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One But Not the Only: Reconfiguring Intimacy in Multiple Partner Relationships

Abstract

The romantic love ideology that permeates our culture, shapes marriages, and structures perceptions of what love should be frames the ideal intimate relationship as a (heterosexual) bond in which “one and only soulmates” share an intense emotional closeness and sexual attraction in committed monogamy. In this framework, sexual fidelity and exclusivity serve as markers of shared trust and uniqueness, making these facets of idealized romantic love perhaps the most central and important defining characteristics of such relationships. Multiple partner intimacies can thus pose significant challenges to relationships and notions of romantic love. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 55 people who are either in mixed orientation marriages or polyamorous relationships, this study examines how couples negotiate marital situations in which one or both spouses have extramarital lovers. These negotiations reveal how and why some participants could reconfigure aspects of romantic love so that being the “one” no longer required being the “only.” These reconfigurations highlight the links between the romantic love ideology and traditional gendered power dynamics, illustrating how multiple partner intimacies may have the potential to challenge hegemonic gender and sexual ideals.

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Correspondence to Michelle Wolkomir.

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Wolkomir, M. One But Not the Only: Reconfiguring Intimacy in Multiple Partner Relationships. Qual Sociol 38, 417–438 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-015-9312-5

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Keywords

  • Romantic love
  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Non-monogamy