Monday, October 3, 2011

A little action on the side

I just finished The Ethical Slut - A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures.  I wasn't at all unaware of the whole topic ahead of time (Wendy and I have discussed exactly how open or closed we wanted our relationship to be many times) but this book really did give me new insight into the different ways that people view nonmonogamous relationships of all kinds and I found it gave me new, interesting ideas.  I used to have a dim view of polyamory in general but that has changed now, largely because of a better understanding of the options involved.  In the past I had viewed it through the lens of a 'lifetime partnership' lifestyle and saw it as not being particularly practical.  Not that I had a problem with people trying it but rather I just felt like it wouldn't work - keeping a two person relationship working is hard and often fails and doing the same with three or more people involved seems like a nearly insurmountable obstacle, particularly considering the non linear scaling.  The numbers bear me out here to some extent since long term polyamorous relationships are drastically less likely to last than monogamous ones.

This book talked a lot less about group partnerships with more than two people and a lot more about having all kinds of relationships of different sorts with different people.  This sort of thing makes a lot more sense to me.  You have a main relationship that usually involves cohabitation and/or fused finances and then any number of other relationships that can be anything from one weekend a year of sex to regular dating or anything else.  Clearly you are still going to have breakups and shakeups with that sort of open arrangement (just as serial monogamists do!) but there is a lot more flexibility to have enjoyable, healthy relationships with all kinds of people in the ways that make sense.  Just like I have some friends I could happily have as roommates and some which would drive me crazy it makes sense to me to have some lovers that you can build a communal life with and some which you just date - you arrange the relationship to fit the people involved instead of the other way around.  The Ethical Slut also advocates taking a very non traditional outlook on relationship length; rather than assuming that any relationship that ends is a failure you just accept that people will come and go and enjoy what you have when you have it.

Of course when I order this book in from the library it is bound to cause some interesting situations.  Thankfully Wendy is the type to find me reading this stuff amusing and expect a good conversation about the topic rather than panicking and thinking "Oh no, this book is going to tell him to start cheating on me!"  Even though we talk about this now and then we have never actually decided to open up the relationship - most likely never will, but things could change I suppose.  I really liked that The Ethical Slut never tried to suggest that polyamory was a better way, but rather just that there is a manageable, ethical way to go about polyamory that is healthy for all involved.  Do it if you want, or not, as long as you are doing what makes you happy and doesn't hurt anybody else.

I think there are a lot of people out there who would be a lot happier if they took the lessons in The Ethical Slut to heart and openly lived a polyamorous lifestyle.  Our culture (particularly Abrahamic religions) push monogamy really hard and many people have no idea that there are options outside that mold.  Unfortunately that leads to people who absolutely cannot manage monogamy either being unhappily monogamous or cheating, both of which are terrible.  There is nothing unethical about sex or love outside a committed relationship as long as everybody involved is informed and happily consenting; I wish that was something more broadly understood and accepted.

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