Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Polyamory Only Works When No One is Good Looking

Remember when being a swinger meant you were just a pervert?

I suppose that's harsh, but that was my first reaction when I was exposed to this story--everyone is plain looking. There are no "hotties" per se. If one of the women looked like Audrina Patridge or Megan Fox or Stormy Daniels, fine. This thing would explode within weeks and everyone would be on the cover of Crazed, Jealous Lovers Quarterly. Nothing is coveted more than a beautiful woman with an open mind about sex. Nothing.

You can see these things through the prism through which I see them, which is that of a survivor of the Summer of Love. I did not partake in any of the "counterculture" movement--I was born in 1944. I missed it. I was already in suits and a buzzcut and selling riot control vehicles when the hippies and their free love communes were sprouting up. I got called "narc" every day. I didn't mind. When I did see people using drugs, I did call the police and tell them. Rarely did I get a thank you from anyone for that.

If you want to be cute about it, there's an exclusionary aspect of this that simply looks ridiculous--I don't care how smart the people involved think they are. They cannot undo evolution, and humans? Humans are evolved the way we are for a reason, sir. Also, I think that, if these people could make it work, and I doubt this is more than a temporary thing, they would find themselves with empty, meaningless relationships and probably not much else:

Terisa Greenan and her boyfriend, Matt, are enjoying a rare day of Seattle sun, sharing a beet carpaccio on the patio of a local restaurant. Matt holds Terisa's hand, as his 6-year-old son squeezes in between the couple to give Terisa a kiss. His mother, Vera, looks over and smiles; she's there with her boyfriend, Larry. Suddenly it starts to rain, and the group must move inside. In the process, they rearrange themselves: Matt's hand touches Vera's leg. Terisa gives Larry a kiss. The child, seemingly unconcerned, puts his arms around his mother and digs into his meal.

Terisa and Matt and Vera and Larry—along with Scott, who's also at this dinner—are not swingers, per se; they aren't pursuing casual sex. Nor are they polygamists of the sort portrayed on HBO's Big Love; they aren't religious, and they don't have multiple wives. But they do believe in "ethical nonmonogamy," or engaging in loving, intimate relationships with more than one person—based upon the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. They are polyamorous, to use the term of art applied to multiple-partner families like theirs, and they wouldn't want to live any other way.


Terisa, 41, is at the center of this particular polyamorous cluster. A filmmaker and actress, she is well-spoken, slender and attractive, with dark, shoulder-length hair, porcelain skin—and a powerful need for attention. Twelve years ago, she started datingScott, a writer and classical-album merchant. A couple years later, Scott introduced her to Larry, a software developer at Microsoft, and the two quickly fell in love, with Scott's assent. The three have been living together for a decade now, but continue to date others casually on the side. Recently, Terisa decided to add Matt, a London transplant to Seattle, to the mix. Matt's wife, Vera, was OK with that; soon, she was dating Terisa's husband, Larry. If Scott starts feeling neglected, he can call the woman he's been dating casually on the side. Everyone in this group is heterosexual, and they insist they never sleep with more than one person at a time.

Where the problem lies is with the raising of children, not so much in the sex. Who cares about the sex? That's the easy part to sort out. Exposing a child to this is not a great idea. I am not talking about anything other than confusion. It is perfectly acceptable, in my mind, for a same-sex couple to display affection in front of a child. I don't see an issue there at all. When two people are in a relationship, it has a different connotation than "sleeping around" or "bed hopping." Same sex couples are more than capable of handling such things and children adapt accordingly. This? Eh, this is a little off in my mind. And, bear in mind, I'm an old man and I have my history of being closed minded about certain things to contend with. I'm trying to be open minded, but I shut down when the confusion of a child is involved. Oh, and please--before anyone laughs--I already know I'm a terrible parent. My daughter Miranda just walked in and reminded me of that, out of the blue and for no reason, and she has no idea what I'm writing.

The difficult part is the reconciliation of emotional relationships and trust. If you're already sleeping around with several different people, openly, your trust level within those relationships is set relatively low. This is where other slights, other betrayals become more significant. Lying in order to do x with person y is where it starts. Now figure in buying a house, moving to a different community, taking a better job, losing or making more money, changing a hairstyle--all innocuous things we can decide on our own or with a partner, but significantly more complicated with five or six very educated and learned people involved.

As soon as you intellectualize or rationalize something like this, the lying to one's self begins. Telling yourself it doesn't matter if your girlfriend sleeps with a man you know works for a while, but what happens when you decide, let's say, that you're not happy with the arrangement and you go looking for someone who isn't 100% open-minded about polyamory. Do you break it off if that new person who's thrown into the mix begs off? Do you pursue that person privately, figuring that's your secret and your secret alone?

Or are all things cool under the sun because it's nobody's business what you do?

Freedom from responsibility and accountability works when you're on your own--it doesn't work when you have children. If you haven't been there and done that, don't bother.

Celebrities could never get away with something like this. We order society in twos, and threes, fours and fives are plot devices and ratings grabbers. Imagine five or six gorgeous people doing this, openly and honestly. The modern media would have itself an orgy of self-righteousness and outrage.

To them, it's about the sex. What it's really about is anything but  the sex. Sorry, kids. It's society that is harshing your buzz, not me. We are a secretive, deviant species.  We are all covetous of the secrets that we think are ours and ours alone, and we have deviancy wired into us. Any state of mind that purports to normalize these things is an exercise in folly.

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