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Partnered Monogamy: Is there an alternative?

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As someone who has never been comfortable in monogamous relationships, I’ve felt torn between social pressures that tell me there’s something wrong with me and that I should change, and imagining different types of relationships that are more productive and appropriate for my own needs and interests. Increasingly within some communities, people are rejecting the social standard of the monogamous nuclear family in favor of non-monogamy, polyamory or other types of non-traditional relationships.

The form that these relationships take can vary greatly. Some people may form a fairly traditional relationship between two people but designate it as an ‘open’ relationship, in which either partner can pursue sexual (or other) relationships outside of the coupling. Some people form ‘primary’ partnerships and then pursue secondary relationships outside of that. Others pursue and form several long-term and short-term relationships with multiple people, without designating any as primary or secondary.

If you’ve never considered forming these types of relationships before, you might think it all sounds pretty weird, unnecessarily difficult or just plain unnatural. Non-monogamy is often equated with promiscuity and fear of commitment. But for people who choose non-monogamy as a permanent relationship choice, it may involve levels of commitment similar to long-term monogamous relationships. So why bother with non-monogamy?

Under the current model of monogamy, we readily accept that there is a natural difference between ‘relationships’ and ‘friendships’ that allows us to treat our romantic partners differently than we treat our friends. As a friend, I have very little control over who my friends form relationships with and the shape that those relationships take. But this changes with ‘romantic relationships’. It is considered much more normal for romantic partners to feel threatened by their partner’s other close relationships.

As opposed to friendships, there is apparently a ‘limit’ on how much romantic love or intimacy a person can occupy at one time, and it is assumed that if you are in a romantic relationship with one person, you cannot be in an equally meaningful relationship with someone else. “Love”, unlike friendship, is to be experienced with only one person at a time.

This idea of ownership or ‘belonging’ to one other person might feel comforting and natural for many people, but for others, including myself, this type of possessiveness and jealousy limits my ability to function as a self-determining individual. If I’m dating a straight man, he might be concerned about me choosing to form close personal relationships with other men. In straight relationships, this might not be questioned, but I’m not straight. I’m interested in men, women, and gender-variant folks. Do I now have to be careful about how I interact with everyone I might potentially be attracted to?

Many people have rejected the notion that there is only one ‘right’ person out there for us, or the idea that we shouldn’t have sex with anyone until we find the ‘right’ one and attach ourselves to them permanently through marriage. But those same people are nonetheless heavily invested in the social ritual of finding one (at least ‘kind-of-right’) person and, in most cases, marrying them.

Non-monogamy offers a way for people to find intimacy and commitment in relationships regardless of whether they involve sex (and in the absence of the potential for marriage). At the same time, it lessens the pressure to be jealous and possessive because individuals in non-monogamous relationships don’t ‘belong’ to one other person in the same way that monogamously partnered couples do.

I understand the societal pressure to form monogamous relationships. Monogamy works well for many people, and I’m not trying to pressure anyone into forming relationships that are uncomfortable or undesirable for them personally. But there are other options available, other ways of forming relationships, and other ways of thinking about sex and dating that challenge or rethink the current models that culture and media present as our ‘only’ legitimate option.

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3 Comments

3 Responses to “Partnered Monogamy: Is there an alternative?”

  1. Joe on May 4th, 2011 4:18 pm

    Wow, no comments from people either cheering you or vilifying you? Well let me be the first to say, your article rocked, it’s nice to see someone presenting poly in a good way, without following it with incest and pedophilia.

    Learning about and embracing polyamory feels like I’ve finally stopped wearing other people’s clothes and went and bought my own. The freedom and level of trust and communication my wife and I enjoy now has brought us so much closer together.

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  2. Rosie on May 4th, 2011 5:52 pm

    Amazing article. Couldn’t have said it better! I am very similar in my viewpoints. I have this thing where I firmly believe that “if you love someone you shouldn’t want to stop them from finding more love and additional lovers…” There should never be a limit to who you can see and become involved with. Polyamory all the way!

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  3. robert c on June 1st, 2011 10:19 pm

    1. You would do well to read M. Foucaults ‘History of Sexuality’
    where he shows that just these sorts of analysis’s are in reality merely instances of the deployment of sexuality.
    That is, there is no elemental or natural or innate way of doing things – all configurations, all arrays of men and women are the result of particular impersonal [in
    the sense of not being authored by anyone individual] strategies of power and resistances to such strategies. Although unknown to Foucault his theory predicted the existence of just such societies as the Mosuo of China, whose moral system is the precise inversion of our own, where what we would term promiscuity is normalized and what we would call monogamy is proscribed.

    [Reply]

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Partnered Monogamy: Is there an alternative?