April 16, 2006

Not Your Father’s Polyamory

Posted in Love, Relationships, Sex at 7:28 pm by mj

New York magazine on The New Monogamy: marriage, with benefits. The authors–two engaged women–explore the option of negotiating the definition of “monogamous” and the boundaries of monogamous relationships.

There are two things I thought worth noting.

First, surprisingly, not only is this not polyamory, it’s actually anti-polyamory:

“We’re not polyamorous,” insists Mike—and in fact, every couple we spoke with said the same thing. “We don’t date other people, and we don’t have romantic relationships with our sex partners—though we’ve become close friends with some of them.”

If he sounds a bit defensive, it’s understandable. Because in most people’s imaginations, you’ve got on the one hand your earnest, hairy polyamorists (see San Francisco) and on the other, doughy, middle-aged swingers (see Minnesota or HBO). These are the bogeymen of today’s hipster open relationships […]

Second, by the end of their exploration, the authors conclude there may be something a bit more sinister at work:

[…] a pattern we saw emerge in our research: The most smooth-running nontraditional relationships, it seems, comprise a straight man and a bisexual woman who’s not particularly interested in men besides her No. 1 guy. “I wish I were bi,” says Siege. “It’d make things easier. But it’s like this island of old-fashionedness in my brain—I just don’t want her messing around with other guys. Because I don’t find men attractive, my only instinct would be to punch them.”
Perhaps this is all a performance to turn guys on, Girls Gone Wild Gone Nonmonogamous. It could be that sexually speaking, women are just not taken seriously: Hot, yes, but as sex toys, not real romantic threats. (Who could trump the mighty penis?) As two women about to embark on what we hope will be lifelong commitments, we’re left wondering: Has the bar suddenly been raised? Is female bisexuality the latest way to be the perfect girlfriend?

Not that male hypocrisy is anything surprising…

How much of “negotiated monogamy” is descended from “technical virginity,” which was popular when I was a teenager? If you’re not familiar with that, it runs like this:

If you valued virginity as a moral ideal (as many of my generation did), but you were horny (and what teenager isn’t?), you’d do everything but allow penetration. You’d still call yourself a virgin and feel superior in doing so–and girls still had the psychological advantage in warding off unwelcome advances by claiming to be virigins–but you could get your kicks every weekend.

After all, the subjects in this article are all from the same generation.

(Link via ValleyWag.)