we should see other people.” How does that sound to you? Exciting?
Relieving? Hopelessly naïve? Like you’ve just been broken
Taormino, author of the recently published Opening Up:
A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships,
it would probably be considered a non-ideal, one-sided way
to bring up a conversation that more people should be having.
2007 Oprah poll of 14,000 people, 21 percent of respondents
said they were in an open marriage. Hardly a scientific study,
but still one of many indications that relationship diversity
is far greater than mainstream commentary would like to acknowledge.
when it’s not acknowledged, it’s hard to share information
about it. Taormino, a longtime sex educator, filmmaker, and
Village Voice columnist (and fairly recent resident
of Greene County), says she saw the need for a book like Opening
Up because most of the books on the topic either focus
on a particular style of nonmonogamy (like swinging or group
marriage), or are more of a personal memoir style.
a guide that would speak to more people and be based on a
wider range of experiences, Taormino carried out extensive
interviews with 126 people in various types of nonmonogamous
relationships. Her interviewees come from all walks of life
and all over the country. (And no, “all over the country”
doesn’t mean “New York and San Francisco.” There are more
people represented from the South than any other region.)
allergic to flowery discourse about nonmonogamy being more
natural or mature or evolved, don’t run away. Taormino has
little patience for such attitudes; her philosophy on open
relationships is all about choice. “You need to build your
own custom-built relationship that’s right for the people
in it,” she told me. “We need to let go of the myths about
the picket fence, Prince Charming, etc. and figure out what
we want and need. If you do that and find out what you want
is monogamy, more power to you. The problem is not monogamy.
It’s that people are monogamous by default, not by choice.”
of course, what happens when people make such a massive commitment
by default? It’s hard to stick to. “Cheating is so prevalent,”
says Taormino. “It’s shocking to me still that people are
threatened and hostile about open relationships, because people
in open relationships have rejected cheating in favor of honesty.
It can be the antidote to cheating.”
said, you can’t make a real choice until you understand your
options, and many people’s ideas of open relationships have
more to do with the 1970s and “free love” than most of what’s
being practiced today. That’s where Opening Up comes
in. With its rich set of data about how open relationships
can and do work, it dispels myths, acknowledges difficulties,
explains benefits, lists some of the things that they tend
to have in common, gives exercises and tips for communicating
well (and kindly) and designing your own relationship from
scratch. It generally provides a window into the ways that
real people make their way outside the bounds of traditional
of the book forms a typology, with chapters exploring such
divergent arrangements as partnered nonmonogamy (outside sexual
relationships OK, but only one partner/love relationship),
polyfidelity (exclusive partnerships of more than two), and
solo polyamory (no cohabitation or primary partner). She also
devotes a chapter to monogamous-nonmonogamous pairings, a
reality that Taormino says is very frequently misunderstood
and judged by monogamous and nonmonogamous folks alike.
the biggest misconceptions about open relationships that Taormino
says her research dispels is the idea that they stem from
people who can’t or won’t “commit.” “The idea is they are
either a commitmentphobe or they haven’t settled down yet,
that they’re immature and then they’ll see the light,” she
says. “I found the opposite. People took their commitment
very seriously. Many people were married to one partner and
had a nonlegal ceremony to another partner.”
also an assumption out there that it’s all about sex, that
people are just having wild huge orgies. I’m someone who’s
a sex educator and whose life’s work has been about sex, but
there’s not a lot of sex in this book. And that’s based on
what people talked about.”
is it about? Time and again, Taormino comes back to the point
that people who are in open relationships have dismissed the
falsehood that one person can provide you everything you need,
that there is one person out there, the proverbial soulmate,
who will satisfy you sexually and emotionally and intellectually,
share your interests, run a household well with you, etc.
“With different relationship dynamics, different wants and
needs get met,” she says.
she argues that a prerequisite to successful monogamy is recognizing
this same thing and choosing the tradeoff with eyes open.
“I’m not trying to convert anyone to nonmonogamy,” says Taormino,
“but there are basic life lessons in this book that are lessons
for any relationship.”
with time management (the number one challenge her respondents
mentioned) and jealousy, Taormino notes that having to be
secretive or closeted is an ongoing stress on people in nonmonogamous
relationships. In her keynote speech at Polyamory Pride day
in New York City last fall, she spoke of needing to follow
the example of GLBT folks and come out whenever it’s safe
and comfortable to do so.
I tell people I wrote a book about this and they are not in
an open relationship, two things happen,” she elaborates.
“Complete shutdown, or ‘Oh, I know someone in a relationship
like that . . .’ People who know someone seem to have a higher
level of acceptance. They understand that people have different