With an onslaught of books, articles, and websites dealing with non-monogamy and poly relationships, more people seem to be giving “alternate relationship structures” a try. Books, such as Opening Up and Sex at Dawn, have helped individuals that felt trapped and alienated by societal expectations of monogamy to consider options beyond one-on-one coupledom. A variety of works have even gone so far as to proclaim polyamory and non-monogamy the “natural” order of things, decrying monogamy as a repressive, morally-mandated social order perpetuated by people in power to control the masses. As outspoken supporters of a plethora of relationship styles step forward to explain, champion, and advance knowledge of their own brand of dealing with dating, mating, and long-term coupling, few speak on the topic of what happens when the world of monogamy and non-monogamy/polyamory collide.
On occasion, I’ve been known to set myself at a distance and gently peel apart the layers of argument surrounding delicate topics, carefully cataloging the pros and cons of each view before deciding where I stand on the matter. The issue of monogamy versus polyamory or non-monogamy is no different. To a degree, I took a long, hard look at non-monogamy and decided it wasn’t for me. Poly seemed slightly more reasonable (assuming I could find a partner that believed in polyfidelity and wanted to keep our circle small). However, in the end, monogamy won out due to my personal preferences. The hard part in all of this is there isn’t a great theoretical basis for my decision. I don’t consider non-monogamy immortal. Polyamory isn’t unnatural or something to be scorned. Those options simply don’t work as well as monogamy does for me. I find myself happier when I only need to devote romantic, sexual attention toward one person.
Despite my personal monogamist tendencies, recently I’ve found myself forming romantic relationships with individuals who identify as non-monogamous and/or polyamorous. This clash of ideologies is one I was never prepped for; no one ever seemed to talk about it when discussing the Relationship Style Wars. Without the protection of theory and rhetoric, I find myself dealing with a true ideological conundrum.
As an extremely late bloomer and life-long monogamist, I can still count the number of partners I’ve had on my hands without using all my fingers and never found issue with the societal norms of monogamy. However, once I entered into the world of kink and BDSM, I found myself needing to take a long, hard look into the alternative relationship structures I saw occurring around me. Mere months after entering the local scene, I found myself wildly enamored with a charming gentleman who already had two girlfriends, a handful lovers, and a host of play partners. I considered adopting non-monogamy, but found myself less than thrilled about striking up additional relationships. So I opted to remain emotionally and sexually monogamous, while allowing for the option to play with others. To put it mildly, entering into a relationship with him was a rocky path. Along the way, his relationship dynamics changes, jealousy flared, and compromises were struck, then discarded. After almost three years of challenging, but love-filled adventures, we parted ways.
Given the difficulties of my first mono/poly relationship, when it came to an end, I swore to return to monogamous relationship structures. Yet, I promptly found myself considering another mono/poly pairing. This time I’m a little more prepared to deal with the standard pitfalls of different ideological relationships standpoints. As with any relationship were the people involved share different view, I’ve found considering a few options beforehand an excellent indication of the likelihood of success.
1. Consider the manner in which you deal with new information – While sometimes opposites attract, it’s important to know how your new partner may deal with hardships, potential partners, and other relationship issues. Deciding if you have the same approach to dealing with new information will help you determine if your styles complement or clash with each other. If your partner prefers to work things out internally first before saying anything and you need to talk things out in order to process through them, you’re likely to have major difficulties. One of you may feel blindsided by what seems like a rapid change of direction, while the other feels bombarded with conversation that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Do you like to make decisions fairly quickly once new information arises or take your time analyzing? The speed and manner in which you deal with new situations will greatly affect your ability move forward in the relationship.
2. Take time to define which aspects of monogamy, non-monogamy, or polyamory are the most important to you and voice them – This may seem like common sense, but many people launch into relationships without first examining what portion of their interactions with others means the most to them. If sex is a deeply emotionally connecting act for you, but your partner sees it as a fun activity that need not involve emotional connectivity, you’re likely to have problems. While you don’t have to share the exact same views, a monogamous person and a polyamorous person that share some basic beliefs (i.e. sex needs to occur within the bounds of emotional connectivity). This means that future conversations can stem from somewhat common ground.
3. Be ok with occasional conflict and hard conversations – Although all relationships go through their fair share of hardships, mono/poly relationships are particularly rife with the the possibility of misunderstandings and hurt feelings. If you’re a person that avoids conflict at all cost, mono/poly is not for you.
4. Work on yourself, not just the relationship – It’s important to take time for yourself. Making sure that you have friends, activities, and places that are special and centering for you are important. Most people will have moments of self-doubt or low self-esteem. With mono/poly relationships these moments of self-doubt can often lead the mono partner to feel “not good enough” or like an afterthought in their poly partner’s life. However, such moments can be significantly reduced by making sure to take time to view yourself as a whole and complete person outside of the relationship as well as within it and learning to schedule time for yourself.
5. Monogamous behavior does not a monogamous relationship make – During the New Relationship Energy (NRE) period of the relationship, you may spend all of your free time with your new partner, call/text/email constantly, and rarely (if ever) talk about their other partners. You may engage in all kinds of one-on-one activities that make it easy to forget that your partner has other romantic and emotional connections. While it’s easy to get caught up in the deep, newly-budding intimate connect, be sure to give yourself a reality check periodically. If you find you can’t bear the thought of your partner drifting away to spend time with their other partners, you may need to reevaluate your choice.