What Keeps You Together If It Isn’t Exclusive Sex (and other questions)?

My sister-in-law has a new boyfriend who doesn’t want to meet her ex-husband. Not for a second. Not even to say hello, let alone a coffee. He can’t bear the thought of her having had sex with her ex- (which they obviously did at least twice because they have two children together).

This behaviour is perfectly accepted by and large in our society. It’s called jealousy. I know all about jealousy. It’s the first demon you encounter when you’re in an open relationship like me. This guy didn’t sound like he would appreciate that.

I laughed and said to her, ‘Well, you’d better not tell him that we are polyamorous then!’

She said, ‘But you’re not. Not now at least.’ Then she paused and said curiously ‘Well, not that I know of?’

Our love affair with another couple was well known inside our circle of family and friends. It was met with both abhorrence, denial and acceptance from various quarters, but even I felt the huge sigh of relief they all gave, when after one and half years it appeared to finish. But their (mistaken) assumption seemed to have been –

‘Well, they won’t be doing that again.’

I looked at her and said ‘Polyamory is a belief in the ability to love many people at once. It doesn’t stop because the relationship ended. It’s like saying, well you broke up with your husband so I guess you won’t be trying monogamy again.’

‘But why would you disturb the status quo?’ she said.

Oh it was a big question. And one I wasn’t expecting over my morning coffee.

But bringing a new person into the mix is not just about disturbing the status quo (although it certainly does change the dynamic). It is not a ‘death’ wish. It is a ‘growth’ wish. Why do people welcome the birth of another child (even the unplanned births)? Because of the new dynamic it brings to the family. Because there are simply more people to love. And with love, there are of course new challenges to be met.

My boyfriend and I don’t need new relationships to be happy, just as we didn’t ‘need’ our son, in order to be happy. He might bring us challenge, but he sure as hell brings us a lot of joy… and who doesn’t want that?

Here’s what I believe. Loving is not about needing (well not theoretically). You cannot love if you only need because ‘need’ by definition is created by the mind in order to survive and the ‘mind’ as a construct does not love. No, you don’t ‘love’ food, no matter what you think. You need it. The mind records, analyses and seeks to mimic established patterns that have worked in the past in order to survive. This is why our relationships follow the old unconscious patterns we used when we were children, because our first relationships were with our parents. We needed them (luckily for most of us, they loved us and our love for them also grew).

Children are consummate survivors. In order to get food, air and attention we will do anything possible. Children who are not loved properly, will have huge journey to make in order to be able to truly love from their heart. Initially they will tend only to go through the motions of what they think relationships look like; which is getting attention and nurture. It’s an appearance which is recorded by their minds, not their hearts, before they realise–if they realise– that they are able to love without need.

Most people have seen some relationships ‘fail’. Many failures are explicitly – and mistakenly – attributed to a third party. Most people will therefore do everything possible to avoid that particular scenario. But it’s usually not the third party who’s to blame. The breakdown of a relationship happens inside the relationship. But that is less visible. Less ‘blameable’.

I said, ‘If he fell in love with another woman, we would together look at the best way to reconfigure our existing relationships and commitments.’

‘Even if it means he would eventually leave you?’ she said.

Big question number 2.

‘Do people break friends with you because they get a new friend?’ I said.

‘It might be that him falling in love is the best thing to happen to us. It could of course happen because somewhere we have been lazy in our relationship and there is a lack. We would have to ask ourselves that. Re-examine why. It’s an opportunity to do so. I hope he chooses to be with me every day. As I do with him. But on the other hand just because he doesn’t get in a relationship with someone doesn’t mean he wouldn’t leave me.

‘No, I suppose not,’ she said.

‘Besides relationships are great. Have you ever seen a friend in love? It’s a glorious sight and it kinda rubs off on you… like fairy dust. ‘

‘So have there been any times that I don’t know about?’ she asked.

‘Yes. But we know that our choices rock your world and so we don’t tell the family unless it becomes serious. We already know the backlash it creates.’ I replied.

‘But not you.’ She said. ‘It can’t have been you. You’ve were pregnant.’

‘Does that make me ineligible then?’ I said laughing. ‘What’s with the ownership? I thought you were a feminist!’

Being pregnant and not sexually exclusive is the ultimate challenge to monogamous thinking. There are even expressions which belie our patriarchal history – ‘She’s carrying MY baby’. Pregnant women are ‘holy vessels’ not important in of themselves but as objects carrying the male seed; so much so that sex during pregnancy ~ even with the father ~ is taboo to many.

‘It’s true I haven’t been really active lately. Babies take up a lot of time and energy. My morning sickness was pretty bad.’

‘So didn’t you feel terrible that he would go off to be with another woman?’

‘I only felt in the same way that I would have wanted to go down the pub for a drink and I couldn’t. Whereas he could. I wasn’t jealous…I was envious. But only a little. We discussed it, so many times. And I was glad. Really glad that he felt able to. For me it was a sign that he still felt free enough to do what he wanted. That our relationship was still a conscious choice for both of us. For me relationships are more about conscious choice, not about exclusivity.’

And then came big question number 3.

‘But what keeps you together if it isn’t sex?’

Inwardly I sighed. I’d answered the same question again and again.

I said ‘Nothing keeps us together. But we desire to be together. We desire to raise a family together. We desire to live our lives together.’

And for me that’s the most important reason of all.

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