Yes, nonmonogamy is scary.
That is, having more than one intimate, open relationship at a time, while your partners are doing the same, can be scary as hell.
Especially if you consider one of your partners to be your sweetheart, your true love, your other half, your soul mate... or, dare I say it, your twin flame.
Because to try open nonmonogamy is to is risk loss. You risk the loss of the person you cherish most dearly in your life; the person who so deeply meets your needs; the person you can talk with about anything; the person who is perhaps your lifetime love. Opening up your relationship means your soul mate might find a better soul mate. Or they might discover a more identical ‘twin flame’. Ultimately, they may LEAVE you.
Isn’t that the terrible potential of nonmonogamy?
At the heart of the matter is our struggle with the definition of true love. Is it found by letting someone be completely free, without boundaries (because after all, isn’t true love unconditonal)? Or is it found in commitment, in the importance of an unbreakable bond, that deepens trust and depth, no matter what?
What if both are possible?
Dieter Duhm and Sabine Lichtenfels have been exploring the notion of ‘free love’ within their Tamera ecovillage communities for the past 20 years.
Duhm writes: “We human beings do not only want free sexuality, we often also want a stable and lasting partnership – ‘until death do we part.’”
He observes that the archetypal image of marriage—the eternal relationship between one man and one woman—is deeply anchored in the human psyche and has been with us so long that it makes this longing natural. Plus, we all know of examples of where this one man-one woman relationship has been lived to its true potential. And so, it remains a deep ‘missing’ until its fulfillment.
So how does this longing impact the Tamera communities, which practice ‘free love’? Duhm says, “A community will very surely fail if it fully relies on free sexuality while ignoring this deep longing. Here we can apply Hegel’s dialectic theory: thesis – antithesis – synthesis. Marriage [read, monogamy] [is] the thesis; free sexuality [nonmonogamy] [is] the antithesis; and the synthesis consists of a new system in which thesis and antithesis are dissolved or united on a higher level.”
He sums up the guiding principle of the communities as this: “Free sexuality and partnership do not exclude each other; they complement one another. One who lives in a solid relationship does not need to be afraid of losing their partner due to other sexual contacts; and one who lives in free sexuality does not need to be afraid of [potentially] missing out on the happiness of a stable partnership.”
In other words, he is suggesting that a synthesis of the two opposite and compelling aspects of love – freedom and committed, lasting partnership – is possible.
Another approach comes from Karley Sciortino in her recent article for Vogue Daily, entitled: “About Last Night: That Time I Went to a Sex Party.”
She attended an invitee-only “orgy” of “almost 100 people” with some trepidation. What struck her was how the nice and respectful the attendees were. They were fastidious communicators, who set and accepted clear boundaries and seemed more open and honest than so-called “normal” couples. Despite the freely expressed intimacy on display, she noted that the regular relationship insecurities and jealousy were not present—they didn’t look like couples that were about to break apart.
I love the frank honesty of Sciortino’s writing. The dynamic she witnessed and participated in (before falling asleep from imbibing too much to calm herself), led her to admit: “Since keeping jealousy in check and feeling secure can be the hardest parts of maintaining a relationship for me, I began to wonder if nonmonogamy could teach me something on a deeper level that monogamy couldn’t—if perhaps these orgy people were really onto something.”
They may, indeed, be onto something.
As Dieter Duhm says, nonmonogamy challenges us to attain a “higher order”.
He explains: “As soon as real trust arises, the contradiction [between freedom and commitment] is already dissolved, for it is self-evident that both partners again and again have lust for others, and it is also self-evident that a genuine love relationship does not break apart because of this. Jealousy does not belong to love. We need some time to rid ourselves of the old conditioning.”
When “secret mistrust” is overcome, he says that both genders are free to confess their joys of multi-partner sex, and are also free to cement long-term, loving partnerships.
The idea of a couple ‘sharing’ each other with other partners as a way to actually strengthen their commitment and to grow their sexual love with each other seems counterintuitive. But many people who have experienced this dynamic, like the co-workers of Tamera, say it is indeed possible. Somewhere along this path lies the synthesis of beautiful, deep, lifelong commitment, within the beautiful framework of freedom.
I can say this is absolutely true for Willow and I. Never have I felt such deep mutual commitment. Yet our relationship is open and free. There is true joy for each other in this dynamic.
For us the foundation lies in what we call the ‘spirituality of sharing’. That is, the sharing of treasures and blessings we are given (since we don’t actually own anything) is one of very basic and practical ways we express our love for others. And this human desire to share, out of love, is one of the rich keys to human survival and progress. If something gives us joy and sustenance, we make the collective better and stronger by sharing it with them. Our truest love partner is perhaps our greatest joy and blessing. Why would we not want to freely share him or her? The desire to increase the joy and strength of the collective is one of the keys to compersion, which is the opposite of jealousy.
In addition, we believe that full spectrum, honoring, respectful, loving sexual energy is healing, for both the giver and receiver. Why would we not share the unique healing gifts of our partner?
But what of monogamy (intimacy with only one partner)? Can it exist within this framework? I think the answer is yes.
Willow and I are not strictly polyamorists or monogamists. Like Dieter Duhm we are ‘free-loveists’ (not to be confused with the 1960s ‘sleep with anyone at anytime’ use of that term). As with the Tamera philosophy, freedom provides the springboard for deeper love. If a couple decides to be exclusively sexual with each other (in a monogamist way) from a place of freedom and compersion, then who is to judge? Indeed, those who participated in the infamous Kerista Commune ‘group-marriage’ embraced both exclusive and multi-partner paths with their lovers after leaving. Those that choose monogamy after experiencing freedom and compersion do so from an “enlightened” standpoint.
The problem with mainstream society, which Karley Sciortino and all of us have struggled with, is that most relationships are based on scarcity, possession and an ethos of ownership, rather than freedom, compersion and a spirituality of sharing. Not surprisingly, jealousy, conflict and terrible violence are rampant. And for those that wait for their soul mate to appear in their lives, this holding back for the ‘one and only’ can be a lonely path. In ‘free love’ there is no need to constrain ourselves to loving only the perfect one, but each one that we feel attracted to.
Yes, open, honest, honoring nonmonogamy is scary as hell. But it has the potential to help us synthesize our deepest, seemingly contradictory, desires and grow us into an experience of love at a higher level, one that is not based on limitation, but on the pure, abundant love that springs from us so naturally. This is the stuff of true, lifelong connections and strong, loving communal bonds.