Thursday, March 21, 2013

Opening Up

posted by Giselle Renarde

A laser canon zapping the school? Maybe? 

When I was in Grade 6, book reports were due every other Friday.  We each had a small "cahier" (workbook) labelled "comptes-rendus" (book reports), and in it we'd write up a blurb about the book--the plot, the characters, whether or not we enjoyed it, that sort of thing.  We also had to draw a picture to illustrate a scene that best caught our imagination.

One Thursday evening, I realized... uh-oh... my compte-rendu is due tomorrow.  Instead of reading a book really fast and writing up a quick report like I'd done a fortnight prior (I read and reviewed a joke book--I kid you not), I decided... hey... there's no way my teacher has read every book in existence, right?  Why don't I make one up?

And that's what I did.  I invented a book.  I made up a title, made up the characters, made up the plot.  Everything.

Luckily, for my first post here at Oh Get a Grip, I don't have to do that.  Not that I would, as an adult.  Let's hope I've learned a little something from past indescretions.  Even if they earned me an A+.  Not that I'm bragging...

The book that is the current apple of my eye is Tristan Taormino's "Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships."

It's a real book.  I didn't make it up.  See?

And thank goodness Opening Up is real, because it needs to exist.  I bought the book as a poly-minded person who happens not to lead a very poly life.  If you know me, you know I have one girlfriend (I refer to her as Sweet, online).  Neither of us is really in the market for additions to our couplehood at the moment, but we're not opposed to the idea of sharing our lives with others... in the future... if we wanted to.  It's a not-right-now-but-maybe-someday sort of thing.

Why did I buy a copy of Opening Up?  Well, I've never been a fan of monogamy as a concept.  I don't have a problem with people making an informed decision to be with one person and only one person til death do us part, but I don't feel like people have a good sense of their options.  That's why there's so much cheating in the world--much more than the general population admits to.  I know things.  I was mistress to a married man for ten years of my life.  A lot of people feel trapped in marriage, and don't want to divorce for whatever reason.

It's easy to demonize the unfaithful, but what's the alternative to adultery?  Well, read Tristan's book.  There are plenty of models for open relationship, and she addresses them with knowledge and deft.  I particularly appreciate that she doesn't focus solely on poly for the purpose of sexual variety, but that she broadens the scope and includes platonic models, which I particularly appreciate.

Opening Up is not a book about finding new people to sleep with.  Well, that's part of it, inasmuch as sex part of many relationships, but more than that, it's a book about mindfulness--about being self-aware, being sensitive to partners' emotions, and addressing our own adverse feelings when they pop up.

In fact, one of the main reasons I bought a copy of Opening Up was that I had a suspicion it would address jealousy.  And it does.  There's a whole chapter on jealousy.  Tristan even breaks it down into components:

Jealousy is really an umbrella term for a constellation of feelings including envy, competitiveness, insecurity, inadequacy, possessiveness, fear of abandonment, feeling unloved, and feeling left out. (Opening Up, pg 156)

For me, though I'm not nearly as jealous as I was in my younger years, the green-eyed monster still rears its head in every relationship.  Actually, I've realized that, even in my mid-thirties, I still feel a multitude of child-like jealousy-related emotions with respect to family members (ie. feeling jealous that my mother invited my sister on a vacation, but didn't invite me).  Jealousy and other strong emotions might be more at the surface of open relationships, but they are present, for most people, even beyond romantic relationships. 

Since I started reading Opening Up, I've noticed more mindfulness and recognition of emotions, and I find I'm better at dealing with the feelings in Tristan's jealousy constellation.  For that reason alone, I would recommend Opening Up to anyone.

I would further recommend it because there's so much misunderstanding and lack of respect for the poly mindset.  Even when I was in Grade 6 and faking book reports, it already seemed strange to me that two people could get married, but three or four couldn't.  Maybe I'm somehow predisposed to appreciating open relationships, but for people who want to learn more, Opening Up is an absolute must-read.



  1. Thanks for this! I _love_ that she includes platonic models -- that's really interesting, and makes me much more curious about the book.

  2. Giselle, I also wrote a book report about a joke book on (at least) one occasion! And recently I found it in a file of my "juvenilia." So I promptly logged in to Amazon, looked up the same joke book, and transcribed the review, with a preface explaining that these were "the opinions of my ten-year-old self exactly as they appear in the original document." The final sentence of the very brief review reads, "I've made up some jokes too."

  3. Giselle - I used to make up books too, but only because my teacher refused to believe I could read the books I really was reading.

    I have several friends in poly relationships. I'll recommend Tristan's book to them.

  4. Jeremy, that's hilarious. Yeah, my mother dumped a bunch of "juvenilia" on me recently. "Take your stuff or it's going in the garbage." Something like that.

    It's amazing how easily you can forget what you loved as a kid. When I looked back through my book reports, a lot of them were about this series called "Sophie, l'apprentice sorciere" which was THE BEST.

    I wrote a lot of books as a kid, but the writing was secondary. I liked drawing. I wrote stories so I could illustrate them. (that's my Grade 6 art in the post, if that wasn't clear LOL)

  5. thank you for the heads up, i just put it at the top of my TBBN list. can't wait to read it.

    tammy ramey

  6. Hello, Giselle,

    What a wonderful "compte-rendue"!

    Polyamory has always made sense to me, and indeed, it was a sort of ideal for my husband and me in the early years of our marriage. We found it rather difficult to work out in reality, though.

    The paragraph you quote shows a huge amount of insight as well as wonderful precision of emotional language. I want this book!

  7. Hi Giselle-
    Polyamory- the essence of much erotica.

    Having come up during the 'sexual revolution' it was referred to then as 'open marriage'. The long-suffering Momma X and I were also hippies and it sort of came with the territory living in communal situations. I saw what amounts to polyamory work okay in the short term at parties, overnighters, and simply at those times when we fell in bed with someone other than our spouses. I never asked any explanations from Momma when it happened, and she tolerated it pretty much from me. I also knew of situations where good-looking guys (often musicians, actors) would have a few gals around, but and there also women who went from man to man, but nothing so formal as 'open marriage' and the terms 'polyamory' or 'polyfidelic' hadn't yet been coined.

    What we really had going for us was the thrust of the movement itself, coupled with the fact that this was also pre-aids. Here in San Francisco it took a huge toll on our sex lives. Indeed on our lives themselves. Everybody here lost someone close to them and sex was no longer good for you, much as the way when we were young, the sun was also beneficial. Or maybe we had an ozone layer then. It was a long time ago. :>)

    I never saw a polyamory work for any length of time in a M/F relationship. Momma and I lived on Castro Street in the seventies, right in the thick of things. We were the only straight couple in the building, but we found that even when a group of men live together, having sex with everybody around them that after a few months, things would fall apart. one partner would find someone else, arguments among them would end things, or you name it. It was over.

    But, I am looking forward to checking out Taormino's "Opening Up". Polyamory is an intriguing subject I'd like to read more about. I don't know how much there is out there, but this looks like it's pretty thorough. Thanks, Giselle, for putting us hip to it.

    Be well-
    Daddy X

  8. I would say the focus of Tristan's book is sustaining open relationships, long-term, through introspection, negotiation, and clear collaboration.

    I didn't mention one of my favourite things about Opening Up: that Tristan interviews poly people for this book. For me (as a documentary-loving type person), it's really useful to read about so many people's actual real-life experiences.

    But I could go on forever about this book. I just love it.


  9. Monogamy was invented by early man to be sure they were leaving their stuff to an actual offspring, the fruit of their loins, not another man' their genes would continue on when they were gone. Women were probably resistant at first, since it's so much easier to get laid as a woman, when you don't have to buy anyone dinner or think up any smooth pick-up lines other than, "Hi, let's fuck."

    But eventually females began to understand that allowing a man to claim you for himself meant that he'd stick around to feed and defend you and the kids, in return for your having sex only with him. It was a business arrangement at heart.

    Romance and love wasn't connected to early marriage, and in many countries and cultures, it still isn't. The wealthy got no choice in who they married, the business part being more transparent. The poor usually never bothered to marry because they had no stuff to leave to anyone so who cares?

    But the idea of sharing the person you are married to with others carries lots of dangers, not the least of which is worrying that someone else will be better in bed than you are, or that your sig. other will prefer someone else more. Sex is such a loaded issue in this country, where we prefer violence to making love. I'd be to worried that some man with a huge arsenal would decide that if he can't have me, then no one else can either. Makes me kind of glad I'm not young and hot anymore, but am happily-married to a man with whom I still share passionate devotion.

    fiona.mcgier (at) gmail (dot) com

  10. Yes, Giselle- Getting it from the horse's mouth, so to speak would give an inside-looking-out kinda perspective. The book sounds more and more interesting. Thanks for the stimulating post.

    Be well-
    Daddy X

  11. this book has been a handy reference to offer to poly-curious pals. thanks for talking about it, Giselle. glad to have a fellow Canuck on the list :)

  12. There's more than one fellow-Canuck here, Amanda and Giselle. :)
    (But Giselle might be the only francophone Canadienne.)
    Tristan Taormino's book sounds interesting. She has so much to say about sex, relationships, and the combination of all that.

  13. Hey, Daddy & Fiona,

    I think polyamory can work, but it can't just be about sex. A stable polyamorous relationship requires as much maturity, patience and commitment as a successful monogamous relationship.

    Also - I was lucky enough to be in my sexual prime post-Pill and pre-AIDS. For a number of years I openly had relationships with multiple people simultaneously (though that's not really polyamory). Despite the fact that I've been married 30+ years, I am not fundamentally monogamous - though I believe some folks truly are.

  14. I'm more of a franglaisphone... or an anglofrone... or something?

  15. Hi Giselle!

    Welcome to the grip!

    I agree with what fiona was saying, in that early in our evolution monogamy was probably an element of practicality between men and women. Limitless pussy in exchange for food and security for offspirng. Theoretically at least. One's mileage may vary.

    There is one example of a matriarchal society in China and the women who run the community by their own lights are distinctly polyandrous. I suspect that this is the natural state of human beings and that future generations may be heading in that direction again. very interesting post.


  16. but aren't you leaving us, Jean Roberta?

    franglophones & anglofrankensteins....all good.

    my husband & i are poly. have been for 8 years out of our 13 year relationship. it works for us very well.

    to Lisabet, sometimes we have relationships, sometimes just casual romps with others. that works fine as well. purely carnal or long term. the Ethical Slut is a great resource. relationships can be very fluid: sometimes they are sexual, sometimes they are not. i've had pals who started out as fuck buddies & became dear friends. dear friends who i went to bed with & then we decided to be platonic. all variations can work or can't. always depends on the individuals involved.

  17. I have always been interested in poly relationships, but Ive been married to my high school sweetheart for 25yrs. I don't think he would be open to the idea.
    I just that's why I read a lot of multiple partners and ménage books.

  18. Ingenious on the book report :)



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