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The New Monogamy

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If Katie and Siege have taken their nonmonogamy to the extreme, perhaps it’s because they fit a pattern we saw emerge in our research: 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?

Which is not to say that women don’t also crave a variety of male partners: “A woman needs to feel potent, too,” says Mia, a 32-year-old CFO. “She needs to know men want her. It fuels her fantasies. It makes her feel alive.” The problem is, it’s rare to find a man willing to negotiate these options. Thus, a hetero woman is more likely to be nonmonogamous in a don’t-ask-don’t-tell set-up such as the 50-Mile Rule (don’t sleep with anyone who lives in your city) or to simply cheat. “Before Tom and I were engaged,” says Mia, “I could leave town and end up in bed with an entire soccer team and he’d never know. And he was always smart enough not to ask.” But once they got engaged, Mia reined it in, figuring they had an unspoken agreement that marriage meant monogamy. Still, her urges lingered. “I did consider fooling around for one last hurrah before I tied the knot, but, alas, a good opportunity never presented itself.”

What happens if one partner wants to fantasize about a three-way, and the other wants to have one with the hot bassist next door?

When partners reject the cult of communication this way, the built-in dishonesty can wreck things right off. “My last boyfriend said he didn’t want to take away my freedom, so I could fuck around so long as it wasn’t with his friends and we didn’t talk about it,” says Sarah, a 26-year-old proofreader. “But he’s a musician, very good-looking and charismatic, and always on tour: He was just protecting his own freedom.” Sarah engaged in her own extracurricular activities, more than she thinks he expected. “I wished we could have been an ethically nonmonogamous couple, but how could I present myself to other guys as an ethical slut when our policy was ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’? I wanted to talk to him about the guys, and I wanted to know what he was doing on tour, but he wouldn’t go there.” They soon split up.

These types of conundrums don’t affect only straight couples. When lesbians Gillian (32, producer) and Kiki (28, psychiatric social worker) met three years ago, Gillian, like many people considering an open relationship, was getting over a cheating ex. Gillian suggested nonmonogamy, and though Kiki was shocked and slightly offended at first, she acquiesced. “I figured that this way, I would get honesty,” says Gillian. But a year in, Kiki hit it off with Susan, a woman with whom they’d had a three-way. Kiki fell in love with the pinch hitter, and the two dated monogamously for a year until Kiki cheated again . . . with Gillian, her ex.

Now Kiki’s got a brand-new serious girlfriend, and they are contemplating a three-way: “We’re going to pick someone that neither of us thinks we could wind up falling in love with,” says Kiki. “Someone a little bit slutty who won’t get attached to us.” Meanwhile, Gillian is single and is done with any kind of open relationship. “I’ve learned that I’m strictly a one-woman woman.”


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