What it looks like to explore non-traditional relationship structures.
Is it just me or is everyone talking about non-monogamy? It seems to be a trending topic among today’s young lovers. But if you’re like me, this term seems a little scary and a little, well, noncommittal.
As the proud purveyor of numerous lost monogamous lovers I am obviously a gal who likes to hunker down and settle in no matter what the cost. I love to love. I love to be in love. I love to be defined by my love. That is why non-monogamy seemed so scary to me when it first became a part of my dating topography last fall when I moved to New York City. How was I supposed to define something that boasts a lack of definition in its very name? But as a love-explorer I decided it was my job to sail this sea and scour the rocky shores and uncharted territories of non-monogamy to find out if it really can be as good as it seems.
First, let’s go over a few definitions*:
[Ethically] Non-monogamous: is a term that encompasses all the ways that you can consciously, with agreement and consent from all involved, explore love and sex with multiple people. As this movement evolves advocates are trying to move away from using the term monogamous as it implies that monogamy is a norm and anything else is a deviation. But as I am not trying to take a stance politically on the subject, simply educate and inform, I will be using the term ethical non-monogamy (ENM) throughout this piece.
Polyamorous: Some schools of thought define polyamory as inclusive of all sexual relationships other than monogamy. Others restrict it to committed love relationships (thereby excluding swinging, casual sexual contact, and other forms of intimacy).
*definitions taken in part from The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy.
Secondly, I’d like to set one thing straight on all of this non-monogamy talk.
Boundaries are boundaries are boundaries.
Trust is super important, especially as much of this new dating terminology has a tendency to revolve around sex. And that’s not a bad thing! Everyone should practice more safe, consensual, mutually gratifying sex. In fact, if I had to choose a life’s mission, that might be it. But when you open up sex, you must also open up communication. The individuals who make non-monogamy work for their lives overwhelmingly tell me that it has strengthened their bonds with their primary partners. Their communication is more open than ever, and because they don’t have to worry about hiding the part of themselves many of us fear will hurt our partners the most, they worry much less about dishonesty in the relationship.
That being said, distrust still very much exists. If you are considering non-monogamy for yourself or your current relationship, make sure it isn’t a Band-Aid, but rather a tool of furthering your bond. On the reverse, make sure that if you become involved with someone who is ENM, you have the emotional capacity to accept that you most likely will not be their primary- or even tertiary- concern when it comes to emotional support.
Okay, let’s get to the fun stuff. ENM has opened me up to a wonderland of sexual exploration, human connection, and emotional intelligence that I didn’t even know existed. This is the “Flower Power/ Spread Love” movement of our generation and I’m all in. Each day I get to expand my ideas of what love is and what a relationship between two humans (or five, or ten…) entails.
If you let them, people can blow your mind with their ability to evolve your capacity for companionship and love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never stop yearning for that one person who puts me on a pedestal and prizes me above all others. That’s the society I was raised in and the sensation I need to feel like a woman in a big way. There will always be a part of me that believes in that great love we are sold in fairy tales. But I don’t know that I’ll ever go back to strict monogamy. I think my definition for this will continue to grow as I do, but I thank ENM culture for showing me a positive forward progression and not a dwindling belief in commitment.
I now have this overwhelming sense that relationships are living organisms. They live and grow with time. If you restrict them and try to contain them, they will shrivel and die. Getting to know every nook and cranny of someone is what excites me most about falling deeply in love. Why, then, would I want someone to hide parts of themselves from me? I know without a doubt that when I think about cheating, it is not the act of sex that creates feelings of betrayal, it is the act of lying. The pang of blatant dishonesty is what stings the most. I would be lying if I said there won’t always be hurdles to overcome, like jealousy and hypocrisy, but honesty can prevail if we make it our priority.
From the serial monogamist in me to the curious reader in you, give this new movement a chance. If you stay true to yourself and make sure to take care of yourself, it might surprise you in its ability to make you see love in a new and transformative way.