyranny is that of CATEGORIES.

the combination of fanaticism, hypocrisy, and other-type-intolerance that some have for monogamy seems quite similar to religious fundamentalism/extremism to me. actually, a lot of religious dogma is centered around monogamy. why is that? like I say, probably, human instincts, culturally manifested/enforced. deep in both human genetic/mimetic code.

you are very lucky to find a polyamorous partner. apparently you made it a dealbreaker for your "primary". I searched for many, many years and asked many of my gfs about the possibility. they all generally rejected it outright. therefore, I gave up, feeling I was "pushing the river" and searching for a unicorn.

for me, bottom line: there is a pussycats doll song. I love their lyrics, interpreted polyamorous. "be careful what you wish for because you just might get it." "maybe next lifetime, possibly".

look at how monogamy is encoded in deep, cultural memes. like the centuries old story of cinderella & other fairy tales-- recycled into modern "chick flick" forms. but, it seems that marrying for love is a fairly new cultural phenomenon, historically speaking. seems to me, culture is moving in the direction of more love. which makes me think polyamory will be more culturally acceptable in the long term future.

I think, its not a coincidence that you live in SF!!!!

you say "polyamory" and other terms do not do justice to your lifestyle, that there is no good term. even "polyamorists" seem to be constantly "on the prowl" as you write. how about a brand new term?? lets invent one on OS... maybe.. Sex Positive?? Flexible?? Multidimensional?? Tolerant?? Negotiable?? Accepting?? Empathetic?? What Feels Good?? Uncategorizable?? N/A-- for Not Applicable? None of the Above??

anyway, my philosophy, lets all try to discover new categories in the world, respect them, and then defy them. thanks for expanding the human horizons.

true Love transcends all boundaries/categories....
Your post has generated quite a bit of conversation and contemplation by my husband and me. We decided we'd suck at this situation! Between the two of us we've had every physical malady you've described. I can't imagine sleeping with another man because my husband was incapacitated by pain because of his hip replacement surgery. Or in the alternative, I can't imagine him sleeping with another woman because I was having issues due to menopause and couldn't have sex.

So, "to each his own" as my mother in law would say.

For us, part of the marriage is being with each other during the hard times.

I thought that this philosophy of love and sex was going to become the accepted wisdom back in the 1970's. Then, the novels of Robert H. Rimmer ("The Harrad Experiment") were popular, about making a sane and good sex life a part of college curriculums; there was Gay Talese's journalism about various kinds of swinging, and Robert Heinlein's SF novels were depicting a future societies with plural marriages and more creative forms.

It seemed likely that the generation born after 1980 would simply start devising new relationships and contracts. Open marriages, plural marriages, anything.

Yeah, and marijuana decriminalization would surely come by 1985, too.

It all just didn't happen. It's just a change the culture resists, strongly. I agree, from what I know, there's zero anthropological backing for monogamy being inherent in the species, but something can embed itself very deeply in a culture. That period, "since inheritance", that Ms. Lake mentions, is thousands of years(!).

Since Tom Wolfe's "Hooking Up" book, accounts of casual sex at universities, around 2002, I've had a weather eye out for depictions in fiction of non-monogamous relationships in a positive light.

Basically, nope. I just saw "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" the other night, as of-the-moment a movie as they get - recent pop-culture references throughout, daring full-frontal male nudity, cutting edge humour. (I loved it and recommend it.)

The protagonist is turned to a depressive wreck by the revelation his girlfriend has been cheating for a year. To not do a spoiler, I can only say that a major plot turn hinges on the "obvious" utter unacceptability of cheating to the extent of not forcing away an aggressive offer of oral sex before pulling back from it after 15 seconds.

I can't think of any movie, TV series, or bestseller book offhand that does anything but equate exclusivity with "serious relationship". The whole meaning of "You know it's serious" is depicted as actually losing all sexual desire for other mates. (That much, *may* be a natural and inherent phenomenon in the early months or year of a relationship. Something about "oxytocin"?)

It's true that adultery is common; but it's true, too, that not that many adulterers, learning that their spouse has also been cheating, say, "Oh, yay, she thinks the way I do, we can have an open marriage". They are wounded to the core. I suspect that adultery rates haven't changed much in the thousands of years we've had monogamy - but that hasn't eliminated monogamy.

I can see things changing, but nobody hold your breath.
Sirenita, your marriage is remarkable, and you are both so grounded... wow, incredible. It´s as if your husband, your lovers and you, were all coming from the future! We, western humans might be evolving as a species after all... hehe
Congrats for the writing, for the EP, and for being so true to yourself.
All the comments about the hypocrisy and fundamental dishonesty that go with monogamy make an unwarranted assumption about non-monogamy always being practiced in good faith. I can certainly see lying to my sexually prolific partner to avoid thinking I'm "losing" in that I can't get any and he can. Subverting norms doesn't make a person infallible.

I don't understand why having sex with people who aren't your primary partner makes either of you immune to lying. I really honestly believe that I'm in a happily monogamous marriage, but I recognize that the definition of betrayal requires one party to believe something that is not true. Everyone lies, often for no good reason. Faith in a non-monogamous partner is trust that can be broken. Even if you don't have the particular risk of being lied to about monogamy, your open, honest communication is no less difficult to fake than in a monogamous relationship.
sirenita - there's been more than enough said about the strong argument and writing here - I want to commend you for your gentle, gracious reply to bstrangely. It showed both confidence and kindness.
Well, I don't know what to say but I was forwarded this rebuttal piece to Why I Hate Monogamy that pretty much sums it up:
You should teach a class, or a seminar. Seriously - I found myself rethinking lots of things as I read this, and nodding in agreement in a way I wouldn't have thought likely just an hour ago.
Sirenita: Like many of your other readers, I will say that the polyamorous and "open" relationships I've known about (from friends' experiences) have never lasted long. It always seemed that one of the two "primaries" (usually the woman) would really have preferred monogamy, but was just going along with it in order to keep from "losing" her partner.Eventually, it would get too difficult and painful for one of the two "primaries" and the relationship would end in tears. On the other hand...I have almost never heard of a truly successful exclusive relationship of the type that's so idealized (one sexual partner for life.) Serial mongogamy seems to be the norm and what most people actually want (full dsiclosure: self included. I've been married three times. Also lived with two lovers - for a couple of years each - before my first marriage.)There's a hypothesis (I forget where I read it) that this has to do with evolution. Most people who are, essentially, wired for serial mongogamy, seem to stay attracted to one person, exclusively, for three of four years, before the chemistry wanes and they start being attracted to others - sometimes so strongly that they end up having affairs. The anthropologist sorts seem to think this might be connected to the fact that it takes three or four years for a child to become somewhat independently viable (in the sense of being toilet trained, able to speak, and able to eat/dress/ walk without adult assistance.) That sounds reasonable...
BUT...we can't all (or most) just keep remarrying every four years. We have to find a way to make peace with our biological and psychological realities.
I would strongly recommend "The Future Of Love" by Daphne Rose Kingma. She doesn't have any easy answers but does address the complexity of these issues intelligently, from a psychological and spiriitual perspective.
Really inspirational... reading about a poly relationship that's worked out so well makes me think that maybe it's possible for me to pull it off, too... last time I tried it, all crashed and burned and I began to doubt that polyamory could ever really work, but your story just proved me wrong, in a good way. :) If the opportunity presents itself to me again, I'll definitely be taking advice from this post.
Very cool. Not for me, but very cool. I personally would find it way to complicated.

Great essay.
Robin, thank you. I can't imagine the loss of a beloved partner after 20 years though I suppose all of us who are in long-term relationships have to realize that it is a possibility. I hope the new relationship develops the way you wish it to.

aphrabehn, I'm so sorry, that sounds like a very difficult and frustrating situation. Sounds like you and your partner are very different in this respect. I hope you can talk it out.

Julie, thanks for sharing this with Karen and I'm glad she liked it. At least you guys can discuss things, that's what matters the most.

Phaedo, you're absolutely right. Self-knowledge is essential.

Ensign, you really express how I feel when you say "our commitment goes much deeper than any sexual encounter ever could." When you feel this, the importance of being the only sexual partner starts to fade.

Leslie, thank you and I'm glad you don't lie, either. I wish nobody felt they had to lie. Isn't is liberating to know that you don't have explosive secrets? I couldn't live with that.

Tink, isn't there a rule against dating yourself? I hope you never find out what you've been doing, or there will be hell to pay ;-)

lifehalflived, I relate to your insecurity. I'm not as young as I was when I was sexually active; there's more fear of rejection when you're older. We should talk.

jimmymac1025, you were one of my first readers. You really encouraged me with your matter of fact comment on my addiction piece, made me willing to take greater risks. Thank you for all your great comments.

cinamingrl, excellent point. I think there are variations in capacity for jealousy as there are in any other personal traits. It may have been adaptive at one time, but so was having sex with a lot of partners. Both things exist in the mess of human behavior.
Apparently, you don't know what monogamy is. I say this only because you have misrepresented it badly. I have been happily and monogamously married for over 30 years now. I have never been tempted to stray from the love of my life. Even now after all these years, we really do wake up every morning touching each other, an intimacy that sometimes includes but is so much more than sex. We love each other's company. I can think of no one else I would rather share my life and time with. The interests we have together, we do together. The interests we have separately, we support for each other. What we do for each other is not out of any obligation, but always a free act of love. We renew our vows to each other every day, not with words but with all the little actions of our lives. With her, I am freer to be me (both who I am and who I want to become) than I could ever have imagined without her.

So, as you ask others to take a more open look at your open marriage, you really need to take a more open look at the possibilities of the more traditional arrangement.
Glenn, you make a couple of good points. Yes, the sentence about expecting life-long true love being ridiculous could have been written better. I did mean, it is not across the board. Yes, this piece would maybe get a different reception if written by a man. Think how far we've come, though, that a woman can write this and not be condemned as an unnatural slut.

Raving, I hope it works out with that boy. At least you know what you're getting. I think that I was unusual in appreciating this type of arrangement when I was young, at least, it was unusual in my generation. As women get older, they come appreciate freedom more, especially as my generation was not led to expect it. I'd be interested to see how this works for younger people.

Bees Tone, that's praise indeed. If I make my choices comprehenisble, the piece succeeded.

Mesmersi, thank you for reading without judgments. Looking at relationships really is fascinating.

Michael, thanks for stopping by on the way to bed! Sweet dreams.
You blow me away! I am truly amazed and in awe with your honesty, integrity, and self esteem! I also admire your selflessness concerning being grateful and happy for your husband when he finds a lover...especially when you can't be there for him sexually. Thank you for the enlightening post. I don't think I could ever share my husband with someone else. I don't think my ego would permit it.
Sirenita, it was wonderful to read my own attitudes (and choices) towards monogamy so clearly, cogently and intimately expressed. After decades of trying to be the "good" bisexual, I decided at age 47 that I would never again cut off a part of myself the way that I was forced to in a monogamous relationship. Markers other than sexual fidelity - such as honesty and consideration - are much better indicators of loyalty and commitment to me than sexual fidelity. I am lucky to have finally found a fantastic man with whom I can share all of myself and be all of myself without restriction. Thank you for this post. Rated and reddited!
uzn, I gather you're familiar with the quote by Mrs. Beatrice Campbell, an actress and lover of George Bernard Shaw. In response to a question about how she stood being in the same play with homosexuals, she replied, "I don't care what these affectionate people do so long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses." The phrased has taken on the meaning of being flamboyant and unafraid, which does not exactly describe me, but was the intent of the magazine started by my husband.

I hope you do write your own post about this, because you have a lot of valuable ideas. I'll just address one, about the pool of people to date. I think you are correct that you have to mind-read a little when starting a relationship with someone who thinks they're ok with your lifestyle, but who really isn't. My college boyfriend was like that, and he never told me he minded my other lovers until years later. He's a naturally and effortlessly monogamous person but I think he felt pressure to be hip and not demand a monogamous relationship. Of course, I didn't know how he felt or I would not have allowed that to happen.

That said, there is a lot to learn about having relationships. You don't get it right the first few times. That's why older people tend to form longer-lasting relationships -- they've tried and broken a few before getting the hang of it.

Thanks so much for your interesting comment.
denese, thanks for continuing to contribute to this conversation. I loved your sentence, "part of the marriage is being with each other during the hard times." That so describes my marriage, though being with me during the hard times did not require that my husband give up other lovers. But that is why you form permanent relationships, so you have someone to rely on, someone who's always there for you.

Larry, thanks for your eloquent comment. I'm glad you had such a wonderful wife. I only mention the hardwiring aspect because it's assumed that monogamy is "natural." When a behavior is natural, the critter does it naturally, not like we humans do monogamy, with a lot of outside rules. But it is a choice as well, like being bi is natural *and* a choice for some folks, like your wife and me.

Roy, your comment is brilliant and I hope everyone reads it. I agree that there are few sympathetic depictions of non-monogamy in popular culture. I would hope that with a cognitive framework for positive non-monogamy, people would not have the absurd reaction of being angry at their mate for doing what they themselves are doing.

Wow, Marcela, that's a great compliment. It would be nice to be from the future.

Sara, perhaps that "no lies" sentence could have been clearer. I meant we don't have to lie about sex with other people in order to preserve our marriage and spare each other's feelings. Perhaps we're as likely to lie about where the money went or how the car got dented as anyone else; a lie about a fender bender would not be a time bomb in a marriage in the same way a lie about an affair would be. My concern is not for moral purity, it's for the damage to relationships and the social stability they bring.

Annette, thank you.

lowridershoe, *that's* the rebuttal? What a waste of time. Some fool fantasizing that I have cosmetic surgery and dye my hair? The picture in the piece is of Stephanie, who was about 25 at the time it was taken. The avatar is me. I'm sure anything you could have said would have been more interesting than this trollish bullshit.

Sandra, thank you so much! I really appreciate your comment. Thanks for considering my ideas.
Eva, what an interesting bit of anthropology. I had not heard that rationale for serial monogamy. It makes sense, in terms of breeding. I suppose non-monogamy is my way of staying in a stable, multi-faceted relationship for more than 4 years ;-)

Coconut, I bet your next try is more successful. We get better with practice in relationships. I met my husband when I was 34.

Brie, thank you! We try to keep it simple, which we manage to do fairly well because we are both allergic to drama and drama queens.

Tony, that's really beautiful. I'm not attempting to represent all of monogamy and I said, in fact, that there are people who are by nature monogamous and I respect their achievement. My concern is people who are not monogamous by inclination but are trying unsuccessfully to be. Monogamy doesn't need me for a cheerleader. Your comment is a great illustration of successful monogamy.

Patricia, that was a really sweet comment and I thank you.

Shivaun, I'm so glad this is working for you. It's about being true to yourself and being lucky enough to find someone to share that with.

Incandescent, I think I remember that comment. It took me a long time to get up the nerve to write this. I think OS does good things for me in the getting up the nerve department.
Wow. This story really gets you into it. You have had a long journey and found many different versions of love.
I haven't read the comments so I don't know if I'm parroting here. I think that people become upset at the betrayal that comes from an affair because of the deceit. In your own relationship you say that the honesty is a big part of what makes it work, and that's wonderful.
Zolra, yes, there are many versions of love for those who want them.

Natalie, I totally agree, it's the deceit that toxic. Thank you for coming by.

Elena, thank you so much. There doesn't seem to be a necessity anymore for having just one relationship option, does there?
To me, it's like telling a starving person that you want to stop being a committed vegetarian!

I'd be happy for some gamy, let alone mono or poly.
Zuma, why on earth aren't they breaking down your door and offering you all the gamy you can use?
Cindy, lol! Your shock is priceless. You're right, it's hard enough to have sex with the cats around. Actually, I don't know how married people with kids even have sex themselves, much less with Bambi, without going to a hotel.
Sirenita, thank you so much for posting this. This is the best-written, most level-headed article I've seen yet on the topic. You had nothing to be afraid of in publishing this! I'm so glad that more people are going public, especially people like you (i.e., someone who can write without the fluff and flakiness that seems to plague the "polyamory" label).
Eph, thank you, that's reassuring. I'm glad I sound level-headed.
sirenitalake, you have been picked by the High Council of Monkeys with your use of the words "relationship" and Yvonne, who happens to be the monkey god of foundling cheetah testicles.

Thank you for your insight into the human mating process. I am very interested in this process so someday we can stop it and stop the humans from breeding so much.

Angry monkey, I wish I understood the human breeding process better. However, I proudly accept the honor conferred on me by your Council.
I read this with a wry smile, as the title of the blog I'm currently working on is "23 years of Marriage: Fix it or Scrap it?".

I think that there are two related, but separate aspects to the open marriage you describe: honesty, and polyamory. Personally, I believe the former is important, the latter less so. In fact I can't help feeling pangs of sympathetic jealousy when you describe your husbands affairs with younger or "smarter" women. But it is, as you point out, lies that are so destructive to marriage more than adultery itself.

My wife and I have lived apart in the past, and will shortly be separating again. Frequent sex and young kids kept us together under the same roof, and the fact that the kids are grown, and the lack of frequent sex has let us drift apart. We care for and love each other like close family. But unlike you, we feel no desire to remain together, nor do we consider separation as "blowing up our lives". I have a similar problem to you because we've had an unorthodox marital relationship that not many people "get".
what Kerry and Sheepdog said
Sirenita, this read like an excerpt of a smart book. It's your personal story but its a sound, firm argument as well. Kept thinking, of this section could be a chapter, this section...maybe?

As for me, I look forward to monogamy... but frankly, I'll take just about any ogomy that comes my way! I'm a polyagomist. I'll take anything...small farm animals, fire hydrants...okay, I'm just be silly.

ha....I'm laughing really hard right now.

++ I know I demand monogamy from my partner (and I expect it to be demanded of me). It has nothing to do with "control."++

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with applying structure to a relationship, assuming both partners are in agreement with the terms of their relationship contract. (And all relationships *are* contracts, in a manner of speaking.)

However, "demand" is an awfully controlling word to use, while stating with the next breath that it's not a control issue.

Just sayin'.
Brave, honest post. My post today reflects on exactly what you're doing here, which is show us the human side by opening up in a safe place, so that we can learn more about you, ourselves, and life.
I am humbled and awed by you, Sirenita. Most especially for the way you have approached a topic fraught with sensitivity and pain for so many with candor, honesty and openness, but also for your courage in sharing this.

A well-deserved tip of my hat, and of course, rated.
Frank talk. I've always felt that there is a biological imperative for both monogamy AND promiscuity. We each fall somewhere along a bell curve with monogamy on one end and promiscuity on the other, and our desires and behavior will reflect our genetic programming. The most important thing a young couple considering marriage need to find out about each other is where their partner falls on that curve, and whether or not they are going to be able to live with that.

Maturity is understanding the shades of gray between the black and the white.
I'm glad you've found happiness in your own life and habits, and have found people who can share that. But I think it's very sad you feel the need to hate something that makes other people happy. Yes, it doesn't always work; sometimes people lie and cheat.

For me, and for my fiancé, monogamy is the only way we could possibly be. We simply have no need or desire for other people to be involved in our sex lives, or in our deepest feelings. It's just how we are--just like you're how you are.

Don't be a hater!
Good for you! (and well-written btw!). I could never do it, although on some level I agree with you that it's not natural not to want sex with people outside a marriage. You have to be really, really secure, both in yourself and in your marriage I suppose.
"There are others who subscribe to monogamy but for whom monogamous behavior is unnatural. As there is scant support for openly rejecting monogamy, they may try and fail to be monogamous, causing themselves and their partners unnecessary pain. "

That was me for 2 marriages. Took me till about age 35 to finally work it out and get the self-confidence to declare what I'd always known ... the idea that its impossible to love more than one person at a time is absurd.

I am now happily poly. I tend not to "rank" my relationships like you do ... my primary is whoever I am with at the time. But then again, I also don't share resources or finances with anyone at the moment as I live alone.

Rated (would have rated it a dozen times if it let me) ... we need more people speaking intelligently and thoughtfully about the poly life. Thanks for an excellent addition to the milieu.
This was a brave and intelligent post. You've pointed out the problems with monogamy very cogently. I always think it's a shame that people destroy a previously satisfying marriage over a partner having sex with someone else. It's just not that important in the overall scheme of things.

That said, I'm skeptical that many people can maintain a long-term relationship with non-monogamy. You've managed it and others do, but it really depends on the good fortune of being people who are compatible in their attitude toward monogamy/non-monogamy. I would think it would also depend on being able to work out ground rules that both could be comfortable with.

Personally, I don't think marriage works all that well for most people. I think it's the best way to raise children, but beyond that I've not seen lots of people who really thrive in a long-term marriage.
Is That It, it's great that you were able to work out an arrangement that suited you and your wife. I have heard women say that they would like a partner but also their own space. I would not call drifting apart "blowing up your life" either. I was referring to discovery of extramarital sex and lies causing a sudden domestic explosion. That's pure pain.

1WomansVu, thank you!

Beth, there is a lot to be said for love with a fire hydrant, or anything that stays wet. ;-)

Siri62, I think it's just a choice of words, but demanding rather than negotiating is not my style, either.

Lea, you piece was perfect and made me feel better about sticking my neck out.

AshKW, thank you. I tip my hat (see avatar) to the OS community for handling this discussion in such a respectful manner.

M. Chariot, you nailed it. " I've always felt that there is a biological imperative for both monogamy AND promiscuity." That is absolutely true. The messiness of emotion, the shades of gray, are what make us human. Expecting perfection, whether perfect monogamy or perfect non-monogamy, leads to unhappiness.
ElvenDaydream, more power to you to have found what you want with someone who shares your temperament and values. I only hate the proscriptive, oppressive aspects of the monogamy model in our society. I don't hate people's happy monogamous relationships.

dcvdickens, thank you! I love the comments from happy monogamists who do not feel threatened by my choices. It gives me hope that we can understand and accept each other.

Lyle, 35 is young to figure out who you are and what you need. The pain of people who cannot live up to the monogamous ideal and the partners who suffer because they feel betrayed was largely what I was addressing in this is piece.

Suzn, you get my point, why destroy a relationship that works otherwise over a sexual encounter? A lot of marriages of whatever nature don't work. I see the freedom to have other sexual partners in my own marriage as part and parcel of the freedom to live my own life side by side with my best friend and lover. Some people prefer marriage to be a cocoon; I happen to prefer a launching pad.
Marriage might actually make people happy if jealousy could be eliminated from the equation. The heart and the libido have so many connecting points, nature cannot have intended us to long for so many kinds of love and assuage only one.
hello, another line I wish I had thought of: "nature cannot have intended us to long for so many kinds of love and assuage only one."
A tip o' the hat to you, a consumate San Franciscan and evolved human being.

First, let me say, having been there, that, sadly, most people who "experimented" with different social mores came out feeling bad in the end. But, this reflects poorly on them, NOT you!

Second, its very hard to be original and as you know small numbers of enlightened people have lived this way from Day 1.

I'm not sure if I can reconcile what I know to be true ... that this can work, with the idealistic hope that you have the one person who is your twin flame type mate. Oh yeah, no matter- we are not all the SAME- different strokes; different folks- HATERS GO HOME!
Richard Dawkins is a hero of mine. Until he published 'The God Delusion', no one had so convincingly summed the arguments and logic for atheism.

You are now a hero of mine for doing the same for non-monogamy.
Wow, I've read the piece and all the comments and wondering what I might have to add to this conversation

First, I understand "Yikes", and I'm glad that your honesty and courage paid off, I think you've pulled off a very tricky challenge in making a case for something that threatens so many at the core of their lives and self-images, and you've gracefully and graciously acknowledged every comment

It's seemed to me since I was old enough to think about it, that monogamy isn't hard-wired in humans, that the ideal of women's sexual fidelity serves a societal purpose that goes hand-in-glove with patriarchal authoritarianism ("I'm going to own this woman and her sexuality, and her babies will be mine, Goddammit!"), that jealousy is an expression of insecurity and low self-esteem, that love isn't in limited supply and doesn't get used up by passing it around

I also learned how easy it is when loving freely to love carelessly and leave hurt feelings behind

I believe that "natural" human relationships have a healthy range as wide as the range of human gender/sexual expression, and that's supported by the range of attitudes and experiences expressed in this comment thread

I think you and Mark have been really fortunate to find such compatibility in an open relationship
I see the discussion is still going. Since I spoke before of my ongoing 30-year monogamous marriage, I should probably also mention my 8-year open relationship back throughout most of the 1970's. It was a loving one. She is still my friend. In fact, my wife and I are staying with her right now for the weekend. Our original relationship both rose and fell because we followed the rules we were comfortable with at the time. So I suppose we might allocate a role for fate or destiny or the Goddess even if we are faithful to our own well-chosen and thought-out rules.
Oahusurfer, thank you! I do think that it can work to have both the soulmate and other sexual partners. I have a close friend that I love and am fiercely protective of, to the point of getting in trouble, but I do not feel disloyal to her for having other friends. It would never occur to her to say "Why do you need other friends? I should be enough." Maybe this is overly simplistic, but there are parallels.

SupHerb, I've been meaning to read that book. Thanks for reminding me. You are very kind to mention me in the same breath with someone like Richard Dawkins.

Roy, thank you so much for having the commitment to read through the piece and the comments, too. Mark and I are indeed lucky, and luck does matter a great deal in relationships. I think in our generation, it was, at least for some, more obvious to question monogamy because it was applied more unfairly than it is today. I remember more than one guy joking "my wife is monogamous" in the bad old days. But it doesn't redeem monogamy for me that men are equally oppressed today by unreasonable expectations.

Cap'n, I'm not the pink-haired chick, unfortunately. That is the incomparable Stephanie, in her punk period.

Hi again, Tony. Sounds like you had a relationship that was healthy and honest and eventually, not what you needed. You prove my point that openness coupled with responsibility (those rules) is just healthier, as you and your ex never had a reason to resent each other and can be friends today.
this was great. my partner and i have an "open relationship," but we're quite young so your perspective is so welcome to me. i've tried to write something articulate about why it works better to be honest about our separate desires than to keep them repressed for the sake of having some sort of "normal" partnership, but i typically fail miserably, getting mixed up in polemic and porn. you have said it so wonderfully
Totally fab! You're preaching to the converted with me, but it's fascinating how many people, even sympathetic, still have such a hard time with this. I haven't gotten to live it very often because the lovers who said they were polyamorous had too much jealousy and drama around it to make it worth it. So, yeah, I've settled for one-lover-at-a-time-dom simply to get a steady shag, ne?

Your post reminds me, though, perhaps I've gone about it the wrong way, always looking for the primary relationship first, whereas the kind of creature I might actually be is Happily Third Wheel, That's Me. As in, duh Butchy, instead of looking for another polyamorous single person, why not look for a couple already living and well-practiced at it instead? But that's partly about aging--I don't know if I have the energy or emotional interest for the whole shebang anymore, but I'm still up for a steady shag and a good friend.

I feel for people afflicted with jealousy. I know it's a very real torment for them. I don't feel it so much and suspect I got a double dose of gluttony instead. I like what I like and don't mind sharing, nor do I believe in the scarcity principle that sharing will give me less. But then I've been in LDRs so long now, a decadent week/sometimes month once a season is living large, baby!

Thanks! You've helped me with my next personal ad: Third Wheel Looking For Same (BoinkoramaParty) Time Next Season. Would be nice to come in at least third (since I'd still get a medal), but mostly prefer an ongoing fling that's vulnerable enough to be good friends in between.

I haven't blogged here yet; blogging comments is enough of a novel (-writing) procrastination for me at the moment. But I so very much appreciate the conversation you and Incandescent and And Yet (granted, on a different sexual subject) have started here. Your views and shared experiences are a great solace to me as I ponder what type of relationship I'd like to pursue once my ex, who wants a live-in lover, finally finds someone and no longer wants to be "fuck buddies" (even as our intimacy is much deeper than the nomenclature). In fact, I tell her, Why don't you find a live-in lover who doesn't mind our wee, little, grandfather claused-in, relationship on the side? And part of her thinks she could do that, and part of her thinks there just aren't many people who'd be open to that, precisely for the reasons you've said.

Of course, her double standard (she got my dose of jealousy and several other people's) is that she would have to be my only lover, so there I am settling for one-lover-at-a-time-dome again while she's getting a second income (alas, the real need for a live-in lover) and a fling. But I don't mind, really. The sex is great and I can cry and laugh and share my babbling--worry dolls on speed--anxieties with her. Life is good. If only we were raised to let life be that simple and taught one can choose any part of the package and one can choose multiple packages, kind of like family portraits at the mall.

Sorry you've had such a struggle with your health, but glad you're still gambare--fight-o, fight-o!-ing. All the more reason to stay healthy and keep writing about multiplicity for those of us who live your language as a blessed moment to breathe. Thanks, again.
I actually have an anthropology degree and am familiar with those kinds of studies, but non-human primate studies aren't too convincing; behavioral adaptations seem a lot more likely to evolve rapidly than purely physical adaptations, which is why the sexual behavior between even closely-related species differs so dramatically. I base my belief that monogamy is hardwired into most of us on the fact that while there are polygamous cultures (and even a few polyandrous ones), most people in most cultures are expected to marry for life and (ideally) have one partner. Hunter-gatherer cultures, which exhibit the lifestyle that humanity has had for most of its history, are overwhelmingly monogamous.
well and beautifully said sirenita.
one of the main things i get from reading this is that if both partners are civilized people who are on the same page about it, and are prepared to deal fairly and honestly with each other, an open relationship is something which would work just fine. also, there's a lot to what you say here about many monogamous relationships being exercises in lies and boredom. that being said, i'm not against monogamy, or against anything which works for the people involved.
i'm turning into the commentor who wouldn't leave. this has all the makings of a great book. this piece could be easily expanded and you could incorporate all of these comments, some of them quite lengthy and thoughtful. just wanted to plant a seed. but it will probably go viral and... this is on my mind because i'm working on a memoir with my cranky agent. love love lvoe
"What kind of bitch would I be to begrudge him that R & R when I couldn’t even perform sexually?"

This sentence makes me pretty uncomfortable. I can't quite put my finger on it -- something about perhaps you feeling guilty when you aren't sexually available.

In the interest of full disclosure, I participated in non-monogamy for several years, and I did not have a good experience. My experience was full of attempts to intellectualize emotions to death, and I suspect my experience was not unique. There was so much parsing out of feelings, and so many rules, that in the end I actually felt *more* restricted by polyamory than when I was monogamous.

Like another here, my experience was full of manipulation masquerading as concern. There was a lot of pressure to be "ok" with things; and if we weren't, then it was time for a Conversation (god, if I never have to go through one of those again I will die happy). There were those in our group who were actually not cut out for polyamory; and those people got a lot of the others trying to "help" them get over jealousy -- by stating many of the things you've said here: "Monogamy is unnatural"; "jealousy is unnatural"; "being satisfied with one person is unnatural". This led to those people feeling, well, "unnatural" and basically duped by society, and as "failing" to deprogram successfully. It's hard for me to read those things without thinking of the pain they went through.

In your post, you said something like one woman was the only other person you've ever met who was smarter than you. This makes me cringe a little, because the view of the intellectual superiority of one's self and one's choices is rampant in the poly world. Who is "more poly than thou", and all. Monogamy is seen by many as a fool's game; an open relationship with many rules is smarter; and a poly relationship that's completely open, as in, no one is restricted from anything and can date/have sex with anyone at anytime, with no prior authorization, is in the realm of the highly evolved. You say that monogamy is a valid choice for some...but the whole tone of your post is talking about how poly is so much better and more natural; hell, look at the title of it. If you really think monogamy is unnatural then stick to that, don't follow it up with a patronizing "but oh, it may be right for others". I think that many people who have experimented with poly, and found out it's not for them, have been deeply hurt by poly people's thinly veiled ideas that poly is the only "real" way to go.

Your post is well written and thought-out, but frankly, I've heard this all before and it still doesn't feel totally kosher to me.

I realize that I probably have left over hurt feelings and guilt that color my opinions. Your post inspires me to write one of my own, for two reasons: to work through residuals, and to present another, not-so-nice side of how polyamory can play out. To be fair, there was some good: for example, one of my now ex-boyfriend's girlfriends is still one of my closest friends today.

Also, one last thing: I have a spinal cord injury, so there is an interesting parallel between our two experiences already.
I think you are courageous, open to life, and tough enough to make it through what life throws at you--and I think it remarkable that your husband appears to be the same. I've never seen two people so equally paired in my own life. If anything, I can see success in a long-term intimate partnership may be less about lifestyle ('scuse, me--it's hard not to cringe at that word, even if I have to use it) and more about character. But I can also see that processing through these issues may also be a life-journey, especially if there is nothing in the dominant culture that encourages a critique of its sacred cows, like monogamy.
By the way, I remember your publication, Frighten the Horses. I'm trying to remember if I saved any copies. It was one of my favorites, along with Black Sheets, Anything That Moves, and On Our Backs. The early 90s were a very fertile period for publications, especially made by and for women. Do you think that will come back?
Ohio Grown, You're a kindred spirit, someone who learned their own needs young. A lot of people in my generation tried it because it was cool, and then they trashed it because it didn't work for them. I'm glad the younger generation has more self-awareness.

Butchie, ne! You're so cool. I recently had occasion to look at Craigs list personals, which, in spite of being rather out there sexually, I was ignorant of. There are all kinds of things on offer, and I gather, lots of takers. Thank you for your encouragement. Gambarimasu.

APC2008, Thanks for contributing from the POV of an anthropoligist. As you know, what is hardwired behavior is a huge discussion, which has been going on in modern form since the 19th century and the advent of Darwin. In the definition I'm using, hardwired behaviors are those that are in some sense physically encoded, that a critter does without being told he should, such as geese migrating or cats purring or pouncing. These behaviors may be honed and adapted to the circumstances, but are not simply learned. Primates of all kinds are spectacular at cultural change, learning and preserving new behaviors, but not all behavioral adaptations are based on biological, physical change and not all are adaptive. Those that are, are not adaptive forever. We need more to breed responsibly than to be in pair groups whose offspring can be reliably traced to a male parent. In fact, there has never, to my knowledge, been a society that had no extramarital sex at all, regardless of the ostensibly enshrined marital arrangement. That there is polygamy at all, along with the incidence of extramarital sex, rules out monogamy as the default species behavior.
nana, I think this should be what people learn about relationships, being "civilized people who are on the same page...and are prepared to deal fairly and honestly with each other." Why is that so hard?

Max, I'm thrilled that you remember our magazine and all those other great zines. We may be due for another cycle of sexually-based activism and art. I hope the kids are listening. ;-)
Teddy, thanks for coming back. I love your comments. I wish I knew how to turn my experiences into a book. It's something I've never considered.

Laurielou, I understand how you might filter my post through your own experience, but there is no similarity. I am not in a polyamorous relationship, that is, a plural relationship. I've never been in one and I can't speak to it. I have a marriage that is traditional in all but the sexual exclusivity. We allow for other sexual partners outside of our marriage. Not a plural relationship, not a threesome, just other places to go for sex in addition to the marriage. I can't answer all your points, but I hope you go back and reread what I wrote and try to be fair. I explicitly said I did not feel guilty for denying my husband sex. It was not my choice. That a person who combines linguistics and physics in their Ph.D. might be smarter than me is like saying Steven Hawking is smarter than me. I like being smart and don't apologize for it, though there have been plenty of times that my brains pissed people off as being inappropriate to my race and gender. But brains are irrelevant in discovering the form of sexual relationship you prefer; that is not an intellectual exercise, it is an emotional one. My point was, I'm not intimidated by younger or more accomplished women, of whom there will always be some in our ambit. I'm me and we like that. Monogamy is the mainstream norm and many, many people are made to feel bad about not fitting that norm. You found yourself in a pressure cooker situation in which another oppressive norm was substituted for the mainstream one. I hate that, too.
ItIS pretty shitty to find out that the relationship you thought was monogamous has been, in fact, ridiculous. I went through the polyamory thing about 15 years ago. It was pretty much an excuse for me to have my cake and eat it to. Now I have gotten my just "desserts", it seems.

No lies, ever, is probably the key. "I'm telling you about it now!" is a poor substitute.
quixand, "No lies, ever, is probably the key. "I'm telling you about it now!" is a poor substitute." I completely agree.
hi sirenita, thx for the encouragement [I have a few ideas for posts Im working on.. maybe without coming out of the closet to start].. another reply.
you say you dont consider your relationships polyamorous in a recent comment. you say you cant figure out what to call them. now you are starting to sound like a swinger.. that seems to be a main distinction. it would be helpful if maybe you defined the terms that you reject. for me,

a) polyamory-- not merely about sex but emotions, nonexclusive
b) swingers-- tend to be more about the sex as a sort of recreational play activity and its a "no-no" to develop stronger feelings. maybe more of a 1nite stand/adventure type thing.

but, it seems to me, you cannot keep "having sex" with anyone without developing increasingly strong feelings of attachment. its built into human dna, Id say. at some pt sex always seems to turn into "making love"....
ps as for "frightening the horses," I recognized it as a classic/old quote but no, I didnt recall the details, thx for clarifying that, it would have taken me awhile with google :)
Hey, vzn. I don't use polyamory for me because it suggests being an a group relationship, such as incandescent's, where all the people in the relationship have a commitment to each other as lovers. My husband and I have our separate lovers (when we have them) but we don't share them. I think of swinging as something a couple does by having sex with another person or couple as a couple (related to swapping). We don't do that either. So I'm left with non-monogamous, clunky but kind of stripped of associations. Of course, you develop feelings. I'm not judgmental and have nothing against one-night stands or those who have them, but it seems like one of those things that are better in fantasy than reality.
hi all/sirenita..
there is a new book by "jenny block" who writes about polyamory. she's got a blog on a site .. a video or two also. havent read the book but I think shes got a great blog. brave, along the lines of sirenitas original post.

I dont know who originated the term, but my understanding is that polyamory is basically about an open relationship where at least one partner accepts the other partners other relationship(s). this is not to say that both partners must have other partners, although that would be one case (as in your case). basically, a primary relationship with one or more secondary satellites so to speak ..

also the "amorous" part means Love, ie feelings/sharing, ie not merely sexual relationships. the 2ndary might be shared among the primary's or not. jenny describes where she once shared one of her lovers, her husband tried it, and then just decided it wasnt for him any more but allowed his wife to continue her "adventures".

"commitment" is defn one of the magic words. what is the commitment of the primaries to each other, and the primary to the 2ndary? it sounds complicated to some, but human relationships are complicated. its about relationships that live in, and embrace the "spaces between" .. polyamory embraces ambiguity.

people who are ambiguity-averse are obviously going to reject it.. I think its basically about people being clear on what their ideas of commitment are, and then trying to work out something where a relationship can exist within those parameters... serial monogamists actually tend to operate under a lot of ASSUMPTIONS instead of clearheaded discussions of what they expect... polyamory brings out into the open all these usually shadowy/peripheral ideas....

for those who think that not merely relationships but arguably, all of LIFE is inherently ambiguous.. it seems to be the Way..
vzn, I love ambiguity and I love you! Thanks for explaining this so clearly. I am obviously not an expert ;-)
I never would have thought! Now I am. What a piece of truth-telling!
A good tale, well told. Though my life is very different from yours, I enjoyed reading your story. It is obvious to me that you and your husband share a beautiful relationship of clarity and depth. : )
TwitterBard, thank you so much. This piece was about questioning accepted standards and if someone decides to live without jealousy as a result, wow! Just keep out of trouble ;-)

ZaZaCat, thank you, we do have clarity and depth of feeling for each other. I appreciate open-minded readers who do not choose to live like we do. I'm just hoping to raise the question, perhaps indirectly, of what matters most in a relationship. Is it the life you share or knowing he or she never, ever has sex with anyone else? Thanks for coming by.
I would agree that monogamy is not for most people, but some of us enjoy it. I've been with the same man for 31 years this August, and there will never be another man if anything happens to him. But he's hardly a "typcial" man. Let me add, that I had more than my share of sexual adventures before I met the "one".

We were married for 18 years and have two children together, and are now legally divorced but still together. Marriage is a religious concept, anyway. Being told you were a "slut" is also from religion, most likely that bastion of male hypocrisy, the R. Catholic Church. I've told my daughters that marriage is purely optional as we're not religious, and if they ever find a worthwhile man, they can marry or not, as they choose.

I love your statement, "this was my introduction to being blamed for what boys wanted...." Yeah. Another idea from the Catholic Church and Fundamentalist Protestants: women are whores, even though men love "whores", but once a woman engages in sex, she's a whore to be scorned and rejected. And she's a whore whether or not she has sex with the man in question or not! If she rejects him, she's still a whore!! I'll be so, so, so happy when organized religion is gone from this planet. It's perpetuated sexism like no other institution before or since, and has been a curse on women's lives for more than 2000 years!!!
Annie, that's a great analysis. Yes, marriage is a religious concept, and one that also has a lot of legal baggage, as well as legal benefits. The whole "slut" thing really powerful for me precisely because I was sort of raised Catholic. It was painful at first, then it was a fun, transgressive concept to play with. My husband and I have always defined our relationship ourselves, as none of the existing definitions worked for us. We became early domestic partners when San Francisco passed a domestic partnership law that was available to different-sex partners. You obviously have a unique and wonderful relationship with your soulmate which does not depend on that piece of paper.
i think yr what's called a grown-up. You are a rare entity. I think your husband is the same. Many who attempt what you have fail at it miserably, and it sounds like you did it without a supportive community, which is all the more surprising.

My bet is there is something in your history, and/or your mates history that makes monogamous fidelity unappealing. It could be the experience of being called a "slut" for doing what you felt like doing at such a young age. That is not a judgement, only an observation made through the years. The majority tend to play their trauma out behind each other's back, and cause themselves, each other, and those they enroll pain.

I like how you don't ideologically reject monogamy, only that you don't find it preferable for you. That tells me you aren't "selling" so much as "sharing" and makes you appealing as a person. The rarest part of your story, in my estimation, is how you and your husband are able to keep coming back to one another--that the affairs are seen as such, and you are able to maintiain "non-exclusion" over long periods.

Do you think it is the openness that makes this possible, or is there something else going on?
incandescent, the search for the proper label is always part of any liberation movement, isn't it? It's about self-definition. It reminds me of the time before "gay" was the accepted term. Gays objected to "homosexual" as being too narrow a description. For me, non-monogamous works, but I like that you use polyfidelity. It implies that fidelity is not equal to exclusivity, which I strongly believe.
Ben Sen, that's quite a compliment. The slut thing is something that I got over quickly because I had a different model available to me in high school and a different social group that didn't subscribe to that label. I use it in fun now. Definitely the openness is important, but I'm not sure it needs to be to the degree that we practice. More fundamental is the original agreement and being on the same page. Also, it helps to lack a brain center for jealousy. Jealousy makes people nuts, whether or not there is any sex outside of marriage. From what people have said on this thread, I'm not at all sure that jealousy is something you can work on as an adult. As JK said, we learn it as kids, and as someone else pointed out, it may have evolutionary roots. I do believe that you can deliberately alter how you perceive something and thereby alter your emotional reaction to it. Maybe that's just me.
You should (seriously!) consider writing a book on this subject.

(maybe in the form of a 'How-To' manual?)
I think jealousy is a psychological remnant of the age before DNA testing. I am being half-facetious.

Among its definitions jealousy is "vigilance in guarding ones possessions." It is a natural state for many, which is why I reached the conclusion that polyamorism takes a greater committment than monogamy, when monogamy is a genuine choice rather than a default position.

Many desire with all our hearts to be "owned" exclusively but to admit it is more than our emotions will permit. It takes a conscious attitude toward living that the innocent cannot take, or cannot endure for long.

Which is why I ask the genuinely polyamorous: what led you here? What made you so conscious when the consensus is to suffer and endure? The journey, after all, is what truly matters.
In thinking, I have the sense your innocence was taken from you, or else you would not be quite the stranger to jealousy that you say.
Remember: this is Ben Sen. See on my blog: ON MY WIFE, JOAN, and WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A SUBVERSIVE. I've been there, I'm back, and I can still type.
Ben Sen, I not sure I understand the point about the innocent not being able to admit a desire to be owned. I guess I don't have a desire to be owned, I'm not sure if that makes me innocent or not. As to how I got here, some of it is just my own temperament and part of it is cultural. I didn't grow up with the typical American expectations about having my own space and belongings and being so damned important as an individual. I was raised to share stuff and space. I also simply realized that I wasn't a star-quality person and wasn't going to be the first choice and center of attention all the time. (Remember, I grew up long before everybody got to be a star on their own page.) I made my peace with not being the most important person in the room and it gave me a certain self-possession. I realized a long time ago that not clinging was the best way to get people to come to you. That and being good in bed. ;-)
From monogamy to polygyny is my life. I haven't decided which is better or worse but I'm working on it. I only know that polygyny has extinguished yet ignited my jealousy all in one go. Referring to one of your comments...

Can we love other people's children? Of course.

Should we be responsible for all children? Yes but firstly to our own.

And part of that responsibility is ensuring they know who their biological parents are. It's the child's right to know. You said it yourself, we have enough of this in society today so why add to the chaos? Now don't get me wrong, polygyny is certainly not without its drama but I find comfort in the knowledge that the paternity of my children is well known.

And believe me when I say, the children of a polygynous or non-monogomous marriage will either thrive or suffer depending on how well the parents deal with one another. Taming the beast of jealousy is imperative. And you would be amazed at how jealous a woman can become once her husband has fathered a child by another woman. Let that sink in.
hayat, you make a good point. It is important to know what your biological parentage is for medical reasons. What I was referring to, perhaps too vaguely, is that the presence or absence of a biological father determines a child's outcomes in life just like it did a thousand years ago. That's not progress. Thanks for the intriguing look at your own lifestyle.
as promised at least one post inspired by this one: sexy open relationship/polyamory movie list
Making it clear you didn't think you had "star quality" as a child, and embraced you "weren't the most important person in the room," is what I meant by losing your "innocence" early. I interpret it as saying you as an "individual" were not seen as a child, which is a sort of emotional deprivation many suffer, myself included.

I think it goes a long way in explaining my own choices, some of which were like yours, and those of my wife, who made similar choices, so I know from whence you speak. That is not to say the most intimate of relationships cannot be polyamorous, but I am also sure, having read your comments you know it isn't for everyone--as "sensible" a response as it may be in someone's situation.

That you say you are devoid of all jealousy is hard to believe, but certainly sounds credible given your background. Not everyone is able to pull that off, or if they do not for long. I can also see why you and your husband have made such a commitment to it. You sound like honest and forthright champions of the life style.
Finally someone who understands that marriage is an institutional requisite of mythology (religion to believers) in Christian, Islamic, Jewish and other sects that contradicts the primal and biological imprints that kept the species in tact and evolved.
Absolutely amazing post that deals with the cause of some current internal battles in my own life. I envy you.
Sometimes I feel like I was born thirty years too late and 2,000 miles too far to the East. To have experienced San Francisco in the '60s? I am envious.

I am glad you and your husband are happy. You should read Incandescent if you don't already. He's in a relationship similar to your own.
sterowas, thanks! I believe you can make marriage what you want, but it has a huge boatload of baggage, which is why my husband and I resisted it for 17 years. I read an outraged comment on another site about this post, where a young girl said, "What did they get married for, then, if they don't want to be monogamous? The tax deduction?" Why, yes, we got married for the tax deduction. We didn't have $5k to pay the IRS one year so we got married before the end of the year. It's weird how you get these financial benefits for participating in a personal commitment with visible religious roots. It's why I would be just as happy if we all got to form civil unions or just have marriage be a contract.
Ken, I'm glad you came by and I hope you find your audience. You are one of the more professional writers I've seen here.

Travis, I missed the Summer of Love, too. I was 15, still a dork. The next year, I was all cool and shit, going down to the Haight and the free concerts in the park, where I saw Janis Joplin. But by then, people were all, oh, this is so uncool now, not like last year...;-)
"This was my introduction to being blamed for what boys wanted."

It seems to go both ways-- I had a nice serendipitous three-way with a friend I was dating and one of my roommates. The night was lots of fun and everybody enjoyed themselves, but she wouldn't speak to me for months afterwards. It wasn't my idea either.

Glad you have things worked out!
I think this is great... as long as all parties involved agree... and is sounds as if those who you become involved with are and that you and your husband are very respectful and careful about this.
I actually have been thinking about something similar for while. After having been married for 5.5 years to someone who was completely controlling with me, in every way (and becoming disillusioned about him being with other women), I think I'd be MUCH happier being with someone special when the time is right for both of us but not falling victim to exclusivity. Control in any form makes people crazy (amongst other beings of plant and animal nature), so why not let the control go, enjoy what you can enjoy from whomever, and "allow" them to enjoy what they shall enjoy?

As long as people are being smart and careful about protecting themselves from diseases, I don't see anything wrong with having casual partners, even while being married or in a non-marrital committed relationship.
This must be the longest comment thread in OS history, so you've clearly touched a nerve here. I'm a little late to the party, but hats off to you for being so upfront and level-headed on such an emotionally charged issue. Can't really argue with anything you say here. Your husband is a lucky guy. (And I'm never letting MY husband anywhere near this post, lest he get any ideas...)
Extraordinary! An exceptional bit of writing. Well constructed reasoning....There is a publication in this work. You have made THE case for revisiting the wisdom of clinging to social mores that no longer function, excuse me, never really functioned as designed and articulated....Your comment on the case of the 17 year old 34DD tennis player is what brought me here....You should know that as a matter of course I will read before I "speculate".

I was magnanimous most of my life and have nothing to show for it either. (!)
"Hunter-gatherer cultures, which exhibit the lifestyle that humanity has had for most of its history, are overwhelmingly monogamous."

I am wondering where you have got this data from? I have lived extensively in the Pacific Island cultures and in particular, Hawaii, had little or no concept of monogamy. Western Samoa does not have significant jealousy issues, interchange takes place quite freely.

Tahiti, in some of the villages, a fellow anthropologist commented on how refreshing it was that many of the children, not getting on with a particular set of birth parents, would select a more suitable parent, and totally regard them as their own.

Pacific Islanders were, until the arrival of Christianity, animists and did not believe in the concept of exclusiveness. God was everywhere and in everything. You could not own anything. That would be ridiculous. That went for humans too.

The Hawaiians have a saying. "Before the missionaries arrived we had the land, and they had the religion. Now they have the land and we have their religion."

The twelve years I spent living in Hawaii were the most wonderful and most challenging. It took me quite a while to see the benefits of sharing and caring. To see my beloved in rapturous delight with the added benison of my own particular joy was a revelation.

If you want to read a little more about this lifestyle, now largely gone I am afraid, go to

Wonderful article and posts, you give me heart.
Misbehave, it will keep you young!
I came across this post because I am planning on writing a school essay on monogamy. Although it is an exploratory essay so I do not have to make a point I know I chose this topic because it has been in my mind ever since I have been in any relationship.
I still have some questions in mind, such as how to make my beloved boyfriend share what I think. I love him, so I refrain myself, but it will end some day. I still can't help thinking about feelings, I think you and your husband are very brave people, and deserve admiration, I am not sure I could be over all that, though I would gladly give it a try.
The last point is a non fun although serious one. Sexual transmitted diseases. If there's an advantage I find to monogamy, it is that.
Your post was overall revealing, and very courageous your life. Can't help thinking about the nature of the troubles you went through (everybody goes through them), though.
Excellent post, thank you very much.
I read this prepared to object to its contents, but I can't really argue her logic. She makes her points very well. I can see the validity of this approach. It would save a lot of marriages. Monogamy is not a natural state for humans; I think most of single men would agree to that. It is unusual for a couple to be this secure and confident in themselves and in their relationship to make this arrangement work. I doubt that I could.
I share your ideas, unfortunately my husband does not. He once called me "third kind" - like a different more advanced human to even think how I do. I don't believe you can only love one individual. If that were true, how can you love your children as much as your partner (or even more) and not stop loving them. I don't believe in monogamy and would love an open relationship to be myself. I envy you. Maybe one day, I will have the strength to live my life as I wish. x
The United States is currently occupying two countries in Southwest Asia, and killing people in both of them every day, but there is absolutely nothing about war on the cover of Open Salon.

Narang, Kunar: "Death to Obama!"
YAY!!!!! Here you are! Front Page!! End of the year!!! YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!
Standing Ovation. Thank you.
What a great post. Rated.

Thanks for this post (I see that you wrote it some time ago). I totally support your point of view.

However, I wonder if there is a double standard in the sense that it is more acceptable for a woman to question monogamy than it is for a man to do so.

I am often scorned (by women) for having a view similar to yours.

Goldy, you’re absolutely correct. Loving your partner is not a different kind of love than the love for children. The way we feel about and act with partners is very much related to the way we feel about children, parents and friends. If you look at primates and other mammals, the types of behaviors that humans engage in with sexual partners are exclusively used with friends and offspring--grooming, snuggling, playing. We humans have mixed it all up. It makes sense that our emotions run on parallel lines.

Jacob, I believe the cover today is devoted to popular posts of 2009. That idea doesn’t work with most time-sensitive posts about the war, though there are a few analyses that would bear repeating.

WUS, Happy new year to you, love, and wait until you hear the latest...!

Angela, I’m pleased to meet you and thanks.

Alexis, thank you.

Jon, that question was raised before in the comments to this post. There may be some truth to it, because men are immediately suspected of rationalizing doggy behavior. It’s out of fashion to call a woman an immoral slut in the same way it is allowed to call a man a dog. Funny how that’s turned around.

I believe that a man could raise these issues on OS because there is an intelligent audience that is willing to give writers the benefit of the doubt. What doesn’t work is to retail myths and stereotypes, so, for instance, it would not succeed with this crowd to claim that men are better suited to nonmonogamy than women, so it’s ok for guys but not girls. I would go for it if I were you, making it clear that what sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
hey S, love this old chestnut!! hey love the new pic!! awesome!!
fyi, a few posts on poly on my blog .. originally inspired by S.. she's got a few comments there too
I don't know how I missed this post the first time around, but it's as vile in its casual disregard for the downsides of "open" relationships as open relationships themselves are for those persons outsides the primary relationship that end up being preyed upon in small and large ways.

Then again, I shouldn't be surprised, because the casual disregard is just one side of a coin, the other side being a level of self-involvement and self-regard bordering on solipsism.

A relationship hits an inversion layer, switches from exothermic to endothermic, when it goes from "closed" to open, requiring energy from the outside to keep it going instead of generating its own, instead of being its own self-sustaining thing.

There is no a priori defining of a relationship between two fully reified human beings with any reasonable expectation that things will always stay neat and tidy and follow those initial rules and regulations.

You can't even keep your own story straight--and it's your own relationships you're talking about! Do the relationships compete or don't they? Are they orthogonal or do you have to maintain priorities?

I've heard all these things before. Many times from many people. Many different kinds of people. And in the end, human beings are human beings and if there's no jealousy in your life there's just no jealousy *expressed* or *seen* and you're willing to leave it at that.

We all make our choices, of course, but let's be sure to call it what it is, shall we? This blog post reeks of denial, or at the very least, a constant fleeing from context to context at a rate that keeps you ahead of the point at which jealousy and human foible can no longer remain unexpressed and unseen.

Haters are good at denial.

And running.
I find it telling that some commenters read your choice of relationship style as a condemnation of their own style. You don't like monogamy because it doesn't work for you and because, biologically, it's a very uphill battle. Why are some commenters foaming at the mouth to bash your choice? It makes me think that some people are very insecure in their monogamous relationship.

Personally, I'd rather have a partner be upfront about wanting an open relationship than to find out later that they cheated on me. One of my issues with monogamy is the high potentiality for broken promises. My problem is not so much one of jealousy but rather one of missed opportunities. As a male friend of mine once said after he found out his girlfriend had been running around on him: "There are so many times I could have cheated on her, but I didn't! So many hot chicks I could have been with!"

While I think open relationships have their flaws (as ALL types of relationships do), I am in one now and frankly I love it. I will blog about it soon, after enough time has passed for me to make meaningful comments on the effects of our decision (we were monogamous before my boyfriend deployed). Because he will be gone for a year, we've decided to allow one another some freedoms. I will say, the decision to open our relationship has made the deployment easier to deal with... I don't feel guilty about small flirtations, and I don't resent his absence nearly as much as I would otherwise. And dealing with other men...actually makes me miss him more.
I revisited just to see you and your new, shining avatar! Great piece, again. Glad its getting some new eyes. Hope you are well, you.
"It makes me think that some people are very insecure in their monogamous relationship."

Not everyone is an attractive, social person who can move easily between different relationships, either serially or simultaneously.

Not everyone is well adjusted either. Not everyone meets your standard for what makes a person "ok". And yes, some people are insecure.

For these people, the grip on happiness is much more tenuous...and there are threats from all directions.
Hey, vzn. Always a pleasure.

godofbiscuits, why should you have caught a post back in June if you been on OS all of 15 minutes? Are you on OS under another login and created this screen name just for this comment? This post is about my experience and conclusions. If you do not believe it is an accurate and good faith description of my happiness and lack of jealousy, there's nothing I can do about it. I would not deny you the chance to show off your large vocabulary, but frankly, nothing that you say in your comment has any bearing on my post. (Please check the dictionary on "solipsism.") My point is not that open relationships are better than monogamous ones, it's the willful blindness to the tenuousness of perfect, lifetime monogamy can be destructive.

booklover, wow. That comment had impact. I applaud your heart and your courage. I hope he comes home ok and you will be very happy together, however you structure your relationship. I agree that asking people to abstain can create tension and resentments. Your statement that you appreciate your partner more because you can be open to other men is the perfect answer to those who think that being open to other people will automatically cause a rift in your relationship. I find the same thing--I enjoy other people, even love them, and still Mark is my constant, my benchmark of a good man.
Hi Beth. Things are great, thank you, and I'll be heading over to your best posts of 2009 in just a moment. (On the cover twice!)

John, there are threats from all directions, and...? Are you saying that monogamy is best for insecure people? Not much of a recommendation. Even I think more highly of it than that. Neither booklover nor I proposed as standard of ok-ness. Attractiveness and security do not necessarily go together. Emotional security is something that you can achieve. For that matter, a certain degree of attractiveness is available for a reasonable amount of work, if you care enough about it.
"Are you saying that monogamy is best for insecure people?"

Yes. Sexual affairs, poly etc. are best left for the experts of emotional gamesmanship, not the novices.
John, so the opposite of insecurity is emotional gamesmanship? I have to disagree. I'm not into games of any kind, but I find that taking emotional risks, even though I can get hurt, keeps me feeling alive. The more I risk, the more secure I become. It may work differently for others. However, I think being on full emotional lockdown may be safe but it doesn't take you places. I don't advocate nonmonogamy for anyone who doesn't naturally gravitate toward it, but if you do, it would be a shame to refuse to try because you're defending your insecurity against challenge and change.
Sirenita, I'm afraid that where you might see a self-actualized individual, I just see a player.
Nice piece. Very revealing. I write intimate blog pieces too.
I'm sorry you were sick. I hope you're feeling better now.
I don't know if I believe in monogamy, but I practice it because I love my husband. Somehow I know he would feel hurt if I were with another man or woman, intimately; and I would feel hurt if he were with someone else too. I don't understand the feelings but I know they do exist.
Good for you, to be able to get past those feelings.
Akemashita omedito gozaiimasu! Happy New Year !
Kim Fujioka

Thanks for your thoughtful and encouraging reply to my comment. must approach this subject with the idea that men and women are equal in their right to an opinion and that all human behavior is.....human.

I was so excited to come across this site and especially this article. My husband and I have been non-monogamous since we married fifteen years ago.

The few times I have shared this information w/ friends or family, I have regretted it. People seem unable to comprehend that we are deeply in love and that our love is strengthened by our willingness to accept other lovers into our lives. As with one of the commentors here, we are labeled as "players".

This is simply untrue. We are as committed to one another as we were the day we married. There are no reason to lie. And, as hard as it is for people to believe, there is no jealousy. I don't own this man. He doesn't own me. We have decided to chart our own course and it serves us well.

When I had my hysterectomy, I was "out of commission" for several weeks. When he had issues with his prostate, he was "out of commision". During those times, it has been a tremendous relief for each of us to know that we had "options" outside of our bedroom.

I know, I know........I can already hear people saying "What a lucky guy. How convenient. He has his wifes permission." But, we are both lucky. I have had a lover for the past ten years (my husband introduced us). I meet him about every other month for an afternoon of decadence. It goes without saying as to why this works for ME but, I will tell you that it also works for my husband. It arouses him, knowing that other men desire me and it heightens the passion in our lives. This is where fantasy comes into play and our ability to be honest with one another allows us to explore.

It comes down to making you own rules, even if they don't conform with societal norms. No one is being hurt here. No laws are being broken. Monogamy just doesn't work for us.........and that's just gotta be okay. Don't judge us. We won't judge you.

(But, maybe you'd like to meet us for a drink next weekend?) lol
These descriptions of relationship nirvana leave me perplexed, as if I occupy some parallel universe filled with a more flawed humanity.
I've recently started a relationship with a polyamorous woman. Being a recovering monogamist, brainwashed as we all are by visions of "happily ever after", the idea that my partner is seeing other people - or that she actively encourages me to do the same - is going to take some getting used to.

Nonetheless, I shall never again make the mistake of settling for a sexless relationship.

I refuse to re-enter the airless bell jar of artificially-enforced monogamy.
I have a full-time job; it's not the most glamourous job, it isn't the highest-paying job, etc. Of course the job doesn't meet all my ego needs.

So maybe I could get three really sexy part-time jobs instead...but really I would rather just have the one job, and live with the limitations.

This is not a "bell jar" so much as an acceptance of certain boundary definitions around the concept of "work", and I believe this example holds for romantic relationships as well.
People are essentially possesive but those that arent can also find likeminded people. I dont think finding men into open relationships should be difficult. Especially if you like them younger.
I've had several friends that were polyamorous, and while their love lives were no more/less problematic than mono friends were, I started noticing over the years that the rate of serious psych problems (borderline personality, bipolar, alcohol abuse, severe depression, etc.) was extremely high. (Well, at least *that* made me fit in despite being hypermonogamous...) I couldn't see any link: even though they lacked jealousy, so did a few very rare monos/hypermonos; all three had a variety of childhood experiences and levels of maturity.

I don't think that any of our groups can really say what we're "missing" by not being a member of the others, though... There's no way for us to really compare our emotional experiences since we all might be using the same words to describe different intensities, and let's face it, how many people are going to admit it if their 'kind' really is less prone to any "good" trait? :o)

In any event, all three groups I knew had good people and bad people of all kinds, including ones that felt everyone with a trait they had (children, autism, ovaries, whatever) was superior to those without. I saw quite a few such people post essays similar to yours about other traits. Unfortunately, since they relied on generalizations about both sides, the emotional claims made it hard to sift out the objective truths -- and I felt kind of the same reading this.
Kim, I think you make an important distinction. “Believing” in monogamy as a doctrine. can be dangerous, because people aren’t perfect, but practicing it can be satisfying for the right people. Happy New Year to you, too, and arigato gosaimasu for your comment.

Jon, exactly. We’re all human, and not that different from each other.

ZenLady, I really appreciate your comment. I have a very old-fashioned view of relationships--they should be happy and supportive and especially, continuous. When you make an ethical relationship choice and it works for you for 15 years, how dare anyone question your commitment. I love that you say that you don’t own each other. Exactly. Sometimes it helps to know you have options, even if you don’t exercise them.

scully, I hope this works for you and you find it to your liking. If not, you can always bail. The airless bell jar hopefully isn’t the default for monogamy, but I get your point. I know of people in sexless relationships whose partners would be very upset if they went outside the marriage for sex. That makes *no* sense to me at all.

Snoreville, I *don’t* like them younger, at least, not too much, but you may be right. The younger generation is more adventurous, which is as it should be.

Amanda, thank you.

John, feel free to live with the one job with its limitations. No one is stopping you. Did you imagine this post was an attempt to persuade you to be non-monogamous? It’s amazing how folks read this post through their own filters and it really doesn’t matter what I say.

ZyzzyAvatar, same thing. I’m not making any generalizations about non-monogamous relationships. What I say is that half of all marriages end in divorce, and some authorities quoted on the net claim that roughly half of all marriages experience some extramarital sex. It’s not making a claim about polyamory to say that there needs to be some discussion of the fact that so many people are not monogamous--either by nature or by practice. What folks who try and fail to be monogamous are missing is a coherent understanding of their own sexuality, and this leads to making promises they can’t keep, suffering and broken marriages. As I’m not part of any poly community nor a scholar, I would never claim to know how this works for other people. All I can tell you is that it has worked for my husband and me for 23 and a half years, that we don’t lie to each other, and that we don’t suffer jealousy. I can add that neither of us is borderline, alcoholic, mood disordered or any of the other things that you say are associated in your experience with non-monogamous relationships.
"Did you imagine this post was an attempt to persuade you to be non-monogamous?"

The title of this blog entry is "Why I Hate Monogamy". Perhaps the tile of my responses should be "Why I Hate Non-Monogamy".
John, this is getting tedious. Why not post your own blog, because you have not made your case here. What I hear from you is that those who practice monogamy are flawed, insecure, and resigned. Why not make a more compelling case for it than "some of us just can't do any better" in your own space?
I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not making a "case" for monogamy. Just stating my opinion.

It's my experience on Open Salon that the writers here have little tolerance for negative comments, and I can see that you are no different.
Hi Sirenita Lake,

I actually just joined to comment on this post. I am eighteen years old and have since my first boyfriend felt as if there was no one else in this world was like me in terms of my ideas regarding relationships and monogamy. From my very first boyfriend I have always had these conflicting ideas of what I want and what people were telling me I should want. I love having sex, but I don't place as much importance as people tell me 'I Should.' Unfortunately, for my past 5 boyfriends, this has proven to be a real challenge for me and every time I end up with another person during my relationship. I always feel guilty and horrible, not because I had sex, but because I couldn't keep the promise I had. I don't see why it's so important to have sexual exclusivity with someone and this conflicting idea in my head has led to a lot of suffering for both me and my boyfriends. I have loved them. Truly I did, but the forced celibacy felt like shackles that I couldn't take off. I am in a monogamous relationship right now, and I am in love with my boyfriend now. But unfortunately, all of my relationships have been monogamous because I have been afraid to approach this subject with the males I have been with. I live in a community where sexual monogamy and purity (virginity until marriage) is a very important belief, so you may imagine how difficult it is. I have always felt that no one would want to be with me if I were not sexually exclusive with them. But your post has given me inspiration to speak to my current boyfriend. It's time that I spoke to him of this, and if he doesn't agree, I will cut the relationship off before I hurt both of us. Thank you for the token of confidence and reassurance that there are people who think the same way out there. I hope you have a happy and wonderful life with your husband and everyone else.

Very well done article. I'm impressed with your ability when you were younger to pinpoint what your needs were. I wish I had spent more time thinking about things like this when I was younger. I've always been a serial monogamist even though monogamy goes completely contrary to my nature. I think it was because as an adolescent, everything involving relationships and sex scared the living bejesus out of me. I don't understand why jealousy is ingrained in our brains when we're young. I knew deep down what I truly wanted, but I was so frightful of trying to get it.

It is sort of ironic that I am in a happy monogamous relationship, though my partner and I both acknowledge that monogamy is truly crap. She knows of my desire to be with many people and doesn't find me disgusting or sleazy. Yet, the emotional triggers are there and I haven't crossed any line, as much as I truly want to. It seems like jumping off of a cliff, not knowing if you'll land in water or go splat on the ground.

I hope to someday find a similar sense of courage that you describe so articulately here.
Are you serious? What is a "committed, open relationship"? A misnomer? Darling, sex and love are not the same. Why do you need an anchor? Can you ever function alone, or do you need someone always there to take care of you? Scared to have to wait, or god forbid, to meet the requirements of a healthy emotional attachement and the responsibility that comes with it? You and people who choose "open" lifestyles are operating from highly egocentric, narcissistic, dysfunctional cravings. You will be jealous as soon as your husband falls in love with another and dumps you - if you're capable of emotional attachement, that is. Why? Because it's human!
If you need to feel energized by having sex with different partners, also consider that you may be deficient in neuro-transmitters - you did say you drink when you're unhappy... you use the word "boring" frequently... bi-polar/manic/NPD staples.
"I'm now on permanent disability from conditions that have finally eased up enough for me to begin exploring the world, at least that part which I can access emotionally, with the recklessness of a teenager." How old are you? You don't mention your disabilities...are they mental? If you have sex with multiple partners, you should be physically healthy and able, right?
Sweetheart, sooner or later, one of you is going to get hurt. Don't count the eggs while they are still in the chicken's ass. Give your marriage some time, but be prepared.
But let's face the facts: you have major issues, baby. Maybe you should engage in a real adventure: growing up, cleaning up, being real. Open relationships are not specially open minded; they're like bathing in everybody else's dirty bath water. Have fun. ;p
I love this post. People make accounts just to comment on this one thing. It's awesome. It's a pleasure to meet you, Muselux, and I hope you take the time to enjoy the rest of Open Salon.
I spent 35 years in a terrible marriage with a husband who was finally able to admit he was gay when his parents died. I separated from him and had 2 years of celibacy knowing that I would never find my "perfect" man.

I went through a lot of personal growth work. 4 months ago I met a polyamorous man and we have fallen madly in love. I am still married (for financial reasons, although living separately from my husband), and my boyfriend is married (he and his wife, who love each other, own a house and business together). He has other girlfriends. I have met his wife and 2 of his other girlfriends. I was amazed that, not only didn't I get jealous, but I like the other women he loves. We have different ways of living our lives and even if we were both single, neither of us would like to have a monogamous relationship. We are having the best sex that either of us has ever had in our lives. When we are together, we are both fully present with each other. We have taught each other so much. We laugh together all the time in bed and we are incredibly passionate. He knows how to be tantric, so our lovemaking lasts hours each time. He says that no one man (especially our age -- I am almost 64 and he is 62) could ever satisfy me and we are working on me getting other lovers. Our lovemaking is spiritual (the first time I have ever experienced spiritual sex). We make each other very happy. I have never been this happy in my life. I don't have to be his "be all and end all" and he doesn't have to be mine. Why didn't I know about this years ago!?
ruthlym, stories like yours make my day. Hell, they make my life. I so want people to be happy the way that works for them. When I read your comment, I really felt the peace you had achieved. Thank you for sharing that.
just to play devil's advocate for a minute: how would this work with children involved? we lost a child to in the world would an 'open' marriage/relationship/whatever it's called handle something like that? she was sick for 5 yrs before hand.

we have been married for 26 yrs. there have been no lies regarding outside partners. he is 20+ yrs older than i am, so we are different in that way. but i know it takes a lot of work to stay married and committed to each other, especially during the illness then passing of a child. there is no room for 'extra' people during something like that.

while i don't care what lifestyle people have as long as it doesn't have to do with me or mine, i see there are youngsters posting here. i haven't seen anything re: safety issues of multiple partners. is that just understood?

i find it hard to understand a lifestyle such as you describe, but i like monogomy. i don't feel forced into it and neither does my husband. we appreciate the sensuality of other people, but are happy with each other. the other sounds a lot like wanting to have one's cake and eat it too. but perhaps i am just naive.

i think a lot more study has to be done on so-called hardwiring of humans as it tends to be colored by the times.
MissingK8, there is no conflict between performing your responsibilities and having multiple partners. My mother was sick for 15 years and we dealt with that. In fact, my monogamous relatives left that job to me. Responsibility comes from who you are, not who you see. You might have an image of an open marriage as one long swing party and that would be incorrect. Frankly, the internet is more of an issue than other partners for us. The internet can be a demanding mistress.

I talk about STDs in my post "A Week of Syphilis." Just to address that briefly, one of our fellow bloggers was given herpes by her husband while being monogamous. I'm *not* saying that she should not have been monogamous, but in my perfect world, her husband would to say to her, "I decided to have sex with so-an-so, and we're not using condoms. I thought you should know." And she would say, "Hmmm...that doesn't work for me, let's you and me use condoms." Or, "I really need to be monogamous to be happy and I get that you don't, so sayonara." My whole point in this article is that lots of people simply won't be monogamous, whatever you may want or think is moral or ideal, and there is no language for addressing that fact other than the language of condemnation and judgment. There is often no way for people to come out about their non-monogamy other than to blow up their families. So people who do not fit comfortably into monogamy are more likely to lie, given that the stakes can be very high. Being in that closet is risky in many ways, including STDs.
I'd just like to congratulate you on an excellent and very thought provoking piece. I am also of the responsible non-monogamy mindset, but am currently the monogamous half on a half-open relationship.
having spent the past couple of hours reading, not only your post, but also all the comments to date, you have inspired me to create an account here, and I will endeavor to discuss my own situation as eloquently as you have.
Once again, you have my gratitude.
So what if your husband got another one of these women pregnant and she decided she wanted to have the baby? Would his primary responsibility be to you, his wife, or the child he fathered with another woman?
Interesting use of "primary." Even assuming there was no birth control or my husband was careless enough to get someone pregnant, since when is there a competition between one's partner and one's child? That question doesn't even make sense to me. If there were such a happy event, we would handle it like any other nontraditional family, which, when you count divorced couples and single parents, is most of them. You work out child support and custody, and the kid would have extra moms. The child wouldn't go through the trauma that kids go through when parents divorce because there was an affair. Enlightened child raising has nothing to do with monogamy. Never has.
Most of the time there isn't a competition between one's partner and child because both are part of the same family. In this situation you're assuming the mother of a child fathered by your husband would want you acting as a second mother, which might be the case for you, but wouldn't for everyone. Your essay just makes non-monogamy seem like a such a simple, obvious choice and you repeatedly emphasize that you can't understand the appeal of monogamy. Well, for many people, including children, it means a greater sense of security and stability.
That's a facile assumption. Children require stability. They do not require monogamy. They don't even know what monogamy is when they start out. Read my answer again. You're completely discounting the majority of families, which are not traditional nuclear families. You can live in a fantasy world and believe that everyone can have a Father Knows Best nuclear family if they would only decide to be monogamous, or you can look at reality, which is that some people become interested in other sexual partners in spite of being married and having kids.

A lot of marriages break up and one partner leaves the home, because with the monogamy rule, you have to choose between partners and if you can only have one, then the new partner is *real* competition. Sometimes there are second marriages and a new set of siblings and step-parents. Hell, a lot of marriages never happen. People, usually young, have kids without any thought of committing to each other, or even, at times, to the kids. This is the reality, which wishful thinking and the simplistic equation of monogamy to stability has not managed to address.

What stresses families is not the lack of monogamy, it's the lack of money. Parenting responsibilities can be shared, schedules can be worked out, but the rent won't wait. Look at every situation involving your friends or family that you think of as lacking stability--parents not home because they're working, kids not supervised, parents stressed and cranky, parents using some kind of chemical support, house a mess, fridge empty, address changing all the time--and tell me how many of them are unstable even though there is enough money. I know of none. This is what divorce can do, what single parenthood can do. This is not caused by conscious, responsible non-monogamy. People will want new partners throughout their lives and hoping they will "just say no" is useless.
I'm not discounting the existence or validity of nontraditional families so much as I'm pointing out that, while monogamy certainly has its difficulties and potential downfalls, so does non-monogamy. Both could be challenged as unrealistic. Maybe I'm living in a fantasy world, but I'm not convinced that a household with a revolving door on the master bedroom or parents who spend nights away with varying lineups of lovers is a very stable environment for raising kids. Throw the possibilities of unplanned pregnancies and venereal diseases into the mix and you've got a lifestyle with its own set of complications. Non-monogamy obviously works for you and that's great, but if this type of relationship could be as simple and straightforward for everyone as as it is for you, don't you think more people would have them?
People do have non-monogamous relationships. In their lifetimes, most people are non-monogamous. Among married couples, half or more are non-monogamous during the marriage. They are just not upfront about it. The argument, if you see it as an argument, is not about which is better, monogamy or poly. It's about which is more honest and true to the reality for some couples. People have trouble admitting when they are non-monogamous. They aren't having trouble actually doing it. Social attitudes and unexamined platitudes make it difficult for people to honestly arrange their lives in ways that are both stable and fulfilling.

Why an assumption that there is a revolving door to the master bedroom? That's just prejudice. Most poly folks have stable relationships. Even those of us who identify as sluts (which is not a pathology) have stable relationships. If anything, I have had more long-term, stable, emotionally and materially supportive relationships than most people. Long-term relationships are hot in a way that one-night stands aren't for most of us, and they also help us live in the world because they pool talent and resources. Just as a practical matter, open polyamorous relationships have better outcomes than cheating.

The fact is that by denying reality, you force people's natural behavior underground, enforce lying and betrayal, and ratchet up the potential for personal and social damage.
Sorry I missed this before, Sirenita. This was fantastically honest and while I agree with you on every single point you make, I MUST be the top and only girl. I also don't like to share. It's just me.
vzn, thank you. That's quite an honor. I've read a number of your links on poly.

Miguela, well, open marriage can have a top girl ;-) But everyone should do what is natural and right for themselves. Thank you for coming by.
For me monogamy never had anything to do with sex. It had everything to do with keeping my word. After my first wife and I ended or short marriage, I met my second wife and we lived together, monogamously for five years before we married in 1987. When we separated in 1990, I got a job in China and before I left for that year, we spoke over the phone about divorce. I told her to file, send me the papers and I'd sign them and send them back. Here's what she said, "I'll tell you what. If you find somebody and you want to get married to them, then you file for divorce. If I find somebody then I'll file."

It's 2013 and now to protect her assets when I file for bankruptcy, we will finally have to get around to that divorce thing... even though we were both pretty good at it, sex never had much to do with how we related to one another, still doesn't.

Mono or poly... in the end it makes little difference... it's who we are and how we treat one another that shapes our lives. R&R
Fantastic essay. . And the comment thread, wow!
I think Mark, Nana and Lee should do this essay as a TED talk in Sirenita's memory.
I should add that the way in which Sirenita loved in the last few months and was loved back, how everyone took care of everyone is the best testimony that love is never a zero sum game; in fact when expressed authentically, it only magnifies and spreads outward. Sirenita is both philosophical in this essay and also practical in terms of addressing many of the pitfalls that people encounter in leaving monogamy behind: (1)the honesty thing; (2)the hierarchy thing (everybody knowing where one stands in relation to each other because while we can love many people, we may not love them all in the same way; (3)how that hierarchy informs everyone's understanding of the relative amount of time they will be investing in any relationship. Sirenita discusses all of this so beautifully.
Just re-reading.....

I agree, Antoinette, an excellent TED talks.