Part Four: On Nonmonogamy
What kind of reaction have you gotten to the Opening Up book? The open relationship thing is still hugely controversial.
Oh, yeah! I’ve been on radio shows, and people have called in and said I was the devil. But overall, the feedback has been really, really amazing.
I have read your book, and The Ethical Slut (by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt). You give your own model; that you get to choose piece by piece exactly what it is that you want. I think that the idea that you don’t have to do it according to anybody else’s rules scares people because if you don’t have those guidelines, whether you are straight or you’re gay, how are you going to know if you are doing it right?
I’ve gotten letters from people, and reviews, and people see that I was trying to do something different from Ethical Slut. I love and respect that Ethical Slut says, but I’m trying to do this other thing. I’m not saying, “Hey, I can do that better.” We have different styles and different approaches.
The most surprising thing for me is that a lot of monogamous people have read the book, for whatever reason, [and they] will write to me [that they have] actually learned some things about negotiating for what they want, and they don’t even want to be in an open relationship.
I feel that the more people start to make those connections, the more monogamous people read this book, and go, Hey, this is okay, the better it is for everyone—because that monogamous person is going to stumble on someone who is not monogamous, like their sister, their neighbor, their kid, whoever. They are going to be able to understand it more. I think we are still in the baby steps of the movement. I still get hate mail about it, and I’ve gone on radio where people say: “You have no family values; you’re just encouraging AIDS and promiscuity, blah, blah, blah.”
I was actually surprised when I went on Sirius radio, and I guess I assumed because I was talking to gay people, that they would be all for it. And all these gay guys called up and said, “This is really fucked up. I would never walk out on my man, and if I put my dick in someone else I’ve got to break up with my boyfriend,” and all these really, really traditional ideas around relationships that you wouldn’t expect from someone who has a non-traditional sexual orientation.
Getting into the whole nature versus nurture, do you think some people are born naturally monogamous, and that others, while not saying this is not enough, are just more open?
I think it’s a combination, like everything else. There is a great book called The Myth of Monogamy, and it studies all these different species of animals. There are so few species that are truly monogamous. I think biologically we are, or can be invested in pair bonding, but I don’t think that we are absolutely invested in exclusivity. [We] do tend to pair bond, and being in a unit of two works for a lot of people, but it also doesn’t work for a lot of people. It feels really restrictive.
If anything, I just want to expose people to the options that are out there and to some of the myths and fairy tales that surround relationships that we have all grown up with. There are so many people who are monogamous because they think that is what they are supposed to be doing. It’s like, “We’ve been together for fill in the blank, we should get serious now.” Or, “Now we’ve been together for fill in the blank, we should probably move in together, right?” It’s all these assumptions about what true love looks like, and what a committed relationship looks like. What a true, grown up relationship is. And the rules can’t be the same for everyone. It really has to be custom designed, not just for the relationship as a unit, but for the people involved, and what it is that they want and need.
One couple I interviewed for my book—two women—one said, “I’m really shy, and I really have to get to know someone, and then once I get to know them, then maybe I want to be intimate with them. And my girlfriend is someone who meets someone at a party, and is like, ‘You’re kind of cute. You want to fuck?’ And if we had a rule where we could only have casual partners, that would work for her, but it wouldn’t work for me. Or, if we had a rule that we could only have sex within the confines of another relationship, that would not work for her.”
I’ve been to polyamory workshops, and first of all, everyone on these panels would be like, “We are negotiating and having these weekly meetings and we are having just tons and tons of sex.” And I was thinking, This seems kind of suspicious. Why is everybody putting this painted happy face on all of this? And then I went to dinner with two people who are polyamorous, and one of them, a friend of mine, said: “Well, my long-time partner and I aren’t sexual, but we are absolutely primary partners, we are committed to each other. When I got a job in Minneapolis, we moved together. We are the central family unit. We just happen to have sex with other people.”
I said, “Whoa! Hold the phone! No one has ever said that in these panels or workshops. What are you talking about? This flies in the face of everything.” So I think that you have to bust open these myths about what polyamory is.
Our culture says that you’re with the wrong person if you’re not fulfilled.
I find what is really interesting is that the people who put the most pressure on you, probably have issues around it. It’s about them. They want someone to look like something, because probably [what they have doesn’t] even look like a healthy relationship—whatever that is. People are constantly trying to aspire to be “that thing,” like they aspire to have “normal” sex.
People write me letters: “This is how I get off, details, details, details. Have you ever heard of this? Ever? Ever?” Well, not today! But yesterday, yeah I did. I think everyone is convinced that their neighbors, and friends, and family members are having this kind of sex, so I should be having this kind of sex. Why? What is that mythical kind of sex that everyone is having? No one is having it. I know what everyone is doing, because they tell me. And they are having so many different kinds of sex that it is amazing.
There are people who are frustrated because they are having sex six times per week, and that is not enough. And then there are other people who are having sex four times per month, and you know, I could take or leave two of those times. Everyone’s idea of too much or not enough is all relative to them. And it only becomes a problem when you can’t work it out between the two of you.
The sex is truly the least of everyone’s problems. When people get cheated on, they actually say, “I don’t care that you banged that secretary for three years. It’s that for three years, there was an entire series of lies that you built around banging that secretary. But I don’t care that you actually banged her!” People still don’t get that piece of it.
The ways that we relate to each other and date and romance and communicate and have sex are changing rapidly, so relationships have to [as well]. I think that this idea of my grandparent’s generation, where you basically married someone and that is your mate for life, that’s not what most relationships look like now. When you see the rates of second marriage, third marriage, fourth marriage—I think some of those marriages could have stuck around if they had just gotten together and worked out some of these issues.
I love to watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, up until the last show. Leading up to it, she can admit, I am in love with three men, [he can admit, I am in love with three women.] They are all different, they bring out something different in me, they all know about each other, and everything is fine. I just won’t watch the last show, because in the last show, they make them choose. But until that point it’s like heaven, it’s Nirvana.