What Polyamory Taught Me About Monogamy
One of many relationship dynamics that many people in my generation, myself included, have been more readily accepting of and engaging in has been polyamory. The practice of having various different relationship structures, romantic and/or sexual involving more than one partner. There are so many different ways to practice polyamory or ethical non-monogamy, some involving more than two people within the relationship, relationships with one or more partners having other partners, some with varying degrees of interactions, etc. The underlying principles behind ethical non-monogamy however, involves honesty, communication, and healthy boundaries amongst all those involved. There are many compelling reasons why people would choose one of the many polyamorous relationship models, but what appealed to me most was the notion that one given partner would not be responsible for meeting all of my needs within a relationship, and that I have the capacity to love more than one person, and the fact that those expressions of love did not diminish my connection with anyone else.
My previous relationship, and probably most serious relationship I’d ever been in started off as a polyamorous relationship for these very reasons. The experience brought to light ways of engaging I’d never before experienced in any of my previous relationships. The way we communicated, engaged with each other and defined ourselves was new, exciting and thorough. I’ve always been the type of person to communicate with a partner, but I never realized before just how much was automatically assumed to be simple ways of engaging within monogamous relationships. There was so much I didn’t even know was within the realm of things to communicate with another person about: how does a person define romantic involvement, what truly makes up intimacy, what were my own boundaries, how do I actually handle and work through jealousy, what is the basis of fear, what does trust actually look like. It also taught me about the fluidity of emotion, how much relationships are much less a set of rules and much more an ongoing conversation. How boundaries while respected, are still a discussion within yourself. But most surprisingly to me, it altered the way I engaged and thought about monogamy as well.
Eventually, we ended up being monogamous, because at the time, neither of us had the emotional capacity to involve more partners, neither of us had very close romantically intimate partners but the way we engaged in monogamy was also much different than I ever had with previous partners. Because we had a foundation of communicating with each other about needs, and how they differed, how we defined intimacy, how open we were about our feelings towards people outside of our relationship, what our boundaries were, and how those changed over time, we were able to choose to be monogamous rather than go into it as a default. Both of us had a lot of qualms with monogamous culture: the tendency to romanticize possessiveness and jealousy, to miscommunication associated with so many ‘norms’ of engagement, denial of the very human tendency to have intense connection with others, and placing moral judgment on those who do feel attraction outside of a relationship. Because the crux of it was much more about figuring out what works between two people rather than universal prescribed norms of how to engage.
There was something empowering about choosing monogamy, with the lessons we’d learned from being polyamorous. Because at it’s root, neither polyamory nor monogamy is superior to the other, and not every person is going to fall within either general relationship model. But we assume monogamy is one dimensional, we assume we all understand what monogamy means, that we must inherently desire monogamy and that’s simply not true. Being polyamorous forced me to really think about what it was that I needed out of my relationships, it put me in a position where I really could not afford to not be thorough in understanding myself, and my relationship dynamics. It took away the faulty given assumptions about what loyalty trust and love looked like. And even though I ended up with the same relationship model I’d grown up with, monogamy, my understanding of it was more thorough. My ownership of it was my own, it was a choice between two people. I still am no expert on either monogamy nor polyamory, nor do I know for certain what my future relationships will look like, but I do know that in the future, if I am in a monogamous relationship, I want it to be a conscious choice, a constant conversation, an understanding that it is one of many different kinds of commitments between individuals, and that love, loyalty and trust are not given cookie cutter ideas. I think everyone has much to gain from learning from the critiques of monogamous culture that is so present within polyamorous circles, regardless of whether or not polyamory is your “thing”. Because it’s possible to have monogamy, and have it be something that is healthy, conscious and empowering, but there are still so many norms left to unlearn about how we engage with each other.