It took one question to change Louisa Leontiades’s world: “Do you believe in a Christian marriage?”
She was in a crisis meeting with her therapist after being unfaithful to her then husband, Gilles. Louisa knew the answer was no - and her memoir, the Husband Swap, is an adaption of her diary as she chronicled her attempts to explore other forms of marriage.
Gilles and Louisa decided to become polyamorous - where you have more than one relationship - and met and fell in love with another married couple online. They ended up in a four-way partnership (a "quad"), with Louisa getting together with the man, Morten and Gilles getting together with his wife, Elena. After a year and a half, both marriages dissolved.
Gilles and Elena are now married with a child and Louisa, now 39, lives in Sweden with Morten and their two children. They are in an open relationship and Louisa, formerly a finance director, now writes and chairs the National Polyamory Association.
To mark her book coming out today, she spoke to i100.co.uk about polyamory, online criticism, and what she learned from opening her marriage to someone else. This conversation has been edited for length.
Is polyamory having your cake and eating it too?
It’s got rather a bad name, that expression, doesn’t it? To all intents and purposes why would you have your cake and not eat it? The overarching message is that it is warning against greed and self-serving satisfaction whereas the paradigm that I’ve been in, the polyamorous paradigm, is where all partners have to be the happiest they can be.
It's so striking you both met another couple and they became your primary partners
It's the kind of story you only ever read about. Which is another reason why it makes a good book.
What did you learn from becoming polyamorous?
I think if there overarching lesson, not only from this kind of relationship but all of it, is to really try and love yourself with everything you do because if you don't that hatred for yourself and dislike will be projected onto others and your low self esteem will lead to insecurity and jealousy and possessiveness and entitlement.
Do you think it took sex with other people to realise your relationship with your husband was over?
I had sex with one other person apart from the boyfriend that sparked off the whole kaboodle. It was developing a relationship with another person which really highlighted what was going on in my original relationship... It made it easier for both of us to say 'this is not working'.
Were you jealous of Elena?
I found, in my journey, in polyamory, that I didn't really have a clear understanding of what jealousy was. I managed to divide it into four components, one of them being envy. I was envious of them having - for example - great sex. But that can be counteracted if you take care of your needs and have great sex as well. Then there's possessiveness. Did I possess him, do I see him as my property? That just requires a reframing of your belief system.
What do the other people in the “quad” relationship say about the book?
They gave their approval a long time ago for it to be published but as I tried to make clear in the book this is my perspective and theirs is very different.
Do they argue with you about it?
We’re not in so much contact anymore. Everybody has a different point of view, everybody has a different perspective on stories.
Have you read Robin Rinaldi's book, the woman who opened up her marriage to strangers?
I haven't read her book and I will but an open relationship is so often misconstrued as something one person forces the other into. For me if you force someone to do something without their consent it's total and utter abuse.
Do lots of people get in touch with you about polyamory? Do you get people calling you a slut and similar terms?
Yes I do but this is a noun designed to elicit a prescribed response. In feminist circles they’re trying to reclaim it as the female equivalent to stud.
Do you have a message for people who call you that?
I don’t tend to respond to “slut”. What I will respond to is reasoned argument and I haven’t found one yet that I can’t call out a logical fallacy or a societal norm that is assumed as a norm for everybody. The slut ones... It’s their opinion and they are entitled to their opinion but they’re not the people I’m trying to reach. Many people simply jump on the bandwagon.
For those it offends, any change or any difference in lifestyle or inclination that threatens the norm does threaten the establishment. Many of the minority movements have basically the same battle, where their choices, simply by being different have threatened other people’s sense of their own rightness. The mind sometimes equates being right with surviving, in order to survive people like to be right.