Monogamy Isn’t For Everyone; Polyamory Isn’t Going to Ruin the World

Jasmine Peterson is somewhat annoyed that it took her 27 years to learn about polyamory.

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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.

◊♦◊

 

You might also like:
Poly Is. Poly Isn’t. A Basic User’s Guide, Part 1
Poly Is. Poly Isn’t. A Basic User’s Guide, Part 2
Five Things You Might Now Know About Polyamory

Read more from our special “Polyamory” section.

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About Jasmine Peterson

Jasmine Peterson is a feminist and an activist. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Clinical Psychology. Her research has examined social constructionism, self-objectification, and, most recently, conceptions of health and their impact on males and females.

Comments

  1. Gordon Leslie says:

    Yes, my wife was quicker than me to accept it. She sais I am exactly the same guy, I am only aware of it now. The last time exclusivity was challenged for me was in grade school. Even then it made no sense to me that only one was allowed. Two girls expressed interest in me and my outlook was that I liked them both. That didin’t fly with either of the girls so my grade four solution was that you must have to deal with this sort of thing chronologicaly. Other wise everyone would be with first person they met. Right!? That one didin’t work out so well in hind sight. I have had a least four other friendships that would be similar to your Mexico and I just didn’t clue in. One of those actually tried to confront me about it but I was so cluless at the time I thought she was just having a bad day. ( She was the first person I told when I did figure it out. I half expected a “Took you long enough!” but she didin’t. Everyone of those 4 friendships are still very close and only a friendship. For now I have no extras but the one that made me realize is still on the fence. Who knows…. Its been a lot just comming to terms with all that. I was the poster child for monogamy. Its very ingrained in the rest of my life. My protest to that is simply that every other aspect of my life was argued and chosen by me for its pros and cons. Why didin’t I challenge this back in grade 4!!

  2. to me its just a label for something thats always existed…sounds to me like most people would call an “open” relationship…..labels are overrated….i agree with Jasmine that cheating is not even close to the same thing…..as long as all parties involved are aware and accept the relationship it is no one else’s business……how can you even compare the two terms…. the ignorance and shortsightedness that most ppl in general is the reason for any type of relationship other than monogamy to be dismissed and shamed…..i am glad you found who you are and are happy…..isn’t that what ultimately everyone wants? simply to be happy? i say that there are a lot of ppl out there that feel the way you do, but are to afraid to say it so they stay in a monag relationship and miserable…hmmmmm wonder why the divorce rate is so high????? More people need to open their minds to all kinds of people…..accept that we are all different for a reason….God does not make mistakes…..embrace who you are and be proud. In addition I myself am comfortable and prefer monogamy, but that is me…..I accept there are many other types of relationships that work for others…..and I admire them for being who they are and not conforming simply because public views it as wrong…..I admire them….they should be applauded ….

    • oh one more thing….it is absolutely possible to love more than one person at a time. if someone disagrees, in my opinion, they just haven’t had that true experience yet….regardless of lifestyle/relationship preference it is absolutely possible.

      • Maggie, you sound like anybody on one end of a spectrum talking to somebody on the opposite end. Like a gay man telling a straight man, “You just haven’t found the right man yet,” or a straight man telling a gay man he hasn’t found the right woman. Both are equally absurd.

        I’m polyamorous. For a long time I believed that everyone was naturally at least somewhat poly; we were just culturally repressed. There was hope! But I have met people for whom monogamy was not a choice. It was really truly the way they were. Introduction of a new love, in the name of enlightenment and healing, resulted in confusion, distress, and the dissolution of one relationship or the other (usually the pre-existing one) to settle back into comfortable monogamy.

        Trying to get me to be monogamous is a bad idea. Even when I only have one romantic partner, I’m still polyamorous. Anything else engenders resentment, and resentment is the assassin of intimacy.

        For me to try to get a monogamous person to be polyamorous, no matter how well-intentioned, is the same kind of hubris, and meets with the same destructive results.
        Please don’t feel that you have to invalidate someone else’s orientation in order to validate your own.

    • Thank you so much, Maggie! It is nice to get kind, supportive words. :) It’s been an interesting journey from the time I discovered it and labeled it up to the point where I’m at now. Reactions have been mixed, and it hasn’t been the easiest of journeys, but I love who I am and I have found that most people are pretty accepting and non-judgmental.

      And you are right – anybody, regardless of their orientation or how they identify, can certainly love more than one person. My now ex (who is staunchly monogamous), encountered this very dilemma when he engaged in an illicit affair with his at the time boss. He ended up falling in love with her, but only revealed to me what had been going on afterward because he had gotten her pregnant… and even then, he had wanted to make reparations with me, but was confused because he’d developed strong feelings for her. It was rather ironic given the number of times he had told me it was impossible for a person to love more than one other individual romantically at a time.

      • Well, isn’t that the ironic twist! I think you can have a movie deal on this one.

        • My life felt very much like a soap opera for several months! I wrote a piece shortly after he revealed his infidelity to me, but GMP has yet to publish (or reject) it. :)

  3. Don Draper anyone? haha i always think Don Draper character in Mad Men is not a jerk, hes actually a good man with kind heart. Hes just polyamorious and cannot settle with just one woman.

  4. courage the cowardly dog says:

    Let me give you a little seminar in anthropology. Like other species we are inherently programmed to propogate and continue the species. You will find no study ever done that concludes that the best family model is one based on polyamorary. Monogamy between one female mother and one male father biologically connected and committed to one another has proven through several milennia without exception to be the best model for raising children. Raising each succeding generation of children in a stable and responsible enviroment serves the interests of the species. Everything other model fails to serve propagation of the species as well. If you have no intent on having children and are successful in achieving that goal then I say do whatever the hell want, but once a child comes into the picture everything changes.

    • Hank Vandenburgh says:

      I’m pretty well through Saxon’s Sex at Dusk and I think it’s a good counterbalance to Ryan’s Sex at Dawn. One thing it demonstrates very vividly is that mothers’ parenting is instinctive, where fathers’ is partly conditioned by social norms at best. Men and women are genetically at odds, but monogamish is pretty much the best solution. I repeat Saxon in saying “monogamish” because plenty of people do break monogamy (or polygyny – pertains to much of the world) norms. (More societies allow for multiple wives than don’t.) This includes many women of course. The way Saxon puts it, women are expected to be “whores,” but if they’re “sluts,” other women at least get pissed. Not that many don’t get sluttish from time to time. But there’s no genetic teleology (in men anyway) encouraging monogamy for purposes of family continuance. Men make sets of their genes at about the rate of 2,400 per second, so their genetic tendency is to sow widely.

      I think that Saxon flies off the handle in later chapters where she emphasizes that many peoples who have anything like multiple partners have systems where the women can’t enjoy sex– it’s too wham-bam. I find this very hard (no pun) to believe. We do find many remnants of older group-sex practices (carnival sex in Europe, for example.) One of my grad school professors (Joe Lopreato) for example talked about tribal meetings where hallucinogens were used to grease bad convocations for sex. If the bands were somewhat proximal and partly related, I partly believe this, I guess. I’m suspicious of Saxon’s (and some of the anthropologists she cites) sort of “no real fun and games” approach to sex. The female sex organs are just too much designed for pleasure for that.

      • Hank Vandenburgh says:

        By the way, as someone is somewhat poly by nature, I think the promiscuous use of the word “cheating” is akin to using “perversion” for gay-lovemaking.

    • Ew. Do us all a favour and crawl back under your rock.

      • Hank Vandenburgh says:

        I don’t know if that was intended for me, but it’s ignorant. Is it even mentioning the word “perversion” (which used to be used by professionals for gay lovemaking,) or is it the idea that the concept of cheating is problematized. And I don’t know who “us all” is. I’ve been coming here for a while, so maybe it’s me and some others; maybe it’s you and some others. Who knows?

        One of the hidden problems with the current take on sexual freedon is that it is required to take place under the banner of heteronormative-like coupling, or else be subjected to endless discussion with acknowledged partners. Either of these is a false and irritating condition for some of us. We look out for the interests of partners to be sure, but not all of our behavior is necessarily an open book to all of them. Nor should it be.

  5. I appreciate differing views and lifestyles, and have a generally liberal view towards most things. With that said, you’re 27 – you don’t have an f’ing clue about life yet.

  6. Aaliyaana says:

    So I have debated this with myself for the last year and a half. I had a lover who initially after wanting to be exclusive, decided he couldn’t because of jealousy issues. He decided, didn’t ask. I still stayed along for another year and a half. He told me we couldn’t discuss who each other was sleeping with, which just led to a weird awkwardness, where I never knew what to say, and he acted like he didn’t care (even though he told me, he didn’t care what i did, but he cared about me) and he never wanted to use contraception, and he didn’t want kids so it was upto me to get the birth control and STD test every time I slept with him – it wasn’t a continuous relationship.
    Being in an active fetish life/group at the time I had a complete understanding of polygamy and polyamoury. Had multiple happy sexual partners, read The Ethical Slut 1&2, and still i battled with not being with the man I loved, alone.
    Fast forward another 6 months, I’m no longer active on the fet scene, sleep with multiple partners and i had to walk away from the man I love. Mainly because I grew up, and because despite the wondrous multi-jewelled beautiful aspects i could see in being polyamourus i wanted my happy ever after, and children with a good man….and whilst I have spent more years in relationships with women than men, have an 8yr old boy shared custody and still love this man, I still love women. This man was 5 years younger than me, had no job, lived at home with his parents and had no real life experience, but I loved regardless and in spite of this.
    I wish you all luck, and congratulate those who have found their place in this world, you must feel a great overwhelming sense of oneness with life and purpose.

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