When it comes to the kind of romantic relationship you get into, that is? If not, you should! And my friend Beth’s new film does a fine job of introducing you to some of these options and to the people that are living these experiences.
I went to see the premier of her film, Open Options, in February at IndieScreen and it also debuted at the CineKink film festival this year. In a mere 14 minutes, it did a great job of presenting the sorts of open relationship options that are out there and did so in a very casual way: with a few friends sitting on a couch and chatting about their experiences over food and wine. And may I just say….the lighting looked really good! (by my friend Deacon, I hear).
But on to the content…
What I loved about it was the fact that it really did present you with a good list of choices and different stories of the way people think about open relationships. There were young people, older people, somewhere-in-between people. The gay, the straight and the queer. And they all talked about approaching their relationships in different ways. My friend Andrew had gone form a very vanilla, monogamous lifestyle (and marriage) to a polyamorous relationship and worldview later in life. Henry had turned his 15-year-long monogamous marriage into an open one. There was a gay man that has been open for years and a young queer person who had found the lifestyle as yearly as their late teens. A woman that identifies as “poly single” (though I’d probably just call that “New-York-style dating”) and a female friend who is in a relationship that’s emotionally monogamous, but allows for occasional female “side dishes,” etc.
It was, for all intents and purposes, a smorgasbord of open relationship options, as the title would suggest. And if we’re going to get into semantics here (which, as a writer, I always do), I’m glad that it talked more about open relationships and non-monogamy rather than polyamory, because from a lot of my conversations with people, I think many are over the “P word.” It usually implies having multiple serious, ongoing relationships. And, because of that, it presumes a moral high ground over other forms of open relationships that it can’t really lay claim to, as most people fail at maintaining multiple, committed, concurrent relationships over a long period of time. And/or they learn that they don’t want that level of involvement with multiple people (see Trevor and Vanessa, for reference).
I know I have been pretty critical of polyamory in prior posts, but my real issue was with polyamory being trumpeted as some sort of holy grail when it’s not. It’s a lot of work (as the people in this film will admit to). Though any of you that know me personally, also know that I’m very annoyed at hypocritical monogamous people who look down on open relationships when they themselves lie and cheat all the time, or leave their partners the minute another hot piece of ass walks by.
Amy alluded to this in the film, when she talked about coming to terms with having cheated in her previous relationships and designing her current entanglement to be an open one.
“I wish I had known I had this option earlier,” she said. “Because then I wouldn’t have been categorized as being unfaithful or unsatisfied with men that I loved. I loved everyone that I dated. So when I met my current boyfriend, that was one of my biggest fears. I didn’t want to cheat on this guy, but I know who I am and I know the things that I want, so let’s just lay it out there. And so many of my friends are cheating and unhappy, yet I’m open about this situation and you are looking down on me?”
And, yes, this is a common problem between open relationship enthusiasts and monogamists that I wish would go away. Kevin Allison, who runs the popular Risk! storytelling show and podcast, also alluded to this in the film. He said that when he tells people about his open relationship, they assume that “I am this way because I’m a sex addict or I lack self control or I’m just immature. And I may have elements of all three of those things at any one time, but I think it’s kind of threatening to the whole worldview of how things should work,” he said. My friend Henry also talked about the criticism and judgement he received from people at his episcopal parish when he came out to them his (newly) open marriage with his wife.
I do get it, though. I feel like a lot of monogamous people are judgmental towards non-mongamists particularly because they feel threatened. Monogamous people, especially monogamous (straight) women are afraid that if men know they have options and that this world exists, they will all want to get into it and there won’t be anyone left to pursue a monogamous relationship with. And I’ll admit, I’ve been susceptible to those fears myself, but I realize they’re completely unwarranted.
At the end of the day, it’s about different values. And I, at least at this point in life, value exclusivity and want to be with someone that values that, too. And those people (yes, even men) do exist. And they know they have options! I’m friends with many of them. Other people value freedom and see the willingness to share your partner with other people as a sign of unconditional love and devotion. And having been there before and dated people who think that way, I can tell you that’s totally valid, too. So I just wish we could all stop the never-ending cycle of judgement and accept people’s different choices and values in life. As long as it’s working for you and you’re not hurting other people in the process, who’s to say that it’s wrong?
I know many of my friends have been curious as to what my deal is, since I still hang around the scene and occasionally go to sex parties, but don’t really participate much and don’t want to be in open relationships. So, yes, I still don’t want to be poly and would rather not engage with people on the scene, as I realize they won’t lead to the kind of relationship I want, but I still enjoy spending time with my poly friends, in whatever context I can. I can be friends with atheists, while I’m not one. I can similarly be friends with non-monogamists even when I’m not one any longer.
I also like to keep myself intellectually informed of all the options that are out there, not only when it comes to relationships, and, at the end of the day, the film reminded me why I’ve made the choices that I have. At a certain point, when Henry talked about turning his long-term monogamous marriage into an open one, he said:
“In a monogamous relationship, you can be in neutral. You can come home, sit down and watch TV and the relationship will just be. When you start to add other elements, like: we’re going to a sex party or we’re going to start dating other people or we’re going to have a sister wife (everyone laughed at this, by the way. Poly people themselves are not beyond knowing that some of these things sound ridiculous). When you start to do that, you take neutral out of the equation, you can’t just go home and watch Netflix. No, there’s work to do. It’s time to process.”
And that’s the thing for me: I’d like to just be in neutral. I want my romantic relationship to be a place of comfort, solace and security, I don’t want to have to go home and “process.” In a life, and a world, that’s already complicated and difficult enough, I don’t want my relationship to be a source of further complication and conflict.
But, I’m glad to know I have options. Everyone should. And I give kudos to my lovely and talented friends for continuing to do the work that non-monagamy requires and making it look really fucking good.