Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts will be found at http://www.polymeansmany.com . This month, our topic is “A Reply to The Guardian Article”.
When this article appeared on my favourite news site, I was chuffed. Seeing ethical non-monogamy reported in a non red-top way in mainstream media is a Good Thing. I wasn’t so impressed when I saw who’d written it – I’d read some of her other articles, such as ones relating to BDSM, and wasn’t impressed with her take on it (but delving into that would be a whole other blog post). However I liked the insight into a few of the different ways non-monogamy can be done, and gleefully shared it on my Faceschmuck page, hoping friends and loved ones might read it for some insight into why I am polyamorous.
What happened? I was immediately attacked for ‘monogamy bashing’, a common occurrence for any non-monogamy folks daring to talk about their relationship structure openly. O’Toole states explicitly within the article that non-monogamous folks often get accused of claiming non-monogamy is superior to monogamy, and for being as zealous as the newly converted. It was also claimed that I said polyamory requires more communication, more trust, more honesty and are less likely to ride the escalator than monogamous relationships .
Is that really true? Well, perhaps. I often try really hard to word things in such a way that isn’t downright insulting to monogamy. Monogamy is just as valid a relationship choice as non-monogamy is. Bashing it as a choice completely invalidates my own attempts to have other relationship choices be recognised as genuine options.
Do I find a lot of what monogamy tends to look like unpleasant, possessive and patriarchal? Undoubtedly – but that’s less about being monogamous and more about the social history of this relationship structure. I am absolutely sure that there are many wonderful monogamous relationships that have honesty, equality and integrity to them. But one only has to look at the way monogamous love is portrayed on Valentines Day to find that exclusivity, possession and patriarchy are recognisable keystones for monogamy for the majority of people, and the blueprint for the relationship style.
Do non-monogamous folk communicate more? In my experience: yes. As I am a member of the non-binary/feminist/kinky/non-monogamous communities, I am surrounded by people who tend to do a lot of talking about how they think and feel, and tend to date other people like that. When I think back to my monogamous dating days, a lot of things went unsaid, a lot of assumptions were made, and a lot of ‘I’m annoyed at you, but you need to use a crystal ball to figure it out’ went on. I have no doubt that there are monogamous couples who do excellent communication and are open and honest with each other about their thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes. I just don’t meet many of them.
The involvement of other people romantically or sexually in your relationship isn’t a solely non-monogamous thing either – just take a look at the cheating statistics to see how common that happens. The only difference between monogamy and non-monogamy is that it is done with consent, and on the whole, a hell of a lot of talking. That for me is the crux – agreeing to not be exclusive romantically or sexually brings up a lot of feelings for most people. After all, we are working against a lifetime of social pressure to be monogamous, and ride that damn escalator. We have to talk about how we’re feeling, maybe guilt, shame or NRE. We have to talk about how our partner’s actions might be making us feeling. We make agreements, we negotiate, we discuss. We discuss things that monogamous folk tend not to need to talk about: is it ok if I sleep at my girlfriend’s on Tuesday?; I’m falling in love with my new partner; or I need to talk to you, because I am struggling in my other relationship. I’ve spent three times longer being monogamous than I have being polyamorous. I can honestly say that I’ve never talked so much about my feelings as I have whilst polyamorous.
Another comment was that I claimed polyamory requires more trust. Well actually, I think all relationships involve trust. I have to trust my boss not to dick me over, because I have a mortgage to pay, and we have a relationship (supposedly) of trust and respect. I trust my friends to be honest with me. I trust my doctors to do their best for me. As a monogamous person, you need to trust your partner not to cheat on you. As a polyamorous person, I need to trust my partners to stick to the agreements we have made, or to discuss them with me. In short, there is no difference between trusting your monogamous partner not to fuck someone behind your back, and trusting your polyamorous partners to always use condoms when they fuck someone with your knowledge. It all comes down to trust. The only difference is what I am trusting someone to do, or not do. Non-monogamous folk can be cheated on just as much a monogamous person, they can have their boundaries and agreements breached every bit as much, and with the same level of hurt and betrayal.
Finally the escalator issue. First – riding the escalator is absolutely a valid choice, and I am one of many non-monogamous folk who have or am at least part way on it myself with at least one person. For me, that means I’m not actively looking to ride the escalator with anyone else, but never say never. When I posted this article I’d commented that being polyamorous meant I could love people for themselves and revel in our connection, rather than feel pressured to follow a society-defined path for the relationship. That is absolutely true – I can wholeheartedly enjoy, without restriction or restraint the way I feel about someone. I don’t play stupid dating games to make someone more interested, I don’t feel the need to be in a ‘serious’ relationship with everyone I care about, and I can have fun, glorious, meaningful, loving relationships in the grey areas. The large majority of my relationships in the last four years would not have been possible had we needed to follow the escalator (which some polyamorous folks do with multiple folks, I totally accept). Can monogamous folks do this? Absolutely, without question. But don’t then turn around and tell me you’ve dumped someone because they weren’t suitable long term for you, because if you’re enjoying lots of casual/grey area relationships with one eye on the escalator – you aren’t really playing fair.
If people really examine what I have to say, they’d see that I don’t think there are that many differences between monogamy and polyamory. Both relationship styles can learn things from each other, and both are utterly valid as a relationship choice. So monogamous folks, next time I post something talking about a under-exposed relationship choice, do me a favour and don’t jump down my throat about it. You’ve been hogging the limelight long enough. If I seem angry, that’s because I am. I am sick of being a member of a minority community whose views are constantly attacked, mocked and belittled by the majority. I refuse to fade into insignificance. I refuse to not stand up and be counted for what and who I am.