Love in the time of plenty

‘I have to tell you something,’ he told me earnestly and my mind started racing. ‘I’m polyamorous...’

Social activist and former journalist Or-ly Barlev has become an advocate for polyamory in Israel. (photo credit: COURTESY OR-LY BARLEV)
Social activist and former journalist Or-ly Barlev has become an advocate for polyamory in Israel.
(photo credit: COURTESY OR-LY BARLEV)
 It was on Date No. 3 with Ron that I first came across the concept. “I have to tell you something,” he told me earnestly, and my mind started racing: “What could he possibly have to tell me so early on? Is he married? Does he have kids?” “I’m polyamorous,” he declared, before launching into an explanation of what this meant.
Ron, it turns out, no longer believes in the traditional ideas of monogamous love and relationships.
Several failed relationships, two divorced sisters and observing the frequency with which couples close to him fight, have led him to the conclusion that one person cannot complete another... but perhaps several can.
The word “poly” – derived from ancient Greek – means “many,” and “amor” of course means love; polyamory is the idea that a person can have several loves at one time and conduct several relationships simultaneously.
Ron equates his revelation with a homosexual person “coming out of the closet,” explaining that he has felt this way for a long time and only after doing some research did he discover there was a term for his feelings and people who live this way around the world.
And also in Israel.
Indeed, Tel Avivian Or-ly Barlev has become somewhat of a polyamory advocate in Israel. An attractive 42-year-old divorced mother of two, Barlev has become the face of polyamory in the White City, making numerous media appearances and holding regular lectures on the topic. A former journalist and a social activist, Barlev says it is important that people don’t just take for granted the structures they are born and raised in, not just in love but in all areas of society.
“I want us to be in a place where we know to cast doubt on what we have been told,” Barlev tells the Magazine. “I try, along with many other activists, to fix the nation that has been totally broken by hon veshilton [money and politics] and corruption.”
Barlev acknowledges that accepting the concept of polyamory is to significantly change one’s outlook, that many people find it hard to break out of modern-day structures, and that it not suitable for everyone.
But for her, she says, “it is something very simple,” and she believes this model of love should be known and accepted in society: “We need to expand our options of what’s legitimate.”
She says that currently the Western world holds up only one script before us: get to 30, get married and have kids. Barlev, however, sees this as an agreement to surrender the right to ever love anyone else again.
“One of the biggest experiences in life, falling in love, is scrapped. This experience, that so many stories and films are based on, that’s only until 30. After that, you can’t have it anymore. Maybe something here is wrong,” she posits.
For 30-year-old Leehee Rothschild from Tel Aviv, polamory was always the obvious choice. “To an extent I’ve been ‘poly’ since I’ve started dating people, even though back then I didn’t have the word to name the practice,” she tells the Magazine. “I’ve never been monogamous. The entire concept of being with just one person, forsaking all others, of falling out of love with people or not falling in love while with people, never made sense to me.”
“When I was 11 or so, I came across an article about a bisexual girl who had a boyfriend and a girlfriend, and it made perfect sense, and I knew that this was what I was looking for,” she continues. “When I was 16 I got to the Rocky Horror Picture Show scene, in which there was a discussion of non-monogamy, though not polyamory, and it made it very easy to incorporate the concept into my life and my relationships.”
Rothschild has a partner of 10 years and dates other people in addition, including long-distance relationships, which she says are made possible by the fact that everyone involved is polyamorous.
She expresses a sentiment voiced by many polyamorous people: that the idea of monogamy, in which one person is supposed to fulfill all of another person’s needs and desires, is flawed. “It is very hard for one person to live up to this standard,” she asserts. “Polyamory acknowledges the fact that we have many desires that can be fulfilled by different people.”
She adds that while monogamy is often structured around ideals of possessiveness and ownership, polyamory negates those concepts, and she finds it to be empowering for women – as this sense of ownership is often directed at them. Indeed, the word for husband in Hebrew, ba’al, actually means owner.
One of the main challenges Rothschild has faced is the assumption by others that her lifestyle means she is not serious, or afraid of commitment. She says people mistake her desire for multiple relationships as a desire for no serious relationships. “Others just said that poly was a nice word for slutty – not that there’s anything wrong with being slutty – and decided that the fact that I like being with many people means I’d like to be with everyone.”
Barlev also points out that lack of exclusivity does not equal lack of commitment. “It’s like you have three best friends, and you’re committed to them all.”
A third of couples in Israel get divorced and many cheat, Barlev stresses. Which begs the question, how many are left that are married, faithful and happy? “The benefits of being open to letting in additional relationships, is that love boosts love,” Barlev asserts. “When you’re high on love, you are nice to everyone.”
Oren, 46, of Pardess Hanna, has practiced polyamory for over 20 years. Like Barlev and others in the polyamory community, he is skeptical that most married people are happy. After speaking to a handful of couples he knows, he found that a large percentage cheats.
“I didn’t want to cheat,” he tells the Magazine.
Questioned as to whether he doesn’t think there is something romantic about being with just one person all your life, he responds, “Fantasy is more romantic than reality – restriction is connected to fear.”
THIS CONCEPT of fear in monogamous relationships is also brought up in connection to the issue of jealousy, a subject often raised quickly in discussions about polyamory.
Tackling this matter, Tal (not his real name), 36, from Ra’anana, says: “We were educated that you get jealous because you love him/her and want to be with him/her. But it’s not that way – it’s the other way around.” He believes jealousy indicates a fear of losing one’s partner, rather than being an expression of love.
Barlev opines that it is a challenge which can be overcome, and again, the issue of ownership in monogamy comes up: “We’ve gotten used to thinking that our partner is ours – ownership over that person.”
She says that although she is not naturally a very jealous person, she has experienced some feelings of jealousy, but learned how to be happy for her partner if he found love with someone else.
Rothschild compares jealousy to anger, saying it is an emotion that can be managed through communication and reassurance, like most other issues faced in relationships. Ron backs this sentiment, saying that if you really love someone, you should support them in whatever adds to their happiness. He also points out that jealousy is a negative trait, which is unhealthy is any kind of relationship, be it familial, platonic or romantic.
“Love between people is what we really want – respect, solidarity, brotherhood, that people will be open to each other,” Barlev concludes. Referring to the second commandment in Judaism, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” she asks, “What is a good society if not one based on love and respect, democracy, a free nation?” She says everyone has to come to their own conclusion about the right way for them to live, and the answer is always personal, but she believes that many people would be polyamorous if they were familiar with the concept and it became a standard way of conducting relationships. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Times they are a-changin’” anyway, and Barlev notes there are already many different models of families, and this will only increase.
“Deciding to be with one person for the rest of your life is not a trivial decision at all. We are social animals; it’s fun to love,” Barlev states simply.
“They say love is the drug of life. How did we restrict ourselves like this?”