With all the very intelligent commentary on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article about women (not) having it all, I felt like there wasn’t much I could contribute publicly that hadn’t already been said. I’m part of a non-monogamous community and I’m not ready to be “out” on the Internet. But I’ve been looking at all the debate through the lens of my “alt” life and relationship style, and I’m frustrated about how much of the conversation is predicated on face-value acceptance of society’s current rule set for marriage and family life. So I decided to speak up.
Jezebel‘s Lisa Wade proposed one good alternative approach: don’t have kids. That works for some people. But I want children. And while I know that I will have to make sacrifices to make that happen, I would still like to have a life.
I’m relatively new to the community in my city, so I won’t pretend to be an expert on their lives. But of one thing I am fairly certain: by writing their own rules on marital and family structure, these non-monogamous (or “monogamish,” or other “alt”) folks have created a community that looks more like the ones we used to live in back in the days of huts and spear hunting on the plains.
Rather than living in single family homes, a lot of people in my community co-house. My theory on this is that if you and your partner already have more than one intimate partnership and it’s okay, you’ve removed a lot of the jealousy and fear that could arise if you lived in close proximity to other potential sex partners. With that fear out of the picture, you’re more comfortable sharing intimate space with other adults on a regular basis. And when you remove the expectation that your spouse is supposed to be your be-all-end-all partner, upon whom you can rely for all of the support and love that our predecessors got from a much wider community, you’re much more likely to reach out to other adults for those things.
So when kids come along, there are more loving adults who have been there since day one to care for and support them. On any given night, one person can be on a date, another working on a project, another cleaning up the dinner dishes, and still another doing the bedtime routine with the household’s children. School pickups, birthday parties, and other activities are a lot less demanding when the work can be spread out a bit more – both inside and outside the house. My partner and I routinely babysit for others in our community (including those we’re dating) so that everyone in their houses can get a night out.
I do not live in a utopia. There are fights and messy breakups, and ugly divorces. But then again, all of these things happen in mainstream communities too.
One thing is clear: the current rule set is not working, and it’s especially not working for women. We need to make some changes. Mine is a demanding lifestyle, and it doesn’t suit everyone. It is worth noting that just about everyone in my community is immersed in an astounding amount of socioeconomic privilege. We’re overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, professional, and well-educated. But even if this way of life doesn’t work for you, I hope that its existence can encourage you to think outside the box about what marriage and family can look like.