Years ago, I sat in a local bar with some friends, relaxing and talking about nothing and everything. Out of nowhere, one of the girls started tearing into her boyfriend for something that had occurred weeks before. It was a rather tense moment to be caught in. I was watching two people implode in front of me, over what was a seemingly innocent moment.
Girl: “She sat on your lap.”
Guy: “She’s my best friend! She didn’t do anything.”
Girl: “I can’t trust someone that just blatantly allows other women to violate my territory.”
That was the word that set him off: Territory. He had been claimed, and no one else was allowed on that particular area of real-estate. He admitted later that his reaction was a bit out of hand, but he was at a loss.
“I met her when I already had two girlfriends. She knew, and knows, that I’ve always been non-monogamous. Then she jumps in and says I have to change– fine, I did that. I loved her. But then everything I do is wrong…”
They didn’t last very long from that point. He loved her dearly, but her constant jealousy was too much for him to handle. It became a battle to even leave the house alone, and he couldn’t take it anymore, especially since he had mostly female friends. Some he had been involved with, which incited her further. He insists all of his multiple relationships ended when she asked, but it wasn’t enough for her.
Watching numerous couples break up over infidelity is fairly common, especially down here in South Florida. Temptation is around every corner, and some people feel justified in doing so. They can come up with a plethora of excuses for their actions. Ones I’ve most often heard, though there are many, include these gems: I was drunk/My father did it, so I learned from him/I don’t get it at home/What they don’t know won’t hurt them/It didn’t mean anything.
None of those really mean much to the person being cheated on. In the end, they are still betrayed, and not much will change that for them. Some people move on and manage to salvage their relationships (and some even come out better for it) but it will often end with a split. Trust is broken and lost, which is one of the hardest things to ever get back. Others have a more novel approach to things, by taking it in a direction they consider more realistic.
Open relationships are nothing new, but people are starting to be more vocal about them than they used to. Swingers clubs became a staple of the party life in some cities, especially down here, before AIDS showed up to close down the festivities. Polyamory and polyandry are still widely practiced in some cultures, but in the United States it is still regarded as an illegal practice if multiple marriages are involved. Some people just choose to marry one and allow for sex with others, so long as they aren’t told about it. And then, you have the ones that know just from intuition but say nothing. There are a wide variety of levels of non-monogamy, but all of them still have ways to cheat.
One couple openly has side boyfriends/girlfriends, but adhere to a set of rules: The first spouse always comes first, there rights to veto a relationship, all sex is safe and everyone must be tested regularly, and warning before the other has sex with someone else. At one point, the husband had gone out for a drink and ran into one of his girlfriends. Things managed to get out of hand. They had sex before he had told his wife, who was expecting him home. Despite all their freedoms, that night nearly cost them their relationship.
“I became so used to it that my mind slipped on me… I felt awful. I actually called her, crying, knowing this was going to be terribly hurtful to her… and it really was.” They managed to save their marriage, but he had to ditch the girlfriend. They stopped seeing others for a while.
“She [the ex-girlfriend] was not very understanding of it all, and even tried to get me to leave my wife. That’s when I really noticed how bad she was as a secondary. I still have my wife that I love, and my other girlfriend that I love. I’ll be more careful in the future, that’s certain.”
If you hunt around enough, you can find many websites dedicated to maintaining any level of non-monogamy that you desire. There are dating sites for it, and sex-related swinger sites too. There’s even one strictly for cheating spouses, though it’s denounced as a shady place to be.
I’ve know a few people that once lived a life of open relationships, only to find someone that didn’t see it the same way. They decided to become monogamous for the sake of that person, even if they still feel the desire to be open very strongly. It’s a hard task for some, and one man I spoke to struggles with it daily.
“People call me selfish. They think that because I have the capacity to love more than one person at a time means I just want too much. I think it’s the opposite of selfish… I want them to be as free as I am. I would love to see her go out and find someone that gives her things I don’t… what if he shares interests with her I could care less about? Thinking that one single person can fulfill every need isn’t always going to happen.”
He has remained faithful, but calls it a hard decision.
“I feel like I’m robbing myself of something. She’s worth it, sure, but I still think about it. I understand why she feels that way… not everyone is like me. That’s fine, and it’s not a bad thing at all. Some people are monogamous, some aren’t. But it’s still hard.”
Some couples try to open things up on a sex-only basis, and only together, in order to spice things up a bit. Some men find watching their wife with another man or woman to be the most arousing thing they’ve ever seen, and gladly open the door for such encounters.
One friend identifies as a swinger, and says it all started in his college days.
“My first threesome did it for me, right there. It altered how I viewed sex entirely, and it’s hard to come back from that sort of thing without wanting more, and more, and more. I also discovered my bisexuality at that point. People think it’s slutty or greedy to be like this, but I’m extremely choosy and careful of my partners and of using protection. I’m clean, and I expect the same. I don’t keep anyone to myself, either. Besides… who wants to be the monogamous guy that marries a bi, swinger person and expect a normal life?”
There’s a process to successful open relationships, including making sure everyone gets tested. Each couple is different in what they expect and require, but safe sex is almost universal. Nobody wants to find out they managed to get a disease from a partner, especially if they pass it on to a wife or husband. Because of this, it’s harder to find a good side lover– some people become very offended at the idea of being tested before anything sexual occurs.
“I don’t care if they don’t like it. They can move on. I refuse to bring home a disease because they can’t play it safe. No lover is worth that kind of risk, no matter what.”
More trust goes into the swinging lifestyle than it does polyamory. Usually in a poly relationship, the person is considered a steady lover, and testing is expected. If you walk into a swinger club where you don’t know anyone, you can’t expect everyone to have a recent test on hand. Most places will provide bowls of prophylactics for use, but those don’t guard against everything, so the risk is still there.
“Once, this couple came in and the girl had an obvious herpes sore on her. She was thrown out the moment her clothing came off and we saw it. That didn’t go well at all. We’re like a big family and don’t need that shit.”
There’s always a risk that comes with allowing for multiple loves. Some people have ended up being left behind for a new person, but sometimes it makes sense to them. People grow apart, times and loves change. They will still have secondary relationships to lean on, hopefully, and recognize something that was part of the basis in the first place: Love comes and goes, in abundance, if you’re lucky and know where to look.
Despite the general willingness of western culture to start embracing alternative lifestyles, some people have found themselves under fire for their lives. There are complaints ranging from being unable to list various loves on social networking sites (they limit you to one in most cases,) having communities go against their living arrangements, to being unable to go out with more than one people and openly express affection in public.
Monogamy is not inherently a poor choice. For many, it’s the only choice. It makes sense for them and their lives, and nobody should try to tell them otherwise. Everyone has a choice, and a different way of loving or viewing sex. Either way you choose to live isn’t necessarily wrong. While the alternative lifestyle communities try to find acceptance, though, many groups shun them. Some monogamous people find it simply abhorrent, and will try to convince someone out of it very emphatically. The same works the other way, too, if an open person finds a need to try and change a mono person. It doesn’t usually work either way.
Television shows such as Sister Wives and Big Love have opened some eyes to the situation, as well as many articles, books like The Ethical Slut, and documentaries. While the shows are often ridiculed for displaying polygamous relationships in a poor light, some have at least seen a little merit in them.
“At least it doesn’t just show them as whores that don’t give a crap. The people there seem to show love, which is a nice thing.”
I myself do not subscribe to monogamy. I’ve done it, and while I haven’t had issues with keeping to one person, nor have I cheated, it isn’t my preference. Not just for myself or selfish purposes– but out of realism. I have been in the position of having someone cheat on me. After discussion, we opened up the relationship. While that relationship ended, it wasn’t for that reason. At the time it kept us going, though I only acted on that freedom once. There’s a big difference between sitting home worrying over where your loved one is versus knowing exactly where they are and feeling secure about it.
Assuming your loved one will not be attracted to, care for, or want anyone else in their lifetime is a pipe dream at best in some cases. While there are plenty of people that easily and gladly remain utterly faithful, some just rather not, often lying to obtain it. This does not mean I support cheating in any fashion. I find it disturbing and extremely cruel to the other person, at the least. For me, I find it hard to even be friends with someone I know that has willingly cheated on a spouse, though there are some exceptions. I may hate it, but I am generally forgiving. I have cut ties with some that bragged about it behind their lover’s back– there’s no honor there, and it’s uncalled for.
I, like many others, find myself caring for others strongly when I make a solid friend. Does this mean I want to have sex with everyone? No, absolutely not. But limiting who I care about and at what level (or limiting my spouse) is a bit absurd. I do know that I won’t love or care for someone like I do him– he’s my number one, and always will be. I love him more than I thought possible, and nobody is going to come around to change that anytime soon. I do acknowledge that I find myself with small infatuations or lusts towards some, because I’m a human. We tend to do that. Why should I pretend otherwise?
Because of the fact that I am how I am, when we’re sitting downtown and watching attractive people walk by, neither of us will ever be afraid to talk about it. We gladly point them out to each other, and we both have free flirtatious reign. There’s no fear involved that either will stray, because we have nothing to hide at all. It’s freeing, and removes the need for lies or explanations of wandering eyes. There are many attractive people out there, so why should we pretend we don’t notice? I have my limits like anyone else (lying, sneaking, and being in situations that could lead to cheating are unacceptable to me in any fashion) yet my ideas of what makes up a relationship are different from many. Should my spouse approach me and tell me someone else is interested in him and the feeling is mutual, I just want to make sure she’s not a psycho.
There’s something to be said about the bond between two people that know they can say anything to each other. So many insecurities and fears are lifted, though it takes a lot of talking, planning, and assurances when it first comes up. Some couples start that way, some end up there after many years of being together. Some can’t even dream of it, and that’s fine too. Everyone should have the freedom to choose their own path in how they love and with whom. As long as nobody gets hurt and everyone involved is fully aware of the circumstances, relationships can turn out beautifully.