"What is nonmonogamy, and could it help me have better relationships?"
- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Bethany Rutter as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
Just like how there isn’t only one way to experience sexuality, there isn’t only one way to do relationships. Even though culturally we’re proposed with three options: monogamy, singledom or cheating, I’m here to tell you that there’s more to life than this.
There are lots and lots of ways to organize and categorize your relationships, but if you don’t feel a natural pull towards monogamy, maybe you could consider being nonmonogamous. You might have heard the word ‘polyamory’, which, in my opinion, refers to a structure of relationship. Relationships are polyamorous, people are nonmonogamous.
You can be single and nonmonogamous. Even when I’m not dating anyone, I am still nonmonogamous. It describes me in the same way as ‘queer’. It describes my inclinations and interests, even if it doesn’t always describe what I’m doing in practical terms. Just like I’m still queer even if I’m dating a man, I’m still nonmonogamous even if I have no partners at all. My default state is not monogamous. I am not working towards a point of monogamy when I start a relationship with someone.
If I’m in a relationship with one person, and then I start a relationship with another person simultaneously, then it could be said that I’m polyamorous because I have multiple partners.
To recap: nonmonogamous means you’re not motivated by, or seeking, monogamous relationships. Polyamorous means you’re in multiple relationships simultaneously.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of negative stereotypes surrounding nonmonogamy, and a lot of assumptions about the nature of these relationships and the people who have them. It’s like an expansion of the stereotypes around bisexuality: that nonmonogamous people are greedy, untrustworthy, inconsistent. That it’s a young person’s game. That you’ll ‘make up your mind and settle down eventually.
In actual fact, there’s no reason why nonmonogamous people should conform to any stereotype in particular. The only way to define or characterize a nonmonogamous person is by the fact they choose not to have monogamous relationships.
A useful way to think about it is to ask ourselves why we separate romantic and sexual love from all the other kinds of love we experience in our lifetimes. You have more than one friend, right? And you don’t necessarily do the same stuffwith all your friends. Some friends are better at making you laugh, some friends like going to the cinema with you, some are good at listening to your problems, others you only see once or twice a year but they’re still there for you. Think about what you get out of this multiplicity and diversity of friendships, how much having all these different experiences nourishes and enriches your experience of being here.
Even if it’s important to you to have one Best Friend who should be there on call with unconditional love and support and fun, that doesn’t mean that you don’t also have other friends you hang out with and have fun with in different ways.
Then apply that to romantic and sexual relationships. Films and books have filled us with the supposedly dreamy notion that our ‘one true love’ is not only out there, but fulfils every one of our needs and wants, and if they don’t, then they’re not actually The One for you. But that feels like a lot of pressure to me. I, for one, know that I have a much nicer time when I judge and am judged on what I’m willing and able to bring to a relationship? When you’re not looking for someone to tick every single box, you’re more likely to be able to focus on what their good bits are and the ways in which you work well together, rather than wailing that they don’t love your favorite band or prefer being the big spoon.
For me, that’s what underpins my nonmonogamy. I don’t want anyone to be committing in ways they don’t feel comfortable committing, and I don’t want to make promises I have no intention or ability to keep.
As far as I’ve experienced it, attraction isn’t a switch you flip. When you enter into a new relationship, you don’t flip the switch to the ‘off’ position to ensure you only have eyes for your new person. If that happens of its own accord, then you’re probably naturally monogamous. But if you’ve always got that curiosity, that thirst to get to know other people, to explore your attraction, then that doesn’t make you a bad person. Asserting your needs and boundaries, asking for a style and shape of relationship that suits you and allows you to keep exploring shows you respect yourself and your partner.
No, it’s not like cheating. Cheating is much more common than ethical nonmonogamy, and in a strange way, much more culturally accepted. It doesn’t, however, show you have any particular respect for your own boundaries or your partner’s, and can cause untold levels of pain, hurt and stress. Nonmonogamy isn’t all plain sailing forever, but what relationship is?
Even if you decide monogamy is the style for you, it’s always worth asking if the emotional and practical commitments are suiting you and your partner, and if you both feel like you’re getting what you want and need out of the relationship. Keep checking in with whoever you’re dating, and most importantly with yourself, and ask if things are feeling comfortable for you. Shaping your relationship how you need it to be is a great, liberating act that I can’t recommend enough.