The only weird thing about some polyamorous parents is how lasting and deep their friendship is.
The conventional social standard in modern relationships is to get married. Once you are in that monogamous dynamic, there is the next cultural expectation to clone yourself because, hey, this overpopulated decaying world needs more people like you! As a couple, you then go about whatever method to make a baby, which is usually a good time as long as your ding-a-ling gets slinged and your bing-bongs get banged. Once you have said baby, there will be no more quickies on the kitchen floor or against the living room door. (That’s how little Johnny gets traumatized and experiences his first primal wound.) Sexual spontaneity takes a back seat to planning, scheduling, and trying not to fall asleep before 9pm.
The lust one feels for his or her long-term partner is already a precarious orchid that can wilt at any moment. When you add the complexity of kids who are always trying to sleep in your bed or break your spirit by insisting on wearing the only pair of shoes you can’t find, it is easy to lose sight of your sexual identity. Many couples are resigned to the idea that sex just isn’t that important anymore. They have their once-a-week session, and prioritize other things—like True Detective, which is amazing and must be watched at least three times to get every nuance.
Yet other couples make a different choice. They decide that not only are their sexual selves of major importance, but they also want to explore beyond the marriage to ignite that fire that can only be lit by someone new.
There has been a shift in the cultural zeitgeist, and the conversation around marriage and monogamy has expanded. After reading many articles on this subject, I wanted to know firsthand what it was like for those who take the leap to step outside the norm. I am not talking key parties of the ’70s, because too many women shave their pubic hair these days and sadly there just isn’t enough bush to recreate those times. I am referring to married couples with children who choose a lifestyle that includes having relationships outside of marriage, although their spouse is still their primary partner. Most of them keep their polyamory to themselves for fear of being judged—especially as moms and dads.
I interviewed some polyamorous parents for my podcast to better understand this unusual life choice. At first I was concerned that I would be asked to join an orgy, but I quickly realized I didn’t look that cute—and also how many preconceived notions I have. After two minutes of talking to this couple I wasn’t thinking “wow, what sexual deviants.” The only thing abnormal about them was how profound and deep their friendship was. This couples was totally free of the most poisoning influence in a marriage—resentment.
When you explore an open marriage, you have to have a more open dialogue about everything. The result is less unresolved bitterness left under the dinner table to rot. This culture of honesty is contagious, and lends itself to a familial standard of truth before feelings. Most monogamous couples often self-censor their erotic cravings to avoid conflict, yet the more we hide from each other, the more we inadvertently promote the idea that emotions are something to hide. Even though talking to your kids about unconventional sexual choices may not be easy (and also not something your kids want to picture, EVER) if you are happier in life, you are happier in your parenting process. Stepping outside of your roles to access another part of yourself can help you feel refreshed to face the monotony of daily life.
Desire outside marriage happens. Many social anthropologists believe the modern paradigm is an archaic institution birthed from agrarian culture when women were seen as property. We can look at our primate ancestors, and read books like Sex at Dawn, or Mating in Captivity, which have many interesting and persuasive analyses of how these institutional conventions are not natural. But for me, the most convincing aspect to consider is that even though there is major shame associated with cheating—expensive divorces, losing your kids, destroying the community you built together—people still do it. All the time. Yet the majority of people will lie until the bitter end rather than admit they may have felt sexually attracted to someone else.
The motivation to seek intimacy with other people is not necessarily a sign that you don’t value your commitment to your spouse. So what happens to a marriage when you take the idea of cheating off the table? What would your marriage look like without the rigid structure to hold it together? Is it conceivable to extend the boundaries of betrayal so the chasm is so wide it’s almost impossible to violate it? What if the rules of fidelity in your marriage were so few and far between that all that was around you was the freedom to make your own choice. Would you be happier?
These are really scary questions. Yet fear and jealousy should not be the prevailing reasoning to commit to sexual exclusivity. Divorce is infinitely more painful for a family than mom and dad sitting down and negotiating their own terms of what their marriage should look like. We all blindly agree to the standards and architecture laid out before us, yet the marriage contract is way more complex then say, a fishing license. Most kids want mom and dad, or dad and dad, or mom and mom, or omni gender and omni gender, to stay together. Perhaps it’s worth exploring the complexity before losing everything because you were too terrified to ask the questions.
Polyamory will not save an already deteriorating marriage, but having truly honest conversations about lust, love, and sexuality might.
This originally appeared on Alternet. Republished here with permission.