Mandatory Monogamy Doesn’t Work Either

 Jasmine Peterson was polyamorous, her husband wasn’t… guess which one cheated.

It has been nearly a year since I had an epiphany and came to the realization that I am, by nature, polyamorous—six years into a monogamous relationship. There were several well-wishers who were curious to know how this would turn out for me. Just three short months after coming out as polyamorous to my partner (and the internet), my life took a tremendous turn, relationship-wise, I thought I’d follow up. If you haven’t read about my self-discovery, you can read it here to give you a little background on my story.

The comments that I received, from commenters at GMP and from friends and family, were mixed; some were really supportive but others less so (i.e., hostile and even a bit derogatory, at times). In particular, my long-term monogamous partner of six years really struggled in coming to terms with my identifying as polyamorous. And I understood that, of course. But what I’ve discovered is that I’m not alone in making this self-discovery well into a committed, long-term, monogamous relationship. In fact, through the supportive comments of commenters here at GMP, I discovered that there were a number of others struggling with very similar situations (and thank you for that, to all of you who also shared your experiences; it really legitimized what I was going through). And the more I heard from people who said “You know, I’m going through something very similar right now” the more I knew that talking about this so publicly was the right thing to do (even if terrifying).

In our culture, monogamy is considered the only real, legitimate relationship style (heterosexual monogamy, in particular). I have noticed, in recent years, a proliferation of discussions about nonmonogamy in the media and at the cultural level. Sadly enough, these conversations often devolve into rhetorically vitriolic discussions based on misconceptions and ignorance in which nonmonogamy is vilified as being immoral and wrong. And this, I do firmly believe, is why it wasn’t until I was 27 that I was finally able to recognize that I, myself, am in fact polyamorous. And, this too, I believe, was why many of the commenters at GMP reported similar experiences, only discovering this of themselves later in life, while already in monogamous relationships (and even marriages) themselves.

And here is where the irony comes in. All of my monogamous detractors (just to clarify, this is not an imputation against all monogamous persons, by any means), who have suggested that polyamory is only about promiscuity, that it is based on an inability to commit to one human being, that it is somehow less than monogamy, let me tell you a story and explain away these misconceptions. Polyamory is about having the desire or capacity to engage in more than one relationship at a time – whether that be a sexual or purely romantic relationship would be up to the partners involved. It does not mean using the term as permission to have as much casual sex as you want (unless that is part of the understanding between partners). It does not mean cheating. The basis of polyamorous relationships should be open and honest communication. To me, that seems a beautiful, functional way to relate.

After divulging to my partner that I am polyamorous, we had many intense (and often unpleasant) conversations. Having entered into our relationship under the understanding that we were monogamous, I assured him that, although I am polyamorous, I was fully prepared to maintain that commitment and to remain monogamous with him. It doesn’t change how I identify. It really changes nothing at all about our relationship. There were many who, probably largely due to misconceptions of polyamory, thought that our relationship clearly couldn’t work out because I would never be able to remain faithful. You know, because I’m polyamorous. But the reason I am so drawn to polyamory is not merely the capacity to relate to more than one romantic partner, but the openness, the honesty of the communication that must occur. And consent.

Things got pretty rocky for us, after this revelation (although, looking back, he’d been a bit distant before finding out I was polyamorous; I just didn’t make the connection until afterward). He became even more distant over the following weeks. I was alone in another province attending graduate school, while he remained in our house. I began to wonder if he couldn’t handle my being polyamorous, even though I repeatedly let him know that I was committed to our relationship, which includes maintaining monogamy. I thought it was me. I struggled with my loneliness, and with the fear that we were growing distant, and that things wouldn’t work out after all.

Then, approximately six months ago (it was on our six and a half year anniversary, to the day), he finally filled me in on what was going on. He’d been unfaithful. For months. In fact, it had begun a couple of months before I had even discovered myself to be polyamorous that this illicit affair began. She was pregnant. Given how much value he had always placed in faithfulness, my world was shattered in that instant. I spent a month reeling from the news, trying to come to terms with all it, with what it meant, and with how I wanted to move forward. But I could not fail to see the irony in this situation (I guess it’s a good thing that I love irony, huh?). Even more ironic, I think it was my capacity to understand the ability to love more than one person that had allowed me to forgive him and to attempt to work toward reconciliation (although this is not at all polyamory, given that there was no openness, no honesty, and I was not consenting).

In the conversations that ensued, he asked me at one point “How can a ‘poly’ person be faithful, and a monogamous person be so disloyal?” I think I can answer that. We are coerced into monogamy, in this culture. It is the dominant discourse of what a relationship ought to be, and so anything outside of that is considered less, is peripheral, and becomes a non-option for most people. We are inculcated into monogamy. However, I would say most people have the capacity to be polyamorous. Because anything that falls outside of hegemony is shamed and denigrated, most people hang onto monogamy because they feel they must. Thus, when feelings develop for others, because it is considered to be shameful in terms of monogamous relationships, additional relationships are embarked upon in secrecy. There is shame. There is guilt. But there is not honesty. In saying this, I do want to be clear that I am not suggesting that monogamy isn’t also functional, or that all monogamous persons will become unfaithful. I’m merely suggesting that this can set the stage for affairs, unfaithfulness.

♦◊♦

Six months ago, when my ex first revealed to me that he had been having an affair with his boss, that his mistress was pregnant, my reaction was to forgive, to move forward. I’ve always been someone who resists change, but I’m also someone who believes that love doesn’t just happen; it’s something that we must constantly work at. There had been times in the past where I’d felt disengaged from the relationship or when he had talked about wanting out, but it seemed that through each of these times, one of us was always still in it, and it got us through a number of trials. So I held on… for a time. I had had a rough year (I can honestly assert that it was the worst year of my life, to date, given the number of tribulations I faced in the span of twelve months), and I wasn’t willing to lose one more thing in my life at that point. I booked a flight home, mere days after I wrote my last final examination. Just two days before I was scheduled to fly home, my now ex and I were conversing, and in the midst of that conversation, he had the audacity to blame his infidelity on me. While I was able to forgive his unfaithfulness, his deceit, his months of lying, I was not willing to accept blame for his actions. In retrospect, I can only thank him. I learned a lot about myself from this experience, and about what I want out of my relationships and life. I evolved, and was able to let go of a toxic relationship. I am now single, happier than I’ve been in years, and dating. And it has been wonderful.

If there is anything to take away from this, I think it is that honesty is (almost) always the best policy – for anybody, in any kind of relationship, with any sort of orientation.

 

Photo— banjo d/Flickr

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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. I agree with Nahmaah’s Daughter on this good for you knowing yourself and willing to be honest. When my first husband told me he had been cheating on me since six months into our marriage and that he only wanted me to have babies and cover him (he was struggling with his gay orientation) I did everything I could to support him to be himself. I told him I was and had always been poly but had been monogamous the whole relationship though I had had opportunity not to be. I supported his continued relationships with men if I could have the same opportunities with other men or women he refused and we separated. But his unfaithfulness, his struggle to be something he was not, and his inflexibility and dishonesty taught me a lot about myself. I am 15 years into a brilliantly functioning poly relationship and we are all very happy. It can and does work.

    • Wow, thank you for sharing your story! It is good to know that there are others out there who have gone through something similar. It is interesting how much one learns about themselves going through such a situation. I really evolved through this situation and am now better equipped to make sure I get what I want and need out of life, in the future. And it gives me hope to know that there are other people who are in happy poly relationships!

    • I am have been wondering if the sex dwindles off and sometimes stops alltogether in poly relationships like like it does in monogamous (straight) relationships – my guess would be no it wouldn’t because there is more dynamics at play, more novelty etc.

      Average monog rates I would propose as
      2 years relationship – 1 – 2 week
      5 yrs – 1 – 6 a month
      5 + yrs with 2 kids below 10 – 1 – 3 ever 6 months.

      These are guesses and conservative – also age & indvidual varitation play a role.
      Thanks

  2. First of all, I want to applaud you, Jasmine, for your courage and thoughtfulness- you have provoked quite a discussion!

    Like Nahmaah’s Daughter I am involved with two people, although we consider our relationship a triad. We aren’t swingers. We don’t cheat. Indeed, we are a quiet and loving family that spends most of our time at home cooking, reading, listening to music and engaging in other generally not-too-sexy behavior.

    We share a deep love and if anything ever happened to any of us the others would be devastated.

    I find myself in agreement with several of the above comments and in disagreement with others, as I suppose is to be expected. Mostly, though, I am impressed with your cool-headed and patient response to those judging you.

    A little more of my story, with which your readers may empathize- or not. From which they may draw guidance perhaps, or disregard, as they like:

    I told my wife that I identify as poly well before we married, indeed before we decided to get serious (AS we were deciding to get serious) because that was a major sticking point. I simply could not abide hiding the truth from her, for her sake or mine. My commitment would’ve felt false if I’d have withheld my plan to impregnate multiple wives. Many men have babies with more than one woman (and vice versa), for various reasons to be sure, but I certainly agree with your point that a ‘monogamous’ man cheating on his partner has the potential to fuck up families far worse than a man in a loving, committed relationship with more than one partner.

    A man should not lead disparate lives, squandering his resources among separate families, sequestering kin from kin. I concur with Namaah’s Daughter’s second paragraph wholeheartedly: Children can benefit from being raised by a ‘village’ or ‘tribe’. This is one of the major reasons I have always been interested in having more than one wife. (I’ve traveled extensively and seen many models of polygamy- most nothing like Warren Jeffs’ inarguably disgusting style. Indeed it is hurtful when LGBTs and/or polys make eviscerating statements about polygyny {I expect that kind of thing from the Vatican and am able to shrug it off but how about a little respect people? One man and 2+ wives doesn’t necessarily = misogyny}).

    I also empathize with ND’s difficulty regarding ‘coming out’. This was exactly the issue my wife most feared and articulated brilliantly in our many long, exhaustive, honest discussions about opening our relationship to another woman: How would she tell her mother? (The issue of jealousy was much more easily dealt with- as a bisexual person she was excited about the possibility of finding someone whom we could both pleasure and possibly fall for.)

    How have we dealt with it? Well, we don’t flaunt our relationship with our live in girlfriend. I suppose we feel that it’s nobody’s business until we have kids. (@ Sarah, whose comments are well taken and certainly poignant: I believe that the sex appeal of younger women has everything to do with their fertility- although many men are simply uninterested in fathering children (or any more children), and thus they might gladly choose an intelligent, sophisticated companion in her 40s or older, and even prefer her.)

    Speaking from my own perspective, which is all any of us can really do I suppose, I desire children for spiritual reasons. I believe becoming a father is my purpose. Nothing seems more natural or more pointless to deny. My wife (who is 31) understands this, and she is all for having an extra (younger, more energetic) pair of helping hands around when the times comes. Furthermore, an extra womb; she has also vowed to love ALL my children, and I trust that she will, since they will be hers as well as mine.

    The point of this super long ramble, I suppose, is that we talked about polyamory (hell let’s call it what it is and let the haters hate- polygamy) extensively beforehand, met our lover together, and the three of us discuss our feelings, dreams, excitements and fears openly and even at nauseum sometimes. I would never presume to dictate the terms of our ‘arrangement’ to my partners. I could even see inviting a man we all respected to contribute his resources, intelligence, creativity, love, strength and DNA to the tribe. That doesn’t seem to be what my ‘harem’ yearns for at the moment but who knows- as you mentioned peoples’ perspectives are in constant flux. It would be extremely tough to deal with anybody ever having something on the side though.

    Here’s the thing. For us, love’s like a hug: SHARING don’t diminish it.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing! Your story is inspiring. I think people have this really strange idea about ‘enough’ (I know one of my ex’s first questions was “Why aren’t I enough?”). It’s not at all about being enough or not enough. Nobody asks someone who has two or three children why one wasn’t enough, so why is it so difficult to understand that having more than one partner isn’t about one or the other not being enough but simply about the fact that love is expansive and different people bring different qualities to the relationship?

      And I know, someone is going to say “But having children is a different kind of love”… But it is a fair comparison. Or friendships – we don’t typically have just one friend, but a few who we are close with. I know I have four or five very close friends, and I love them all, but they all bring something different to our friendships. I don’t have more than one close friend because one isn’t enough, but because they are all different, and I love them all differently.

  3. I’m tired of monogamy getting a bad rap too!!
    http://thestir.cafemom.com/love_sex/143420/the_8_best_things_about

    • Monogamy is not coerced… it’s a “choice”….

      Is Monogamy Natural or a Choice?
      The Love-Session Team finds out!

      When we think relationships, we automatically also think and assume monogamy. As a society, we have learned one person per relationship, which means we find someone we feel strongly for, get to know them for a little while and then focus on building a relationship with them- and only them.
      This all sounds beautiful and like the perfect plan, but can it really work for a lifetime or at least for a very long period of time?
      The answer to that is not standard; it really depends on both the beliefs and personalities of you and your partner.

      We did a poll asking both men and women whether they felt monogamy was a natural thing where we would naturally want to be monogamous in a relationship, or if was a choice intentionally made in order to make their relationships work.

      The Answer?

      While it really does depend on the person and the personality they carry, we found that the majority of MEN and WOMEN asked confessed that monogamy is something most of them want, but that it requires real work and effort to make that happen in a relationship. Most men and women actually believed that while monogamy is something they wanted and craved in a relationship, they do not believe it is something that happens so naturally, or even easily.
      Those who participated in our Poll said that temptation and the feeling to stray is more natural than the feeling to stay monogamous, but when you feel real love for someone, you want to make that effort to stay committed and faithful.

      So while monogamy is certainly possible and successful, it does require work since it is more of a choice rather than something we can do so naturally and effortlessly.

      Here are just some comments from some of the men and women we asked to participate in this poll (names have been listed as it was requested by the commenter):

      “ I definitely believe monogamy is a choice rather than natural. It is just not realistic to believe that we will forever feel drawn to only one person the rest of our lives”- Adam, male 36- Chicago, IL.

      “I really believe in true love. I believe there is a special connection we make with someone that we will make with no other. But temptations can come along, so I guess monogamy is a choice instead of natural.”- Julie- female 23, San Francisco, CA.

      “To me, it depends on the person. Some are more faithful and loyal by nature than others. I am a real committed and faithful type by nature, so I believe others are naturally like that too. “- Ellie- female 40, Seattle, WA.

      “Monogamy is a choice. I always found that being monogamous required effort. It takes real work to make a relationship last. Having to work at being monogamous does not mean your relationship is not based on true love either- it’s just being real.”- Dan T. , male 29, Los Angeles, CA.

      “I say choice versus natural. We go on instinct like all living creatures, so we will always find other people attractive and will feel tempted along the way, but it does not mean we have to follow through on it. Having real love and respect in a relationship is stronger than those passing moments of lust, but you have to choose to be monogamous.”- Brian, male 52, Austin, TX.

      “ I guess I would say choice, though I would like to believe it is natural. I think most of us are naturally monogamous when we find love that is real, but those who have not had real love can disrespect others relationships and lure them into straying, since we all have our weaknesses and can have a slip.”- Kassie, female 26, New Jersey

      “It’s a choice for sure! Nothing as beautiful as a deep and rare love comes easy. You have to be willing to make all the efforts in order to make it work. To assume that love will effortlessly stay happy and healthy with no temptations and issues will only get you a broken heart. Monogamy is a choice, but when those efforts are made to stay committed to each other, you can have such a great and loving relationship. “- Cate M. , female 48, New York, NY.

    • Both my husband & I went into our marriage 32 years ago as a monogamous couple. It is important to have communication and honesty in any relationship especially if you want to keep the sexual intimacy spark alive. All new relationships have that initial “gitty” feeling of something new not used before… but like with all relationships, that too will taper off and the relationship moves into a much deeper one surpasses that “honeymoon” phase or stage in a relationship if honesty and communication are truly there… I’m just tired of seeing articles about how monogamy is coerced or why people cheat… it doesn’t matter what type of relationship you’re in… a cheater is a cheater whether in love or business… One type of relationship over another is not the answer to the other in preventing the behavior of dishonest people… Monogamy is a “choice” just like being homosexual is a “choice”.

      • Nick, mostly says:

        There are words for things you’re talking about, and polyamorists are quite aware of them. For example, new relationship energy (NRE) and limerence are both factors in a new relationship that polyamorists discuss.

        No one has said monogamy is not a choice – quite the opposite, actually. Monogamy is a choice, and a difficult one at that. It’s a choice that is made every day, in spite of monotony, in spite of opportunity, in spite of resentments. That it is hard is what makes it worth celebrating.

        Cheating is violating agreed-upon rules. You can be monogamous and cheat or polyamorous and cheat. Doesn’t matter.

        But homosexuality is not a choice. A minute or two of introspection should be sufficient to demonstrate this (unless, perhaps, you’re actually bisexual).

        • Personally, everyone is sexually attracted to both sexes. Pansexual is more of a better description of human nature. Everything outside of that a “choice” but that is my perspective on sexual attraction vs born that way mentality.

  4. I think monogamy CAN be a choice (as in those who have poly inclinations but feel that that is deviant because of cultural mores who then choose to remain in monogamous relationships might make the choice to be monogamous), but that there are some for whom monogamy is natural and others for whom polyamory is natural. Nobody is saying that either relational style doesn’t take work or commitment. Nobody is saying that monogamy is less than polyamory (in fact, it has been iterated several times that that is exactly what is NOT being said). I am not denigrating monogamy or monogamists. I’ve been very careful about that. But we are coerced, through inculcation, into the belief that monogamy is more legitimate, more appropriate (just like heteronormativity). Saying this isn’t saying that monogamy is wrong, but simply that there are many for whom the option doesn’t present itself because it’s considered disparate.

  5. I’d be very interested in learning how the dating is going with men, more specifically their reactions to your identifying as Poly.

  6. Brassyhub says:

    Thank you for this thought-provoking and honest article. Much the reflect on, as someone in a 33 monogamous relationship. My wife’s just come out as a lesbian, but we want to stay together, so this IS one of our options, for the moment only on the horizon. We clearly locked ourselves into this ‘prison’, but there were indeed also pressure from society and environment: for my wife, a lesbian life-style was literally unthinkable, so not thought about.

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