“It’s no wonder people are so dissatisfied: Monogamy sets most people up to fail..The rules of traditional monogamy are clear: you’ve vowed to be emotionally and sexually exclusive with one person forever. But it’s the unspoken rules that will trip you up. We’ve collectively been sold a fairy tale of finding that one person with whom you’ll live happily ever after. The expectations are endless: your one-and-only s your soul mate, the person with whom you are 100% compatible, your “other half” with whom you share the same values about everything. He or she will fulfill all your needs—physical, emotional, psychological, affectionate, financial, romantic, sexual, and spiritual. If you are truly in love, you will never have any desire for anything from anyone else.” (Taormino, XVIII).
If you’re a regular reader of Slixa Late Night, you know that recently we published a short series of articles (written by yours truly) about radical monogamy, to be found here and here: how to take some of the implementations of successful non-monogamous relationships to bed in monogamous partnerships. However, if you are considering taking the plunge into nontraditional relationships or polyamory, there are many resources available to you to help make that transition as smooth and sexy as possible.
Everyone who is part of the poly community knows the staple literature: The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton (who is also a Bay Area couples’ counselor specializing in nontraditional relationships) and Catherine A. Liszt. Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, by journalist Jenny Block. And, of course, The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory: A Hands-On Guide to Open Sexual Relationships by Francoise Simpere. However, there is one central theme in these popular titles: they all rely on the presence of a primary partnership, basing all of their advice and tips on serious relationship models. These books do the important work of providing support and systems for dealing with the thrilling ups and downs of polyamorous life in committed relationships.
However, what does that say about casual poly relationships? Do we not owe each other the same courtesy of check-ins, transparency, compersion, and negotiation that is present in partnership-track relationships? The answer appears to be self-evident: of course it is important to implement the same methodical and caring standards in casual relationships that you would in committed ones, but to what extent? What is the range? How do we begin? What if our lives look more like multiple play partners/dates/sexy friends/sweeties than a hierarchy of primary, secondary, etc?
Luckily, Cleis Press has the answer, with Tristian Taormino’s illuminating book, Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. The guide, which begins with the excerpt above, is a refreshing look at how to practice poly etiquette in more casually-centered relationships, without the problematic trajectory of eventual partnership. Detailing everything from poly history, debunked myths, conflict resolution, trials and tribulations, polyfidelity, raising children, legal issues, and yes, even partnerships (a little), the book is a hefty read, logging in at about 350 pages. However, every bit of information provided is thoughtful, compassionate, and well-constructed. The book is divided into multiple sections: “Choosing An Open Relationship,” “Styles of Open Relationships,” and my favorite, “Creating and Sustaining Your Relationships”.
One of the most validating and radical aspects of the book falls in the second section, and is titled “Designing Your Open Relationship”. Complete with checklists and diagrams, this chapter focuses on the autonomy of the individual outside of romantic or sexual entanglements. Is it so absurd to think, in this society of technology, increasingly-frequent isolation, and disconnectedness that we not only have the ability to meet multiple people with whom we can create fulfilling connections with, but that we also have the audacious ability to ask for what we want?
Taormino insists we do. “One of the most important requirements,” she writes on page 120, “of an open relationship is that it be custom-tailored to the specific desires of the people involved…. The style and structure of your relationship should reflect your personal values, philosophies, needs, desires, goals, and commitments. Before you think about all the specific details, decide first what the basic outline of your relationship looks like. Don’t censor yourself: if you could have anything you wanted, what would it be?” The included rubrics allow you to sit down, with yourself or a sweet one, and design not only your ideal connections, but also your ideal life. Taormino even advises you to make a contract!
The book is too expansive and comprehensive to even begin to summarize, so check it out for yourself! If you have been considering a poly lifestyle, or at least upping your dating and communication game, hop on over to Cleis Press and put some dollars in the hands of their talented writers. This title is a must-have for all of your casual polyamorous needs.