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Friday, March 18, 2011

With my sketchy "open relationship" track record, you'd be foolish to take non-monogamous advice from me. In theory, I get it. But in practice...

So instead of my advice, I'll give you a bit of an open relationship book report on Tristan Taormino's Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. This easy read made me heart Taormino in the first place (I swear, she doesn't pay me) because it perfectly blends ethnographic social science, strategies for successful non-monogamy and honest, personal relationship stories—the perfect open relationship primer (even if I wasn't the perfect student).

Non-monogamists, Taormino explains, generally believe that one partner can't meet all their needs, so they may want to have sex or a relationship with multiple people simultaneously. But, unlike "cheating," a non-monogamous (or open) relationship allows for honest communication around and mutual agreements about emotional or sexual relationships with others.

Non-monogamy isn't about cheating, promiscuity, dissatisfaction or instability; if it is, it won't work. Non-monogamy includes those in marriages and primary relationships, queer and straight people, all ages and all nationalities. Above anything else, non-monogamy is a consensual choice. And despite its most prevalent stereotype, non-monogamy is not all sex, sex, sex, but is actually mostly talk, talk, talk.

Your seeing multiple people may sound great, but thinking about your partner(s) doing the same can be scary, especially in terms of what our monogamous society has taught us from day one: that you can't simultaneously love/desire multiple people, that one person can fulfil all your needs, that if your partner sleeps with someone else, you should be angry, hurt and jealous, and that if you feel for another, you must either break up with your current partner or extinguish your "extra-marital" feelings.

Non-monogamy challenges these rules. In non-monogamy, you and your partner(s) choose to be together instead of feeling potentially "obligated" by societal expectations; sexual fulfillment with others may bring you closer together; the pressure is taken off to universally satisfy each other; and your relationship is customized to your individual needs.

In non-monogamy, there aren't predetermined rules. So how does it work?

First, devise a "relationship contract," a verbal or written understanding of agreed-upon relationship boundaries. It's crucial to get specific here. Who's on/off limits? Blondes? Friends? Exes? Dominants?

Consider gender, age and personal connections. What activities are okay? Romantic dates? Just sex? Consider types of penetration, safer sex and role-playing. When? Can you only have one-night stands, or can you date someone continuously? Only on the weekends, on vacation, on your birthday? Where? In your bed, in a different city, at a club? Will you kiss and tell or would you prefer ignorant bliss? Try to think of every possible scenario, envisioning yourself in the situation to best gauge how you might feel in it. As in any relationship, it's impossible to prevent hurt feelings and jealousy, but making your intentions clear and your agreements mutual and consensual is your strongest defense.

Actually stick to your contract. Just because something's "open" doesn't mean anything goes. Keep your agreements and trust that your partner(s) will, too, renegotiating your terms if something just doesn't work.

Fight jealousy with self-awareness and "compersion," loosely defined as taking joy in your partner's sexual and romantic relationships with others. (Don't worry, an entire chapter of the book is devoted to befriending the green-eyed monster.) Acknowledge and communicate constructively about your jealousy, knowing that just because society says so, you don't have to be jealous of your partner's other relationships. However, take unquenchable jealousy as a sign that something may be awry and needs adjusting—as Taormino says, "when you are content... and feel secure and satisfied in your relationship, it greatly lessens your envy of others."

The second you open your relationship, buy a planner. While a good non-monogamist embraces fluidity and change, she also knows that though she may have endless love to give, there are only 24 hours in a day. And of course, read the book before diving into the complicated balancing act of non-monogamy. Otherwise, the only thing that'll be opening up is your free time.

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