Is 2024 the year of polyamory?

“How Did Polyamory Become So Popular?” wonders The New Yorker in a late December article. The New York Times gushes in a Jan. 13 article: “How a Polyamorous Mom Had ‘a Big Sexual Adventure’ and Found Herself.”

More articles rapidly followed. New York Magazine’s Jan. 16 cover article was “A Practical Guide to Modern Polyamory.” The Wall Street Journal warned, “You’re Looking for ‘The One.’ These Dating-App Users Are Looking for ‘Another One.’” And the New York Post asked, “Is your relationship ready for polyamory? 6 signs that point to yes.”

Is our society shifting? Is being monogamous soon going to be yet another thing that sets apart religious Americans from everyone else? Are parents soon going to have to make the case for monogamy to the next generation?

As much as I’d love to chalk this up as another made-up media narrative, there is some evidence polyamory is catching on. A third of singles have been in a non-monogamous relationship, according to a 2023 survey of American singles by Match, a dating site company. Just half of singles (49%) picked monogamy as their ideal sexual relationship structure. Perusing dating apps, I’ve seen men saying they are in an open relationship and looking for another.

A third of Americans, including an astonishing 51% of 18- to 29-year-olds, say that an open marriage is “acceptable,” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April 2023.

What is going on?

Curious, I decided to read the new book “More: A Memoir of Open Marriage,” by Molly Roden Winter, a Brooklyn wife and mother who chronicles her adventures in polyamorous relationships.

Winter, who is interviewed in several of the new articles about polyamory, writes about her various experiences and ends her book by talking about how she wondered, before her second child arrived, how she could love him as much as her first.

“But then a miracle happened. Nate arrived. And I loved them both,” she recounts. “Because love is vast. Abundant. Infinite, in fact. And the secret is this: love begets love. The more you love, the more you have to give.”

The message is clear: Just as we can love multiple children, so can we love multiple romantic partners.

But Winter’s actual tale—to give her credit, she is honest about the turbulence and devastation open marriage brings to her—paints a much less rosy picture.

In fact, the book convinced me polyamory is just the latest way the patriarchy is hoodwinking the women of America.

While Molly Roden Winter paints herself as the protagonist of her own story, it is her husband, Stew, whose urges drive the opening of the marriage. After Stew sees a flirty text from another man to Molly, then his wife of a decade, he advocates that Molly, who did not plan to have further contact with the man, sleep with him.

When Molly goes out on a date with the new man, her husband texts her: “Have fun, tonight, baby. I’ll be thinking about you.” Her reaction to the text is: “Something about his message irritates me. Does he think this is all for him?”

Sadly, Molly does not linger on this question long enough.

When she chickens out on sleeping with the new man, who has a girlfriend of his own, Stew is disappointed—but doesn’t let Winter forget. “For the first few months after my failed ‘date,’ when Stew and I have sex, he tries to keep the fantasy of Matt alive. Talking about Matt feeds Stewart’s libido.”

When Molly sees Matt again, she once again wonders if she should sleep with him. Confiding to a friend, she says, “Stewart wants me to sleep with him … He says the idea of it turns him on.”

Ah, feminism in the 2020s. It’s no longer enough to sleep with your husband. Now you also have to gratify him sexually by sleeping with other men.

She ultimately does sleep with Matt, arguing unconvincingly that she didn’t do it for Stew or her marriage but because “it is what I want.” But almost immediately the situation spirals.

Molly recounts being teary, worried Matt won’t cheat on his girlfriend again with her. Stew, ever the Prince Charming, quickly asks if it’s OK if he can sleep with an ex-girlfriend, to which Winter reluctantly agrees, conceding it’s “not fair” if she can sleep with others and he can’t.

The book rapidly gallops through similarly heartwarming scenes. When Molly finds out that Stew did indeed sleep with his ex, she recounts her emotional response: “My legs give way. I crumple onto the floor next to the bed. I’m afraid I might vomit.”

Nor do the men she dates treat her well. A man on his third marriage doesn’t ask for permission to not use a condom; consistently takes her to a place where you rent rooms for two or three hours, furniture “covered in easy-to-wipe plastic,” and when she refuses to cave into his pleadings that they go to a sex club, tells her, “Very well. Perhaps it is time I look for another … ”

Another fling calls her one day for an afternoon sex session that she describes as “consensual,” but “also rough … rougher than I want it to be.”  She decides to prioritize the man’s needs: “I give myself over to his desires and try to squelch my own.”

On the subway ride home, Molly ponders her decision, wondering, “Why didn’t I stop him? Why couldn’t I tell him how he was making me feel—like a Grubhub delivery to a ravenous man, devoured without even the civility of napkin or utensils?”

“Because, really, who am I?  I am not special. I am not loved. I’m not even Leo’s mistress. I am his piece of ass on the side. What did I expect anyway?”

Talk about a fairy tale.

When Molly stops finding men on Ashley Madison, a dating site for cheaters, her luck doesn’t substantially change. She meets Karl, who has a bisexual girlfriend. At first, Karl is wonderful, but after Molly isn’t enthusiastic enough about a threesome with him and his girlfriend—a threesome she talks herself into, despite her clear reluctance—Karl disappears. Months later, she sees a wedding photo of Karl and his girlfriend.

“Looking at the two of them together, I feel sure I spent more time thinking about Karl than he spent thinking about me. I was merely a pawn. Martina liked straight women. Karl’s job was to bring them home to her,” she writes.

Definitely what every teenage girl dreams of happening in her adult romantic life.

Sadly, Molly isn’t even the first woman in her family to go down this path because of a man. She tells of her mother’s experience in an open marriage, where her mother slept with men she explored spirituality with and nicknamed “Jesus Christ” and “Buddha.”

 “It was your father’s idea,” her mother tells Winter about the affairs she had.

Later, in therapy, Winter explores her feelings about her mother’s life in a heartbreaking monologue. “It makes me question if my mother ever did anything for herself,” she recalls telling her therapist, adding:

I mean, seeing other men was my father’s idea. And then this whole spiritual quest of hers was driven by the men she was involved with. Even her names for them: Jesus Christ and Buddha. Like they’re divine beings or something. Like the men have all the answers and she’s just following them … So I’m wondering if that’s the source of the ‘repressed rage’ she told me about.

“It freaks me out a little,” Molly tells her therapist of her mother’s experience. “I thought her sexual freedom was the one release valve she had. But what if it was just, I don’t know, an illusion of freedom?”


Sadly, Molly maintains to the end that her open marriage is a positive experience of learning and love—perhaps because she remains in thrall to her husband. She concedes that she has “fantasized” about returning to monogamy with Stew, but “I know Stewart is happier this way.”

Less convincingly, she continues that an open marriage is “good for me, too … I’m learning to be responsible for my own happiness.” Left unexplored is whether she could continue that responsibility while also closing her marriage.

For all the hoopla about Molly’s being a brave pioneer and trendsetter in the ways of modern love, her tale is ultimately as old as time. She’s yet another woman suppressing her sexual longings and true desires to keep her man happy.

When I finished Molly’s book, I felt immense pity for her, for this woman who is assaulted constantly by migraines, who is frequently stifling her quite natural feelings, and who, for all her talk about no longer being the pleasant “Straight-A Molly” of her youth, seems doomed always to be a people pleaser.

But based on the trends, Molly won’t be the only woman who falls victim to this lifestyle. Research suggests polyamory is unlikely to bring about genuine happiness for many. Ashley McGuire, author of the book “Sex Scandal,” writes at the Institute for Family Studies blog:

[R]esearch has found that long-term stability and happiness are tied to having less, not more, sexual partners, with the least likely cohort to divorce being women whose only sexual partner in life is the man they married. Research published … also found that couples who are the ‘least sexually experienced’ outside of marriage report the highest levels of both sexual and emotional satisfaction in their marriages.

No doubt the media and other key influencers will continue hyping polyamory as something glamorous and adventurous, an exciting quest for sexual fulfillment.

But Molly Roden Winter’s memoir, despite her efforts, tells the truth: For many women, polyamory is likely to end in tears and sadness, not joy and satisfaction.

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