Leanne Cusitar calls them “relationships with the volume turned up.” Because when an erotic engagement isn’t simply one-on-one, the usual issues like jealousy, intimacy, conflict style and communication style are more intense. But for couples who want to be nonmonogamous or individuals who want to have multiple ongoing lovers, that intensity can be part of the appeal.
Monogamy seems more straightforward since it only comes in two varieties: honest and dishonest. But Cusitar suggests that nonmonogamy, with so many variations and strategies available, isn’t as daunting as many people suspect.
“People feel they’re doing the relationship more without a map – even though it’s not true,” says Cusitar, 38, who has given workshops on polyamorous relationships and helped found a poly support group.
When it comes to having sex with a variety of people, individuals can set their own agenda. People in couples need to be more strategic. Do they talk about it? Are there rules? If so, are there limits on who with, what activity, where and when – or all of the above?
Xtra talked with some folks who have come up with their own strategies.
Jim Crewe, 47 and Robert “Mag” Maglione, 57, met in 1999 at, strangely enough, a lesbian bar night. Both were in nonmonogamous relationships with their former partners, so they started as fuckbuddies. Jim left his boyfriend that year for Mag and the two have been living together ever since.
“The relationship started with getting together every Saturday night and it was enough for both of us,” says Maglione. “Then Jim started coming over during the week until he moved in. We were monogamous for a time with much discussion. Monogamy created some complications – jealousy issues and double standards. Jim was very jealous. We realized we weren’t ready. There was insecurity that someone would steal the other away, someone with a bigger dick, a better ass. I decided we weren’t gonna have sex with others until we worked out the jealousy.”
After three years they decided to become nonmonogamous. Their favourite way of opening up the relationship is ordering in.
“When we get high on a Friday night we order in on-line and it’s smooth sailing, happy times for all,” says Crewe. “It was more bath-like but we didn’t have to go out. We’re naked when they arrive.”
The emphasis is on the sex, not meeting people. “I don’t want to know who you are,” says Maglione. “Take your clothes off – we don’t want to be friends. We order in one, two, three people at a time or go to other’s homes.”
“We play well with others, but we play together,” says Adkin.
“Together” means somewhere in the same area. If the two men are at a play party, they can separate and do their own thing with other partners.
“We’ve not had problems with jealousy,” says Rachon. “We both know where we stand in our relationship. We have great sex together just the two of us and we have great sex with others. I fully trust David.”
“It’s about recognizing and having a mature attitude about sex with men,” says Adkin. “Men have a sex drive and problems arise when people try to bottle that up and suppress it.”
Adkin and Rachon don’t have spontaneous encounters with other men. It doesn’t fit their style since the decisions have to be mutual.
“We tend to discuss in advance and set up our play space. We’re choosy about who we bring into our relationship,” says Adkin.
Zee, 36, and Tyr, 47, (both asked Xtra to use their scene names) met through the SM Women’s Discussion Group more than five years ago and now live together. For these women, having sex with other people is part of their socializing.
“Playing with friends, we have an opportunity to talk on a regular basis and discuss our interests,” says Tyr.
Tyr finds the first time with a new person somewhat awkward and disappointing. It gets better from there.
“There’s benefits to developing friendships where you play with those people. You get to know them, maybe not as much as you know your partner, so when you do get together regularly it gets better and more fun and people are more relaxed. You feel safe and trust the people more,” she says.
How do they end up playing with others? It can happen any time.
“When playing with friends there’s a lot more opportunity for spontaneity,” says Tyr. “You’re over having dinner and one thing leads to another.”
“Look, I brought eggplant, carrots and a turnip,” chimes in Zee, her eyebrows raised.
There are certain things Zee and Tyr reserve for each other. They don’t kiss other partners. Nor do anything that involves exchange of bodily fluids. Oral sex they reserve for themselves. And the two never play separately.
“I get off knowing she’s in the room,” says Zee. “There’s a bit of exhibitionist that comes out in me, and a confidence, too. I don’t want to be just me and another person. I like to have Tyr be my lube person.”
Carmine Detto, 27, and Charlie Doherty, 41 started out as a lay, but over its four years, their relationship has evolved. For them, an important part of nonmonogamy is reframing the concept.
“When I first started having intimate relations I always cheated,” says Detto. “All of a sudden I came out. Then I found some vocabulary to describe what I like. I’m nonmonogamous. I learned to put a positive spin on ‘cheating.’
“We expect an openness in terms of sex with others. Everything’s fine and dandy if you don’t hide someone. Respect for the relationship comes first. Anyone you’re seeing is on the side. Out of respect we don’t fuck anyone else in our bed – unless we’re all together. The carpet outside the bedroom door is fair game.”
“Or the pull-out couch or the table,” adds Doherty. “We usually plan our play and so we know not to come home until a certain time.”
At the age of 21 and 20, Masina Wright and KY (who wanted only her initials used for this story) decided to be life partners. Together for 10 years, they’ve had many different strategies for their nonmonogamy.
“We’ve tried a little bit of everything except ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I need to know everything,” says Wright.
Their open relationship started with a threesome sex date that turned into a secret affair for Wright. Then KY had a separate girlfriend, then they went back to monogamy, then started dating together as a couple.
“Then we just casually dated friends, flirting, snogging, making out, being highly suggestive – but not going home. Then we had a triad,” says Wright. “We’re very up-front with telling each other what we’re doing. We prenegotiate things. We have areas we allow stuff and areas that need to be negotiated.”
For example, they don’t mind each other being flirtatious in bars but they don’t go home separately.
I’m in an opposite-sex poly relationship, involved with a woman,” says Ishwar Persad, 31. “We’ve been together for six years and we live together. We currently don’t have outside relationships but we have lovers, some together and some on our own.”
Persad says there is sometimes jealousy, but it comes up for each of them differently.
“I have been the one who has had more engagements with others, so she has more experience with being jealous but has become more comfortable. More recently she has had more lovers and now I’m experiencing the jealousy. So I’m now learning the skills and patience and learning that she’s not abandoning me or falling in love with someone else.”
The couple usually introduces new lovers to each other. For example, when he goes to wrestling events at a bathhouse, he’ll tell her which guys he’s going with.
“So that there isn’t a notion of the unknown,” he says. “I have a good imagination so I create all these fantasies about the other person, what they’re doing and what she sees in them which is mostly not real. When we meet I can see why she wants to do that person and I want to, too. You see them as a person you like and can see that value.”
As for Cusitar, she takes polyamory seriously, especially its politics. For example, she avoids ranking her lovers as “primary” and “secondary.”
“For me, people grow, evolve and identify their needs and wants. I expect that will happen for me and for my partners. I consider it part of my obligation in a relationship is to be clear and communicate that. If my lovers are doing the same and their evolution is going in a different direction as long as they are communicating in good faith it’s part of my obligation to support them even if I may lose them.”
She’s been in a relationship with a man for almost three years and has lately been seeing a woman. But there’s more.
“Outside of that I have an ongoing lover, a woman who lives out of town who I’ve been seeing eight months who I see once or twice a month and we have lovely dates. Beyond that I have a deep friendship with an exlover who is my first poly lover from eight or nine years ago, who is present daily in my life. We have sex or play occasionally, once or twice a year. I have assorted occasional fuckbuddies who may be casual friends or good friends who may be occasional fuckbuddies.”
Cusitar expects her lovers to have therapists – and know how to use them.
“I joke about it but it’s true – we all have issues. We’re drawn to people who resonate for us in different ways.”