This is my monthly column about our life, life in a triad in general, or whatever rants & raves I feel like talking about at the time.
Previous editions of this column can be found in the Monthly Columns Archives.
Swinging Into Polyamory
Now before someone decides to start fashioning the hangman's noose, this is not about swinging. Well, not per se. Way back in June of 2005, I wrote a piece entitled Thoughts on Expansion. That particular piece dealt with how a person (or persons) would go about adding members to their expanded family. Just because we're living a poly lifestyle doesn't mean that we're any better at meeting and dating new folks. Nor does it mean that we have any secret methods about how to do so. When I wrote that article, my knowledge and scope of the subject was brand new. Although I was (and am) living a polyamorous lifestyle, I was still new and largely uneducated in a lot of aspects regarding exactly what it meant to be poly. Back then, whenever I heard the word swinging, my stomach would turn a little as my head filled up with all kinds of ugly images. I was completely and totally opposed to the very word, and was adamant that swinging was in no way poly. End of discussion.
When I stumbled upon the article from Elle magazine, No Secrets, No Lies, I read it and immediately saw it as a story about a couple who were transitioning from cheating to poly. Not everyone saw it that way. In fact, we had a pretty lengthy discussion about it in the forums and the opinions were mixed as to exactly what this couple was doing. Some said that they had an open marriage, but it wasn't poly. The rationale behind this was that they were seeing other people, yet at the same time their level of emotional commitment was somewhere between swinging and poly. It seemed, to me anyway, that there was some level of emotional intimacy that went beyond simply swinging or even sex-for-the-sake-of-sex. The point here is that apparently the line between poly and swinging is a fine one that can blur easily. The same can be said for cheating. Let me explain myself.
Not too long ago, a monogamous couple joined our user forums. Neither one of them have any experience whatsoever with poly, but they do know that they're interested in exploring the lifestyle and most likely will enter into some type of poly configuration in the future. So my question is this.
How does this monogamous couple go about exploring a poly relationship if they don't enter into some type of "open marriage" situation?
The answer is, I don't think that they can. So, when does an open marriage, or swinging for that matter, stop being either of those and become poly? To me, this is where the fine line between swinging and poly can begin to blur. Don't get me wrong, the last thing I want is for swinging (in the traditonally recognized definition of the word) to become associated with polyamory. The reason for this? Social conditioning. We have always been raised to believe that swinging was nothing more than sex-for-the-sake-of-sex, which for some people it probably still is. But what about the other folks? What about the folks who explore swinging not only for sex, but for emotional "affairs" as well. Are they to be grouped into the same "taboo" that the people simply looking for sex get? This might be the very type of labeling we're trying to avoid in our own lives.
The wife in the couple I mentioned (let's call her Pegasus), who joined our forums, asked this question in one of her posts:
"How do you know--can you know--when someone is using "poly" as an excuse for just being sexually promiscuous?"
This is a very good question, and not one I'm sure that has a clear cut answer. My response at the time was "That's a question all in itself. How does one know if poly is genuine or just an excuse for promiscuity? I think the best way to determine this in a poly relationship is the same in any type of relationship. If you're a single woman and you meet someone you want to date and possibly have a long-term relationship with, do you simply "jump in the sack" with this person? Of course not. You'd date and court this person as you got to know them better. The more you get to know a person's character, the more you can determine about their nature as a person as well. " This response isn't bad, but it isn't entirely cut and dry either, as everyone has different moral definitions regarding dating as it relates to the physical aspect. Some folks would, in fact, "jump into the sack" right away, while others would wait whatever period of time they felt comfortable with.
Another great statement that Pegasus made was, "I want to make sure that I am not just fooling myself with this "epiphany" and giving myself a fine label for running away with what I want..." This is a great thought process for anyone considering the poly lifestyle. This is very similiar to the thought process behind the Ready or Not section of this community. We, as Humans, are very good at justifying our own actions and thought processes. It's not unhealthy to play Devil's Advocate with yourself, or anyone else for that matter, who might be considering the poly lifestyle. If your reason for wanting to transition to poly has to be justified by some "blanket" thought process, it might not be for you. This is where I think the line between swinging and poly could again become blurred. If I was living a monogamous relationship, and decided to seek out a partner simply for sex, I'd be a swinger - no doubt. However, if my relationship with that person developed emotionally as well and I brought them into my marriage, would I still be a swinger, or would I then become polyamorous? At the same time, if I were monogamous and kept a girlfriend on the side, that my spouse knew about, would I still be monogamous or would I then be poly?
My point is this. There are many different living arrangements to a poly lifestyle, so why not many different "sub-levels" of relationship styles? All people living lifestyles that aren't viewed as "mainstream" (and we know there are lots of them) are constantly fighting to be recognized by state and federal government to hopefully achieve some legal rights. Now, I'm not saying that my "f*ck" buddy should be covered under my insurance, but things should definately be changed to allow for more flexibility in the way things are deemed legal or not. The sad thing about the difference between swinging and poly is that most swingers are more than likely covered under someone's healthcare plan. Apparently it's more ethical to cheat on your spouse than it is to have more than one. Yet another example of the twisted judicial system that is so in need of revamping. I'm not going to start off on this particular tangent, though, only because I'd ramble on forever.
Swinging has often been confused with polyamory, and when you think about it it's easy to see why folks who don't understand our lifestyle would make this mistake. If the line between poly and swinging can become blurred to a polyamorous person, what must it look like through monogamous glasses?
~ Chias, November 27, 2005
folks have read this article.