They say that the land on Koh Phangan has a high content of rose quartz, the love stone. In Haad Rin, a bare concrete shell of empty reggae bars and kebab shops two weeks before the full moon, I could not feel further away from the concepts of love. Haad Rin is a tourism disaster: empty for most of the month, besides a group of young locals in fake Stussy caps, endlessly smoking cigarettes beneath a black umbrella; the fierce midday sun; and two brawny white men carrying a speaker that bellows Tiesto to empty streets.
However, a short boat ride away from Haad Rin there is a quieter beach. A beach where people come for the yoga rather than the Magic Milkshakes. On that beach, love can be ‘infinite’, and a regular tells me that ‘everyone has to have their first Why Nam threesome’. On the slither of a jungle backed beach, I have no direct experiences of ‘free love’ but I do take part in a talk on consensual non-monogamy, led by a polyamorous couple from San Francisco. The discussion is staged in one of the teak bungalows that is shrouded by car sized green leaves. After I think about modern relationships. About sex and the concepts of love and intimacy in the world around us.
The San Francisco couple talk about polyamory. They say that the amount of love and attention we receive from our partners does not determine our worth. They say that every human being is capable of giving and receiving an ‘infinite’ amount of love. They philosophize: it is not possible for one individual to be all and everything for another. In a polyamorous setting, each partner is necessary because each partner provides them with something different. Example: Cathy of The San Francisco Couple does not like to watch “political satires on youtube” but Steven “is in love with political satires on YouTube. So instead of me being unhappy and him being unhappy, he can just go and find someone else who likes political satires on YouTube and enjoy that with them.” Every partner can be loved equally in this way. At this point a French man asks the couple about intimacy, for him, real intimacy can only exist between two people at one time. Inevitably, he says, introducing other people into a relationship tarnishes that intimacy. In the open setting of polyamory, the couples divulge the details of their various relationships with their partners, and this apparently intensifies their bond.
But how about dishonest relationships? Where a couple is never really labelled a couple, and sleep around and around but are not honest with each other about when or with who? To me, the concept of polyamory does not seem entirely foreign. Many people I meet engage in polyamory all the time. Only, often, it is not consensual. No one is honest. And it seems that the reason for dishonesty is that people believe that to be honest would reveal that the intimacy they share might only be an illusion.
In the London that I have grown up in, we call these sorts of relationships ‘things’. ‘Things’ can last months, ‘things’ can last years even. But, much like in Friends With Benefits or No Strings Attached nothing is ever decisive. No one is clear.
There is no vocabulary, other than ‘no strings attached’. When, perhaps, the individual who has decided against commitment is a ‘solo poly’. Cathy explains that a ‘solo poly’ has assertively decided to have intimate relationships with many people, or one, or two, but to not be tethered to any of them. She explains that as a ‘solo poly’ one still gains knowledge, understanding, love, excitement and affection from the individuals that they are dating. Rather, we call boys who are dishonest and date several girls ‘players’ and ‘fuck boys’, whereas girls are ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’. In this setting, we talk about deceptions and reality, for in the midst of a ‘thing’ affection feels false without honesty.
Along with honesty, polyamorous couples understand that “true love comes from within” and can be harnessed by a multiplicity of individuals. However, I do not think that the majority are looking for multiplicity. At the end of No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman unrealistically end up with their casual fuck buddies. Like the French man, the majority seem to want ‘real intimacy’. And surely by nature intimacy is private?
This privacy seems to be under constant threat in polyamorous relationships. Cathy tells us that:
“One of Simon’s satellites [a partner who is not the primary partner] felt betrayed when Simon and I wanted to go and see a band that she had thought of as ‘their band’ that played ‘their song’. I didn’t realise, but it was, like, the worst reaction because for non-monogamy to work you have to let go of that sense of ownership. Simon doesn’t belong to me.”
And by extension the moments that he shares with his girlfriends do not belong to them either. So what is the foundation of a polyamorous relationship based on if not belonging? Where a ‘thing’ always fails is that in the ambiguousness of having an undefined relationship with someone, we are never allowed to believe that we belong to something. We are never permitted to feel that the moments and memories that make up that relationship have co-ownership. Everything is too cool to be voiced. To acknowledge that you are part of a group of two, even to each other is, ‘too much’. Even worse would be to recognize that you are part of multiple groups made up of twos. Maybe privacy and ownership are out, and cool, silent, unowned intimacy is ‘in’. However, this type of intimacy (if it does work) can only stand a chance with honesty, and in individualistic, brash, busy London, honesty is ‘too much’.
Cathy becomes animated, unlike Simon, who hangs back. A young woman moves closer to the couple when Cathy explains that she “totally gets off on the idea that other girls find Simon sexy”. Simon smiles at the young woman.
A week later I make my exit from the beach in the back of a pickup truck, holding onto the rails as it attacks the overgrown green jungle, still lush and wet from the first rains of the monsoon. A man with a thick Yorkshire accent leans onto our backpacks and says that he saw the couple and the young woman at ‘Guy’s Bar.’
“Let’s just say that they were putting consensual non-monogamy into action. I mean I’m all for people doing what they want, but keep it behind closed doors, know what I’m saying?”
Author: Bella Saltiel