Have you ever found yourself loving more than one person and feeling the pressure to make a choice? Most of us don't question the basic social structure of monogamy. Whether or not inside of marriage, falling in love with more than one person is usually condemned as "cheating" or "unfaithfulness" -- and can get you labeled as something much worse. While scientists and psychologists might debate whether or not humankind is "naturally" monogamous, the interesting question posed by a brave new book on the subject is: Can we live in honest, ethical and spiritual sexual relationships with more than one person at a time? I interviewed Dr. Anya Trahan about her book Opening Love to find out her answer to this question.
Q: Your book begins with your own discovery, after you were married, that you had fallen in love with another person, while still loving your husband. What was it like for you to decide to choose both?
A: When I realized I was deeply in love with another person, I told my husband right away. Because the three of us were already friends, and because he and I already practiced open communication about attractions and interests we had with other people, the initial revelation was (mostly) a joyous moment for us both.
Q: How do you see polyamory as a spiritual practice?
A: Polyamory (poly) is a practice that encourages us to go beyond egos (the part of us that mistakenly believes we are separate from everything else), and therefore see the interconnected nature of all things. Seeing that interconnectedness, seeing that we are truly all One, helps us move towards a more egalitarian-based mindset, where the central value is helping each other rather than competition.
Q: So, what is essential if we are to live in honest, ethical and spiritual sexual relationships with more than one person at a time?
A: First, it's imperative that you are ready and willing to grow emotionally and spiritually. When you have more than one lover/partner/mate, you increase the likelihood that more aspects of your character will be reflected back to you. All relationships are like mirrors: they show us ourselves more clearly. So, when you get really close with someone through intense emotions and/or shared sexual experience, then you open yourself up to seeing aspects of yourself that you realize need changing. Looking at those ugly parts, those shadowy parts we have hidden away, that can be tough... but it's also an integral part of the transformation process.
Secondly, it's important to be sex-positive and to be able to openly discuss sexuality and the body. Many people hear about poly and get really excited, thinking it's simply their ticket to having more casual sex without the guilt. Being a responsible polyamorist, however, means being diligent about negotiating boundaries and limitations regarding safer sex practices in advance of sexual encounters, and having those conversations with all parties involved. In other words, you have to be comfortable with something like sitting down and having pre-sex conversations with the partner(s) of your potential new partner. Many people who try polyamory often return to monogamy or unethical non-monogamy (cheating/affairs) because they have deeply-ingrained attitudes about sex (such as, for example, that sex is sinful and shameful) that prevent them from having these types of open conversations.
Q: There's that line from a movie, "The truth? You can't handle the truth!" Does your book deal with how to explain one's current partner that you are intending to open your love to another? How well does this actually work in practice? What about jealousy?
A: Opening Love offers a variety of strategies for speaking honestly with one's loved ones. Being honest with the people in our lives is always a "successful" action, because, regardless of the other person's reaction, being honest is always the foundation for living a joyous life -- no exceptions.
The poly movement has coined a term called "compersion," which describes the opposite of jealousy. Compersion is being happy for our loved one when they are happy. In other words, when my lover is happy about loving someone else, I can intentionally cultivate compersion instead of jealousy. Compersion feels good for everybody; jealousy feels bad for everybody. Poly people prefer to cultivate compersion, which is a skill that can be learned over time. (Most people do not automatically feel compersion because jealousy has been so deeply ingrained by our culture as being an acceptable or even morally-justified emotion.)
Q: I'm curious about your nickname. Why are you called "Dr. Anya"? What kind of a doctor are you?
A: In addition to my work as a writer, I work as an energy healer. Around the time I graduated with a Ph.D. in English (after completing my dissertation on the topic of polyamory), some of my clients and friends began playfully calling me "Dr. Anya." At first, I found the nickname a bit silly, even slightly embarrassing. But, over time, I embraced the name, understanding that our community is simply trying to express appreciation for the fact that, while I don't technically have a medical or clinical psychology degree, I use my life as a potent catalyst for healing and transformation nonetheless.
Q: Polyamory has become a movement, not just an individual lifestyle choice. What are the pros and cons of becoming part of a community when it comes to one's own private relationships?
A: In hosting a support group for my local poly community, I have found that, in reality, there is no such thing as "private" choices. What we do in our so-called private life is really a reflection of the choices we make in our public life, and vice versa.
I encourage everyone who is poly or poly-curious to seek community. There are many support groups (online, as well as in-person) who maintain confidentiality, so even if you are not "out," you can still benefit from guidance and friendship with like-minded others.
Dr. Anya is a spokesperson for polyamory, a relationship coach, and Reiki Master. She is the author of Opening Love: Intentional Relationships & the Evolution of Consciousness. Learn more at DrAnya.net
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