A while ago, a meme made some circulation that was outlining aspects of toxic monogamy culture.
I wrote a response piece on my old blog pertaining to the toxicities within non-monogamous culture, which I have since digitally burnt to the ground. I went back and looked at that piece, only to find it hideously outdated in terms of my own politics and perspectives, so I wrote this. Here are si aspects of normative non-monogamous culture that I find to be particularly vexing.
NRE is disruptive. Where does the responsibility lie?
Oftentimes in what I consider to be non-monogamy canon, we come across this idea that if someone is feeling unsafe in conjunction with a new connection their partner is engaging in, it is because they are insecure. We have rooted the basis of jealousy in whether or not security and confidence have been attained. We have looked down our noses at the partner who is upset about their partner’s behaviour and assume they just can’t handle their own insecurities. This is not taking into consideration the systems at play which are designed to keep people feeling bad about themselves so they will buy things (spoiler: capitalism) or stay in their (typically hetero) relationships with their (typically men, probably abusive and exploitive) partners (spoiler: patriarchy). If we account for capitalism and patriarchy intersecting with our non-monogamy, we know that women-types are made to feel bad about all aspects of ourselves: our appearance, our body shape, our choices, our needs, as well as our discomfort in our relationships. When there is further accusation of insecurity in the face of our (very legitimate) fears and worries, we’re being kicked when we’re already crumpled on the ground. This is not acceptable, not compassionate, and especially not progressive.
Jealousy happens. Constructing it as an individual problem is harmful.
So, Jealousy. I cannot count how many times I have gotten into debates about jealousy in online forums, as well as in discussion groups in person. Polyamorous people, specifically, appear to endeavour to shun jealousy from their lives if they can help it. They find all sorts of ways to claim they’ve overcome it in the search for “compersion” (joy for your partner’s other connections and happiness in them), meant to be the opposite feeling of jealousy. Jealousy seems to have become a catch-all term for the discomfort we experience about our partner’s other relationships. Worse, instead of blaming a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy for making us all feel inadequate and dissatisfied all the time, we blame our internal selves. We assume that if someone isn’t jumping for joy at the prospect of their partner doing something fun and exciting with someone else, we are maladaptive and have work to do on ourselves. This is a sham, because the thing that we really need to work on is dismantling the white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy that is leading us all to our demise in the first place. Scarcity models — which each of these systems are built on and feed on — breed fear, resentment, and despair. Dismantling them is how we will be free. Jealousy is a normal feeling in a scarcity driven society, and it would be nice if we could commiserate about that instead of judging each other for it, and maybe mobilize to change society, too.
People are not need-fulfillment machines. Where is the line regarding expectations?
One of the things that “More than Two” got right was that people are not need-fulfillment machines, and the basis of relationships is not to tick a set of boxes you’ve pre-designed. People are PEOPLE, people! Oftentimes, the beauty of a relationship is witnessing and knowing another person, just as they are. Relationships are made by the people in them, unique and tailored to each combination of folks. Taking a looser grip on expectations down to the other end of the spectrum and expecting nothing from your close people is a bit of a swing, though. If we meet in the middle (look at me being moderate), we can consider that having needs is expected, and negotiating them is well within reason in relation with others. Talking about what is important to you and agreeing to provide care and support in certain ways is pretty rudimentary good relationship-ing. This can ebb and flow depending on what else is going on in your life, and operates best with a healthy dose of positive regard for each other. If we consider it expected that our partners care about our wellbeing, it is easy to let some stumbles go if we offended or hurt someone. It is also easy to check in and make sure folks are okay if we’re not behaving at our best. Further, it may be just good sense that if someone status as a human being (as opposed to a human giving, in that moment) is triggering and difficult for you to deal with, maybe they are not a good match. Boundaries are an entitlement we all have, too.
What does commitment mean?
If someone makes a commitment to another, it does not necessarily mean that their relationship will last until one or both people die. I believe the meaning to be that so long as the agreement to commit is functional, healthy, and beneficial overall, it is sound. I think that engaging in harmful behaviour towards the person you are committed to pretty much nullifies the commitment. It’s like you broke a contract by not meeting it’s requirements, which is to maintain function, health, and benefit within the relationship. At that point, folks are free to leave if need be (spoiler: we’re pretty well always free to leave if we’re able and willing). Commitment, to me, is something that is re-made every day you are in a thing with someone. You show up, even if some days it’s passive. You decide each day to continue. Commitment is what you make it, moment to moment.
The path to easy non-monogamy: getting over yourself or getting over being “good” at it?
The idea that if you can absolve yourself of insecurities you will be good at non-monogamy is a fallacy. Even someone who has done a pile of work on themselves is going to experience discomfort about something regarding someone they love, some of the time. This construct is setting us all up to feel like we’re not good enough and continuously falling short all the time. Non-monogamy gets more complicated the more people are involved, which has little to do with how someone is faring emotionally. There is simply less chance of calm and serenity the more diverse a group gets, and that can be totally okay. What I think matters, in terms of “easy” non-monogamy, is honesty about how you’re feeling and a willingness to take responsibility for how you feel. Feelings actually aren’t that bad, and they pass quickly when treated with respect. The ability to honestly convey what’s happening for you, and ask for support in meaningful ways that are attainable and respectful to the agency of others, makes for easy non-monogamy, not some hierarchy of security. Also, shaming people for feeling bad about what’s going on is the worst and we should all just stop it right now, or last week. The last thing that is going to help someone who is having a hard time is a thick layer of shame on top of all their worries. Don’t do it. Instead, honour the bravery it takes to be truthful, even when it’s sad or hard. Commend each other for this bravery. Congratulate each other for saying you’re hurt. It’s a bold, terrifying move and a high five or a hug or a kind word of care would go way further toward nurturance culture.
Where non-monogamy intersects with sex positivity
Sex positive culture seems to go nicely alongside non-monogamy without a lot of critique. If we are willing to have sex with more than one person (which is majorly what non-monogamy is about, but not always), then we must be sex positive based on the premise that according to sex positive ideals, sex is good and nice. This is not always the case at all, as there are many elements and critiques of sex positivity as a movement.
I consider myself to be sex critical, which to me means I am using critical analysis when I consider what kind of sex is good for me. I am considering my desires in the face of my socialization as a queer, white, cis woman, and how they have been influenced by what white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy have designed to be “sexy”. I have kept some of it, and ditched the rest. Further, I have considered that just because I like someone, or am even attracted to them physically, it doesn’t mean we need to bang, although in order to bang, I really need to like someone and be attracted to them (which usually develops as the interest and fondness does). This is just one example of how sexual and romantic configuration can manifest. Everyone is different, and entitled to their own configuration, provided they’re not violating anyone’s consent.
This is by no stretch of the imagination an exhaustive list. I have thought about these things for a while, and I am sure more will come up, so I’ll probably write on this subject again. I can’t wait to get feedback on these thoughts. I hope for lots of comments about what y’all struggle with in non-monogamy, and what you wish were different in the literature and the broader community.
Much love. ❤