Although I don’t practice it myself, I’m all for monogamy. Forgive me for this, I can’t help myself: some of my best friends are monogamous. Monogamy is, to me, one of those things like being an accountant or a dentist that’s perfectly useful, makes some people I love very happy, and holds about as much appeal for myself as, well, pulling teeth. Tis cool. We’re all different, we all get to decide what kinds of relationships make us feel happy, secure and fulfilled and to pursue that with people who feel similarly.
As someone who lives in a great big world full of mono people and who’s been in my share of mono relationships with very lovely people myself (I always, by the way, behaved myself) I have a fair insight into why people choose monogamy, why it works for them and what it’s like.
I have a feeling that some of my mono friends don’t have quite the same insight into the way I do relationships. I think it’s time to start setting right a misconception or two. In particular, well, one. This one.
Slicin’ and dicin’?
I have a friend- an old, dear friend I love to pieces, which is lucky for him- who keeps on referring to poly people like myself as having fractions of partners. According to him, I have 1/3 of a girlfriend, and the wives of the man who someone once met going to St Ives have 1/7 of a husband. Let’s look into this idea, shall we?
I guess- and I am just guessing here, so correct me if I’m wrong- that if exclusivity is something you value strongly in a relationship it could seem that sharing a partner with someone else means, well, sharing. And that for some reason all of us poly folks are happy to have a fraction of a relationship here and another fraction there.
I don’t know about you, but the idea of sewing together a Frankenstein’s monster of partners seems as unappealing to me as it does to the average mono person. Let’s- if you’ll pardon the phrase- deconstruct this a bit, shall we?
All the people in our lives
One of the things that poly people love to talk about when explaining how we can go around having multiple relationships at once is the fact that having more than one relationship is something that everybody does all the time. Think about the people who are important to you in your life. Sure, there’s something special and distinct about what you have with your partner(s). But isn’t there also something special and distinct about what you have with all of the other people in your close circle? The big example that poly folks like to bring up here is kids. In terms of devotion, committment, time, energy and love, there isn’t really anything that can rival the parent/child relationship. And yet if I were to mention someone having a second child nobody would assume that the love of the parents for their first child would be in any way diminished. Sure, they’re going to be a lot more busy and will have to work to balance their attention between their kids. And sure, there’ll be an adjustment for the older kid. But love and the parent/child relationship itself? It’s not divided.
Our romantic partnerships and relationships are, of course, very different. But it’s a qualitative difference, not a quantitive one. I love the Ladyfriend, my family, and my closest friends in different ways, but I love them all. My love for Ladyfriend isn’t in any way diminished by my having a wonderful circle of friends and family. In fact, I’d say that having a healthy life of my own outside my relationship enhances what we have. I’m a happier and more interesting person because of the people in my life. Aren’t we all?
It’s not just people, though. When I think of the things that take up Ladyfriend’s time and attention, her work comes far higher than any other person. I’m sure that anyone who’s dated someone with an overwhelming devotion to a job, hobby or project can empathise with that. We’ve all met (or been) PhD widows.
What are relationships made of?
The other day, as I was having the fateful fractions conversation with my old friend, Ladyfriend was off on a date with a new person of whom I approve immensely (she’s a sweetiepie!). That next day when I phoned her up to ask how it had went, did I suddenly have less of a girlfriend than I had had the day before?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- I absolutely respect monogamy. I see why people choose it. We all have things we’re comfortable with, things that are hard limits, and great big grey areas in between to play around in. One relationship can be overwhelming enough. With two or three, things can get complicated. And yep, we all get to have feelings and boundaries about what we’re okay with our partners getting up to with others. It’s one of the best things about creating cultures of active consent.
I do think that there’s a limit to the amount of commitments one person can make. That limit varies from person to person and at different times in our lives. The person with the demanding job, young kids and evening course is barely going to have time for sleep, never mind dating. But within that limit- which, by the way, the poly people of my acquaintance tend to be extremely aware of- adding new things and people to our lives doesn’t diminish what we already have. My taking up roller derby and spending hours and hours a week training doesn’t subtract from my relationship with Ladyfriend. And similarly, if during those hours she’s spending time with other partners, I haven’t lost anything at all.
I understand that thinking about your partner being involved with others can make a lot of mono people uncomfortable. Trust me, I get that- I’m no more immune to jealousy than anyone on the planet! But relationships- all relationships- are made of a lot more than the time not spent with others. They’re made of more than what you get up to when your partner’s not there- although honesty about that is one hell of a big deal. I don’t measure my relationships in minutes spent with me versus with other people, or in feelings for me versus for other people. The most important thing, to me, is what me and another person share together.
- The War Against Monogamy Is Bullshit (jezebel.com)
- Polysingleish Interviews Franklin Veaux, Part 1: Being Poly (polysingleish.com)
- Monogamy Hasn’t Gone Out Of Style (thoughtcatalog.com)
- Sierra Black: The 5 Worst Things About Open Relationships (huffingtonpost.com)
- Seeks Tranquility (americansilverback.wordpress.com)
- Analysis of open relationship study (3somes.wordpress.com)