20 Years of Polyamory: Thoughts on Monogamy
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(Photo credit: kirstea)
I ended the last post by saying, “For me, polyamory is the clear, obvious, uncontested right thing to do.” An easy question that follows from that is, “Does that mean I think monogamy is the wrong thing to do?” The short answer is no, not at all. I might not like some people’s reasons for being monogamous, but I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong with the idea of monogamy in general. Mostly, it just isn’t for me. When asking for questions and topic ideas for this series, I got lots of specific questions about monogamy.
Julia asked lots of questions about monogamy, including these:
- Do you think that there can be a middle ground between [monogamy and polyamory]?
- In your eyes, are all monogamous couples co-dependent?
- Do you think monogamous couples can benefit from an in-depth perspective on being poly and apply some of the same ideals to their relationship and stay mono?
And I’ve been asked other questions about monogamy as well:
- Do you think polyamorous people are more “enlightened” than monogamous people?
- Do you “get” monogamy or do you just think it’s weird?
- Would you ever consider a monogamous relationship?
So let’s tackle those one at a time (a little out of order).
Do you think polyamorous people are more “enlightened” than monogamous people?
This question has come up time and time again over the years I’ve been poly, and my answer has probably changed as I’ve gotten older. When I was in my 20s and poly seemed like a big, shiny, subversive topic, I probably felt pretty holier-than-thou about it. As time has gone by, though, I’ve become much less passionate about being polyamorous. It just is for me, and I don’t have to advocate for it in my own mind.
I would say that it’s possible for polyamory to represent enlightenment for some individual people. That is, for some people, polyamory both causes and arises from personal growth, conquering fears, general maturation, self-acceptance, etc. There are lots of paths to polyamory, though, and not all of them are even positive, much less “enlightened”. For me, poly is too easy to be described as enlightened. So the bottom line is no. I see polyamory as a different choice that works well for some people, less for others, can be gotten to from all kinds of directions, and is not really better or worse in the end.
Are all monogamous couples co-dependent?
Not at all. Lots of couples are co-dependent, whether mono or poly. Our culture almost psychotically values independence, yet as a tribal species we require dependence on one another. Since there is little guidance in our culture about how to depend on one another and achieve healthy interdependence, it should be no surprise that we too often crash-and-burn in the unhealthy land of co-dependence.
For some couples, their monogamy may play into their co-dependence (or other unhealthy patterns). And I’ve seen some relationships’ polyamory be tightly twined up with their co-dependence. But mostly, I think these are two separate issues where the topic may overlap but neither is the cause of the other.
Definitely! Since monogamy is the norm, lots of mono people probably take the details of the relationship structure for granted. As a benefit (or aggravation) of doing something out of the ordinary, polyamorous people have a lot more to talk about when figuring out their relationships. The things that poly people end up talking a lot about – relationship “rules”, time management, alternative family structures, negotiating boundaries, etc. – could all probably benefit mono people as well. Not all of the things that poly people struggle to define relate to the actual sex. They’re about how to define relationships, how to take care of each other, how to take care of yourself, how to get what you want, how to communicate clearly, how to resolve conflict, etc, and these are good things to talk about even if you’re not poly.
As far as specific poly lessons that could relate to mono people as well, the easiest one is probably the idea that two people in a relationship don’t have to be everything to each other. If your partner likes baseball and you hate baseball, this doesn’t have to mean anything. You never have to go to a single baseball game. Your partner can have an entirely different set of baseball friends that you never hang out with. In fact, it might even be a really good idea to cultivate these differences and not try to match up completely. The first polyamory-related book I ever read was Open Marriage. It’s full of great perspectives, but one that comes to mind now is when they talk about people as being covered with hookup points, like Velcro. Each of your interests and activities and desires is a potential hookup point where you can match up with and connect with other people. If you only allow yourself to pursue the desires that match up with a single other person, your other hookup points wither and die from lack of use. Over time, you become less of a person, which, besides denying yourself and denying the ways you might enjoy other people, also leads to you being less interested and less engaged with the one relationship. It’s better for everyone involved if each person is a whole, separate person, not just a half-of-a-whole. This is obviously relevant in poly relationships where one of the ways we match up with other people is sexually and romantically, but it matters in monogamous relationships, too.
I’ve got a lot to say about jealousy, too, that could probably relate to mono people, but I think jealousy is going to be its own post, so I’ll leave it for later.
Do you think that there can be a middle ground between [monogamy and polyamory]?
Yes. I like labels and clear definitions, so there’s not much overlap for me between monogamy and polyamory. However, there are other words entirely that fit ideologically somewhere in the middle. There’s cheating, for example, which involves sexual relationships with more than one person without the honesty and openness. There’s being single, which may involve honest sexual/romantic relationships with more than one person while waiting for one person to be monogamous with. There’s the old-fashioned idea of an arrangement where one person has other partners and everyone knows about it but pretends they don’t. There’s swinging which seems to involve some difference from poly for the people who use the term, but I’m not sure I really understand what it is.
There are also some flavors of polyamory that seem to be striving for a middle ground, like polyfidelity and “only women” poly. Those are going to be the subject of another post, though, so I’ll elaborate on that later.
Would you ever consider a monogamous relationship?
No. There are some people who think being poly or mono is a relationship orientation, similar to hetero/homo as sexual orientations. That is, they don’t think it’s a choice. I don’t doubt that it is not a choice for some people. For myself, I’m not sure if I’d call it an orientation or just a preference, but either way, it’s a done deal for me. I would consider a relationship with someone who considered themselves monogamous but didn’t mind if I had other sexual/romantic relationships, but I would be very skeptical and tread very carefully. Even when I am not currently interested in pursuing sexual/romantic relationships, I still consider polyamory a central component of my self. I would never agree to take the possibility off the table.
Do you “get” monogamy or do you just think it’s weird?
At previous times in my life, I have not understood monogamy at all. I thought it was pretty weird. I had no comprehension for why it could possibly matter if your partner was fucking or loving other people. I really didn’t understand why the idea of that bothered people. I looked at mono people like they were green-headed aliens. Something happened over the last few years that brought me a little closer to empathy, though.
Twice in the last several years, I have considered having a child with a man. Both times, the man in question had current sexual relationships with other women, and I imagined him impregnating her. And the feeling I had in relation to that imagining would probably best be described by the word jealousy, although it felt much more primal than other times I’ve felt jealousy. Basically, I felt like I would die if that were to happen. Or maybe kill someone. But either way, the scenario of him knocking up someone else felt like a thing that Must. Not. Happen. Now, I firmly believe that people can do whatever they want with other people, and even if they didn’t want to, healthy sexuality requires an acceptance that accidents will happen. So, at the end of the day, I’m sure I wouldn’t die or kill anyone. But running up against that feeling was interesting to me, and it brought me a little closer to understanding monogamy. Before having that feeling, I couldn’t understand the jealousy I’ve heard monogamous people describe. After having that feeling, I understand it a bit better. I wonder if it’s just a fluke of my brain that I don’t feel that way about sex or love. I feel that way about babies, though, apparently, and it gives me more compassion for people who feel it on other topics.
So, I used to think monogamous people were completely alien. How could someone possibly think that way? Now I think monogamous people are more like people who like mushrooms – I don’t like mushrooms, but it’s clearly a food that many people enjoy, and I eat some things that they don’t enjoy, and it’s probably all okay in the end.
Read the whole 8 part series: