Our son, who is almost 30 years old, was married four years ago. He just shared with us that for the last three years he and his wife have been practicing polyamory. They are committed to their relationship, but have each had relationships with both men and women over the last three years. We are trying to get our heads around this, as we come from a more traditional background (we've been married 40 years in a loving and respectful relationship), and we find ourselves feeling very sad. We are accepting and non-judgmental, just trying to understand how he came to this decision. He feels that to make love "finite," to love only one person, is "not being true" and that this kind of relationship prevents dishonesty and is based on truth. He also shared that his wife was the first one to broach this idea three years ago and after many long and deep conversations he eventually overcame his jealousy and now is embracing this practice. They do not have children and do not plan to ever have children. Any guidance you can provide to us would be greatly appreciated.
I greatly admire you and your work, and thank you for all of the caring guidance you have provided over the years.
Is your son happy?—Dan
He says he is happy, so yes.—SM
Believe him and be happy for him.
It's unfortunate that your son framed the news about his choices and his marriage—which make him happy—in what sounds like a clumsy critique of your choices and your marriage. (If that's what he did, SM. I've only got your characterization of his comments to go on, not a tape recording of them, and it's been my experience that some monogamous folks hear critiques of their choices when we non-monogamous folks talk about our own. "We're not doing what you're doing" ≠ "You're doing it wrong.")
There’s nothing necessarily "finite," untruthful, limiting, or dishonest about monogamy. If that’s what two people want, SM, and it makes those two people happy, that's great. Monogamy is what you and your husband wanted, it what made you and husband happy, and it worked for your marriage. You could see your son's choice to be non-monogamous as a rejection of everything you modeled for him or you could see his choice as modeled on the fundamental, bedrock stuff—for lack of a better word—that informed the choice you made. Your son and his wife are doing what they want, they're doing what makes them happy, and they're doing what works for their marriage. They're not doing monogamy (or kids), but they're doing what's right for them and what works for them—just like his mom and dad did.
There are lots of people out there in happy, fulfilling open/poly relationships, SM, and lots of people out there in happy, fulfilling monogamous relationships. (There are lots of miserable people in both kinds.) There are also lots of people in happy, fulfilling monogamous relationships they will one day choose to open and lots of people in happy, fulfilling non-monogamous relationships they will one day choose to close. It's happiness, consent, mutual respect that matters, not whether a relationship is monogamous or non-monogamous.
If your son is happy, SM, you should be happy for him. But if he states—or clumsily implies—that you and his dad couldn't be happy because you're not doing the same thing he and his wife are doing, you tell him from non-monogamous me that he's full of non-monogamous shit.—Dan
P.S. Two pieces of recommended reading...
1. Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage by Jenny Block.
2. And this informative interview with poly activist and frequent Savage Lovecast guest Diana Adams.
There's a lot more out there you could read—I'm sure that the commenters here on Slog will have some great suggestions—but a lot of it is about how to open your marriage, SM, and you're not interested in that. And I don't think this isn't something you really need to do a whole lot of homework about. Love and accept your son, respect his choices, don't blame his wife, be kind to any partners they wind up introducing you to. It's actually pretty simple.