AskCam: Polyamory, Non-Monogamy, Oh My!
Welcome to #AskCam, a column where sex and intersectionality are not divided but welcomed together.
I’m seeing polyamory and non-monogamy hyped up a lot in media, and it seems awesome, but how do I know it’s for me? Growing up, I only ever saw relationships being between two people, but I’ve never felt ~quite~ right about that fitting my life, especially as a POC. Help?
–So Many Options
So Many Options,
Non-monogamy is having a moment here, it seems like media has finally caught wind that heterosexual, monogamous relationships aren’t the only valuable ways to create relationships and show love with other people. But if you’re new to non-monogamy, it can definitely be overwhelming to figure out where you lie.
To do this topic justice, this is going to be the first of a mini-series on non-monogamy. Here I’m just going to break down the basics of what exactly non-monogamy is and how you know if it’s right for you.
Non-monogamy, as I’m using it here, is referring to a variety of relationship structures. Many of us grew up only knowing about one relationship style, monogamy, and seeing that as the ideal. In traditional monogamy, we’re presented with a two-person relationship style (usually these people are heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical) where the goal is to be married, have children, and raise a family together. There’s nothing at all wrong with this structure, but it’s presented as a one-size-fits-all model that everyone should fit into, and that simply isn’t reasonable.
People have different strengths and weaknesses, and different relationship styles can help to accommodate that better than assuming that everyone can or should fit neatly into one relationship style. Monogamy doesn’t always take into account the varying needs of intimacy, communication, projection, or healthy boundary setting that we all need to have thriving relationships.
Some people enter non-monogamy as a pre-established couple entering an open relationship or swinging. This can mean that a two-person couple enter non-monogamy sexually, either with one “guest star” that they have an experience with one time, a guest star that they date and have regular sexual experiences with, or allow this person to become a third in their relationship of a triad. Swinging opens this even further by introducing the idea that multiple couples can have sexual experiences with each other or have outside partners on a purely sexual level.
Of course, one of the misconceptions is that non-monogamy is solely about sexual experiences. It isn’t — romance can be just as important to non-monogamous people as monogamous people. There are triads (a three-person relationship), quads (a four-person relationship), polycules (a community of non-monogamous folks, who may or may not have relationships with each other), and everything in between. There’s also relationship anarchy (where platonic and romantic relationships are not centered over one another, and all relationships are of equal importance), solo poly (polyamorous “single” people who often see themselves as a primary partner), and a variety of other terms that may fit you if you are non-monogamous yourself.
If the technical stuff around non-monogamy seems overwhelming, don’t get too focused on memorizing it. The language around polyamory and non-monogamy is something that you can learn, but they shouldn’t be the focus. The root of your question, So Many Options, is simple: is non-monogamy for me?
Related: #ASKCAM: CELIBACY IS A VALID CHOICE
That’s not something that I or anyone else can answer for you. Instead, I’m going to encourage you to do some self-work here. Do you feel that you have the capacity to maintain various relationships? How do you feel about hierarchies, or having specific labels for your relationships like “primary” or “secondary”? How important is sex in your relationship(s)? Is it something that you want to center as a way to build intimacy and gain pleasure or do you favor other activities to gain these things? What areas do you want to work on — communication, dealing with jealousy, maintaining a better balance of self-care and relationships with others? These are some of the questions that I would start to think about.
I would also recommend checking out books like The Ethical Slut and More Than Two, if you’re interested in learning more about what ethical non-monogamy looks like. Blogs like PolyRoleModels is also a great resource that does a really good job at focusing on a variety of poly-identified folks, because non-monogamy still has a bad habit of centering on the most privileged of folks.
There’s nothing wrong with non-monogamy not being something that fits into your life. The things that an ideal poly relationship emphasizes — communication, self-work, navigating and holding space for feelings like jealousy — are all things that monogamous people can also employ in their own relationships.
You also don’t need to label your relationship style anything in particular unless you’re ready. For now, you could just be someone trying to figure out what works best for you, and that’s more than okay.
Related: #ASKCAM: HOW TO OWN YOUR SEXUALITY
People who are non-monogamous are so for a variety of reasons. There’s still debate on whether non-monogamy is an identity or simply a relationship style (personally, I think it’s as individualized as anything else) but the reasons why someone is non-monogamous don’t delegitimize the choice. You may have a partner you love or care about very much, but feel unfulfilled in a specific area. Instead of expecting that need to be filled by them, non-monogamy can relieve some of that pressure and help you to see value in other relationships. Non-monogamy can also be a valuable relationship model for the time in your life, or if you want to seek value in all of your relationships, both romantic and platonic.
In short, non-monogamy can be for you and it can be whatever you want to make it out to be. As long as you’re being ethical, communicative, and valuing and respecting of everyone that you encounter on this journey, then it can be a pleasurable experience. Do your research and see how it turn out for you.
#AskCam will be back on the 15th of September!