Can We Be Too “Open?”
When GayRVA.com’s intrepid editor asked me to write a column on “open” relationships, I squirmed. When he mentioned that Dan Savage is in an open relationship, I cringed. I have admired Dan Savage for years, ever since I first saw his column, Savage Love, in The Village Voice. But I decided to rise to the challenge, even though I am a proponent of—shudder—monogamy. Am I biased? Of course! Monogamy’s what has worked for me.
Let me tell you a story. Long ago, before dinosaurs roamed the earth, Doctor Jon was in a long-term relationship with the man whom he thought was, as Renee Zellwegger so succinctly put it in Jerry Maguire, “The One.” This man, whom I’ll call, “V,” informed Doctor J at the very beginning of the relationship that he would need to be monogamous, or history. Dr. J didn’t feel ready, but reluctantly assented.
Flash forward ten years—V finally proposes to Dr. J, and they have a commitment ceremony. Shortly thereafter, V tells Dr. J that he wants an “open” relationship (“for sex only”–no romance). A younger, less wise Dr. J agrees (this time, very reluctantly)–he doesn’t want to lose V.
Two years later, V discloses that he has been having a relationship with L, Dr. J’s sister’s best friend–a woman! Dr. J and V go to couples therapy—but Dr. J f***s it up—he wants to accept this new “development.” A year later, V dumps L and Dr. J for–another woman!
I realize that there are couples in which both parties want an open relationship. And I’m sure some of these relationships are successful. However, couples whom I have seen, who want help in having an open relationship—and I do my best to help them—seem to succumb, inevitably to jealousy. You could point out that, despite his genuine attempts to help, Dr. J is biased—but no matter how hard we try, all professionals, as well as normal human beings, are biased by their own experiences.
I agree with Savage that “we ultimately have to figure out this sex/dating/mating stuff for ourselves,” that there is no “final authority” on sexual relationships.
I don’t want to tell people how to lead their lives—OK, I do–but seriously, I want them to decide for themselves. Monogamy is a hard road to follow. Some say it’s not “natural”—in fact, few species in the (non-human) animal kingdom are monogamous. Others suggest that monogamy is particularly unnatural for men, who are evolutionarily “hard-wired” to spread their seed for the survival of the species. But though I have found couples who have open relationships who love each other, it seems to me that they are no longer *in* love. And that’s something that I, speaking for myself, don’t want to risk sacrificing.
Jonathan Lebolt, PhD (“Doctor Jon”) is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and group psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues. He lives with his partner of 14 plus years, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, and their princely pooch, Cocoa. Robin and Jonathan are proud grandfathers of a beautiful one-year-old girl, Juna. Feel free to contact Doctor Jon at his website.
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