Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Is It Just a Peanut Buster Parfait?


Another guest post by Dana


Can we talk? I have had a very ... well ... let's call it a creative and diverse sexual past. I admit to having been involved in a handful of open relationships in my life, but interestingly enough, not when I was married. No, my involvement in open relationships has always been as the third person coming into an open marriage.

In the past, I've been an advocate of non-monogamous, polyamorous relationships. I've touted the idea that expecting one person to meet all of your needs for the rest of your life is nothing short of insanity. But ... but ...

Is it possible that the cons of an open relationship agreement outweigh its pros? I mean, cheating - deceiving someone you love - feels horrible no matter if you are the one cheating or the one being cheated on, so could creating a system of rules for cheating actually prove to be helpful? Does transparency in cheating lessen the stress of an affair? Is the true immorality of cheating the act of dishonesty rather than the act of sex itself?

The goal of an open relationship is to never have to lie. Those involved in this lifestyle insist that this atmosphere creates an opportunity for incredible communication, deeper intimacy and the opportunity to thrive as your fullest self.

In a nutshell, the idea is that if you truly love your partner, you want them to live their fullest life, flings and all. In open relationships, flings are nothing more than superficial sensory delights. There's no difference between your partner enjoying a Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfait without you and your partner enjoying a blond with blue eyes without you.

And what about jealousy? Most open relationships make strong distinctions between sex with others and romance with others. Couples who practice open relationships typically agree to keep their primary partner first at heart no matter who else they mingle with.

But what then is the point of a committed relationship? For me, the whole point is to show your love and commitment by protecting your union with fidelity. There's a great deal of calm and security that comes from knowing your partner is directing his or her love and attention to you and you alone.

For me, a healthy relationship requires you both to bring out your best selves. Sure, it might take a shit load little willpower to resist the lure of extracurricular sex, but this discipline is for the greater good. Calm and security may not sound as exciting as sex, sex and more sex, but I believe it brings far more happiness in the long run. This security brings with it the confidence of knowing your partner is committed to you "till death do you part" rather than until their next Wednesday evening date.

In my opinion, an open relationship is pretty much the opposite of a committed relationship. It seems to be about avoiding commitment, one of the cornerstones of a happy and successful relationship. You may be able to agree on the "rules for cheating" in an intellectual way, but doesn't the emotional nature of love always get in the way?

Looking back on things, I firmly believed that open relationships are merely an excuse for getting away with behaving self-indulgently and recklessly.

Dating is for making the most of your options. Commitment is for nurturing the one wonderful union you've been lucky enough to find so it grows into something incredibly wonderful.

Finding statistics on the success of open relationships is surprisingly difficult. It seems that open relationships aren't something we talk about all that openly ... unless you happen to be an anonymous infidelity or "lifestyle" blogger.

So what do you think? Are open relationships something that work? Are proponents of open relationships the ones that really have it figured out? Is being "kind-of" committed enough?



we're doomed said...

Different strokes for different folks. I don't have answers for all that you have asked Dana. It's clear that all relationships have a start, a middle and an end. I have seen just about every type of relationship. Some I just don't understand. I guess my one answer would be that life is short. Pick something or everything. QCTM

Kim said...

I guess when I was younger this open type of relationship was the best. thing. ever. and then things sort of changed in my head and now I don't ever want that kind of relationship again.

I honestly don't believe in the long run they work out, I don't think both parties can have the same level of happiness with this situation.

But what do I know?

Dana said...

we're doomed, don't get me wrong - I'm not judging. Being that I've been involved in open relationships in the past that would be a wee bit hypocritical of me.

Kim, the statistics that I could find indicated less than 1% of committed relationships are "open" and of those there is a 92% failure rate. YIKES!

Karen said...

I totally believe that open relationships are just an excuse for bad behavior. Monogamy is hard, so let's not do it!

Personally, as I have said in the past, if I am just having fun and passing time with someone, sexual fidelity is not a huge deal for me. However, if I am committed and building a life and future with someone, there is absolutely no wiggle room. I deserve more than being one of many women in your life. And if my fella ever tried to compare me to an ice cream sundae, I'd be out the door faster than he could blink. ;-)

The Crazy Suburban Mom said...

Okay, I had to read a post with peanut buster parfait in the title... but I'm dieting and a bit deprived.

As to the other issue, I think very few couples can pull off open relationships - as a positive lifestyle. I think probably for most , both parties don't go into it with an equal 'wanting to'.. and an equal expectation of how it will be... and it also has to remain exactly the same throughout the duration for both parties no matter who enters and exits the main relationship.

and that is a lot of variables.

I think it can work but only for very very few. Just like everything else - there are exceptions and I think for all the reasons that you mention it not ideal for most people but, big but - I think it probably works for some.


Professor Fate said...

I agree that monogamy is hard. Marriage (long term relationship) is more about becoming a better human than it is about the two people being happy. It's not having what you want. It's wanting what you've got.

Blue Eyed Vixen has talked about New Relationship Energy. That maybe a rationalization. If you need to shake things up in you married life, I would try switch sides of the bed before I switched who was in the bed with me.

Professor Fate said...

p.s. I know a handful of couple who have tried the open relationship route and none have survived the experience. It could be that opening the relationship is a response to problems and the relationship was already doomed.

I think "kind of" committed can be enough. I have a friend who refuses to live with her boyfriend of 12 years for mire than 3 successive nights. She sends him home (which is three doors down). That sounds kind of "kind of" committed, but their relationship has lasted longer than many marriages.

The relationship needs to work for the two people involved (poly relationships are a series of two way connections). If you are not involved in the relationship, you cannot (aren't really qualified) to pass judgment on that relationship.

Dana said...

Karen, I don't know, I'd be pretty flattered to be compared to a Peanut Buster Parfait! That's a DQ icon!

The Crazy Suburban Mom, I would agree. I think the reasons for going into an open relationship (if that is not how things started out) are usually somewhat one sided, and the other side agrees in hopes of saving the relationship.

I've know quite a few people who have tried this. Only one that has been successful long term, and that was a relationship where the intent was clear BEFORE the commitment. I've seen at least 10 others fail, either returning to a monogamous relationship (or one where cheating was hidden) of breaking up entirely.

Not a risk I'm willing to take.

Professor Fate, I read a few blogs where relationships fall into the "open" category, and I am in no way judging those, but like you wonder if there are "safer" (for lack of a better word) ways to go about adding a little spice to a bland relationship.

Lola said...

My ex partner's ex was polyamorous. They broke up because she didn't tell her she was. A few years after the break up they became friends and the polyamorous ex would tell her about her "situations". She was always the 3rd or 4th wheel, and always seemed to be on the losing end of things. We likened her situation to the series "Big Love", but without the multiple houses. It was bizarre, but we were fascinated at how she got herself into these things.

Fast forward to my ex cheating on me. I can't say it would have been all that better if we would have opened up the relationship.

Jay said...

I've never really known anyone who could keep the the whole open relationship thing up for too long. At some point it becomes a strain on the relationship and gets to be too much emotionally.

Maybe it does work for some people and if so, hey, it's their life! But, I'm pretty sure it would never work for me. I've never been good at sharing. ;-)

Dana said...

Lola, in defense of the 3rd wheel, that has always been my place and honestly? At the time it was enough for me. I didn't feel I was sharing (I was not emotionally involved with the couple). Something tells me I would have a much different reaction had I been part of the couple rather than the 3rd wheel.

Jay, yeah ... I think in this case I might not play well with others.

SkylersDad said...

I have never been involved in an open relationship, but can see the attraction. I have been married for 27 years now, and the sexual attraction has faded away, to be mostly replaced by the comfortable feeling of having someone close.

Vinny "Bond" Marini said...

If you have a need for an open relationship than you also have the need to be single and date.

When you make the commitment to another, it is a total commitment.

When my first marriage ended up being loveless I did look around and tripped once, but then decided it was best to move on from the marriage and try something new

Dana said...

SkylersDad, and I would guess that some (most?) people find that to be satisfying, while others struggle to recreate the past.

Vinny "Bond" Marini, I've tripped a few times myself and quickly (fortunately) realized the problem then became me.

J.J. said...

I'm not a big fan of marriage (for myself) because I've seen many bad ones. Having said that, I'm VERY committed in a relationship.

A (now ex) boyfriend asked me to have a 3-some because "I love you and want you to be a part of it". I thought "If you love me so much, why do you need another woman?"

I couldn't get past it and we parted. I found out later that the night I told him I wasn't interested, he slept with her.

I dodged THAT bullet!

Sedorah said...

I don't get the open relationships...That is why I'm not in one! But, if that is what makes a couple happy, then that is what they should be doing.

I do read some of the "lifestyle" blogs and it seems to be the case that one of the partners usually has more activities than the other. I often wonder how the other person feels when reading about the escapades of their spouse on the internet...does the green-eyed monster scratch at the door? (Even if that is what they agreed to) I also wonder how their lifestyle will work when they are in their 60's and older. Or will monogamy be involved at that stage of their lives?

So, in conclusion, I guess that while I don't get the lifestyle, it sure doesn't stop me from perusing the blogs...it *is* entertaining reading. *grins*

Hubman said...

"In my opinion, an open relationship is pretty much the opposite of a committed relationship. It seems to be about avoiding commitment, one of the cornerstones of a happy and successful relationship."

Really? Taking myself and Veronica for example (hey, what better experience to speak about than my own!), you're saying that after 18 yrs together that we're now avoiding commitment?

Where did you find that 92% failure rate? I would argue that a couple that tried an open marriage then decided it was not for them did not fail, they just learned from an experience and returned to monogamy. A relationship that could survive opening up themselves to others, deciding that it wasn't for them and returning to monogamy sounds pretty solid to me and I'd certainly wouldn't call it a failure by any means. A failed open marriage to me is one that tears apart the primary relationship, not one that decides to return to monogamy after trying an open relationship.

Charlene said...

I'm surprised that 8% of the 1% of committed relationships were successful.

I'm old and I have known people in marriages and relationships who one day say they are in an open relationship. None have worked.

An open relationship is an individual thing. It is one person saying they are not committed. Two people could be in an open relationship and that means those 2 people are going to do what they want to do indivually.

Dana said...

J.J., I do think each situation is unique and each motivation different. Unfortunately, it sounds like your ex had quite a different agenda than he presented.

Sedorah, based on my own history, I am certainly no expert on what makes relationships work. That said, my voyeuristic tendencies *do* keep me reading the "lifestyle" blogs.

Hubman. I'm glad you commented as I was hoping to hear from the "other" side.

You and Veronica did not begin your marriage as an open relationship, but rather other (relatively recent) events led the two of you to a decision to explore an open marriage. That said, I do believe your commitment has changed from what it was 18 years ago, at least in the fidelity aspect of the commitment.

The 92% failure rate was based on marriages that began as "open", and ended in divorce. It was a single study and a small sample group. Not great data (to say the least), but as I mentioned in the post, it's difficult to find solid data on open relationships as they are seldom open to those outside of their immediate relational group.

I would agree with your assertion that a couple that tried an open marriage then decided it was not for them did not fail as long as that trial was not the ultimate demise of their relationship.

Real Live Lesbian said...

I'm selfish. So, while I know it wouldn't work for me, if someone else wants a parfait....it's fine with me.

And although, sometimes I might *want* a parfait, I know that they aren't good for me. Both real and analogy-wise.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Interesting post and comments. I tried various combinations while I was with Mike...and came to the conclusion that unless it added to our relationship that it wasn't worth pursuing and none of them added, they were just different, not better, so it fell out of favor with us. Long as I have electricity, I can imagine anything anyway...