Open relationships: One lover is never enough

For some people, monogamy just isn't an option. As a
major new drama about polygamy kicks off, Danielle
Demetriou talks to the most modern of couples 
Published: 11 June 2006

It is a scene of pure suburban heaven. The sun is
lowering in a blue sky, children are playing in neatly
manicured gardens and mums are baking in the kitchen.
Bill returns from work, loosens his tie and gives his
wife a tender kiss. Then he steps across the room and
kisses another woman, and then a third. Behind the net
curtains, Bill is living happily with three wives, a
motley crew of offspring and an emergency supply of

Polygamy is poised to rear its controversial head this
week with the arrival in the UK of the US television
comedy drama Big Love. Produced by Tom Hanks and
starring Bill Baxton, ChloŽ Sevigny and Ginnifer
Goodwin, the series may highlight the extreme - and
illegal - end of the open relationship spectrum, but
it opens up the age-old debate: is monogamy realistic?

Every childhood is peppered with memories about those
parties rumoured to happen at number 34. More
recently, the Primrose Hill set kept us amused for
weeks as an array of unconventional antics, including
wife- swapping (Sadie Frost and then husband Jude Law
with Pearl Lowe and the musician Danny Goffey) and
girl-on-girl swinging, were revealed in the press.
Alternatives to monogamy are becoming more acceptable
and adherents increasingly open.

One choice is polyamory, where people have long-term
relationships but with more than one person. Dr Meg
Barker, 31, a psychologist at the South Bank
University in London, is a polyamorist and lives
alternatively with two partners - one male and one
female - and has two further "secondary" lovers.

"Polyamory is a relationship orientation that assumes
that it is possible - and acceptable - to love many
people and to maintain multiple intimate and sexual
relationships," she explains. "Common polyamorous
set-ups include people having one or two primary
partners and other secondary ones and triads and quads
- where three or four people are involved with each
other and living together in poly-families, or

There are lots of other alternatives based on one
primary relationship. Open marriages, where couples
agree to allow each other to have affairs, is the
solution for some. Swinging - wife-swapping - is

According to Ashley Lister, who observed the swinging
scene and interviewed many of its participants for his
book, Swingers, it is growing in popularity. "If a
relationship has solid foundations and the couple are
good communicators, then swinging will bring them even
closer together."

One of his couples - Brenda and her husband Andrew -
have been swinging for two years and live with her
lover Charlie. "If Brenda and I were having an affair
behind Andrew's back, people would think we were
normal," says Charlie. "Because I live with them and
we all know what we do together it's looked on as

That honesty and openness is less damaging than
duplicity is endorsed by psychotherapist Dr Francis
Deacon, adviser on "These set-ups
might seem unrealistic from the outside, but accepting
these 'deviances' rather than suppressing them is less
harmful than the deception and lies that go
hand-in-hand with illicit sex," he says.

"So long as a mutual understanding is established, and
so long as any emotional discrepancies are immediately
aired, there should be no reason why an open
relationship shouldn't be any less fulfilling than a
monogamous one."

But life is not always straightforward. As well as
time management, there is always the knotty problem of
human emotions. What about jealousy?

"The truth is, it is still rare for people to live
together in harmony in multiple open relationships,"
says Dr Lisa Matthewman, a psychologist specialising
in relationships and sexual issues at the University
of Westminster. "Such a set-up tends to suit
non-conformist types who are very confident in
themselves and able to intellectualise their emotions
so jealousy does not get in the way."

And for those soon to watch Bill and his trio of wives
and their escapades, this will surely come as a

'Big Love' starts tomorrow at 9pm on Five

The Swingers: 'We don't have affairs - just one night

Christina Cooper (34) lives with her partner, Simon
Baker (42), and their four children in north London.
They've been together for 15 years.

We've had an open relationship from the word go,
partly because I'm bisexual and it wouldn't be fair
for me to sleep with another woman and for my partner
not to have the same privilege. We quickly reached an
agreement that it was perfectly fine for both of us to
sleep with other people. But there are terms and
conditions. We don't have affairs - they're one night
things, just sexual. We have to meet the person the
other one wants to sleep with and have last say. It's
a safety precaution. If there's anything eerie or
suspicious, we always rely on one another's ideas as
to whether it goes ahead or not.

There's no fear of falling in love outside and I've
never ever felt threatened. The only relationship is
the relationship we've got. We argue, of course - it
wouldn't be healthy otherwise - but not about our sex

When we're out at a club, Simon will go to one side
and do his own thing. I'll go to the other side and do
my own thing and then we'll meet up together at the
end. If one pulls and the other doesn't, well... tough
titties! I'd say I'm best at it. Simon might see a
girl and go, "Cor, she looks attractive. I wouldn't
even attempt it!" and then I might end up with her and
we'll either have a threesome or I might go off on my
own with her.

We do group sex, four in a bed, that sort of thing. It
really has worked for us. It's never caused any
problems, any jealousy.

Some girls, just because their partner looks at
another girl in the pub, oh! There's absolute wars
over it and I'm just so glad I'm not in a relationship
like that - it would kill me. There's no jealousy
because we've been together for 15 years and the sex
is fantastic. We're very open-minded sexually. We'll
try anything once and if it doesn't work we won't do
it again. But if it does work then it just adds to the
joy of it.

Our friends are like-minded so there's no problem
there. Maybe as we get older we'll tone down a little
bit. We'll just see how it goes.

Interview by Alice Douglas

The Open Marriage: 'Honestly, I can say that we never
felt jealous'

Diana Melly, 68, and her husband George Melly, 79, the
jazz musician, have enjoyed an open relationship for
most of their 45-year marriage.

George and I have been very lucky with our marriage,
but other people can find this difficult to
understand. We had a whirlwind relationship, a case of
lust at first sight when we met at a club in Soho in

But 10 years after we were married, George began to
get bored of being faithful. And so he pushed a very
pretty young man under my nose and we ended up in bed.

It marked the start of an open marriage. George did it
because he thought it would open up our marriage. But
one thing he didn't count on was the fact that because
I was sleeping with another man, I wouldn't want to
sleep with George. I honestly felt very relieved when
George got his first girlfriend because it meant I
wouldn't have to feel guilty about having someone else
and him being at home.

I had a bit of a delayed adolescence with the first
boyfriend until we all went out to a jazz club and
George told him that he was in love with him too. That
made him run for the hills.

Over the past 30 years, I have had three important
affairs - and as for George, you probably couldn't
count them all on your fingers and toes. He was very

I remember in 1973 when I was in Morocco with a very
young boyfriend, Little Billy. My husband happened to
be staying in the glamorous La Mamounia hotel in
Marrakech with his girlfriend. We had been staying on
a dirty campsite as we were driving across Morocco, so
we went and had a shower in George's bathroom and the
four of us had dinner. It was very pleasant.

I can honestly say that we never felt jealous of one
another's partners and have always been completely
open about who we are with. If anything, our partners
have found it harder to deal with.

The advantage of having an open marriage is not having
to support two households and a broken family. We
remained together as a family. The main disadvantage
is that things are never quite equal. There will
always be moments when one person is involved with
another person and the other is not. It may have
suited me and George, but everybody is different.

'Take a Girl Like Me', Diana Melly's autobiography, is
published by Chatto and Windus, £14.99

The Polyamorist: 'Why should one person fill a giant
black hole?'

Amelia Baxter, 37, lives in the Midlands with her
three children. She defines herself as polyamorous:
she has three regular long-term male partners as well
as several male and female lovers.

I was in my mid-twenties when I started exploring the
idea of having more than one partner. I just knew
there had to be more to relationships. I was at home
with three young children and a partner in a
monogamous set-up and I felt incredibly isolated.
Eventually I met someone who called himself
"polyamorous", which I hadn't come across before.

It put a name to what I was feeling and made me
realise there was another way of living which enabled
you to have loving relationships with more than one
person. My partner wouldn't accept it and we split up.

Discovering life as a "poly" was quite a revelation
for me. It suits me perfectly - I have always had a
very strong sense of a lack of boundaries.

Today, I live alone with my three children because I
want to give them some stability and not have too many
people drifting in and out of their lives. I have
three long-term regular partners who I might see once
or twice a week or once a month, plus a number of
other partners, including a woman I spent the weekend
with last week for the first time. On average, I
probably sleep with about 10 of the same partners
throughout the year. They all know about one another.

Jealousy should not be an issue. If I love someone who
loves someone else, you shouldn't feel jealous because
if you truly care for someone you want the best for
them. Love should involve no boundaries. Why should
there be just one person who you hope will fill a
giant black hole?

From time to time, I do feel jealous despite myself.
But when that happens, it is more of a wake-up call to
remind myself that these feelings come from a part of
me that I'm not comfortable with and I have to deal
with it.

In terms of the children, it is not something I would
go on to them about but I am always honest with them.
People who identify as poly put a very high level of
regard on honesty.

My problem with monogamous relationships is that even
if you truly madly love someone, you will always have
feelings for other people. And so where do you draw
the line? At flirting? Fantasising about them?

I live in a bit of a poly ghetto and you do find that
many of your lovers are connected. These kinds of
relationships can become tangled emotionally, but no
more than monogamous relationships. I wouldn't change
a thing.

Amelia's name has been changed 


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