Over recent years and in particular the last few weeks I have spoken in-depth with good friends about our open/poly lifestyle inside the contrasting mainstream monogamous world. At times, it is a struggle and we often feel a sense of seclusion or loneliness. One of our hardest dilemmas is not giving in to the temptation to sacrifice our self-identity; in some cases hard-earned self-identity.
I will be repeating some of the concepts already mentioned in two previous blogs about the Open/Poly lifestyles: The Love Within and Beyond and Do’s and Don’ts in What Kind of Relationships? However, one rather predominant misconception by outsiders is the idea of demeaning or de-intensifying sexual intimacy due to hyper-frequency. This could not be more false. One’s sex drive is purely reflective of each individual’s physiological, emotional, and mental makeup. It is not a result of one’s ideology or lifestyle choices. In fact, I cannot begin to count how many supposed closed or monogamous relationships brought to my attention that involve infidelity. At times infidelity appears to be an epidemic in the monogamous world! I would suggest, based on my years of experience in both lifestyles, that monogamy works best for those with a low to very low sex drive; less temptations and less need for open confessing-style communication between partners/spouses. High sex drives probably would be more suited for the open/poly life, but sex does not define the lifestyle as a whole.
The open/polyamorous relationship is not simply about sex. It is about intimacy. It is about intense open nurturing intimacy that may or may not involve sex. It is a lot more about proactive honest communication than it is sex. Everyone’s sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs are different. What is unique about true open/poly lifers is the desire and effort to coordinate, collaborate, and manage one’s own specific needs relative to everyone else’s BUT done openly with all involved. The social dynamics between open/poly lifers is quite complex and goes far beyond who is having fierce intercourse with whom. The unfortunate reality for the open/poly lifestylers is that many or most people believe they are grossly limited in the amount of “love” that can be given or received. And this mentality has been a severely crippling assumption to Western societies and marriages.
Can you imagine what would not have happened if in 1960 everyone had told JFK and America there was no way to put a man on the moon? Or what about the Wright Brothers: “Orville, Wilbur…you are utter idiots if you think man was meant to fly!” Or here is one of the most damaging assumptions most Western civilizations swallowed hook, line, and sinker: You are completely incapable of your own spiritual salvation; you MUST accept someone else’s life-sacrifice to achieve eternal bliss and avoid damnation! In other words, you don’t have to take ownership in the least for your actions in life; project it scott-free onto someone else. But the fortunate truth is that we are absolutely capable of our own spiritual bliss AND most certainly of loving more, and more, and more…towards many.
When society allows lazy or non-accountability for one’s own thoughts, words, or actions then it isn’t rocket-science to realize that is the beginning of social anarchy. When the same type of lax accountability is allowed in private relationships — or more specifically within yourself — yep, no surprise, the infidelity and divorce rates climb to all-time highs.
But the rising (not decreasing) frequency of infidelity and divorce indicates the devaluing of consistent integrity, honor, and honesty in personal relationships. This is the real world that many or all experienced open/poly lifers find themselves constantly confronting — and honestly, it gets very exhausting at times.
In speaking at length with one of my dear friends in the lifestyle, they had become very discouraged and heartbroken by how an attached “vanilla” person (a term we sometimes use to name someone who lives or at least adheres in theory to a dichotomic life) they cared deeply for was unable to bring their heart and mind around the freeing possibilities of Open/Polyamory. I do not fault my good friend for getting emotionally involved with this attached vanilla person; my friend has a TON of love and intimacy to give! However, I did remind my friend that you cannot expect so much so soon from someone who is thoroughly alien to the lifestyle. It is like expecting an elementary student to perform well in a graduate-level classroom; it’s just not possible. There is too large a gap in brutal honest communication. And the object of their desire (vanilla person) wasn’t even being upfront and honest with their current significant other. Furthermore, they had already verbalized to my friend that they would not be able to “share” my friend with anyone else. Yikes, hold everything! Red flag! In a way, it was as if I was listening to a 57-year old wanting a 17-year old to do a complete life-personality overhaul and expecting it to be romance-novel material. Of course, my analogy is the point here — not the literal age difference. But the vanilla-person’s mentality is exactly what we open/poly lifers constantly have to dispel regarding our intimate intense way of relationships: the “starvation model“.
What is the starvation model? The majority of traditional monogamous people operate on the assumption that you can only give your “whole heart” to one person. Conversely then, you cannot give your whole heart to several lovers because then your love is divided and therefore you are not giving fully to anyone. Interestingly, I imagine that everyone has loved more than one person/lover in their life; a high school or college lover, an ex-spouse, etc. Also, I imagine that there are more than one person you could potentially spend the rest of your life with; you just have in place this unspoken deadline of whoever makes my heart go pitter-patter first, wins the prize! This is a quite common mentality. Basically, the starvation model dictates that if you fall in love with someone you must withdraw your intense intimate love from all others, making full “payment” into one single person; a philosophy that any good financial investor would say is stupidity. But this is exactly what most people do!
Love is certainly not hard-earned money, don’t get me wrong. But that is exactly the point! Love more often than not replenishes itself when given wisely! And in some cases it compounds exponentially when invested wisely. Recognizing good love-investments and acting on them while being proactively honest with other intimate partners, you indeed discover that your love given is sometimes, perhaps most often returned ten-fold; you are revitalized, reinvigorated to love more. Then the snowball effect begins!
Another discouraging effect we open/poly lifers sometimes face, especially in conservative parts of America, is that deep intense intimate love is rare, even more so for Hollywoodish America. I have caught myself trying to convince myself of this too. Yuk! This is called the “scarcity model” and I have to sometimes slap myself then reprogram that it is not a universal law. The scarcity model is the notion that on a planet of almost 7.5 billion everyone has only one person (soul mate) that coincidentally attends your high school or college, or works at the same workplace as you, or goes to the same church you do, or works on the same movie set as you, and you magically fall in love. It also purports that once you fall in love with this one person, the part of your brain and libido that notices others suddenly shuts off and is impenetrably immune to other forms of intimate love. In my humble and respectful opinion, this philosophy is very naïve, perhaps even a flat-out lie. What must be understood by open/poly lifers new or old, as well as outsiders are the “rules & principles” (see my blog Do’s & Don’ts in What Kind of Relationship? for one example). The lifestyle can work most superbly if they are followed. Once time has proven that they are followed, a deep trust and security in those intimate partners/spouse developes. It is tremendously freeing when you exist in environments of trust, security, non-judgement, and all-embracing love. You’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes to talk freely about your thoughts, feelings, or desires…as easy as it is to talk about the weather.
However, staying true to ourselves and not slipping into the popular pretend-fairy-tale of imaginary intimacy (based on one in 7-billion person’s perfections as well as imperfections!) we can forget the profound more fulfilling benefits among open/poly lifers. Our resilience and integrity can sometimes be greatly tested, not only by sexual or emotional predators, but also by the growing love and intensity that is clawing to get out to feed and be fed. Yet as I told my good friend, we must stay in the game-of-engagement and meaningful interaction! No matter the outcomes, we are living large and constantly learning more refined creative ways to love and love more abundantly!
Fear stifles, courage fulfills.
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