The opposite of monogamy -- quick. Polygamy, right? Wrong. Polygamy is when one man has many wives (often with bad handmade dresses and a fierce need for some eyebrow threading). The correct answer is: polyamory -- literally, "having many loves." Doesn't sound bad in theory - lots of love, right? However, it seems that monogamy is something we hold in very high regard. Before you start your nasty email to me, calling me a home-wrecking "whore with a pen" who wants your husband, let's make it clear that I am writing this in response to hundreds of my clinical patients over the years who have been in my office asking if it's normal to be monogamous. "Why is it so hard?" they ask. "Does a long monogamous marriage equal a good marriage?" My personal opinion is irrelevant, really. We discuss boundaries, truth, guilt, safety, respect - the things your Maury Povich trailer park swingers tend not to do on day-time TV.
I talked about this with Neil Cavuto on Fox TV, who sneered at my answer that "it's better to have a truthful relationship, where both people are happy, and that is not monogamous, than one that is supposedly monogamous but is full of lies and guilt." Or a monogamous relationship that is bored and resentful but, gosh darn it, we are the emblem of a successful marriage even if we haven't had sex with each other since World War I.
While I've sat across from couples that are either "healing from infidelity" or negotiating kooky rules like "no kissing on the lips or hook-ups in the same zip code," fact is, thanks to the Internet, there are a lot of "updates" happening related to "swinging." But let's stick with the term "polyamorous," which sounds more romantic and less like a circus act. I finally interrupted one patient to ask where the polyamory bulletin board was in the library. This young, professional Manhattanite scoffed, "Ever go out with a guy and --sure you know you can relate as far as movies, books, three things you can't live without, you play coy for a date or two, then sleep with him, only to find that he doesn't like oral sex (and you do), and he loves anal sex (and you don't)?" She didn't pause for an answer, thankfully.
The answer? Rather than Match.com or Nerve.com, a more 'adult' site asks those questions and cuts out a lot of time consuming dinners and chit chat that might lead to the fact that he insists on full Brazilians, you won't give up your landing strip. "Lets face it," she adds "Patterson's 'bilateral cheating' was actually an open marriage."
Sites like Adultfriendfinder.com and Passion.com actually have their fair percentage of singles looking for another single who doesn't mind cutting out the anticipation of not knowing genital anatomy size ("Hell, everyone else waited and all that it's gotten them is a 52% divorce rate and desperate housewives. We have to make some new rules").
In the name of science and being up on my pop culture (and widening my vocabulary to include terms like bi-curious and "soft" swap), I logged on. If only our voting system could have a small percentage of the organization, rules, and clarity of these relationships! "Have some manners and call or write my wife the next day" lists one man in a couple who swing together. That sounds reasonable. "If you don't have basic hygiene down, don't bother emailing me." Again, something I've wanted to say to a blind date or two. Testimonials with accolades and even photo albums make the whole idea very nonchalant. For those who don't want skin-on-skin contact, plenty of members only want chats and video-camming - though I still haven't managed to visualize the tap-and-wank coordination. I'm sure there's a trick. Plenty of married men and women state staunchly, "I'm married and happy, not planning to leave my significant other." Some add that their "other" knows and takes the "don't ask don't tell stance"; others have elaborated a pretty damn sophisticated plan that only shows pictures of body parts and gives alternate email addresses. In most, I'm glad to see, condoms and safe sex aren't a question, they often a non-negotiable.
Is there a darker flip side to this, one where sexual addiction takes over or significant others find those cams and want a divorce? I'm sure. But many many other scenarios exist. "A guy I met last night has been happily married for 14 years," my patient quipped. "That is more than anyone I know!"
We didn't get to talk about how these experiences are making her question old rules and her own views of love and marriage (or singlehood) yet. She ends the session asking rhetorically, "Once you go polyamorous, can you ever go back? Do you want to?"
Don't shoot the messenger. Again, I don't want to sleep with your husband, or wife, or both. Shoot me an email with your opinion.