Open wide: Polyamory reconsidered

Pub date May 6, 2009
SectionSex Blog

By Molly Freedenberg

Illustration from story on polyamory.

I used to say the word “polyamory” is just shorthand for “really slow break-up.” Though I know two couples who manage to have successful, committed, loving partnerships both within and outside of their marriages, most cases I’ve witnessed have ended in disaster. And even more common, I’ve noticed, is that the people who discuss or consider polyamory are in unhappy relationships already. For polyamory to work, all partners involved must be good communicators, secure in themselves and each other, and, above all else, compassionate. But unhappy couples tend to be none of these. For them, opening the relationship is a way to get needs met without having to address difficult issues, including the idea of actually breaking up. Instead, opening the relationship intensifies existing problems, introduces new ones, and, usually, ends in a break-up anyway.

I used to be one of the latter. I was in a long-term, exclusive relationship that was satisfying in many ways. But our sex life was dismal. Neither of us wanted to break up, and none of our attempts to remedy our sexual problems seemed to work. So we began to discuss the possibility of finding sexual fulfillment outside our otherwise (mostly) happy home. But the mental gymnastics required to consider such a possibility always led to the same injurious conclusion: our relationship’s inevitable demise. Neither of us thought we could manage the jealousy. And even worse, both my boyfriend and I feared that if one of us were to find fulfillment outside each other, we might realize we didn’t want each other at all. The final decision? We didn’t do it. I decided I’m not cut out for open relationships, and neither are most people. Within a year, my boyfriend and I broke up, and I stayed almost entirely — and blissfully — single for the next two years.

Fast forward to the present.