Is fidelity old school as - it appears - open relationships become more common?

Non monogamy is more common that you think, writes Rita de Brún. Shows like Wanderlust portray polyamory as a hedonistic trip of infinite highs. Why settle for monogamy, the thinking goes, when there are so many delectables yet to taste?

A quick search on google will show that open relationships are or have reportedly been embraced by many household names.

As for who’s in open relationships in Ireland, it’s hard to say. Most don’t broadcast the fact. My friends who are, generally keep quiet about their trysts and rightly so. What’s pitched, agreed and tolerated between couples is mostly nobody else’s business.

I recently found out at a party that one couple I’ve known for years were into threesomes. This emerged when the husband, while smashed, suggested to the wife in my presence, that we three hook up some night.

She seemed embarrassed that he’d outed what was private to her. I wasn’t interested, so pretended not to hear and moved away. He’s a lot younger than her and a serial philanderer; a fact that fuels many rows. Yet unknown to him, she has always played away.

Polyamory in all its ethical-non monogamy shouldn’t be confused with having an open relationship. In the latter, sex with others is part of the package. Falling in love is not.

Polyamory makes sense. Expecting a lifetime of willing or enforced monogamy often leads to disappointment, betrayal and heartbreak, and that’s just among the ones who discover they’ve been deceived.

Of course, the cheated unaware comprise a substantial portion of couples, as do the truly monogamous. But there’s nothing to say that the latter group are happy, or happier than the rest.

That we may be hardwired to be monogamous or otherwise was examined in a Hamilton and Meston study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour. It examined neural responses to romantic activity by monogamous and non-monogamous men and found biological differences existed between the two.

In her book ‘What love is and what it could be,’ philosopher Carrie Jenkins examines the biological and social constructs of romantic love. Early on, she tells readers that she has both a husband and a boyfriend.

She studied at Cambridge. Today, she holds professorships at the University of British Columbia and the University of Aberdeen.

“I’ve always fallen for more than one person at a time and thought that a bad thing,” she says. “I didn’t know the word ‘polyamorous,’ or any way to describe that aspect of myself without immediately judging it.

“All I knew were negative words like ‘unfaithful’ and ‘adulterous,’ but those only apply if you cheat on someone. When I learned about ethical non-monogamy it felt a bit like acquiring a superpower: something I thought was impossible became real.”

When she got together with her husband, both were interested in exploring non-monogamous relationships. “For us, our anxieties were mostly around other people’s assumptions and judgments.” What she most likes about being polyamorous includes choosing the kinds of relationships she values rather than being forced into the standard model. “That and being able to acknowledge and respect aspects of myself I’d previously rejected and felt ashamed of.”

Like Prof. Jenkins, Tany Saloniki was drawn to polyamory before he knew the word existed. A single 40- something who lives in London and was born and raised in Tel Aviv, he founded the polyamory dating site www.p.dating.

Multiple relationships make him feel more fully connected to the people he loves and fill him with joy. His dates aren’t always of the same mind-set: “When I tell them I’m polyamorous, the reaction is often negative and motivated by prejudice and fear.”

According to his website, polyamory is an atheist way of life that challenges the evil inherent in religion which crushes human liberties. Does he agree that if culture, religion and consequences were taken out of the equation, most would be polyamorous?

“Of course. People follow mainstream ideas because they fear society’s reaction. Generations of forced monogamy have built that up as being the one and only relationship model.”

Prof. Jenkins agrees: “People are sceptical of whether it’s possible to be ‘in love’ with more than one person at a time. This is actually quite complicated, because being ‘in love’ is partly a social construct. What we have constructed has monogamy built in at a fundamental level. When we look beyond those, non-monogamous love is not only possible but common.”

Tany’s take on marriage is not something you’ll hear at any pre-marriage course. “It deprives people of their freedom. They’re not allowed to fall in love anymore, and all those wonderful feelings of excitement and euphoria are considered dangerous and sinful, if directed toward someone other than the spouse.”

He’s happily living his truth. So too is Prof. Jenkins. She has her husband and her boyfriend. All three also date other people. She says that because she’s bi, outside of those two relationships, she mostly dates women.

She doesn’t assume monogamy is unnatural: “What’s ‘natural’ for our species is variation and versatility. However, there’s compelling evidence around the idea that it’s women who are more ‘naturally’ monogamous. That’s starting to look like a myth.”

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