Illustration from Maria Skliarova
Bordering on the jejune/gauche spectrum as it may be, before moving to Berlin, polyamory endured a vague, formless concept. Living in Dublin, where my first and only date led to a six-month monogamous Uhaul, joint emigration, socially encouraged mutual obsession, policing and community isolation, my naivieté was perhaps foreseeable.
All my life, I had been told what love was, how it looks and that, if we find it, all else will be a shadow, a fading spectre of a colder, regrettable, spinster-esque time. And, all my life, I had, as you might expect, had a bit of a fucked-up approach in amity, treating what were often very foetal, fickle human nexuses as the antidote to the world at large. Though spiritually agnostic, my God has quite a few times been a woman.
Then, the only stories I’d heard of polyamory were open relationships, folky horror tales of heterosexual unions with little to no integrity. My former flame, in Adam-like fashion, would point out her non-monogamous friends to me, burning bushes of the hedonistic poly-inclined. Their failures justified her perceived safety, her correctness in not choosing monogamy but knowing it was the only right, good way to love – what was natural. Regularly she – and many others – mandated to me what love was, and I listened because, well, I wanted to know.
Moving to Berlin quickly rectified my innocent state. In this city, where anything is possible in the underground, it is monogamy that registers shock. I scroll through dating apps, poly, solo-poly, non-monog, open relationships, the occasional “ethical monogamy” popping up like a phantom of the past.
Though I remained unsure where I identified on the spectrum, I dated polyamorous identifying people. We talked about the other people we were dating, and we registered where this was, or was not, going. We allowed our nervous systems to breathe, suffusing a little cognition to the blend.
. . .
Monogamy, contemporarily, is often understood to be rooted in ownership and cis-hetero, patriarchal norms, standing as the ultimate other of freedom, experience and emotional evolution. Polyamory, if you somehow missed the cultural memo, is the consensual seeking of relationships, sex or else wise – dynamically dependent – with more than one person.
With Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation and Non-Monogamy, I half expected the villainisation of monogamy and – with the experiences I have had, I likely would have been guilty of, if not championing, at least lightly allying this thesis. Instead, Rachel Krantz writes with an honesty that harrows, stringing me, her curious reader, along – as Adam, her hyper-masculine, desire-studying, eleven-years-her-senior, triangulation-adoring polyamorous inundator, did her.
Influenced by writers such as Lori Gottlieb, Carmen Maria Machado and Bernardine Evaristo, this book is not a masculinist work of objectivity but a deeply personal story – one which, in its solipsism, becomes a non-authoritative, self-lived precept. I find myself hanging on Krantz’s every word, questioning it with equal trepidation, yet unable to stop plodding alongside in her outrageously queer, non-monogamous awakening.
Jocularly titled “Once Upon a Time, a Solitary Maiden Believed Only Somewhat Ironically In Being Rescued,” Open’s initiating chapter presents Krantz, a romantically dissatisfied 27-year-old on her way to Adam’s, 38, house with a very feminist flower bouquet.
For their first date – he is cooking her dinner, seasoned with a myriad of scarlet flags – my personal favourites, the collective (and revered) presence of Heidegger, Yeats and Freud. Adam is polyamorous, and he is seeking a partner, someone to share his life with, not a fuck, not even two. A student of desire and the author of two books, his academic research circles the psychology of romantic and sexual covet and – from the get-go – he sparks, if not Krantz’s unconditional intoxication, by minimum, her journalistic curiosity.
Someway through the evening, betwixt foot massages and inquisition-like exchanges, Adam – the penultimate white male middle-class anti-villain – drops the shell that was Krantz to become his partner, prudish (read: monogamous) tempering would be a thing of the past. Whetting the pledge, he assures they would grant each other primacy – a certain level of relational privilege and veto rights regarding potential metas.
As he dickered, promising compersion and compromise, Krantz realised her aching towards decoding true adulthood had begun. She could not have, nor if we are being honest, could we, predict that Adam would be a man who, by intricate gaslighting and manipulation, would lead to the momentary fracturing of Krantz’s literary prowess, the disrupt of her temporal awareness, her selfhood, her salient capacity to love.
Their premier tryst is a single dinner, a nonplussed date, a rebound – yet, coincidingly, it is the beginning of Krantz’s unravelling at Adam’s hands, of her next five years, her ultimate failure to be good at non-monogamy.
. . .
Krantz, ambiguity averse, is committed to readers’ grasping her import. Throughout the memoir, Krantz engages leaders of their respective, relevant fields – to name a few – Dr Tara Brach, Monk Tashi Nyima, and Dr Ryan Witherspoon. Deftly, these doyens muse, declaim and annotate reality. Post-read, I was left wishing I, also, could organise a team of therapists, Buddhist teachers, BDSM experts, and psychologists – that perhaps they could break down a few of my more questionable tendencies. I began to mourn the lack of research in areas so central to grasping the human psyche, our drives, attachments and habits – be they atomic – or not. Polyamory, or non-monogamy, perceived as transgressive, is not something in which governments or foundations wish to invest.
The recording and archiving of conversations, therapy sessions, phone calls, emails, and text messages total the annals of this memoir. It is five years of lived experience in mosaic, cyborg form. Concerning the choice to take minutes on her former relationship, Krantz expounds, “I was feeling increasingly incoherent and could not even focus on reading. The recordings were a way of having a witness in the room. It felt like some way of working towards a future where I was a person who could imagine doing long formwork and thinking again.
It also felt like some sort of agency. Sometimes, women are believed but also – more often – they are not. They are viewed as unreliable witnesses to their own lives. I also knew that any woman who writes about her sex life is immediately viewed with suspicion.”
She recalls that some of the early responses to the book questioned her authenticity, based on the fact that she had indeed been documenting the whole time.
“I do understand that question, even though I think it probably means you have not properly read the book – if you have that question. Women are put in this impossible situation. Either you didn’t have enough evidence, you didn’t have a journalistic approach, and you didn’t record and your memories are now thrown into question – Is your memory faulty? Are you making things up? Or else, like me, you swing completely the other way, amassing evidence and recording as a coping mechanism. And then, the question becomes – are you authentic?”
. . .
Krantz, in divine feminine sagacity, is not the Eve to Adam, but Lilith, the embodiment of the humid, murky feminine, refusing anything but utter liberation, gritting her teeth and moving, not necessarily linearly but certainly tangibly towards veracity. The complexity of the erotic, how it allows us to open up our bodies to joy, that is not restricted to the sexual or the romantic, a sensuality that moves beyond.
Adam, by contrast, functions as the supreme manipulator, the GOAT of gaslighters, so lost in compersion-mooting cultural truths of white male, binary logic that he cannot seem to fathom the idea he might, occasionally, be wrong. That discrepancy may exist between the lived reality of love and the transcripts of an academic manuscript, a classroom, a salon. Adam, the embodiment of who our society strives to meet every need of, is the antithesis of fallibility. Ironically, in his self-approved perfection, he becomes alien.
Reminding me of so many friends, partners, and even family members, he left me raging. I have met an Adam of every orientation and identity – he is, however, most powerful in his ribbed, systemically-bolstered form. Yet, uncritical fury and despise of Adam is far from Krantz’s intention.
Reflecting on early receptions of the book, Krantz marks her disturbance at many expressing no empathy for Adam, “They say it in solidarity but it distresses me. That’s the opposite of the feeling I seek to elicit: a non-dualistic compassion beyond boxes and pain … I seek no revenge, no public or professional fallout … This certainly doesn’t mean that I absolve Adam of responsibility for his actions, or that I don’t hope this book spurs dramatic internal changes, as it has for me. But I still feel an immense compassion for the confusion and suffering that fuels harmful behavioural cycles.”
Throughout Open, Adam is taken not as a protagonist or even a driving narrative force; Adam is the conflict, one whom, in sumptuous narrative swerving, is nearly entirely removed from the climax of this journalistic memoir. Polyamory is our subject, Adam is a vicissitude and reaching textual orgasm is, ultimately, a heroine’s ending, a pelvic unwinding of Krantz’s own making.
. . .
Forward in her vulnerabilities as she is her beliefs, Krantz speaks to a fear of taking up space in queer spaces, of not being queer enough. I empathise, conscious that the queer spaces I seek community within, peppered, as they are, with rejection, biphobia and transphobia, remain implicitly monosexual. Discussions of queerness lead us into gendered territory. Within the text, Krantz is careful to respect the identities of her friends and contributors, making effort – as all should – to vista a webbed array of lived gender experience. Despite her regular gender presentation being – self-proclaimed – little boy, Krantz woman is a label she still identifies with, and she/her, she muses, is fine. “ I have definitely noticed a change, that expressing and owning my queerness more publicly has made me less likely to express traditional femininity.”
Pulling up her recommended reading list of bisexual literature, Krantz cites her friend Jen Winston’s Greedy: Notes From A Bisexual Who Wants Too Much on overcoming internalised biphobia, the label bisexual, and learning to take up space, and Shiri Eisner’s BI: Notes For A Bisexual Revolution on their concept of bisexuality as a liberatory agent of social change. “People who refuse to be put in binary boxes push things forward for everyone.” Krantz reflects.
Cautious of prioritising or place queer relationships on an altar of sorts, Krantz unveils her perceived toxicity of excessively pashing queer unions. We begin to discern how this particular excess closely mirrors the psychology of blindly aligning with monogamy, of internalising patriarchal, masculinist, fanatic thought. We realise, by ourselves, that the modern monosexual creation story, that these many strange hierarchies we have been taught to naturalise – are myths, feedback loops.
Micro-occurrences of biphobia, or a seeming willing ignorance concerning its validity, are constant within the book. There is Adam, deeply affected and aroused by the thought of another man fucking his girl, unmoved with the thought of a woman. How Adam would have felt about trans or nonbinary triangulation is not discussed. Only a man could take his woman, and only a man can fulfil his cuckold-repossession fantasies. There are Krantz’s experiences on dating apps, the general suspicion with which she, a polyamorous, bisexual woman is treated by other queer women, friends who would regularly announce that they were “done” with bisexual women.
With Open lauding reception, I place hope in our community and our realisation that it is in safety when cared for and not mocked, or fearing the terrible mono veto – that we allow the true jumbled abstrusities of our identities to be known. Open promotes this safety to live so authentically and ethically that opinions at large – cease to bear. It is what allows conversations to happen and enables the erotically centring epiphanies Krantz found.
. . .
For Krantz, it is the idea of having to snuff her romantic and sexuality curiosity that provokes terror; to never date or fall in love again, for the first time. “It is not about monogamy, or non-monogamy,” she reflects, “it’s about there being a conversation, for the relationship to be this growing, fluid thing.” Significantly, it is Krantz’s a-judgemental approach which allowed me to lean in, and trust the insights of this memoir. To acknowledge our finitude and choose monogamy, is not settling. To traverse the bogs of polyamory is not immoral. It is a choice we make everyday, it is always a conversation; with ourselves, our partners, our families, friends –the state.
I no longer assume the relationships of those around me are monogamous, whether they are, wish to share, or not. My current partner is an individual well versed in the norms of monogamy and nonmonogamy alike. Through conversation, loving, non-aggravated and transparent, we concluded monogamy was very authentically, what both of us wanted, what at this time, both of us needed – what for us imparted trueness, bestowed love.
I mention the personal, as this book, the breathing, moving story of a woman refusing repose – demands, as you might expect, openness. Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation and Non-Monogamy is beautiful, radical and necessary, and for this issue, circling the punk, the non-normative, the subcultural – hooch.