I recently watched this video produced by Refinery29, titled “What Being In A Polyamorous Relationship Is Like”. I follow Refinery29 and the video happened to pop up in my Facebook feed. I scroll past a lot of rubbish on Facebook, but this title caught my attention because I’m a proponent of polyamory and was curious about the content of the video. Although the material could’ve been presented in a more mature and informed fashion, I think the topic itself is relevant, and I’m glad someone is tackling these controversial subjects. The reality is I don’t often talk about what I believe because I realize a lot of my opinions might be unpopular or frowned upon. It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I’m comfortable with my authentic voice. As a child I was aware that my thoughts and feelings did not exactly align with the world around me and I often felt like an outsider. In elementary school I had very few friends, and was bullied by the other children to an alarming degree. I dreaded going to school and felt a tremendous amount of angst around not fitting in. By the time middle school rolled around I started dabbling in drugs (for a variety of reasons) but the feeling of being on the fringes was definitely one of them. Somewhere along the way, after facing numerous challenges in my teen years, I decided I needed to get my life “on track” and I mistakenly equated “on track” with conformity. There’s a lot more to this story but for now I want to focus on the concept of polyamory, and since I’m not a fan of the connotations this might stir up, I’d like to employ the term “conscious non-monogamy”. For me this is not a trend, as Refinery29 spins it in their infomercial.
In high school I was notoriously promiscuous. One of those girls that others happily labeled a “slut”. This was something that didn’t bother me because I never personally viewed it that way. I didn’t sleep with other people because I de-valued myself. I was promiscuous because I was genuinely curious about experiencing varying degrees of intimacy with multiple and diverse partners. It didn’t feel wrong or bad, it felt natural, and if anything I viewed it as a learning experience. By the time I got to college, these behaviors were more commonly adopted within the student body and I somewhat successfully maintained a polyamorous lifestyle for a couple of years. One which included a meaningful three-way relationship with another woman and one man. That being said, I was very young (and still struggling with drug abuse among other things) so I didn’t have a clear sense of how to execute this lifestyle in a healthy, conscious way. I’m now 35 years old, and regarding monogamy I still believe the same things I knew then, but I can integrate this knowledge with deeper meaning and a sturdier framework.
Let’s start with an indisputable truth – monogamy is unnatural from a biological and evolutionary standpoint. Very few animal species operate within a monogamous system, and within the Mammalia class it is estimated that less than 5% of mammals practice any form of monogamy (whether it be social, emotional, or sexual). And while plenty of you might argue that we have evolved well beyond our animal counterparts, this actually underscores my point that monogamy is a social construct. Guess what? Not all social constructs are healthy or warranted, and in fact many aren’t. The problem is that we never bother to question them, because our conditioning prevents us from seeing anything outside the scope of what we know. In addition I’d also like to point out that no matter how much we’ve evolved in terms of ego development and free will, our underlying biology is still very much present, and not always easy (nor prudent) to ignore. Our bodies carry wisdom, a tremendous amount of wisdom, that our ego-driven “thinking” minds choose to dismiss, often without even realizing that’s what we’re doing. And while I don’t believe that polyamory is currently necessary for propagation of the human species, I think there are numerous advantages to a non-monogamous lifestyle.
So let’s examine monogamy as a social construct. I believe that the establishment of monogamy as a social norm is predominantly ego based. Society has led us to believe that in order to genuinely love someone, from a romantic standpoint, we must be emotionally and physically exclusive. This paradigm is fundamentally flawed as the universe is brimming with an abundance of love and our individual capacity for love is equally boundless. That’s why a parent can have multiple children (sometimes many multiple children) and naturally generate enough love to envelop them all. Our ability to love is not limited. At its outer limits it is in fact all-encompassing. So why does romantic love demand exclusivity? It’s not because our capacity to love is confined to a particular individual, but because our egos can’t handle the idea that it isn’t. Please take a moment to let this sink in, because I know it might feel uncomfortable, and even incite anger or dismay. Our egos like to keep us “safe” and when that safety is challenged it’s often very unsettling. For me to sit here and affirm that there’s nothing wrong with romantically loving more than one person is a massive assault on the ego, because we can’t handle the idea that someone we share love with can also value love with another. The problem is that when romantic love demands exclusivity in order to satisfy the needs of the ego, we place a sense of ownership or belonging on the other person, which is firmly an illusion, though our egos may tell us otherwise. This leads to a host of unsavory pitfalls, not to mention we limit the love that we’re actually able to share, as there can be a lot to learn from engaging with multiple romantic partners. Love has the capacity to grow exponentially. I know this might feel like a stretch, but try to consider that so much of what we accept as fact is actually conditioning. Think of your friendships for a moment. Most of us have more than one friend, though perhaps we have a best friend – our “ride or die” that we couldn’t live without. Having a best friend does not preclude us from engaging with others. We have more than one friend because they play various roles and fill different needs in our lives. Not to mention, our best friends don’t usually get jealous about the fact the we have other companions. I think for people who are comfortable with the idea, romantic partnerships can be very similar. This is true whether the partnership is filling an emotional and/or physical need.
I for one find the idea of sexual monogamy incredibly limiting, to the point where it actually kills my sex drive. First of all, I’m openly bi-sexual, and though I probably favor men, I enjoy and sometimes crave intimacy with other women. In the context of monogamy this would never work, as monogamy by definition is exclusive. Therefore, I’d be completely denying a significant aspect of my sexuality. I also want to address a term that was defined in the video cited above. The word “compersion” refers to deriving pleasure from your partner’s pleasure with another. This is a feeling I’m personally familiar with. I’m very turned on by the idea of my intimate partners giving or receiving pleasure with others. For people with similar tendencies, if monogamy intrinsically excludes many of the things that turn you on, you very quickly run out of things, and your sexual desire will inevitably plummet. Or worse, you’ll judge these aspects of yourself as wrong or shameful, and tuck them away into your Pandora’s Box of shadows (more on this in a future post). However, in the context of conscious non-monogamy, I could have a primary male partner whom I love and adore, but also a female partner who I can turn to when I’m craving that sensual feminine intimacy, and perhaps a secondary male partner who can fulfill certain sexual desires that my primary cannot – because yes, different lovers have different qualities to offer and there’s nothing inherently wrong with experiencing these alternatives. Not to mention this degree of freedom fosters a deeper appreciation of our primary partner(s). On the contrary, the former is oppressive and ultimately cultivates feelings of resentment. It’s kind of like this – say your favorite cuisine is Thai food, or Italian, or whatever it may be, you really love this particular cuisine. I guarantee that if you ate Thai food everyday for the rest of your life you’d wind up hating it. As humans, we are meant to experience variety and diversity. That doesn’t mean we can’t have our favorites, but we shouldn’t be limited to them. I acknowledge that a human relationship is far more dynamic than your relationship to a particular cuisine, but the same principle applies, albeit with more complexity.
Now let’s revisit monogamy as a social construct, but this time I’m going to take it a step further and firmly assert that monogamy perpetuates the patriarchy. Monogamy is most often equated with the “highest” form of commitment, which we deem to be marriage. However, across the majority of cultures and for many centuries, marriage (and the requisite of monogamy) has contributed to the oppression of women. Historically, once women were married they were treated as chattel and considered to be the property of their husbands. This never stopped men from fraternizing and spreading their seed, but it most definitely stripped women of their power and their voice. The expectation of monogamy is one of many tools that society subtly employs in order to disempower and dominate the feminine. Because even now in the 21st century, women are held to a different standard where fidelity is concerned. While we may not be the property of our husbands, a lot of men would like to think (and collectively still believe) that we are. This is evident in common family dynamics, such as a woman staying home to look after children while her husband has a day (or night) off to socialize. I guarantee that many more men than women in marriages are granted this luxury. This inequity is also evident in overt instances of infidelity, where a man’s transgressions are more “understandable” and “forgivable” (i.e. more socially acceptable) than a woman’s. As far as I’m concerned, a healthy relationship, one that embodies the highest form of commitment, is one in which each partner is acknowledged and honored for their sovereignty. Which brings me to a critical point – my body is my own and no one else’s. This may seem obvious but the fundamental premise of monogamy strips us of this truth. Unless I am fully, consciously monogamous from a place of desire and personal choice, I am otherwise making this choice from a place of duty or obligation and not from wanting. This takes power over my body and hands it to another, which is incredibly problematic. Especially for women who are conditioned and accustomed to relinquishing their power and authority to appease our masculine-dominant society.
I don’t want to negate that men also fall prey to this dilemma, as this is not exclusively a post about female empowerment. However, because men in society have the upper hand, they can readily consent to marriage without fully embodying the expectations. Essentially, a man might love his partner and agree to marriage knowing that fidelity is an expectation, but without feeling one hundred percent certain of his ability to uphold this commitment. And because men are less likely to fear consequences and more likely to dodge accountability, they can easily stray, which ultimately leads to problems for everyone involved. In my opinion, infidelity isn’t the issue, it’s not being honest about it that’s an issue. If we were more open about the fact that monogamy is debatable, we could have constructive conversations and plausible alternatives. I want to be very clear that I’m not promoting this concept as a carte blanche to go out and fuck whomever you see fit. That’s why the word “conscious” is critically important. I also don’t want to excuse or enable acts of indecency in the name of sexual liberation. For sex or any type of romantic intimacy to be venerated it must be authentic and consensual. It should come from a place of genuine desire and mutual respect. Within that structure almost anything is safe, and it’s my belief that this is the ultimate form of space-holding. I personally desire a partner who can say I love you enough to affirm your sovereignty and I am comfortable enough with myself to provide a safe container for you to explore all of your shadows and all of your light. For that person I can promise the same in return.
I’m not by any means saying a polyamorous relationship structure works for everyone. But why presume that monogamy works for everyone when it clearly doesn’t. The best part is you don’t have to agree with me. I’m going to assume a fair majority of you won’t, and I’m completely okay with that. My personal insights are not the final word, and my belief system is not dependent upon your approval. I simply want people to question the paradigm. Progress is rarely achieved from the vantage of complacency ∞
One thought on “In Support of Conscious Non-Monogamy”
I read your post. It’s very well written and you clearly have succeeded in putting words around your stance. I am sure we’ll get a chance to discuss in person. Suffice it to say for now that when I was 35, I shared that view.