Non-monogamy

Jeremy M. believes you don’t need to let society’s rules get in the way of the kind of relationship that you are interested in having.

This is not an article about cheating. This is not an article about polyamory. This is not an article about threesomes. This is not even an article about what Dan Savage would cleverly describe as “monogamish”. No, this article is about finding balance, and figuring out what works for you.

Up until the last hundred-or-so years, marriage and sexual fidelity were not particularly linked. Husbands often had mistresses; this was a fact tolerated by wives, since they not infrequently were shtupping the gardener. This was the way of the world until relatively recently. There are a bunch of reasons for this, mainly religious and economic (it’s amazing how often those two are linked), which you can read more about in much greater detail and with greater expertise than I can offer in the excellent book Sex At Dawn.

Suffice it to say, however, that the general assumption today is that sexual exclusivity is a necessary part of any committed relationship, and that anyone acting otherwise is betraying their significant other and was obviously never in love with them in the first place. This goes against much of what we know of our own evolution, similar species, and even our own history, and need not be the rule if those involved don’t want it to be.

In fact, societal norms often go against our actual needs and desires. So, why shouldn’t we have the kind of relationship that we want? Why can’t we separate sexual exclusivity from fidelity? In short, why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?

A little backstory may be in order.  In my teenage and early adult years, for a variety of reasons not the least of which being my socially awkward nerdery, much of my sexual expression took place online. I have in the past been a total slut on LiveJournal communities, “dirty chat” sites, CraigsList casual encounters, and other places. I’ve played with quite a few people in front of my webcam. I enjoy the chance for clever wordplay, the ego stroke (no pun intended) and the seduction of it, and I have no regrets about that aspect of my sexuality. As with anything else, relying on it to the point where it becomes an addiction can lead to its own issues).

Two years ago, I met an awesome woman, and we started dating. Eight months later, we were living together.

From early on, a bedrock of our relationship has been how open and honest we try our best to be with each other, even (or especially) when its a difficult subject to be vulnerable about (hi, sexuality!). One of the few things I hadn’t brought up with her in the early not-yet-exclusive parts of our relationship was the fact that I was still playing with other people online. My interest ebbs and flows, but it has always been there, to some degree.

To me, these activities were not reflective of anything I felt was lacking in my relationship, nor was it meant as any kind of search for intimacy elsewhere (though initially it may have been a block against intimacy, I have grown a lot since then and adjusted). However, I was very worried about how she would interpret it.

I felt lost and confused as to how to reconcile my love and commitment to my girlfriend with the pleasure and ‘spark’ I get from the occasional online flirtation with friends and strangers. This was just a normal part of my life, and suddenly i had a lot of conflict about it, because now I had someone that could be hurt by my actions.

The feelings that came up when I thought about it were pretty intense. I questioned how I felt about her, I questioned my own ability to ‘be faithful’, even though I knew I would never betray her trust with anyone in person. My mind, when given the chance would spin around such untrue-but-powerful lines as “you’re just doing this to fuck up your relationship” and “if you continue, you’re going to lose her, and you deserve what you get”

Traditional wisdom, of course, says that if your partner is being sexual with anyone else, they are ‘cheating’ and should be dumped immediately, so I should suck it up and just stop altogether. Needless to say, the activity created some internal conflict. Luckily, I’ve never been one to bow to conventional wisdom.

Rather than struggling hard to give it up (which ultimately I would’ve done my best to do, had she asked), or hide it (which would make it an actual betrayal of trust, in my mind), after some soul-searching, I chose instead to talk to her about it. My girlfriend was certainly aware of my interest in playing with people online (we’d even played around online a couple of times before we lived together), but I didn’t know how she would feel about these activities continuing (and even maybe including her in them) now that our relationship was ‘serious’.

We needed to talk, so we talked. My intention was to clarify my intentions and negotiate through anything that came up for both of us.  She did not have the same history with online playing as I did (oh, us old farts who grew up in the early days of cellphones and before digital cameras) but in discussing she seemed to understand the appeal, and was open to expanding the boundaries of our relationship to include flirtations with others online. We talked about ground rules: We each must make clear to anyone we play with that we are in a relationship, so as to not give an impression that something more could take place. The people I play with understand the boundaries I stick to and why. It has become a fun way to explore hidden aspects of some of the people in my life, aside from the purely physical aspect of it. Ground rules are very important when it comes to something like this.

Initially, the feelings that came up were those of inadequacy, feeling ‘used’ and ‘not taken seriously’, which are completely understandable things that I also struggled with. This was something new for both of us, and luckily we were able to support each other through when these things came up. One of the additional responsibilities of choosing non-standard boundaries is being extra super communicative and sensitive to each others feelings about it, and address them as often as is necessarily. Patience is required.

My commitment to my relationship is absolute.  It is by far the most solid relationship I’ve ever been in, I love and respect her (and vice versa), and we’ve made it clear to each other that neither of us are going anywhere. We’ve reached a place now where our opportunities to focus our sexual attention to a wider spectrum than just each other is less of a source of stress and more of something that we can explore together, when we choose to pay attention to it.

My point is this. If I’d just gone with societal norms and not bothered to talk to her about it, we may have had a fine relationship, all told.  But, by discussing it, and negotiating an agreement that works for both of us and continuing the conversation throughout our relationship to refine and adjust as necessary, we’ve set a precedent that we can define our own terms together, live our own relationship and do what makes us happy rather than purely what is expected of us. This takes a lot of communication, checking in, and in a way, that initial conversation never ends.

I’ve sometimes seen sexually or romantically polyamorous relationships described as ‘hacking life’, and I can see what they mean by that. Our relationship is not quite fully poly in that regard, and in fact might even be scoffed at as ‘amateurish’ from some in that community with mutliple long-term partners and such, but it is what works for us right now, and certainly has elements of that ‘thrill’ of having a secret addition to our otherwise ‘standard’ relationship.

Here’s a final thought on the thrill aspect: the initial rush of passion and intensity in a new relationship is biologically linked to an increase in dopamine in the brain (also connected to feelings of variety and novelty, which makes sense: new relationship is new). Then (after a year or so) things settle down and oxytocin (bonding hormone) takes over, leading to a deeper more intimate connection, but a necessary decrease in that animal heat that comes from dopamine.  Is it possible that the ideal biological situation for keeping that dopamine passion alive while also being bonded to a partner is non-monogamous sexual exploration? Someone should do a brain study!

This kind of activity, especially over the last 100 years, has been SO vilified, so ingrained as WRONG and HURTFUL, that even making room for this small amount of freedom seems simultaneously freeing and ‘not right’.  Sometimes I’m unsure of it myself.  But, I look forward to the opportunity to explore as many new adventures with my girlfriend as possible, and I’m forever grateful for her open-minded GGG-ness and willingness to figure out what works for us.

photo by massimo_riserbo / flickr

More from our Special Section on Polyamory.

You might also like our section on Our Sexual Vocabulary.

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About Jeremy M

Jeremy is an Atlanta-based fellow who often writes about living just a bit outside the illusion we call "normal". He also freelances as Deeper Context, where he has conversations with people about their own passions and experiences in this regard.

Comments

  1. Julie Gillis says:

    Thanks for this piece, Jeremy.

  2. I’m glad you’re willing to share this part of your life with the rest of us. I personally try to look at others experiences not in a judgmental way, but in an inspirational way. I’ve always had an ‘inkling’ that this ‘model’ or structure of relationship that is pushed and supported as the ‘societal norm’ just cannot be right for everyone. We all have too many differing wants/needs/desires that not one thing can be completely satisfying 100% of the time. I’m a ‘serial flirter’ (as I was once called). Its not something I go out of my way to do, but I am aware that my compliments are portrayed as flirting and others appreciate it. I dont like to hide that part of myself, as I often end up lashing out from being ‘bottled up’. In sum, I enjoy hearing about others polyamorous experiences, proudly displaying how it ‘works’ or sometimes doesn’t.

  3. Well said.

    I think you’re also raising a point about accepting your partner for who he/she is, which seems to me the bedrock of a committed relationship in the first place. A committed relationship is something that the people involved work out together. It may look very different from other relationships, but what works for them works for them.

    Some people will say that you are just giving in to your lust, and you shouldn’t let your lust ruin your partner’s life. To that I say, why does my life have to be controlled by my partner’s jealousy? If there’s a conflict between desire and jealousy, why does jealousy get to win?

    • I think people have a right to have standards about what they want. Personally, I don’t want to feel like I’m competing with the entire universe of available women in order to have the love and affection I need from my partner. He can choose to break up with me. I’m not controlling him in any way. It’s his choice. If the other options look better, why stay with me? He SHOULD leave in that case. Why stick with someone who bores you sexually?

      • Jamie Parsons says:

        Cause not everything is about sex

        • I dunno, my experience has been that when a man loses interest in sex they lose interest in the relationship. Without sexual feelings for a woman, the love, affection and attentiveness disappears quickly.

          • I kind of agree with what you’re saying, though I do think loss of sexual interest is usually a symptom of other problems, not the problem itself.

            That having been said, I’m not sure where you see “losing interest in sex” or “losing interest in sex within a relationship” in the article. Could you point out the specific section you’re responding to?

            • You’re right, this article wasn’t talking specifically about seeking out sexual relationships with others in response to loss of desire for one’s primary partner. But if you read other articles about non-monogamy, that’s frequently the theme. “People aren’t naturally monogamous, it’s natural to lose interest in someone sexually in a LTR, therefore, you should agree to seek excitement and variety elsewhere.” My feeling has always been that my partner can seek out others whenever he wants. Maybe we could still be friends, but I’d probably lose interest in having sex with him if that happened. I don’t want to force him to remain in a relationship that’s not meeting his needs. And that’s basically the assumption of non-monogamy: “You can’t meet my needs so I should look elsewhere.”

            • That is a fair point, and there are times when people decide to try an “open relationship” in order to address a “problem” in the relationship, in the hopes that opening up the field will solve the problem. I’ve seen many of those (in fact, i would posit that MOST of those) end in failure. I would recommend against this course of action for people in that situation.

              This goes back to my original point that loss of sexual desire is usually the symptom of a deeper issue. That is also not the subject of this article. It’s not “dont want to sleep with your husband/wife anymore? go sleep with other people!” It’s more about “you can expand your sexual horizons with your awesome partner that you’re very much in love with”

          • Jamie Parsons says:

            Well they seem like very shallow men if they’re only in it for sex. Sexual desire diminishes over the years for a lot of people, but they don’t just pack up and leave, if you love someone you work it out, you don’t just leave because they aren’t that interested in sex anymore.

            And there are people who physically can’t have sex, but I don’t see their love or affection being any less than those who can.

            • Jamie,
              Here’s another scenario: You are in a loving committed relationship with your long term partner and you have a great sex life and a stable relationship but despite all that you manage to fall in love with someone else. Not because there was anything wrong with the first person – you have to ignore your impulse to come to that conclusion, but just because you share something special with the new person. You talk this over with your partner and decide the 2nd relationship does not have to threaten the 1st. That is a choice you can make but it goes against a lot of deeply held assumptions, mainly the one you bring up – I must not love my 1st partner if I’ve fallen in love with a 2nd. It absolutely does not have to be about sex but sometimes the issue of sex needs to be discussed.

            • Jamie Parsons says:

              Well you can do that but I don’t see the point. I don’t see why a loving, committed person wouldn’t be enough for you.

              And I think that if someone really loved their spouse they wouldn’t want to fall in love with anyone else, so they wouldn’t, and if they did they would ignore it because they are committed to their loving spouse and don’t need anyone else.

            • This idea of monogamy is SO ingrained in us that we use very strong language to reinforce monogamy as legitimate and anything else as bad/wrong/no good. It’s not at all about a person being ‘enough'; enough is a very misguided term.

              It’s like asking a parent “Why did you have more than one child? Wasn’t that first one enough? How can you have loved the first one if you went and had a second one?” (I know that a love for a child is not a romantic love, before you go down that road; this just exemplifies the nature of love, and the fact that love is not some finite entity). People often have more than one really close friend. So wasn’t the first close friendship you developed enough? Why would you seek out more? How could you have more than one close friend?

              Monogamy is fine for those for whom it works. But it doesn’t work for everyone.

            • Hi Treehugger

              Maybe they will explain to us how they define commitment ?
              I feel cynical about this arrangement Jeremy describes. Here is his words:
              ✺”This article does not necessarily describe a polyamorous relationship. My understanding is that polyamory involves more than one romantic relationship happening simultaneously.

              This is closer to a swinging/open relationship, where there is one primary romantic one and then other non-romantic connections made with others. That’s why I chose “non-monogamy’ as the title.”✺
              And my question is how is commitment defined here?
              Is he married? I don’t think so. It sounds like cohabitation to me.
              But how is he committed? Is commitment a promise to stay together with the other person until death? A promise of lifelong love as long as the women he lives with accepts his sexual praxis of having sex with strangers online in front of webcams……
              He cohabitate and can end the relationship tomorrow if he wants to.
              To me it sounds like he simply continues his batchelors lifestyle and bring a women into his house to live with as well. And she adapts to his wishes and sexual wants. She is not ” swinging” is she?

      • @Jill: People absolutely have a right to have standards, and I’m not recommending that everyone have this specific arrangement, by any means. My point was more general: HAVE the conversation about boundaries, interests, curiosities. Be as open and honest as you can. Don’t take for granted that your relationship can only work if it is structured in a certain way.

        For me, at least, it’s not a competition. I’m not looking for intimacy, commitment, or someone to grow old with. I found those things. But the spark of new flirtation is something that is always exciting, and not having to give that up because of some sense of ‘wrongness’ that doesn’t really have a basis in how we feel about each other was something that was absolutely worth the awkwardness at first.

        To your last point, we are FAR from bored with each other sexually. It’s just not a zero sum game.

        • Julie Gillis says:

          Amen, Jeremy and Jamie. Everything romantic isn’t always about sex. It’s also about feelings. And it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a zero sum game.

      • The Girlfriend says:

        @Jill : Hi, I’m a person. I’m not sexually boring, and Jeremy is not out there looking for someone to replace me. Getting comfortable with an open-ish relationship was a very gradual (and sometimes difficult) process. We’re still figuring it out. I think it says a lot about our level of trust that I’m not threatened by him sharing a bit of himself with other people. Ideally, at some point, it won’t just be a solo activity for him and it’ll be something I’ll take part in as well.

        I’m not a doormat. I don’t feel cheated on. I’m not “controlling” him and forcing him to stay with me.

        • Easy enough, since he’s not “with” you, is he? He’s just dating you.

          Nothing wrong with that, but call a spade a spade.

          • The Girlfriend says:

            He made it pretty clear that we’re not “dating.” We live together. He is “with” me. We spend a ton of time together. We’ve been there for each other during difficult times. We make important decisions together. We have a wonderful, close, long-term relationship, by every measurable standard.

            Thanks for your lovely comment!

            • @ The Girlfriend… Tyler’s comment was uncalled for and an expression of his own issues. You are to be commended for trying to find a way to be in relationship with Jeremy that is based on creating a new set of arrangements. Our society is full of people who lash out at change. I for one commend you and Jeremy for talking about the rules and boundaries that others take for granted even as their relationships are strangled by those very rules. If you haven’t read Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity, have a look at it. And best regards to you both.

      • Jill, if it feels like (or sound like) “competing with all other women in the world”, I’d say non-monogamy is not for you. Because it’s not what non-monogamy is about. As someone who’ been practicing non-monogamy for 20+ years (with the same primary partner, in a stable, committed relationship) I can say that there’s no competition. I’m not competing for my partner’s love and affection. But neither do I feel it’s a loss for me when she shares with someone else.

        And – it’s not about “the other options looking better”, either. There is no competition, and there is no comparison. I cherish all of my partners.

        • Maybe I don’t really understand how it’s not a competition. It seems like you are basically telling your primary partner “you are not enough for me, I need more” — more sex, better sex, more attractive partners, whatever. I think if my significant other told me that (or visa versa), how is that NOT a huge, giant slap in the face? I know I’m not the most attractive woman around, not the youngest by any means, undoubtedly not the most sexually skilled. There are thousands of women out there who are probably more fun to be with, better in bed, spend more time at the gym etc. So, as I’ve said before, if my S.O. feels like he needs to explore those other options, he can, simply by breaking up with me. Adios!

          • Julie Gillis says:

            Well, Jill. How may friends do you have? Only one? Can you only have one friend? Or can you have a variety of friends with whom you do a variety of things? I realize it’s not quite apples to apples, but if you don’t frame friendships within the pov of competition, perhaps you could consider thinking of sexual relationships that way.
            Not in real time I mean, I’m not advocating you try it, I mean as a thought experiment.
            And you keep coming back to the sex, as if that’s all poly was. It isn’t about, “well, I know we are married and own a house together but I don’t want to have sex with you anymore. Bored now! Looking for a quickie hook up to take the edge off.” Or at least that’s not how I’ve practiced it. Its more about finding someone with whom I have a multilayered attraction, and sex often, but not always plays a part in that.
            It can be about sex and sex as a playful creative activity, but more often for me it’s about love.
            No one is advocating you try it though.

            • If being poly isn’t about sex then why are so many of the arguments in favor of it framed in terms of sex? I.e., “human beings need sexual variety, dopamine drops in long term relationships, men are programmed to spread the their seed, men are programmed to get bored with their long term partners and seek new, fertile young women to impregnate” etc. If you have opposite sex friendships that aren’t about sex, then what you have are friends. Maybe close friends. That’s not polyamory (as I understand it).

              But I’m not telling anyone they shouldn’t do it, I’m fine with people doing whatever they want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

            • Julie Gillis says:

              First of all, I don’t believe in “men are programmed” evo psych stuff. Think that’s mostly BS. Secondly, one can have deep romantic feelings for someone without have sex with them. And one can have sex with a friend and not feel any sexual tension at all.

              Anyway, lot’s of options available in that case.

              Poly does have to do with sex sure, but it isn’t swinging or hookups without feelings.

            • It may be helpful to define my terms here.

              This article does not necessarily describe a polyamorous relationship. My understanding is that polyamory involves more than one romantic relationship happening simultaneously.

              This is closer to a swinging/open relationship, where there is one primary romantic one and then other non-romantic connections made with others. That’s why I chose “non-monogamy’ as the title.

            • Most of the arguments I hear about poly are not about sex. Also, as Jeremy points out in his reply, sexual IN-exclusivity is not necessarily poly.

              The way that a person could feel something other than “I am not ‘enough’,” is if they are not thinking in terms of a paradigm where there is “enough” and “not enough.” My preferred analogy is conversation. I have conversations with many people during a given week. I might have great conversations with one person and still want to converse with others, not to fulfill a deficiency but because there are lots of interesting folks to talk to.

              I am not poly or sexually in-exclusive by the way – just philosophically find the idea of enforced monogamy pretty repugnant, intellectually don’t see evidence that ANY one actually makes sexual decisions on a straight competition basis (prettiest, youngest, etc.) and emotionally don’t relate at all to the way you describe “enough/not enough.”

            • I guess I disagree, I think people make relationship decisions on a competition basis all the time, and men choose women based on competitive criteria all the time (hotter, younger, whatever). Woman also have competitive criteria, frequently.

              As an aside, I’ve always wondered how well polyamory works for women when they get a little older. I can imagine it may be a lot of fun for women in their 20’s but once you are in your 40’s or 50’s (or older), it seems like it may be a bad deal as you will not be in demand in the community any longer. Probably still great for men at that age though. However, I could be totally off base about that, since I’m not part of that lifestyle.

            • Do we really have to go around perpetuating the myth that older women have less to offer? It starts with us ladies.

            • I think older women have a lot to offer (I’m 45 so I’d better think that!) but I’m aware that the majority of men out there in the dating world disagree. Just a fact of life.

            • Any men from the “majority” care to weigh in on Jill’s assumptions/generalizations, aka “facts of life”?

            • If you don’t believe me, go read the responses to the article “Is it natural for men to lust after young women” — consistently one of the top articles on this site — and you will discover that, yes, a majority of men (with a few exceptions) appear to believe that older women (35+, or maybe younger than that) are not worth crap and having nothing to offer sexually or in any other respect. Those are the facts, like it or not.

            • Julie Gillis says:

              I don’t think we have less to offer at all. I will say there seems to be a cultural trend that downplays women as sexual (or sexually enticing) after about 40 years of age. This is not to say some people don’t find older women attractive, just that as a trend it happens. I’ve found it so, that’s for sure.

            • I did read that article and what I took away from it was more of an, “it’s me, not you” sort of idea – the men are looking to validate themselves by society’s standards, i.e. if I can attract a good looking, young woman, then I’ve still got it! So the first step to changing that measure is changing society right? My point is, it’s not biological, it’s cultural and it takes a collective effort to reinforce our cultural standards or tear them down.

        • You’re not in a committed relationship if you’re banging other people. It’s just that simple. What do you think you’re committed to? Not getting mad when the other person plays with someone else’s genitals? That’s not the same thing as a “committed relationship”.

          • Julie Gillis says:

            Why is this arbitrary thing (banging) what defines committed. I know many couples who don’t “bang” each other OR anyone else, but also don’t talk, don’t share and are very unhappy. Are they committed because no one is “playing with someone elses genitals?” What makes the commitment? So long as you are only have sex with one person it doesn’t matter if the rest of the ‘ship is a mess? Or if everything in the ‘ship is genius, beautiful, long term, sharing finances etc, but there is swinging then nope. Not committed.
            You have an extraordinarily black and white view of things.

          • I am very much committed to my relationship with my partner. We have built a life together, a home together, and hopefully one day a family together. We are committed to communicating with one another openly and honestly. We are committed to being mindful of one another’s feelings and looking out for each other’s well-being. We are committed to caring for one another and supporting one another in our various pursuits. We are committed to working together at having a healthy and happy relationship. How isn’t this commitment? Because I am comfortable with my partner engaging in sexual activity with someone else then I must be less serious about our relationship?

            Non-monogamy certainly isn’t for everyone. I don’t think my relationship is better than a couple who chooses to be monogamous. But this is the relationship structure that works for me and my partner and I don’t see how us deciding together to live our life this way makes us any less serious or committed to one another as partners.

    • This comment “why does my life have to be controlled by….” speaks volumes. Making a commitment is not “being controlled.” It’s making a choice to commit to another person. Sounds like you’re not ready for it, which is fine, but don’t pretend that sleeping around is the same thing as being “in a relationship” minus the “control” factor.

      If a guy presented his “let’s sleep around on each other” case by saying he felt that committing to me was about “control” I’d steer WAY clear of him from then on. People with issues of power and control are really toxic.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        Tyler are you being willfully argumentative? I think the only people who truly know how their relationship is going (what it means to them, how they want to structure it, the commitment level) are the people in it. It’s clear you don’t agree with the model presented as viable for you, but is it truly outside the realm of possibility that others can find it viable? I don’t think it is.

  4. Interesting article, thanks for sharing.
    I feel I should point out that it seems like you’re in a very ‘monogamous’ relationship in terms of trust and intimacy. Solid partners embarking on life together as a team and all that.
    The fact that sexually there is an ‘unconventional’ understanding doesn’t mean that the relationship is any less committed, which is the point that would be ‘vilified’ as you say by societal norms. But, in the end what works for each relationship should win out. Happily ever after could mean white picket fence & 2.5 kids or white picket fence & 2.5 kids with fun mommy/daddy time online after 10pm :P

  5. The metaphor “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” implies an impossibility: once you eat the cake, it’s gone. The only way to keep it, is not to eat it. If you try to do both, you will not succeed. Applied to the sexual realm, the idea is that if try to have both the intimacy and support of a long term relationship and the thrills of fooling around, something will be lost.

    Kudos to you for trying to make it work. Maybe it will. It wouldn’t be my cup of tea, but that’s just me.

    • Fair point, Jill. It may not have been the most appropriate metaphor, but I used it because it is commonly associated with situations like these.

      As for it not being your cup of tea, that’s fine too. My point ( as i said above) is most specifically about having a conversation about the boundaries of your relationship and each persons interests as to where they may not overlap, or even have room to expand.

    • That’s a really good way to put it, Jill. And that’s why I don’t think that people who sleep around on each other are in a committed relationship by any terms. Committing to sex with one person is the easy part; it’s emotions and feelings that are beyond our control.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        And polyamory takes emotions into account. It allows for feelings of love, in fact it’s part of the name. It is possible to love more than one person at a time even if you never have sex with them. and its possible to have sex with people you don’t love, true enough.
        All of these combinations are possible and some people are willing to do the exploration of those combinations. Some are perfectly happy not “going there.”
        Jill knows what she likes, knows what makes her happy and so she should do that and be really happy about it. Jeremy seems the same way only his thing is different. What a world with such variety in it.

        • Right, there’s nothing inherently wrong about any of that. It’s just wrong to pretend that open relationships are the same as marriages and committed relationships and referring to them as such. So you date more than one person; that’s not a marriage (except since marriage is technically a legal institution you can sign the papers and get all the benefits of it without having to practice actual marriage. As you said, what a world).

          • Julie Gillis says:

            Well folks, there you have it. Tyler knows everything and how to define things in ways we do not. We can all rest assured in our long term non committed relationships that we have no idea what we are talking about, none of us, even though we are the ones in the relationships, and Tyler who doesn’t know any of us, how we operate and what we negotiate, knows more about the status of our ‘ships than we do.
            Whew!

            • Let’s keep it civil, please. Everyone has a right to say what they like even if we disagree. Making it heated doesn’t help anyone.

  6. Your article is quite interesting, Jeremy, and often aggravating to be honest. Among my many thoughts and feelings (perhaps judgments) about this, I agree that communication is key. However, I wonder why your decision to communicate started with your need to express your sexuality online instead of discussing ways to explore sexuality with your partner. Perhaps the openness in communication should start with a conversation about the intimate needs of both partners within a monogamous relationship. If those needs can’t be satisfied within monogamy, then questions can be asked about whether it is the right partner, etc. I do think you are cheating–you’re both cheating equally and openly. That’s certainly your right if you both agree to these terms, as it is indeed your personal relationship. However, don’t call it something it’s not–you’re agreeing to an open relationship that allows cheating. It may not be in-person contact, but cheating can take various forms, including strictly emotional–which for many couples is an indication that there is something critical missing from the relationship.

    Speaking to biology, women are biologically wired to be monogamous for the survival of children. Women are also biologically able to keep sexually active throughout the year (they don’t go through heat), which, in a very base way, gives them the ability to (speaking only to sexual needs) satisfy and keep a man. And men, who are classically biologically wired for promiscuity, can evolve and (some) have evolved, realizing (consciously or unconsciously) the many benefits to an entirely monogamous relationship–security, sexual freedom (if there’s the open communication you promote), intimacy, etc. Furthermore, many societal rules and norms are necessary for a successfully functioning society. Personal sexuality may not be one of those norms, but I think caution should be taken when picking and choosing which norms you decide apply to yourself.

    Speaking to your conflict about whether to approach your partner, I’m glad you decided to talk to her about your feelings, yet I’m surprised that this seemed to be a strange concept. You discuss societal norms as if they keep people from having open communication. I’m curious about why your options were boiled down to “talk to her” or “hide it”–I don’t consider this to be a norm, but rather fear. I think it’s a reasonable and common fear, but not society imposing anything on humanity–social norms say “don’t cheat”, they don’t say “don’t communicate”. In fact, more and more I see and hear messaging promoting communication, including your message. I think this is more likely linked to a base, or biological, fear of being alone.

    Finally, relationships are complicated and require compromise and sacrifice. If you’re not willing to do so, I don’t recommend being in a relationship. However, there’s a fine balance. To compromise too much can certainly be unhealthy–and lead to issues like you described around classic cheating scenarios; but to determine that you won’t change because you don’t think you should have to (calling it a norm or another label) or don’t want to (because you think males are biologically allowed) is not fair to your partner, whether or not she says it’s ok–as you noted, women (wives in your example) tolerate a great deal for and from men. In your case, it seems that you’ve found a like-minded individual, which is really all anyone can hope for.

    • Hey CT-

      To address your points

      My decision to communicate did not start with this particular conversatoin, we have always been an open and communicative couple, as stated in the article. I do agree that having a general conversation about each person’s needs early on is an ideal situation, but I’m not sure that a lot of us feel comfortable about doing that (which is part of why I wrote this to begin with)

      I do take a bit of issue with your “can’t be satisfied within monogamy” for a few reasons. 1) The concept that our relationship isn’t ‘enough’ is something I flatly reject. Life, ad especially sexuality need not be a zero sum game. Monogamy is one option, monogamy-plus-a-little is another. Neither are necssarily ‘how it should be’, as demonstrated throughout nature, and throuhg our history.

      I also take issue with your use of the word ‘cheating’. To me, ‘cheating’ implies a betrayal of trust, and going outside the stated boundaries of the relationship without discussing first. This is the opposite of what I’m talking about. I do agree that ‘cheating’ can be a sign of a greater issue (trust, intimacy, etc) and should be addressed (through that open and honest communication that I’m talking about), but that is in fact a separate issue.

      Absolutely one should take care to figure out where ones sexual interests lie. But if you read your history, monogamy is in fact a relatively recent (within the last 10,000 years) social construct more connected to treating women as property than anything related to bio.logy. Before the advent of agriculture (which Chris Ryan argues is a defining shift in how we view each other), we lived in groups of tribes that interacted with each other sexually without any kind of ‘proprietary ownership’. In fact, the very concept of ‘we belong to each other to the exclusion of others’ was foreign.

      I do think that societal norms keep people from having open communication, about this at least. Many of us go through our entire lives doing basically as we are told and never think to question “well, is this right +for me+, even though this is the expectation of me?”.

      Yes of course there was fear. I spoke in depth in the article about my fear. I would say that there was fear because she meant a lot to me, and I didn’t want to lose her.

      I absolutely agree that relationships are complicated. We’ve both compromised and sacrified for the sake of our shared happiness. Anyone who refuses to do so may find themselves without a partner. And as you’ve said, balance is key. My point was not that nobody should sacrifice. My point was that there may be areas in which one assumes there needs to be a sacrifice, that can instead be a point for negotiation, reshaping the boundaries of the relationship, and ultimately another place to connect and have fun with your partner. And isn’t that, ultimately, the point?

      Thanks for your thought-provoking comments!

    • I don’t follow your argument about cheating. To me, cheating means “violating a (possibly implicit) relationship agreement”. What the agreements are depend on the relationship. It sounds like you define cheating as “violating MY relationship agreements”, even if it’s other people with different agreements. That argument only works if there is universal standard for relationships – and Jeremy makes it quite clear that he does not acknowledge any such standard.

      As for all these “biological” argument as to what men and women (or everybody) is supposed to want, I can just say that in my experience human beings have a wonderful knack for being way more diverse than such simple programming. It is not so that “men want poly, women want mono”. In fact, if anything there’s an overrepresentation of women in longterm poly relationships (again, in my experience).

      And, no – women I know who practice non-monogamy are not silently tolerating the wants of their men. Quite to the contrary. Really, it’s just a rerun of the Victorian belief that women do not want sex. It amazes me that in 2011 we’re still not ready to admit that women want sex, and are as complex and diverse in their desires as men.

      Yes, “relationships are complicated and require compromise and sacrifice”. That’s what we all try to do, in our own way. But the outcome of compromise and sacrifice does not have to be monogamy.

    • The connection between monogamy in women and the care of children is not “biological,” as it depends on social constructs. Why exactly would you need monogamy in a tribe? Why would you need it in a dystopia/utopia where children were raised by, say, a class of professional nannies? Why would you need it in a culture where women held all of the wealth, and raised children collectively?

      • wellokaythen says:

        I agree. Wouldn’t it make more evolutionary sense for a mother to have a bunch of men around caring for the baby to protect against wild animals and other dangers? Or, if it’s a vicious competition for mates, why not a competition for which male will be the best with children? Why not have sex with a lot of male partners so they all think the baby is theirs and have more than one father figure? That seems equally plausible to me.

        I can understand requiring the mother’s presence for breastfeeding, but that doesn’t explain tasking women taking care of 10-year olds.

    • wellokaythen says:

      “…gives them the ability to (speaking only to sexual needs) satisfy and keep a man.”

      I’m wondering about the idea that women evolved to complement male sexuality. Isn’t it just as likely that males evolved to complement female sexuality, or that the two co-evolved? This is a bit of circular reasoning here that assumes that men were wired to be promiscuous first and therefore women can only keep them monogamous by having no estrus period, because women need monogamy and men need promiscuity. Or, maybe it’s begging the question and not circular reasoning.

      This theory fails to explain the evolution of the clitoris, or anything about female orgasm, really.

  7. Julie Gillis says:

    Dan Savage has a nice post up today about the topic. http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2011/12/07/sl-letter-of-the-day-the-monogamish-closet

    Every time I see an article written about non monogamy, I hear two things:
    1) It will destroy your relationship-and then there is anecdata about how every couple ever involved with poly has flamed out, completely ignoring that there are thousands of long term partnerships that flameout anyway. Poly could be a cause, sure. But so could the actual level of communication. There are lots of poly relationships in the closet that no one ever hears about (which are successful). Maybe if more of the success stories were out there things would clear up.
    2) Evo Psych that “men are like this” and “women are like this” which I don’t buy for a minute, not without extensive cites. Sexuality has evolutionary roots, sure. It’s also socially and culturally mediated.

    Thanks for the article Jeremy.

    • wellokaythen says:

      As Savage and others point out, there are stories of poly exploration that lead to relationships going down in flames. You can find plenty of those stories. (I suspect very rarely is a relationship running along just fine and then polyamory ruins the whole thing.)

      The success stories don’t get much attention because when it works people don’t broadcast it very much. Just because there aren’t a lot of people shouting about how well poly is working for them doesn’t mean it never works. Successful “unconventional” relationships may be taking place next door and you would never know it, exactly because it’s working….

      • To be fair, the same is true about successful monogamy as well. We don’t hear as much about the marriages that don’t go down in flames. Couples that stay together and stay monogamous rarely draw a lot of attention precisely because it’s working for them. (Of course, like you said, they could be secretly non-monogamous.)

        We should also remember that people divorce for all sorts of reasons, and sexual infidelity or sexual incompatibility is just one reason. A couple can be very well-suited sexually and still make each other miserable and still get divorced. A couple can be very successful in their monogamy and still split up. In some cases where there is adultery involved, someone cheats because they are already heading for divorce and the affair is the last nail in the coffin. If half of marriages end in divorce, it doesn’t necessarily mean that marital monogamy only works half the time.

    • wellokaythen says:

      And I think the best evolutionary view of human sexuality is that humans in the aggregate have developed a wide variety of sexual behavior across the board. I suspect that human survival over the course of a few million years is a result of sexual diversity, not a single “strategy” of nature but multiple possible strategies. Having only monogamy or only polyamory as the “natural” state would have limited humanity’s long-term prospects.

      There’s no reason to assume that “natural” means only one single pattern.

      There are plenty of animal species out there that practice different mating patterns in different environments. Humans have probably the most diverse set of environments on the planet, so it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that we “evolved” to practice different mating patterns as well.

  8. Jeremy, thanks for sharing this. Always nice to hear a story of someone who decided to follow his or her own path, and found a home there. Designing your own may be a little more complicated than going with the standard offering, but if you put in the effort you can have a lot of fun.

    One thing I especially like about your story is that you have not fallen into the trap of “we have to have a real open relationship” or “we have to be poly the right way”. It saddens me when people do that, because there is not Right Way (TM) to approach non-monogamy. It’s sort of the whole point of giving up on the normative relationship style in the first place.

    Continuing the conversation, and being ready to cautiously go where the conversation takes you, sounds to me like you guys are off to a great start.

    • Thanks Lars!

      One of the most exciting and valuable things about having the conversation is that it opens up the possibility for readjusting the boundaries further (or differently) in the future.

  9. I’m so tired of all the word games about this. First “open relationship” then “polyamorous” and now “non-monogamy”. Please. People want to pretend there’s something fantastic and unique and evolved about it, but really, it’s just dating.

    So you’re dating each other now rather than being in a committed relationship. Okay, fine. But it’s dishonest to tell people you’re “in a relationship” or “have a girlfriend” because you don’t. We all know what those words mean, and if you tell people you’re together when you’re just dating, it’s a lie.

    • I agree on the vocabulary stuff, though I will say that ‘polyamorous’ is different (implies multiple romantic partners).

      We’ve been together two years, and living together for a year and 3 months. Not sure what your definition of ‘in a relationship’ is that would exclude that level of commitment.

      • I’ve dated someone for over six years and I’m not in a relationship with him – we’re just dating. Some years we date more than other years. We don’t pretend it’s something it’s not. I’ve dated other people in that time, and for long periods of time without commitment. That’s not “poly” or “non-monogamy” – that’s DATING.

        • Julie Gillis says:

          Were you living together, sharing a bank account, taking family trips together etc? Or were you living separately with separate lives and limited connection to each other’s family. I’d say that makes a significant difference in what the commitment level is.
          Anyway, you don’t get to tell Jeremy what his relationship is. I mean you can call it Green Beans if you want but that doesn’t change his experience of his relationship anymore than if I say your dating relationship was a Unicorn.
          You don’t want to be poly? Don’t be poly. No one really has a vested interest in having you change your mind.

          • It does make a difference, when one is being dishonest with family/friends/others about the nature of their relationship. If you’re not in a committed relationship, don’t say you are regardless of where you live or how you do your banking. Would the family on all the “family trips” really be keen on getting attached to someone who just screwed someone other than their darling son or daughter the night before? Probably not, which is why they lie about it.

            When my society offers direct financial benefits to people who claim to be married (not Jeremy’s particular case in particular), I very much can have an opinion on what that should mean. I don’t care what gender married couples are, but I do care whether or not they are actually married and not just using the status for personal benefit while sleeping around. This goes for cheaters AND “non-monogamists” by the way.

            Conversely, you do get to tell me what my relationship is if I’m telling you it’s something it’s not. I can tell you all day long that I’m married to Brad Pitt and it will never be true no matter what. Jeremy’s not in a committed relationship no matter how many times he or you say he is.

            Just be honest and don’t try to pretend it’s something it’s not. That’s my position.

        • I agree, it seems like in your situation, (on-again-off-again, minimal long-term commitment) it should be called dating. I just meant to clarify that that is not the nature of our relationship.

        • *You* may be dating, and if that’s what you like, great. But why try to make your shoes fit everyone.

          I’ve been with the same women for 25 years, married for 23, 2 children, shared home, shared economy, blah blah. A bit of a stretch to call that “dating”, don’t you think? We have commitment, and we know very well what that means. We *also* have other partners – some committed, some just dating. Again, we know what it means. And since you don’t walk I my shoes, clearly don’t understand my experience, I’m amazed you think you can tell me if my relationships are real.

          You say that you’ve been dating one partner for six years, are dating several other people – but none of those are committed relationships. I can’t help but wonder if you’re maybe projecting something here?

          • I didn’t say your relationships weren’t real, just that they’re not the same as committed relationships or marriages (in anything other than the ‘legal/signed papers” sense). Finding someone to share housework while you both bang other people isn’t the same as committing to being with one person.

            My point is not whether either or both are right or wrong, but whether a non-committed relationship should be referred to as such (it should not). To do so is to mislead people which I think really is wrong.

            You’re reading my comment wrong; I never said that none of the people I’ve dated in the last six years were ones I’d committed to. I’ve had committed relationships during that time (never cheated) and also have dated without commitment during that time. I didn’t say I’ve “dated one partner for six years,” I said I’ve dated a particular guy for six years. I’ve dated others during that time. I’ve never felt the need to pretend that longevity of dating equals “relationship” which seems to be the case in this article.

  10. This is the information that we need to have good relationships!

  11. Wow, how did this turn into blaming the girlfriend and questioning the validity of the relationship? They’re clearly committed to each other and he never said he had stopped being sexually interested in her. She’s even coming onto the site and defending him. It sounds like they’re in a loving, supporting, sexually fun relationship, but are able to be honest with each other and get their kicks without blowing up at each other out of sexual frustration. Good for you guys! There’s a lot more to a relationship than just not having sexual relations with or thoughts about other people. It requires work, trust, and mutual support–all of which this couple has shown.

    • They’re clearly NOT committed to each other, that’s the point of the discussion.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        In your opinion, Tyler. Practice those three words. You don’t get to tell Jeremy how he feels.

      • I’m going to define commitment for you, Tyler. A commitment is a promise to devote a certain amount time, energy, or other resources to a particular end. When defined in terms of a relationship, a commitment is a promise to devote a certain amount of time, energy, or other resources to a particular person. That’s it. No stipulation regarding monogamy, no specific promises of physical or emotional faithfulness. The actual commitment agreement depends on what each individual in the relationship needs.

        I think it is readily accepted that nobody can devote every moment, every spark of energy, and every resource to someone. There are always limits to what we can provide. These limits form the foundation of a commitment agreement. The ability of those involved to remain faithful to this agreement is the true measure of how committed they are to each other, not how well they adhere to your personal relationship rules. There is no “one size fits all” model of commitment agreement, regardless of your opinion on the matter.

        To assert that commitment is a single set of immutable requirements is disingenuous and demonstrates willful ignorance of the reason why we form relationships in the first place: to create emotional and physical support networks that can satsify us on all levels.

        I am married and polyamorous. My wife and I have been together for almost 12 years, and have been married for eight months. Our wedding vows did not include “forsaking all others”, but did include promises of honesty, love, trust, and respect. Our vows also included promises to provide love, support, and understanding whenever needed. We have agreed to make life decisions together, work out our differences, and come to agreements on what is in our mutual best interests. At first glance everything seems okay, right? We’re committed to each other, right?

        Guess what? I have dated other women, and both of us have played with others. We’ve flirted and had fun. I’ve fallen in love a few times, and she’s fallen in love once herself. All while we were committed to each other. We encourage each other, support each other, respect each other, and make sacrifices for each other.

        What you don’t seem to understand is that commitment isn’t about what you give to other people, it’s about what you give to the person you are committed to. For you, this may include sexual and emotional exclusivity. For us it instead involves trust, honesty, and respect. We are able to provide all that we have promised to each other, and it binds us on a level far deeper than I’ve seen in most other so-called “committed” relationships.

        The obvious counterargument I’ve heard far too many times is that by being with others I’m “disrespecting” my wife and therefore I’m not committed to her. I am not disrespecting her by supporting and encouraging her happiness. I am not disrespecting her by listening to her feelings and negotiating the boundaries of our relationship. I am not disrespecting her by treating her as an equal in our relationship. No, disrespect would be me ignoring her needs, or acting without considering her position.

        Here’s a story: a few weeks after I met my wife for the first time, we learned that she was pregnant—from another guy, a casual friend she’d slept with a few months back. I made the choice to stay with her, supporting whatever choice she made, and ensuring that she was taken care of. When someone who has specific moral standards about what constitutes commitment hastens to tell me that I’m not committed to my wife, I laugh in that person’s face and tell him or her that if I weren’t committed to her, I would have left her a long time ago.

        From the tone of your posts, Tyler, it appears you’ve been hurt a few times by people who have no regard for your feelings or needs. I honestly hope you can find someone who will be as committed to you as I have been to my wife since we first met.

  12. I keep reading articles like this and the comments are so similar. Polyamory needs a better PR campaign ;)

  13. wellokaythen says:

    While we’re on the subject of defining cheating and monogamy, I wonder how to categorize a marriage that stays together and becomes strictly monogamous after an affair, despite an affair. Let’s say a spouse has an affair, ends the affair, recommits to monogamy, is forgiven, works on making the marriage better and never has an affair again and stays married in an exclusive relationship with his or her spouse. In absolute terms, this is not really successful monogamy, but in a long term sense it is. Monogamy in this case sort of worked, if not perfectly. It may not be an all-or-nothing situation over the course of 20 years, but on the whole basically monogamous.

    Or, do we say that the cheating partner was monogamous for a while, then not, then monogamous again?

    • An interesting point. Does monogamy/non-monogamy refer only to the CURRENT state of the relationship, or to how it has existed historically? I would venture to say that if we’re talking about the second one, there are thousands of relationships that started off casual that turned into monogamous ones that would need to be redefined :)

      My vote is that the ‘monogamous’ label should be used relative to the current state of affairs (heh).

      Success in monogamy is SUCH a loaded statement. Dan Savage would say if you’ve been married for 20 years and you’ve each only cheated once, that’s a successful monogamous relationship. Others would disagree. Part of why I wrote the article is to avoid situations like that.

  14. anonymouswoman says:

    I’m glad I didn’t stop reading after this:

    “Suffice it to say, however, that the general assumption today is that sexual exclusivity is a necessary part of any committed relationship, and that anyone acting otherwise is betraying their significant other and was obviously never in love with them in the first place.”

    I disagree strongly. People are extremely varied in the things they desire from a relationship. It does seem that most people do tend to prefer committed, one-on-one relationships: but many other people have come to many different types of arrangements to ensure both partners’ needs are met.

    As long as people are open and honest with their partners, and everyone involved is a consenting adult, then I don’t see how anyone outside the relationship should have anything to say about it at all. As long as the people involved are happy then who is anyone else to stick their noses in?

    The key point, for me, is honesty.

    • I agree that people’s WANTS from a relationship vary. My point was that the societal expectation of relationships is that they are monogamous and sexually exclusive, and that people who fall outside that are still edge cases, and that a reason that the numbers are still small is because people don’t communicate their wants for fear of rejection based on societal expectation.

  15. Dear Jeremy and The Girlfriend,

    Thank you for this post and for speaking up about your relationship. Despite the fact that we’re all judged (really, no matter what), it really opens people’s minds to have the discussions you’re generating. I also think it’s so important to hear from people like you, who are loving, committed, and communicative to discuss relationships that go beyond the conventional.

    I have my own thoughts on monogamy, yet I do think committed monogamous relationships will still be the most comfortable for most people – which, I agree, is due to society not biology. And, hey, that’s totes fine by me. My point is that, discussions like this help even monogamous, committed relationships. We move past the committed, monogamous as being the gold standard, we become more willing to talk about relationships that change, and about divorce, than deciding that 1) to be successful in life, you have to get married (sorry gay peeps!) and 2) to remain successful, you have to stay that way. Not to say those things can’t be important for some, but that we have previously focused on those as the end-all, be-all standard of a successful life and relationship, when it’s far more than that. Maybe a marriage was wonderful for a time, but two people changed and it needed to end in divorce. Maybe you don’t want to get married, well, ever. Etc. I think, strange as it may sound to some, opening up dialogue around these things in all ways helps us all be more open, communicative, and less shaming.

    Thank you!

  16. I have found that the men that I know best in my life all behave with double standards….it’s okay for them to lust after other women (sometimes openly in front of their wives) but they can’t stand it if their wives or even if their friend’s wife is checking somebody out or fooling around….

    A man’s ego is pumped up by the higher number of women he drools after but is decreased by the slightest hint that his woman is interested in someone other than him…

    I was involved with a married man many years ago…he seemed to delight in the attention and drama surrounding him…he would let on that other women were interested in him (as if that would heighten my interest in him….he let that tidbit out when I was getting ready to leave him)….In contrast, if I ever talked to a guy or mentioned any other male, he would go berserk…I eventually did leave him for the guy who became my husband, but not before he went totally ballistic….Why would a married man who is cheating on so many women go so crazy about his plaything playing with someone closer to her age? He made it seem that what I was doing deserved punishment while what he was doing was correct and justified…

    • Now that’s an interesting point. Of course I would take issue with any generalization of “all men”, though I bet its more common to have a situation like you described than to not have it.

      I’m thinking that this kind of insecurity/ego combination would also apply to threesomes. Someone like that would demand a MFF threesome but balk at a MMF one.

      In my relationship, I enjoy hearing about my gf’s crushes, and encourage her flirting with whoever she wants, but I understand that I’min the minority.

      Things are more fun with less jealousy and more adventuring together.

    • John Wheaties says:

      I think if you are in the habit of getting involved with married men, you’re probably going to encounter more men who feel entitled this way. Most of the married men I know acknowledge that they’re frequently attracted to women other than their spouse, but they’re also deeply in love with their wives and aware of how lucky they are.

  17. Matthew Orifice says:

    Jeremy and The Girlfriend,
    Thanks, it took courage and an open mind about yourself to talk about this. and of course we will have some people grab their heads in pain and scream about how wrong it is and how men are pigs, or how REAL men would never do that. playing with the spark of NRE (new relationship energy) is very cool and very fun, and takes nothing from how one persons cares for or is attracted to another. If you have a lobster dinner does it mean you like steak less? You’re right his is not polyamory ( as for those people who say all the arguments for polyamoury ar about sex, how’s this one. “i do not have a finite amount of love, romantic or otherwise, how i express it is between me my lady, my lover, and my god). I love a good flirt and i have been accused of being an extreme flirter, or flirting on the edge. it’s fun but it detracts nothing from my lady or my love for her, it’s a game but one i am very choosy about how i play ( mostly so when flirting i don’t give people the wrong idea). If this disturbs you and you feel for you it’s wrong… then don’t do it, in the mean time Thanks for a very interesting conversation

    • One of my favorite contributions from Dan Savage’s amazing It Gets Better project is from a kid who says “I’m gay. It works for me.”

      So simple, and yet it enrages so many.

  18. Thank you for posting this article. Non-monogamy, in all its forms is a volatile subject and I really appreciate you opening up to everyone about what works for you. I am new to exploring non-monogamy, and specifically polyamory. I have been in a committed relationship with my boyfriend for over a year, but it has only been monogamous for part of the time. A couple of months in, we decided that our relationship was strong enough that we wanted to try non-monogamy, and it has worked beautifully for us since. To us, commitment means being there for each other, loving and caring for each other, and respecting each other’s decisions, even decisions to have partners outside of our main relationship.

    I did actually read through all of the comments before commenting myself, and have noticed a general lack of consensus on the definition of cheating. We define cheating as engaging in sexual activity outside of the relationship without the full knowledge and consent of the other people involved. Our relationship is built on the foundation that we don’t keep secrets from each other. I have two partners outside of the relationship, and my main partner (sometimes called a primary), knows and is friends with both of them. This is very clearly not cheating.

    Again, thank you for sharing your story.

    • To me “cheating” is activity that violates the (explicit or implicit) agreements in the relationship.

      In one relationship thinking about other women of masturbating might be cheating. In another having sex with the neighbor on the living room floor might not. It’s all about what you agreed, what you promised each other.

  19. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I had one affair that began with online sex, and then finally after a year, led to having sex once. I fell in love, and now the lady says that she’s not interested in the romantic part of our relationship. She’d had online sex before. But I was the only person, she said, with whom she’d actually had physical sex. I had met her a couple of times before we began the online stuff, and she sort of initiated it by saying she was attracted to me (on a message board.) Like me, she’s married. I’d say my relationship with my wife is in pretty good shape, but hers is not. We’re still friends, and talk on the phone. But the romance is on hold. A quirky (and in my mind dangerous) feature is that her husband is a voyeur, and really was behind me hooking up with her physically. This was not healthy, because he also tries to get her to chat up men in parks and such, which might get her stalked. I think now she may have been an abuse vicitm (childhood), and fault myself now for taking advantage from a position of lust.

    I doubt if I’ll ever have an online sex relationship again. It’s too frustrating. And if it’s not real, it’s not real.

    • Jeremy M says:

      Sounds like a complicated situation! As i stated in the article, open and honest communication is key here. Sounds like, by having sex with another woman without your wife’s knowledge or consent, that maybe your situation is a little different than what I described?

      • Hank Vandenburgh says:

        Actually, I think the problem IS communication with the spouse if one has an affair. The best policy is always “don’t ask; don’t tell” if one must do this. Otherwise it’s just whistling past the graveyard. Partners repress real jealousy, while grinning. The new relationships take up too much psychic space with DADT. DADT means that the original couple can’t pour over the gristly details like wiggling a sore tooth.

      • Hank Vandenburgh says:

        And actually Jeremy, you’ll note that the particular problem here had nothing to do with “open and honest communication,” which has become, I think, a meaningless trope. It has to do with my previous adultry partner’s sexually addicted husband. Open and honest communication there has led to dangerous situations for her. She currently vacillates between being in a lot of pain and telling me about it and telling me not to meddle.

  20. I’ve learned: no secrets, period.
    Even at the peak of sexual tension before couples decide to do it for the first time, you gotta tell them who you are. At that stage one is bright-eyed and bushy tailed to get it on and words don’t matter until love steps in. Sparks are flying high and there’s no time to wander over naked and sweating from a passion filled day to the computer to flirt with anyone online, is there? If it is in you to do it then, why the wait to tell her after securing her love?
    I myself an alpha have found to have a little more testosterone and dopamine and right from the ‘get go’ set my own boundaries with men.
    I also have my own boundaries when it comes to men like you, I will not play with another woman’s catch, let alone flirt with you, period. And if the man is flirting with me in front of his woman and I see she’s not participating in the flirt, hell, watch this alpha protect her gender! I have my own golden rule to respect my Sisters and it is up to the Sisters to negotiate if they want to share or not but I don’t recall reading it was her idea from the start.

    • Hi Tobe
      I agree, but maybe for other reasons than you
      ✺”I also have my own boundaries when it comes to men like you,”✺
      Who wants to get involved with a man that already had a committed relationships with another person?
      Can he satisfy also other persons needs in addition to the one he is committed to , while he is “swinging “?
      I don’t think so.
      Is he also able to relate to the other persons he has sex with( online or not) as whole persons and not only something to have sex with?
      To me it sounds like life we had as teenagers before we matured into adults and saw sex as more than a way to have fun.

      By all means , choose your own lifestyle but be 100% honest to OTHERS about who you are and what you are doing . Here we hear a lot of talk about honesty between Jeremy M. and the woman he cohabits with. Well, how honest and upfront are they each time they interact and flirt with others? Are the persons they flirt with informed from the start that they can never have a relationship with you? Are the persons they play with emotionally and sexually to get high , informed from day one that you are in fact in a committed relationship? I doubt it.

  21. This is all well and good, as long as your partner knows this about you UPFRONT and has made the decision to either participate in it with or otherwise tolerate it. Otherwise, it’s being deceitful. And why should you feel the need to hide this from your potential partners, anyway? I mean, you do pride yourself on being you and not what society deems *normal* right?

  22. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    Actually I don’t think anyone is anyone’s “catch.” I think part of each person’s sexuality is theirs to do with as they will, even if they wish to give it all to one person, or masturbate in front of a computer some of the time. I think, too, that we often honor sex-negative feminism out of gallantry (I think Victorianism is one of the mainstays protecting a vision of woman as victim— therefore deserving of special protections.) But I think Tobe calls it like many people see it. As patriarchy theory says women are owned by men, it also says men are owned by women. That’s why very progressive women are still preoccupied with “cheating,” such an ugly word, that. It spite of the assertive standpoint of third wave feminism, I think it’s really fairly sex-negative. The sex-positive parts just say BDSM is now cool. Or women can dig six-pac abs on a man. Or gay is really cool now (but they shouldn’t cheat, either.) Even though we know they’re nutty, everyone is back into weddings. Having gone through the 1960s-1970s, I’m very suspicious of all this stuff. Things were more relaxed then. The emphasis seems now to be on more, rather than fewer rules.

    • Hi Hank
      Are we permitted to bring in comment from other threads? I give it a try.
      The issue is what is commitment.
      Do you have a good definition Hank?

      Here is Brian’s comment from the thread about commitment and polyamorous relationships:
      http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/maybe-men-cheat-because-they-love-their-partners/comment-page-3/#!o3i52
      ✺”I’m going to define commitment for you, Tyler. A commitment is a promise to devote a certain amount time, energy, or other resources to a particular end. When defined in terms of a relationship, a commitment is a promise to devote a certain amount of time, energy, or other resources to a particular person. That’s it. No stipulation regarding monogamy, no specific promises of physical or emotional faithfulness. The actual commitment agreement depends on what each individual in the relationship needs.

      I think it is readily accepted that nobody can devote every moment, every spark of energy, and every resource to someone. There are always limits to what we can provide. These limits form the foundation of a commitment agreement. The ability of those involved to remain faithful to this agreement is the true measure of how committed they are to each other, not how well they adhere to your personal relationship rules. There is no “one size fits all” model of commitment agreement, regardless of your opinion on the matter.

      To assert that commitment is a single set of immutable requirements is disingenuous and demonstrates willful ignorance of the reason why we form relationships in the first place: to create emotional and physical support networks that can satsify us on all levels.[[[[iben:økonomi]]]]

      I am married and polyamorous. My wife and I have been together for almost 12 years, and have been married for eight months. Our wedding vows did not include “forsaking all others”, but did include promises of honesty, love, trust, and respect. Our vows also included promises to provide love, support, and understanding whenever needed. We have agreed to make life decisions together, work out our differences, and come to agreements on what is in our mutual best interests. At first glance everything seems okay, right? We’re committed to each other, right?

      Guess what? I have dated other women, and both of us have played with others. We’ve flirted and had fun. I’ve fallen in love a few times, and she’s fallen in love once herself. All while we were committed to each other. We encourage each other, support each other, respect each other, and make sacrifices for each other.

      What you don’t seem to understand is that commitment isn’t about what you give to other people, it’s about what you give to the person you are committed to.

      For you, this may include sexual and emotional exclusivity. For us it instead involves trust, honesty, and respect. We are able to provide all that we have promised to each other, and it binds us on a level far deeper than I’ve seen in most other so-called “committed” relationships.

      The obvious counterargument I’ve heard far too many times is that by being with others I’m “disrespecting” my wife and therefore I’m not committed to her. I am not disrespecting her by supporting and encouraging her happiness. I am not disrespecting her by listening to her feelings and negotiating the boundaries of our relationship. I am not disrespecting her by treating her as an equal in our relationship. No, disrespect would be me ignoring her needs, or acting without considering her position.

      Here’s a story: a few weeks after I met my wife for the first time, we learned that she was pregnant—from another guy, a casual friend she’d slept with a few months back. I made the choice to stay with her, supporting whatever choice she made, and ensuring that she was taken care of. When someone who has specific moral standards about what constitutes commitment hastens to tell me that I’m not committed to my wife, I laugh in that person’s face and tell him or her that if I weren’t committed to her, I would have left her a long time ago.

      From the tone of your posts, Tyler, it appears you’ve been hurt a few times by people who have no regard for your feelings or needs. I honestly hope you can find someone who will be as committed to you as I have been to my wife since we first met.
      I’m going to define commitment for you, Tyler. A commitment is a promise to devote a certain amount time, energy, or other resources to a particular end. When defined in terms of a relationship, a commitment is a promise to devote a certain amount of time, energy, or other resources to a particular person. That’s it. No stipulation regarding monogamy, no specific promises of physical or emotional faithfulness. The actual commitment agreement depends on what each individual in the relationship needs.”✺

      • Hank Vandenburgh says:

        Hi Iben,
        I think “commitment” is a pretty empty word, about like “communication.” It sounds good. But it’s vague, and not perfectly realizable. I guess the common sense is “forsaking all others” as traditional wedding vows. This sense gives me a problem, though, probably because of how I seem to be put together. I’m deeply committed to my wife, as I was to my first wife, and to steady girlfriends before that. Still, I can’t think of any of them where I didn’t have at least one outside sexual relationship at some point. Typically it wasn’t in the first phase of a long-term relationship. I’m very slow moving, and have always known even outside lovers for over a year before anything of this sort happened– actually this is also true of my long term relationships. I have always had a sense of partial commitment to outside relationships too, and have tended to be in love with them. What happens with me is that the sense of sexual or romantic love in the main relationship waxes and wanes, but is likely to come back. But I’m very committed. Both of my marriage relationships have lasted about 20 years. I’m not in an outside relationship now, and haven’t been for a while. I think this is the story many men can’t tell.

  23. Hi Jeremy M

    Are you still available for comments?
    Thus article was published in 2011. Are you still in a committed relationship with the same woman today?

  24. monogamy has always been imposed in patriarchal societies for guaranteeing male paternity, always by beta males.
    Most male scientists being beta themselves will give numerous bullshit excuses and faux benefits for monogamy and marriage, but the institution of marriage has been the single most sexist institution under patriarchy..
    the gender aspects of patriarchy can easily be seen as an extension of beta male sexuality, which is why monogamy was only imposed of females, men could have mistresses if they could..

  25. are you two dating or not? are you all boyfriend and girlfriend? If the answer is no, then this whole issue is a moot point. If you two are living together but nothing serious, then you both are free to do what ever with whoever you want. However, if you want to call yourselves boyfriend and girlfriend then thats different.

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