© Todd Veros, MSW, MEd
So I spent the last two columns talking about how to handle the jealousy in consensual non-monogamous relationships (and monogamous relationships, for that matter). A ringing endorsement like that sure makes non-monogamy sound easy and worth the trouble, doesn’t it? Well, even though no one is likely to tell you it’s easy, a lot of them will tell you it’s worth it.
Of course, a lot of the motivations depend on what kind of non-monogamy you’re practicing. Hierarchical or not, romantic or strictly sexual, open to additional partners or holding steady with a specific number of them, and other factors will all be part of the equation. Just the same, many of the reasons people gravitate toward non-monogamy are common among every style.
One of the big benefits of non-monogamy is it takes the pressure off everyone to be the perfect, be-all-end-all, utterly ideal match for anyone else. If Kelly can quote Monty Python with you until the second coming of Brian but doesn’t know Marceline from Princess Bubblegum, you don’t have to feel disappointed and move on; you can still enjoy spamming Kelly with dead parrot references while hopefully getting algebraic with a different partner, and enjoying your time with both of them. Non-monogamy frees you to appreciate what each potential partner does bring to the table instead of missing out on what they don’t.
This can be especially true of sexual matters. Suppose your partner wants sex more or less often than you do, or maybe you have a fetish that your partner just isn’t into. Neither of you has to feel stifled or burdened by desires that don’t line up when you can have those desires fulfilled with other people. Not only that, but you also have the chance to appreciate partners of numerous body types, gender expressions, sexual styles, and more. When you see both sides of the fence, you get to see that the grass is just as green on both sides.
Just like sex and interests, sometimes our lives themselves become a challenge to loving someone monogamously. Arnold and Bev have work schedules that line up only once a week, but they both want more lovey-time than that; Marco would like a partner who’s interested in being a co-parental figure for his kids, but Danny wants to focus just on Marco; Sophia loves cuddling and Mia just wants a quick hug when they’re not having sex. None of them have to get short-changed and none of them have to break up with each other, because other partners can help fulfill these desires while they still love what they love about each other.
Related to this is the ability to let whatever relationships you have develop organically. This won’t work if you and your partner(s) have specific agreements about the number of other partners you have or how you relate to them; however, there are plenty of people who love that they don’t have to put on the “we can only be pals” T-shirt with friends who have the potential to become more to them. Just think of all the romantic comedies and Michael Douglas movies that center on love triangles and infidelity – these tragedies could have been avoided if the writers had acknowledged that your love for one person doesn’t stop you from developing love for another.
Speaking of specific types of non-monogamy, couples who have outside sex partners but no romance with them often find that their emotional connection with their romantic partner is strengthened. When sexual exclusivity doesn’t define your relationship, as it does in most monogamous pairings, what does? Answer: the emotional connection, and all the reasons you love each other. (This is one reason I growl at the idea of being expected to wait until you’re married to have sex – it puts all the emphasis on sex instead of the infinite other forms of intimacy.)
Having more than one relationship, whether romantic or strictly sexual, also helps keep complacency and boredom from setting in. When you have the same thing all the time – whether it’s a relationship, a dessert choice, or a race/class combination in Dungeons & Dragons – it’s easy for it to start feeling predictable and rote, no matter how much you love it. Having more options not only keeps things novel, it helps you appreciate what you’ve had all along by seeing the difference in what each one brings to the table. And hey, it’s always a nice ego boost to feel desired by more than one person.
There’s also the debate over just how much of a choice it really is to lean toward non-monogamy. Some people feel naturally oriented toward having multiple partners, rather than just thinking it would be swell to get laid a lot: so naturally, in fact, that many consider it to be as innate as sexual orientation. It certainly makes sense for humans to be hardwired to want more than one partner; it would mean more genetic diversity in the offspring and more motivation for you to take care of every kid in sight when you know that any one of them might be your biological descendant.
Also: sometimes people get interested in non-monogamy for the wrong reasons, and it never ends well.
Please, please, please…
- Don’t let your partner pressure you into it if you don’t feel comfortable with it yourself.
- Don’t convince your partner to call your cheating “non-monogamy” just so you don’t have to address your infidelity (“Fine, we can have an open relationship – go fuck whoever you want, see if I care!”).
- For God’s sake, don’t suggest non-monogamy just to test whether your partner will actually take you up on it, and then get upset when they kiss someone else.
- Don’t do it just because it’s trendy or to make your parents mad (seriously, are you in high school?).
Whatever you do, don’t start a polyamorous relationship because you think it will be easy. Non-monogamy in its many forms can be highly fulfilling, but go into it with a clear understanding of the challenges that it includes. If it doesn’t work out immediately, or if you have one bad experience, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not for you (much like monogamy and relationships in general – how about that?). Anything worth having is worth working for, and for all the reasons above, non-monogamy deserves at least a little consideration.
Monogamous People in a Poly Relationship by Franklin Veaux https://www.morethantwo.com/monopoly-existing.html
Keeping Love Exciting by Tristan deWoods