Jasmine Peterson is somewhat annoyed that it took her 27 years to learn about polyamory.
I am going to be candid. I, at the age of 27, only recently discovered myself to be polyamorous. I think I’ve been approaching this realization for a couple of years, but it suddenly leapt out to me with a clarity I’d not had before, just about a month ago. And what a relief it was to name that thing that was there all along.
Of course, the relief was short lived because the conversations that ensued, particularly those with my monogamous, long term partner, were difficult, and sometimes heated, volatile even. I don’t blame him for his initial reaction—his anger, sadness, bewilderment, uncertainty. I can see how it might be unsettling to discover that you’re in a relationship with a polyamorous woman six years into your relationship; likewise, it’s difficult to discover yourself to be polyamorous six years into a monogamous, committed relationship.
And you know—I’m kind of angry. I’m angry that we live in a culture that dictates monogamy as the only viable relational style; which repeatedly, demonstrably, and volubly dismisses all other relationship styles as illegitimate, wrong, and harmful. I hadn’t even a word with which to label my inclinations until a few years into my university career (which also happened to be a few years into my committed relationship), so how could I possibly know or name it for myself?
So I’m angry. I’m also happy that I’ve had this epiphany and realized why my relationships always went so awry, and why I found it impossible to remain in a relationship with just one other person. In fact, my current relationship is the only one that comes to mind in which I didn’t ‘step out’. I once, when I was much younger, dated two men at once (it wasn’t a polyamorous relationship, as only one of my partners knew of the other). Aside from having to be secretive with one of my partners, I really enjoyed dating two men at once and was content with this situation. It suited me. How did I not know sooner? (Again, not having had the language for it, being steeped in cultural discourse that suggests that anything outside of monogamy is egregiously wrong, it’s little wonder it took me so long to make this discovery about myself).
We are inevitably shaped by our culture, and through culture we are given the language to describe our world and construct our knowledge of it. Growing up there were discussions about homosexuality. I had a knowledge of and language for transgenderism. Bisexuality was discussed in sexual education classes. There is even an acronym that brings attention to the issues people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. And I certainly don’t want to undermine these minority groups or their experiences; they are still subjected to vitriol, violence, hatred, and human rights violations. We still live in a heteronormative culture that views the LGBT community as disparate. But even still, these were orientations and identities that were on my radar, I had a language for them, I could empathize with them, and advocate for their rights.
Polyamory, however, was not something I’d heard spoken of. The idea that a person can love only one intimate partner—that a person must relate to, be faithful to, and love only one person at a time—is ingrained into most of us from the time we’re toddlers. Monogamy is generally considered the only acceptable relationship style. Infidelity ends up being big news (especially when a political figurehead is involved—like talk of impeaching a president for his infidelity, while us Canadians are stuck with a Prime Minister who was the leader of the first ever federal government to be held in contempt of Parliament. Because sex outside of marriage is clearly far more contemptible than an undemocratic process), while the predominant sentiment is criticism of the philanderer, people don’t really seem to want to question culturally imposed monogamy. They hold dear sayings like: “If you love two people at the same time, choose the second one, because if you really loved the first, you wouldn’t have fallen for the second.” In fact, someone quoted this saying just the other day and I wanted to scream “NO, it doesn’t mean that at all. It doesn’t mean you didn’t love the first person. Maybe it means that you’re polyamorous. Maybe it means that you have the capacity to love more than just one human being at a time. Maybe it means that love is expansive. Maybe it means that monogamy isn’t for everyone.”
Like I said—I’m angry. But I also feel liberated to be able to finally identify myself as polyamorous, to finally understand and acknowledge that aspect of myself. I wish I’d had this knowledge before falling in love with a die-hard monogamist. Not that I wouldn’t have embarked on a relationship with him regardless, but I now have to quell that desire and sometimes it’s a struggle. The discourses of loving relationships available to me at the time we began dating were limited, which in turn limited my ability to be honest with myself or with him about my relational proclivities. So forgive me if I’m feeling resentful of a culture that allowed me, even encouraged me, to deny a part of who I am for 27 years of my life.
I don’t often divulge such intimate details about myself for all the internet to read, but I think it is important to set a discourse in motion that recognizes polyamory as a legitimate relational style, and that allows people to begin thinking differently about the variety of ways in which people can relate. I see these conversations happening already, but there needs to be more visibility; we need to get to a place where there is a common language for people to draw on so that monogamy isn’t considered the only viable option and people can explore their relational styles more honestly. Research has cited infidelity as a major reason for divorce among married couples, which makes me wonder if it is the monogamy that is imposed upon us that is part of the problem, which leads people to seek additional relationships in secrecy because of fear of judgment.
Not everyone is made for monogamy (and that’s not to say that there is anything wrong with those for whom monogamy works; it’s certainly one way to relate), so providing a culturally acknowledged language on which people can draw that includes styles in addition to monogamy has the potential to allow people to more honestly relate to others, rather than being forced into monogamy and ending up unfaithful. Of course, it is important not to conflate polyamory with infidelit—polyamory is a very open and honest means of relating in which all partners must be consenting, their feelings considered, and their desires and/or discomfort acknowledged. And I wish I’d had this discourse available to me sooner.
Just like the gender binary, the binary for romantic relationships (monogamy = good, anything else = bad) is harmful and inhibiting. Let’s open our minds and our hearts and recognize (healthy consenting) love for what it is, in all of its shapes and forms.