I have spent the better part of my adult life in polyamorous and open relationships. I firmly believe that it goes against our biological imperative to be monogamous (if you take a look at our closest primate relatives - the chimpanzee and the bonobo - they are absolutely anything but monogamous...) and that a big reason that cheating is such an issue in our society is because we are forcing ourselves to behave against our own nature.
I entered into my first open relationship when I was 18 and it was more or less by accident. I was with someone a number of years older than me who I loved very much, but I never felt completely satisfied by the relationship and nor did he. We're both very forward-thinking, progressive people, so one night we sat down at our kitchen table and had a very frank discussion about opening our relationship and the benefits of a polyamorous versus a polyfidelitous relationship. It took about a month's worth of ironing out the details, but this is essentially what we came up with:
-The relationship would be completely open
-We had to check in with one another before going on a date/staying over at another partner's house
-If we were going to bring another partner into our home, we were to use the guest room. There would be no sexual activity in our bed unless we were both involved.
-We were to use barrier-based protection with all other partners at ALL TIMES and all partners were to have up-to-date STI screenings.
-If either of us became uncomfortable with the other's partner, we had a right to speak up and request termination of the relationship with that partner.
And the most important rule: Our relationship came first, every other relationship came second and with FULL DISCLOSURE.
It worked for us *beautifully*. We were together a total of three years and both of us benefitted greatly from it. We broke up for reasons 110% unrelated to polyamory.
At any given time, one of us was seeing at least one other person and I can remember a brief period where we were both seeing three others a piece. On several occasions we dated the same person and reaped the benefits of that experience which is what led me to my interest in polyfidelity (which I'll get to in a few paragraphs).
As a young woman learning to navigate a serious relationship and really examining my sexuality for the first time, it taught me several important lessons that I think it would have taken me much longer to learn if I'd only experienced monogamy.
First and foremost, it taught me to have an incredible amount of self-respect. At the end of the day, I had someone at home who loved me very, very much so I never felt "obligated" to go home with a new partner after three or four dates because it's what is typically expected. It made me take charge of my sex life and allowed me to really examine if sleeping with that person was a good idea. And there was more than one occasion where I determined it just wasn't a good decision. But it was only because I was able to examine the situation so objectively.
Being polyamorous also taught me to be sex-positive. I've never been ashamed of my body or my sexuality, I've never been uncomfortable trying new things or being with new people, and I've never had any "hang-ups" in the bedroom. I have only very positive feelings about sex and it made me a very empowered woman who is not afraid to advocate for her own pleasure and her own safety.
It taught me that jealousy has absolutely no place in a relationship. If you're jealous, there's either not enough trust or not enough honesty. Those are the two virtues which are paramount in an open relationship. If you don't trust your partner implicitly or if you're not being completely honest with one another, the relationship is going to crash and burn in a MAJOR way.
Lastly, it showed me that looking for the "whole package" in one person is not only unrealistic, but also going to lead to a lot of disappointment and heartache. My interests are eclectic and varied; I love poetry slams, haute couture, shopping at farmer's markets, eating at the best restaurants, spending hours getting lost in a city, going to cheesy revivals, going to the opera, hiking, traveling at a moment's notice, reading obscure books and browsing through used book stores...the list goes on and on. And then it's personality traits. Sometimes I want a partner who is masculine and dominating, who will order for me at a restaurant and insist I wear that green dress. Other times I want someone soft and caring who will cuddle with me on the couch in front of the fire and wax existential about life and love and what all of it means. Sometimes I want someone who will go on a wild adventure; hop in the car and drive 6 hours to see our very favorite band at some tucked away theatre where everyone is a hipster and no, you've never heard of it :P. And sometimes I just want someone who will hold my hand and have an intellectual conversation while we walk around Harvard Square in the fall and stop at Burdock's for dark cocoa when it starts to get cold.
No one person could ever satisfy all of those parts of who I am and I know that I cannot satisfy all of the parts of anyone else. So instead of foregoing X in order to get Y and/or Z, I am able to fulfill X, Y, and Z with different people.
What I found with polyfidelity versus polyamory is that I got to know my partners much, much better and ultimately had much stronger relationships with each of them as we were all involved with one another. Before I moved to Ocala on a more full-time basis, I was in a polyfidelitous relationship with 5 other people; 2 women and 3 men. Unlike my first open relationship, I did not have a primary partner. We would often go on group dates either as a whole group or in threes or fours. Everyone was romantically involved with one another (though in our situation, only one of our male partners was bisexual so there wasn't much in the way of male/male dating) and it was beyond wonderful. It was a very relaxed situation and I am still very dear friends with all five partners. I am also still very, very close with my primary partner from my first open relationship. So for those that think being non-monogamous ruins relationships, that absolutely hasn't been my experience!
Now, all that being said, I have been in monogamous relationships before and they were just fine. The relationship I'm in currently is more or less monogamous, only because neither of us has the time to actively seek out others to date. But if someone came along, we both have full permission to do as we see fit.
It is absolutely NOT for everyone. And it is not something you should try because you think it will save your relationship...that tends to end very, very badly. But for those who are secure enough in themselves and with their partner, it can be a wonderful experience that expands your world and makes your romantic life much more fulfilling.
Nine out of ten times, you'll get it wrong...but it's that tenth time that you get it right that makes all the difference.
Oregon, sitting on my couch looking out the window at a mountain
Wow, Punkie. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I think what is important is for all parties involved to agree. Obviously if one person wants to be in a polyamorous situation and one person is strictly monogamous it won't work. Mr. PoPo and I share our feelings about monogamy so that works for us. If a group of people agree on their desire for a polyamorous setup then great for them. I'd rather be a serial monogamist so that I can give my all to a relationship, one at a time, and grow either with one partner or move on if the situation necessitates. I've learned so much from my one-on-one relationships - I think I'd find multiple relationships distracting from the work that I need to do.