A few months ago, someone in a committed relationship put the moves on me. It was an odd situation because there hadn't been any up-front communication about what the rules were for the couple and how I, the single friend, fit in that equation.
This week, I had a thought-provoking conversation on the whole "do-ask-do-tell" topic and then ran across this article on the new monogamy. Here are some excerpts:
Getting from here to thereThese definitions are useful.
For years, we have said—to each other, to our boyfriends, to people writing in to our advice column—that monogamy is a choice, and if you expect it to come naturally, then your relationship (or your shot at one) is doomed. In other words, don’t take monogamy for granted; take the urge to stray for granted. But then again, our underlying assumption was that of course you’d choose monogamy, because what other choice was there? That’s what happily-ever-after requires. Although we may crave a fling on the side, the thought of our partner’s doing the same is heartbreaking, and so we agree to fidelity in order not to drive each other crazy.
The flip side
If you’re partners in crime, it would seem, then there’s really no crime.
“I wanted a relationship strong enough for him to share his desires with me, even if those desires weren’t about me. Because what had really hurt in the past was not the indiscretions but that my partners had lied.”
To our pleasant surprise, however, there is absolutely nothing skeevy about Siege and Katie. They’re smart, funny, polite, hip, attractive, self-deprecating, and affectionate with one another. And that’s the most disconcerting thing of all. Call us snobs, but it’s easy to dismiss suburban swingers who show up at orgies with a Tupperware container or Bay Area hippies missing the irony gene. But when a couple like Siege and Katie decry strict monogamy? It makes you wonder, How old-fashioned, socially programmed, and ass-backward am I?
These two can certainly teach most couples a thing or two about communication: They finish each other’s sentences and tease one another gently about the few times they’ve failed to follow their own simple yet strict rules. (1) The Vampire Rule: If they’re both in the same city, they have to make it back by dawn. (2) The Three-Strikes Rule: All pinch hitters must be interested in befriending both Siege and Katie (and vice versa); however, up to three solo dates are acceptable to warm someone up. (3) The Postcards Rule: If they’re seeing someone else on their own, they must bring home photographic evidence. (4) The Woman-Only Rule: Katie is bisexual, Siege is not—thus, for pinch hitters to meet rule No. 2, they must be female. (5) The Veto Rule: for Katie’s benefit, allowing her to rule out potential home-wreckers. (6) The Safety Rule: What some couples call “body-fluid monogamy,” i.e., always use condoms when having sex with a third . . . or a fourth . . . or a fifth . . .
Above and beyond the rules, what makes their relationship work, say Siege and Katie, is that they’re a team, and that comes before anything (hence the Three-Strikes Rule). In fact, this idea of working together came up repeatedly with couples who have tweaked monogamy: Part of the appeal, it seems, is a sort of “us against the world” vibe. More than one couple referred to their additional partners as living, breathing sex toys.
Woman + Man + ?
The most smooth-running nontraditional relationships, it seems, comprise a straight man and a bisexual woman who’s not particularly interested in men besides her No. 1 guy. “I wish I were bi,” says Siege. “It’d make things easier. But it’s like this island of old-fashionedness in my brain—I just don’t want her messing around with other guys. Because I don’t find men attractive, my only instinct would be to punch them.”
In fact, it’s rare to find hetero couples where the guy is willing to entertain even fantasies involving other men. Christen, a 33-year-old performance artist, says that neither she nor her husband are “conventionally straight,” so they ogle men and women together—like “pretty boy Mig from Rock Star: INXS.” But we found that male-female couples like this are few and far between.
It’s impossible to isolate a single explanation, but we’ll take a shot: Maybe women really are more sexually fluid than men—or their sexuality is simply more socially malleable. Or maybe this is just a particular brand of bisexuality; most of the women we spoke with said they are sexually, but not romantically, attracted to other women. And maybe this is a good thing, a sign that girls have more options, more pleasure, more of an experimental nature, more freedom overall. Or there’s the negative interpretation: Perhaps this is all a performance to turn guys on, Girls Gone Wild Gone Nonmonogamous. It could be that sexually speaking, women are just not taken seriously: Hot, yes, but as sex toys, not real romantic threats. (Who could trump the mighty penis?) As two women about to embark on what we hope will be lifelong commitments, we’re left wondering: Has the bar suddenly been raised? Is female bisexuality the latest way to be the perfect girlfriend?