In 2015, award-winning journalist and co-founding editor of Restlessness Rachel Krantz was in the middle of a breakup when she first dated Adam.
He was a bit older, refined, successful in his field, vegan, white and Jewish (like Krantz), and seemed to immediately take an interest in her with an intensity she found welcome. On their second date, he told her that if they continued seeing each other, “[she] could still go out and sleep with other people, even fall in love again. I don’t want to restrict the experiences of my partners.”
This delighted her, although knowing that he would also renounce monogamy ultimately did not. Still, she was fascinated and powerfully attracted to him, so she decided to give it a shot. His first book, Open: An uncensored memoir of love, liberation and non-monogamy, documents what happened next, using extensive research, expert interviews, and his own meticulous record-keeping to flesh out and interpret his personal experiences.
I confess that I was hectic when I approached this dissertation for the first time. I’ve never really hidden the fact that I’m polyamorous, or that my partner of seven years and I have always had, to one degree or another, a non-monogamous relationship. Although anyone who is poly (or polyam, the short form used by Krantz in the book) or non-monog knows when to share this information and when to isolate it in order to avoid the judgmental eyes and skeptical questions of monogamous overculture. Knowing that the memoirs were about Krantz’s introduction to non-monogamy — and not only that, but that she was introduced to it by a straight cis man, who is often assumed to abuse this relationship preference — made me wonder. preparing for a traditional happy ending about how it was a valid life choice, but just not for her.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s not a spoiler to say that Krantz still identifies as polyam, at least according to social media, and although Open Concerning non-monogamy, of course, it is neither a manifesto of polyamorous ideals nor an argument against. Instead, more than anything else, it’s Krantz’s candid and curious account with the cultural messages we all receive about gendered expectations and power dynamics in romantic and sexual relationships in general. How can we disentangle them from our own desires? How to tell the difference between these desires and the things we think should want, or that our partners want us to want? The ups and downs of a first non-monogamous relationship provide the perfect canvas for exploring these fundamental questions.
At first, things between Krantz and Adam seem pretty rosy, though readers familiar with gaslighting and manipulation in relationships might recognize the red flags early on. Adam showers Krantz with affection and sexual attention, and she moves in with him just months after they first meet. She allows herself to take advantage of the power play between them, which she recognizes as a dominant/submissive dynamic, though Adam refuses to call it that – meaning there are no clear rules to follow. , nor any way for Krantz to exist with Adam outside of that. dynamic. She begins sleeping with other people both with him and alone, begins dating alone, and finally indulges in her long-held desire to act on her strange attractions. When Adam also begins dating her, she struggles with a painful jealousy that he repeatedly dismisses as a weakness, something she simply needs to get over. Her attitude plays into the common misconception that people who live and love polyamorously don’t (or shouldn’t) feel jealousy – and while that’s true for some, it’s ridiculously far from it. universal.
As the memoir unfolds and Krantz’s relationship with non-monogamy changes and evolves, Adam’s behavior becomes less and less comfortable to watch. There are sure to be readers who find him abhorrent for his unrepentant patterns of emotional abuse. Yet it is clear, and in my view deeply admirable, that Krantz seeks to elicit “a non-dualistic compassion beyond boxes and shame.” She recognizes that Adam’s manipulation, while real and harmful, is not always deliberate. It’s not a brain that wakes up in the morning thinking about how it’s going to abuse the woman it hopes to spend the rest of its life with – that’s rarely how this sort of thing works. This does not mean that he should be absolved of responsibility for his actions, only that it is possible to hold someone accountable while feeling, as Krantz writes, “tremendous compassion for the confusion and suffering that fuel harmful behavioral cycles”.
Readers should take the word “uncensored” in the title of the memoir seriously; Krantz certainly does, and she clearly means it when she writes, in her author’s note, “I show up for an exam naked because I’m morally opposed to being told to shame myself.” Sex parties, swinger dates, and drug use are rendered shamelessly, but Krantz is no less open with her anxieties, fears, and trying to figure out what’s going on in her primary relationship with Adam. Her vulnerability — along with the 20/20 hindsight she’s able to bring to her younger self’s emotional journey — is precisely why the memoirs work so well. Her warm tone throughout, mixed with sometimes sad, sometimes tender humor, helps the reader to believe that she is not working to titillate gratuitously, but to examine sexuality as a vital part of the lives of many people who do not doesn’t need to be masked by guilt, shame or embarrassment. (unless, of course, those are part of a person’s kink).
Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American fiction writer, critic and founder/host of The Other Stories podcast. Her first novel is All my mother’s lovers.