Like most people, the topic of monogamy vs. polyamory has come up in the past. Both in terms of a purely hypothetical conversation with no real intention to follow through in real life, and as a distinct possibility that never really transpired. Mainly because the person asking for an open relationship wasn’t in a position to handle any type of committed adult relationship, let alone a non-monogamous one, which would have required twice the transparency and respect to navigate than a conventional one would.
Polyamory fascinates us. The constant push and pull of human nature to often crave emotional intimacy with one individual, yet sex with many, is often the root of many ruptures and issues in monogamous relationships. Life’s about decisions and, ultimately, the decisions that work best for you and your belief system and emotional make-up.
But, of course, anyone who thinks that polyamory is the “have your cake and eat it too” perfect solution to those conflicting desires is only fooling themselves. Consensual, ethical, and responsible open relationships require incredible maturity, capacity for transparency, the ability to navigate and negotiate boundaries and occasionally hurt feelings in a respectful and loving way. They are not for everyone.
But the cultural conversation for what relationships and marriage mean in the 21st century is something many more people are choosing to engage in and conventional norms and definitions seem to be applying less and less these days.
It’s why Eleanor O’Brien’s solo show Lust & Marriage, which she’s currently performing at the Montreal Fringe Festival, caught my eye. Could a love story about open relationships and non-monogamy work? Sure, why not? Who gets to define the terms of anything really, other than the people directly involved and affected by the consequences of their decisions?
And Eleanor’s story was sure to catch my eye. Anyone who describes themselves as a “hopelessly romantic ethical slut in search of a soul mate” gets my undivided attention.
This personal experience, which she drew from, was the catalyst for her piece. When a Burning Man fling turned out to be the love of her life, she thought she had found her happy ending. But her paramour didn’t pine for monogamy. Enter polyamory.
Nothing captures people’s attention more than the real possibility of engaging in an honest and intimate conversation about something we are all obsessed with: relationships and sex. And the creator of sex-positive hits such as GGG: Dominatrix 4 Dummies and Inviting Desire is no slouch in this department.
I caught up with Eleanor, who is the Artistic Director for Dance Naked Productions in Portland, Oregon, for a quick Q & A.
What was the inspiration for this piece?
Dan Savage put out a call in his column Savage Love for stories from non-monogamous couples who had “made it work” and I wanted to tell a love story about having an open relationship. A friend of mine says ‘Before there was therapy, there was art’ and I think that is true. My instinct is often to turn what I am chewing on into a story for the stage. I figure if it’s something I’m struggling with, other people are too. I see my job as a professional vulnerable. I tell my stories – warts and all – as a way to give other people permission to do the same.
What was your motivation in writing it?
Me and my husband have been having some version of an open relationship for 10 years, so I had a lot of good material. My mission is to create theater that explores and celebrates sexuality – that hopefully helps others find comfort and inspiration in living outside of cultural norms. I am not an advocate of polyamory per se, but of making informed choices around relationship and sexuality.
Are you still in this polygamous relationship?
I am! My boyfriend just went on a date with someone new last night. My husband has a girlfriend. Jealousy still rears its head, but it gets easier to recognize it as an emotion and not a fact.
Do you believe in monogamy? Do you think it can work or does it go against human nature and our sexuality?
I absolutely “believe” in monogamy, in that I think it is the most appropriate choice for a lot of people. I think it goes against SOME people’s nature. I don’t believe there is a right ways. I don’t’ think there is ONE human nature. I think we are deeply complex. I think it can work when both people are committed and communicative – not when one person wants it and the other is going along out of some feeling of “being evolved.” It really doesn’t work at all for some people. My folks have been married for 50 years – happily so- and it wouldn’t work at all for them!
What has been the reaction to this piece?
Predominately positive, though I think people self-select. I do think it triggers some people. The reaction that I have heard the most is that it makes you think. But yeah, overall people seem to really love it.
This is your first time in this city. What are you looking forward to most about Montreal?
Oh my gosh – SO MUCH! Riding my bike and absorbing all the beauty, seeing shows, going to the circus! Hearing French spoken everywhere, listening to music (I hear there is another festival going on with French culture from around the world) making friends, trying new food, connecting with the Fringe artists. I’m super open to suggestions! I just found an amazing all-night bagel place last night. Sesame bagel hot out of the oven – phenomenal.
Montreal bagels hot out of the oven… Some would argue they’re even better than sex.
Lust & Marriage will be performed at the Montreal Fringe Fest until June 21. For complete dates and times, consult the website.
For more on Eleanor’s work you can check out the Dance Naked Productions website.