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An Open Marriage Isn’t Necessarily A Happier Marriage

But people should question monogamy — it’s a choice

“Is an open marriage a happier marriage,” a recent New York Times magazine cover story written by Susan Dominus asked. With a headline and topic like that, of course it went viral — as if no one ever considered that consensual nonmonogamy has existed for decades and, yes, it might actually be a good thing for the couples who want it and choose it.

For nearly a year, Dominus reported on couples engaged in consensual nonmonogamy (what some involved call polyamory), and returned with a collection of fascinating stories about jealousy, love, desire and trust, all within the loose confines of an open relationship.

I am not in a consensual nonmonogamous relationship nor am I poly nor am I an expert in either. That said, I spent months researching consensual nonmonogamous relationships for The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels and spoke to numerous people who opened up their marriage or who chose it from the get-go because they’d never even consider getting married without monogamy being discussed and mutually agreed to, and even I know that being in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship hardly has “loose confines” — most people who mutually agree to choose it have explicit agreements on what’s OK and what’s not OK; even if they don’t, successfully navigating it requires a lot of communication and transparency. It’s hardly “loose.” (I think I would find it exhausting, which is why I prefer to be a serial monogamist.) Finally, consensual nonmonogamy is not exactly the same as being poly, although being poly is most definitely one way to be consensually nonmonogamous.

The problem with being in ‘the poly lifestyle’

I have to imagine that irks poly people. You just can’t lump every consensual nonmonogamous person into a little box, nor can you lump poly people into being “in the lifestyle.” As my friend Carrie Jenkins — philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia and author of What Love is and What it Can Be and a polyamorous woman — says in a series of tweets:

A quick thought about the phrase ‘the poly lifestyle.’ There’s not one thing that is ‘the’ poly lifestyle. There are infinitely many ways to be a poly person with a life. And a style. Likewise, many poly communities exist. There’s no such thing as ‘the’ poly community. This matters because depicting us as a homogenous mass can be a way of marking us as ‘those people over there.’ In reality we are all over the place, and many of us look so ‘normal’ that you don’t know who we are.

Which is similar to what Poly Role Models founder Kevin Patterson, who was interviewed for the first Times article with his wife, Antoinette, writes in the Huffington Post:

The nonmonogamous newcomers, who don’t fit this couple-centric view, won’t find any love here. In this article, they are either outsiders or at the whim of a shaky marriage that views them as a crutch. Even those who do fit in the coupled model, on display here, don’t have much to look forward to. The stable and happy couples featured are virtually voiceless in this article. … Nonmonogamy already bucks convention by its very nature. We come from all walks of life and practice our lifestyles in countlessly diverse ways. We don’t need to be made into a compelling story. We already are. The story isn’t how we exist, it’s that we exist. All we need to do is open our mouths to speak our own truths. When someone on the outside of us attempts to speak for us, regardless of the platform, they carry in their preconceived notions and worse, they carry their desire to shoehorn us into those notions.

Dominus veers into that when she writes, “Divorce, or not marrying in the first place, might seem like a more logical response to a desire for openness,” as if openness can’t occur within the confines of a loving, committed relationship! Because, it does.

The monogamy conversation

In The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, my co-author and I detail just how important it is for people to have the monogamy conversation, and continue to have it as circumstances change. That would be ideal.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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