Rachel Krantz’s new book ‘Open’ breaks the glass wall of taboo while serving as a guide for self-liberation and avoiding gaslighting in any relationship
By Shelley A. Sackett
Nine years ago, at age 27, award-winning journalist Rachel Krantz was on a second date with Adam, a 38-year-old professor and author. His academic research focused mainly on the psychology of romantic and sexual desire, specifically regarding “triangulation,” more commonly known as the “love triangle.”
Krantz was not just intrigued; she was aroused intellectually, emotionally and sexually — and that was before Adam told her he was interested in their sharing a non-monogamous relationship, with her as his primary partner.
Within months, Krantz was dipping a toe into unchartered waters, exploring Brooklyn sex parties and the wider swinger and polyamorous communities.
From 2015 to 2019, Krantz documented her first journey into non-monogamy and the world of dominance and submission with the seriousness and professionalism a travel journalist would bring to a trek to the North Pole. She interviewed scientists, psychologists and practitioners of various forms of non-monogamy. She plowed through dozens of scholarly and anecdotal articles and books. She kept a journal and taped her therapy sessions. She documented her thoughts and experiences in explicit, frank detail — the good, the bad and the ugly.
The result is her recently published début memoir, “Open: An Uncensored Memoir of Love, Liberation and Non-Monogamy,” a unique blend of open journalism, highly personal memoir and heavily reported nonfiction.
Krantz leaves no stone unturned as she chronicles her deep dive into polyamory with page-turning stories and scholarly research. She fearlessly shares her experiences with open relationships, from the highs of heart-opening connections with the men and women she dates to the lows of her battles with jealousy, gaslighting and coercion.
“This book is different from a lot of books about non-monogamy in that it’s not arguing for or against or providing a ‘how-to’ guide,” says Krantz. “It’s really about the messy parts, with a lot of depiction about how things go wrong a lot of the time. But it’s not an agenda either way. It’s just telling a story.”
The Times of Israel spoke to Krantz by phone from her apartment in Sacramento, California, where she was happily curled up in her pajamas.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Times of Israel: Polyamorous relationships as an alternative to monogamy seem to have burst out of the closet lately, with many studies and articles on the subject. Why do you think that is?
Rachel Krantz: Mainly because monogamy isn’t working for most people. Despite the stereotype that men are more likely to cheat, women report cheating at equal or higher rates to men, and are more likely to lose interest sexually in long-term live-in relationships. Most people who are “dating” have practiced non-monogamy, in that there is often some unspoken overlap between partners. Serial monogamy is of course common, and half of marriages end in divorce. I think people are looking for ways to have long-term committed partnerships without giving up all future romantic and sexual novelty.
You were a journalist before penning “Open.” Were those reporting pieces as personal as your book?
Not quite as personal, because “Open” is about as personal a book as you can get. But, often I’ve gravitated to first-person journalism. I wrote personal essays about my experience with anti-depressants, the [birth control] pill and marijuana, for example.
What made you decide to write “Open” when you did?
After years of being gaslit in my primary relationship, and having recorded so much of that emotional abuse as it was happening, I wanted to help others in that situation by retracing how that had unfolded for me. I also wanted to come back to a sense of trust in my own mind and reality after so many years of being told my perceptions weren’t true, or that I wasn’t capable.
In addition, I wanted to challenge the Madonna-Whore binary that says either a woman writes explicitly about her psychosexual reality, or she is respectable. As I say in the book, why is a man climbing Mt. Everest considered award-winning journalism, while a woman writing about her sex life and plumbing her most extreme psychosexual depths is considered sexual erotica? It’s a big part of the political statement of my book: No, I am both a sexual being and an intellectual force to be respected. The Madonna-Whore binary is false.
I did over five years’ of reporting and research and immersion journalism living this story, including dozens and dozens and dozens of interviews. It’s also a sexy ride, and both those things are not contradictions. I felt better positioned than most women to make that statement, in that I wouldn’t lose my family, job or children. So I wanted to push the limits of what a woman is “allowed” to admit to.
What were your parents’ reactions when you told them you were polyamorous?
It was lucky and unusual in that my parents are very open-minded. They didn’t ask for a lot of details about how it worked. It was just part of the reality of things. I remember it not being a big deal and feeling grateful for that, but I also didn’t feel so comfortable that I wasn’t really talking about any details in the same way with my mom that I might talk about the primary relationship with Adam. They hadn’t heard too much about other people I was dating, I also wasn’t really talking much about being bisexual. Again, I knew they would accept it; it was just my own kind of internalized shame or feeling like I didn’t want to “make a big deal out of it” that kept me from talking about it.
Was your lifestyle accepted to a degree where you were invited or asked to bring both your primary and polyamorous partners to family events?
I think on the outside, we presented as pretty traditional, even if they knew I was non-monogamous. I was part of his family and he was part of mine. We would attend family events together, but we weren’t bringing our other partners with us. So, from the outside, it all seemed pretty conventional.
Growing up, did religion and synagogue play a role in your family?
I grew up in the Bay Area of California. My parents are New Yorkers, first-generation Americans, making me second generation. My grandparents were from Poland and Lithuania. My parents were raised pretty religiously and maintained a love of Judaism in their identity, although with less strictness than how they were raised. I went to a Conservative instead of Orthodox synagogue and attended a Jewish Day School through 8th grade, but in the Bay Area, these schools were more liberal.
For example, in one class we’d study Torah, but there was a real emphasis on social justice and feminism. So, I guess I grew up on a pretty liberal brand of Judaism. It was important for me, to be sure.
When I went to a private but not Jewish high school, it was a bit of a rude awakening for me, because it was in a part of the Bay Area where there were a lot of blond people. I remember I started straightening my hair at first, and feeling like I had to look a certain way. I got over that and found my group of people, but it was definitely a different culture.
Is there any “Jewishness” in your life as an adult?
Culturally, I identify with my Jewishness strongly and Yiddish came through when I was writing “Open.” In the footnotes, I included some translations, so people could learn some Yiddish. I do find that the older I get, the less drawn I am to ritual celebrations and holidays. Becoming a vegan, I think it’s become harder to do things like a Passover seder with my family, where eating animals is a big part of it. But, I’m always open to finding a new community that is celebrating in a way I can connect to, and I’m proud to be Jewish.
There are so many ways in which people today define — or don’t define — their relationships and themselves. What do you think about that? How do you identify?
I’m still wary of labels, but increasingly feel there is also power in owning them. I’m comfortable calling myself a bisexual, polyamorous woman. Bisexual means the same to me as pansexual, potentially attracted to all genders. I just know who I like when I meet them! I feel that more than anything, I am “fluid.” I can go through periods of physical monogamy in a relationship (like during the pandemic), but emotionally, I think I will always be non-monogamous.
What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about being in a polyamorous relationship?
Now that I’m in a different primary relationship, with someone I communicate a lot better with and feel a lot safer with, what I like most about being non-monogamous is a sense that my future is not written in the romantic realm. I still have that sense of an open-ended possibility of, “Oh, I might experience another love again,” or I might have meaningful connections with other people, without feeling like I’m cheating on my partner or like I might lose him. I like that I can both have a long-term partnership and not have to give up one of my favorite aspects of life, which is having new romantic experiences and connections with people.
In the book, the most challenging aspect of polyamory was definitely jealousy. At this point, what I struggle with sometimes is learning how to compartmentalize, so even if I am polyamorous and definitely capable of loving more than one person at once, you’re still under the social script that taught you that those people are in competition with each other or that you have to choose primarily one of them. It can be confusing when you’re entering into a new relationship with someone and you have new, novelty-based chemicals flowing, and you’re obsessed with wanting to see them, but you don’t want to neglect in the present moment the partner who’s been there longer. It can be tricky.
As much as it’s actually quite easy for me to love more than one person, it can be harder to figure out how to navigate that in a way that’s practical. But I think I’m learning more all the time about how to do that.
Have readers of your book asked you for advice about whether they should try polyamory? What do you tell them?
Yes! I tell them I think you should go for it — but have lots of support! Read books like “Open,” “The Ethical Slut,” and “Love In Abundance.” Listen to podcasts like “Multiamory,” and try to find a therapist or counselor who either specializes in non-monogamy or is listed as a kink-friendly therapist. It’s also a great idea to join polyamorous and/or swinger Facebook groups and local meetups to have a sense of community norms, and a place to go to ask questions.
Have you had readers reach out to you personally and thanked you for having written this book?
Yes, I am hearing from people directly. Someone told me that she read one of the chapters about gaslighting four times, and she realized she had been unable to understand and forgive herself for going through that experience. She told me she felt free now. I heard from another reader that she was able to leave an unhealthy relationship after reading the book. Those kinds of messages have been incredibly meaningful to me.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I hope readers will see that they should be able to write their own “Happily Ever After,” and that there are lots of options in between total monogamy and relationship-anarchy-style polyamory. For example, women with men might be surprised to learn that it is such a common fantasy for many men to see their partner with another man — but that’s rarely talked about! Seems like a win-win, even for women who don’t want to deal with jealousy. There’s swinging, there’s primary/secondary polyamory, there are relationships that are only open on one side. Reading “Open,” you get a taste of what all these options might look like, some of the pros and cons. I also hope my book will show the consequences of not communicating clearly about power dynamics in relationships, and give ideas for how to practice BDSM [an acronym for a variety of sexual practices that involve bondage, dominance, and submission/sadomasochism] more safely.
Your book is very explicit in its sexual descriptions. Have you gotten any pushback on that? Were your editor and publisher on board from the get-go or did you have to persuade them that it was integral to your story?
I was expecting I would have to, but my editor Donna Loffredo never tried to censor me and neither did my publisher [Harmony Books, a division of Penguin Random House]. One publisher, who I didn’t go with, asked me in our meeting, “But what do your parents think?” But, Donna never asked things like that. She was willing to have me go wherever I wanted to go, and so was Harmony, which is to their credit because it was really outside anything they’d published before.
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