I have an open marriage. In theory, the only thing that separates it from a more traditional monogamous one, is that we can both have intimate entanglements with other people without it being a problem. Simple, right?
Well, yes, actually it is.
An often used word for a setup where multiple partners are considered ok is polyamory. The acceptance of more than one amorous relationship at the same time.
That’s all well and good, and not really that complicated. But when you lump poly people together, it gets complex real fast!
The number of connections go up FAST. Let me illustrate, using animal names (it’s a thing now).
Welcome to the Zoo
Antilope is marrried to Buffalo. Antilope has a relationship with Cobra, sleeps with Dolphin once in a while and once did a five-some that included (amongst others!) Elephant and Gorilla.
Buffalo isn’t mixed up in this at all, but is friends with Elephant and Gorilla, who are also a couple. Buffalo knows animals in several places, but none of them live near Antilope’s watering hole!
Cobra used to be shacked up with Hare, who is now with Iguana. They’ve had a thing for some time, which started when Iguana was married to Jackrabbit. Hare is (naturally) friends with Antilope, and good friends with Kangaroo as well.
Dolphin isn’t connected with anyone but Antilope, but probably could get mixed up in it all if given half a chance!
Elephant and Gorilla have been together forever. Elephant sleeps with a range of people, while Gorilla had a regular thing with Lion. Gorilla has found a new friend, though.
Hare and Cobra split up, which of course changed the situation a bit for Antilope and for Iguana as well. Iguana and Jackrabbit also split up, leaving a new constallation with Hare and Iguana as a primary couple.
Iguana? Where to even start? :-)
Jackrabbit and Buffalo are at the “ends of the spectrum”, and there’s a joke involving them synchronising calendars to make it all fit together. They don’t know each other, though.
Kangaroo is Antilope’s best friend and is married to Otter. Kangaroo, Lion and Buffalo are also old friends, but not in a romantic way.
Lion is an old friend of Buffalo’s and has slept with Antilope. Lion is currently with Monkey.
Monkey and Cobra have had a fling. Monkey is friends with almost all the animals in the area.
Narwhal has been with Kangaroo for quite some time, but is also intimate with others in the jungle.
Otter has romantic connections elsewhere, and to make it even more chaotic, Otter is close with someone who once lived next to Antilope. They never hooked up, but it’s still funny.
Penguin and Antilope had a fling, but now Penguin is in a monogamous relationship. Penguin and Antilope are still friends.
The real picture is even more complicated
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more.
Add to this, that it’s also a cocktail of friendships, former love interests and mutual projects. Some do photoshoots together, while other organise parties that everyone goes to.
And when a relationship ends – especially a primary one – the whole ensemble shifts and assumes a new constellation.
The impressive thing is that it works.
Not flawlessly. Not without ups and downs. But it does work. And while it seems pretty opaque to outsiders, to those who are part of it, it all makes sense.
Because at its heart, it’s not different from the social structures of a fifth grade classroom. Of course, a lot more sex is involved, but the point stands. It’s the whole “friends, best friends and sometimes-friends” thing over again – just in a more adult setting.
And unlike the fifth graders, these people are experienced in relationship management. Some of them less so than others, but the overall level of tolerance, flexibilty and non-judgemental attitudes is pretty wild.
It has to be.
It’s good training, though
Everyone has not only slept with someone else in the group. They’re also probably still doing so, and they inhabit the same social circles.
It’s not easy, but it does bring some clear advantages.
People, who break up in this sort of setting, have better odds of managing to do so peacefully. They also learn a lot about compartmentalising, how to control jealousy and possesiveness and become experts at practical planning. Because kids still have to be watched, jobs have to be done and schedules have to be matched.
I wanted to share this because I find it fascinating to see how the humam relations kaleidoscope shifts when things change.
So next time you find yourself near (or part of) a group of people, who are openly polyamorous, don’t be too surprised if you lose track of it all.
I do as well, and I’ve had more than ten years of practice at being in an open relationship. ;-)
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