My best friend, Dayna, got to the crux of the issue. "Listen to you, Jessica," she said between sips of plum line, during one of our myriad late-night sleepovers. "Your situation was 'Quite nice'? You felt 'OK' with the openness? You talk like Dan was your roommate, not your boyfriend. Where's the passion?"
Where's the passion, indeed. Walking along the precipice of emotional fidelity and sexual exploration didn't take our relationship to new heights, like Dossie Easton's polyamory primer The Ethical Slut promised. Instead, with our respective level of fidelity an open question, my commitment to Dan became as lukewarm as tepid bathwater, "quite nice" without quiet romance.
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When we dismissed monogamy as something unspeakably retro for our sexually hip sensibilities, we ignored the passion a singular commitment can inspire, the romance of mutual trust for each other and the courage it takes to be a team together. Blasé became our new black, and we were worse off for it.
While polyamory strengthens some couples—to borrow a cliché, some of my best friends are poly—an open relationship devalued the commitment Dan and I had. Without the knowledge we were each other's one and only, our feelings for each other numbed. Knowing we could run into the arms of a pseudo-stranger whenever something went wrong meant we didn't really turn to each other in times of need, limiting the potential of our emotional growth. Saying, "let's discuss your date with Paul before we schedule my date with Cheryl" isn't as romantic as "You complete me." I should have known better when Dan compared our relationship to a safety valve.
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Polyamorists and open-relationship enthusiasts contend that love doesn't have to dampen with the addition of outsiders—and they certainly have a point. "The problem with your outlook," says Evi, one pro-open relationship friend of mine, "is that you treat love as some finite quality, like you'll have less of if you give to others. Think about other relationships in your life. Does a mother love her kids any less when she has more? Why should it be different for romantic partners?"