It was stressed that the idea behind living the lifestyle is not about the individual, it is about the relationship. As opposed to neglecting all other sexual sources of happiness that do not directly involve the partner, what the lifestyle offers is the opportunity for partners to be open and communicative about their ambitions, and by doing so they are then able to explore these ambitions together. Listening to Carol and David talk about what the lifestyle meant to them diffused some of the stigma I harbored, and also helped me come to realize two important themes that have relevance in any kind of relationship.
(1) If you have a preference that is important to you, then let it be known!
In the context of swinging, a preference might be voicing your desire to be sexually intimate with multiple partners. Why is this something that is much easier said than done? Perhaps part of the taboo surrounding non-monogamy is this idea of it being ‘unnatural’. I beg to differ! The acceptance of multiple roles has been well-documented from biological, historical, political and psychological perspectives, all adhering to theories that explain so much of our everyday behavior. Indeed, the literature I’ve looked into indicates that the human race evolved under slightly polyamorous contexts, which explains the disparity of muscle mass and body size between men and women. This is due to the different sexual strategies that have evolved extensively over the years, and exists for a variety of reasons, one of which include the benefit of genetic variation multiple partners have to offer. Furthermore, both men and women have shown to have fantasies involving other people outside of their present relationship, particularly around the time when the individual is most fertile (for example, those with vaginas experience both an increase in attraction towards multiple people and will feel more attractive personally just around the time of ovulation). To add, there exists still many religious and cultural beliefs that value the union of multiple partners, and so much of our art and literature has been fueled by deconstruction and understanding complex relationship dynamics. I would argue that it is just as ‘natural’ to have fantasies about other people as it is not to, and it’s quite unfortunate that the normative social construction of western culture hasn’t conditioned us to think of this lifesytle with a little more warmth. Why is that?
Perhaps the answer might be related to the idea that people perceive themselves as the protagonist in their own glorified movie, and thus see themselves as the central theme driving the narrative. The self-perception of being the foundation of the social network is essential to human survival despite the notion appearing to contradict to the examples mentioned before. Some may argue that multiple partners may be appealing in theory, but let’s talk logistics; How important am I really if my partner is openly attracted to others? How do I stay special and keep my self-esteem intact? David and Carol argue that when we shift the focus on feeding the relationship instead of feeding the individual, then it can be possible to satisfy both answers in a way that’s not incongruous. When fueling a health relationship becomes a central theme to both parties, there leaves a space for the needs and demands of both parties to be open, heard, and explored, and perhaps to find reward in exploring them together. Oftentimes, the space you create for you and your partner reinforces the acceptance of yourself. By doing so, you are exploring the boundaries of the relationship you have with your partner together, much the same way one might decide to explore a new country or learn a new skill together. As much as one appreciates the individualistic lone-wolf personal narrative, ultimately there are few greater things in life that derive as much pleasure as participating in activities that you love with those you love.
(2) No one can feel all the happiness you need (and deserve).
Drawing from personal experience, most of the pitfalls I found in my past relationships were due in part to my intense desire to make my partner the source of all my growth and support. This is problematic for a multitude of reasons, but for now I’ll just highlight two: (1) It’s impossible role for your partner to fill (2) It’s an impossible expectation to put on yourself as a partner. This mindset is particularly volatile, and can fester into all emotions I’m sure we we are all familiar with such as guilt, shame and jealousy. When asked about non-monogamous relationships, jealousy is a question that often gets asked. Of course there will always be jealousy in your life with or without non-monogamy, but I think it should be encouraged to try to tease apart jealousy that is healthy and constructive, and jealousy that is bitter and demeaning. For the purpose of this argument, I believe that distinguishing the two has relevance, because it could be cultivated as a useful resource, and motivates one to be a better person.
“Why am I jealous right now? How intense it is? What can I do to change this feeling? Can I talk about it? How can I talk about it? Is this related to my personal insecurities?” All of these questions make us stop and reflect, which could perhaps lead to learning something constructive about ourselves and our relationship. Jealousy is such a tricky emotion simply because the nature of it’s precariousness. It germinates so quickly and stubbornly, and blinds our logic and reasoning with incredible ease. If one could work on identifying, and acknowledging jealousy in a constructive way, it might lead to taking less criticism to heart when we feel the demands are too much, and perhaps make room for more positive emotions to filter through. Because we can only give so much of ourselves, would it not be fair to work towards giving what we can with complete integrity, and let the rest of life fulfill our loved one’s desire? This may be a more constructive alternative to running your love thin by chasing after a fantastical role in their relationship that is unobtainable.
In my mind, what makes the theme so compelling is that these life lessons are something we can practice is any relationship, even those outside of a non-monogamous context. Relationships exist for many different reasons, and communicating, and exploring and respecting the relationship is a central component to it’s vitality. It creates this beautiful circular chain of events, where support can be generated as well as internalized and influenced by both the provider and the receiver. All of these things helps create a healthy space between you and any partner(s), leaving room for compassion and surprise and ultimately attributes to a more coherent sense of self, and above all, a more coherent understanding of your relationship.