Am I Innately Polyamorous?
Hint: If You Think So, You Probably Are; If You Think You Aren’t, You Still Probably Are
During a recent email exchange with an internet friend, she uttered the simple, yet, profound words, “I feel like I’m innately poly.” I know, without a second of hesitation, many of my poly readers just nodded their heads in their seats as their eyes scrolled across that opening statement. To us, this is just so self-evident that it goes without saying. We just think, “Duh, that’s me.” Others, however, might have recoiled from the idea. People are often polite in their disagreements about the nature of polyamory, they say that they respect poly situations and dynamics as a personal choice, but, in the end, it’s not for them. Such people think they’re destined to be monogamous. They cannot see it as a cultural construct.
Full disclosure: I’m here to respectfully challenge this belief. This is a respectable, commendable position to take and I deeply thank these people for their respectful willingness to accommodate our new (in our culture, at least) way of life. Without the liberal attitudes of those around us, the poly lives that many of us live wouldn’t be possible in the first place. Very well. But whether we like it or not, feeling deep attraction for multiple partners throughout our lives is built into the fabric of our DNA.
It’s part of being human and it has been for an exceptionally long time. Try as we may to dissuade ourselves of this very real biological fact, we’ll always seem to find ourselves woefully inadequate at such a task and will continually have to make up different exceptions to the rule until there’s nothing left. We set a standard for ourselves, we break it, and then we pretend like it was just that moment in time that was a mistake, not the stringent standard which is oddly Medieval.
And then there are those in the middle, the beloved poly-agnostics who aren’t quite sure where they fit into this whole new, refreshing, and for some terrifying dynamic of the monogamy-poly spectrum. After all, ethical non-monogamy did seem to come out of nowhere, gaining in popularity with impressive rapidity. Yes, I’m talking about those out there who are reading this right now who are unsure about where they stand or what they feel. On the one hand, you might really enjoy some aspects of your monogamous relationship. A lot of people do. On the other hand, you might feel stifled, claustrophobic, and frankly, a bit bored. Everyone understands this feeling from within the monogamous experience.
In this essay, I’d like to address those of you who feel a sense of uncertainty. You’ve wondered what your feelings mean and what bearing they should have on your life. Honestly, I’d like to start off by saying that there’s nothing wrong with you for being confused about the fact that you’re uncertain and feel ambivalent about monogamy. By ambivalent, I mean it in the true sense, that you feel a sort of tug-of-war inside of yourself, often accompanied by a sense of guilt or shame about who you are, or perhaps even a bit of uncertainty.
Careful, that tug-of-war I mentioned can be destructive as hell for everyone involved.
We All Make Commitments
We all make commitments and most of us want to be the kind of people who keep them, especially when those commitments are made to those we love and care about. But sometimes, our bodies just say no. They want to do something else. Our heads are in the right place, but our hearts just aren’t. This is never a fun experience. I challenge you to just open your mind a bit to the possibility that you might have a choice in whether to believe that humans are monogamous. Non-monogamy isn’t a lifestyle to be forced on anyone, it’s a choice we consciously make of our own volition so that we can embrace who we really are.
I like to frame it in terms of commitments, as I practice monogamy in my non-monogamous relationship (for now), I’m monogamous by choice, but the option is open should I decide that I need something more later. We’re open and honest with each other about these facts and I think that the transition from monogamy to non-monogamy is about learning how to make realistic commitments to one another, understanding our present and future limitations, and a commitment to ourselves to always be rigerously honest with our partners about what we’re feeling and what we want.
Everybody’s Story in One Go
Can I tell everybody’s story in one shot? I think I can. Just to be honest with you, no matter how ‘poly’ someone may seem, no matter how much it may seem like they’ve got it all together and are comfortable with themselves, if we trace their lives backward far enough, we’ll find a point in time when they were just like you. I was once just like you.
In my first few relationships I began to notice the same patterns emerge. I would find someone, they would be very interesting, I would end up dating them, we’d have sex, some months' time would go by, I would get bored, they would get bored, and we’d still try to stay together and ‘make it work’ with one another through fights, through spats, through disagreements, through chaos. What were formerly big, bright smiles of joy suddenly turned into deep frowns and constant sighs. Much of this can be chocked up to just being young, but as time progressed, I noticed that it stuck with me over the years. Something inside each of us had died and rather than accept that fact and admit it, we tried to white-knuckle our way through it. This never worked.
Something inside each of us had died and rather than accept that fact and admit it, we tried to white-knuckle our way through it. This never worked.
We did what everyone else does when faced with this situation, which also happens to be the most disastrous thing you can do — we blamed each other. Some people blame the other person secretly, others blame their partner more overtly, but almost everyone faces this crisis of conscience where our attraction is doing one thing and our commitments are doing another — this is when our hearts are doing one thing and our minds are doing another, and this moments causes deep conflicts within us.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Where people go from here solidifies who they are. Most people can handle this internal conflict for some time, even if being in total denial about the fact that their attraction is wavering is the only way they can cope, and they start shopping around for a new partner. “Must be this person,” they tell themselves, as they prepare to eject and try to find someone, they think will be more compatible. I sense that we’ve all been here once, twice, or what feels like a million times.
At this point, they trade out their partner for a new partner and they begin the whole cycle again. Public confession, here, I did this for years. I secretly blamed my partner for what was ostensibly just nature taking its course. People become attracted to one another, maybe they even love their partners, and eventually at least the attraction part fades away and sometimes we’re left with love, but sometimes not. At some point, one or both parties become extremely discontented with love and life. It’s exhausting. We spend what amounts to potentially years, after that, questioning ourselves, the other person, and wondering if perhaps we made the wrong choice.
It can be a crushing feeling when we feel isolated and trapped inside of ourselves, agonizing over our very real commitment for our partners and our very real desire for novelty.
I’d like to tell you now that if you’ve felt this way, or maybe you even feel this way right now, you’re not alone. It can be a crushing feeling when we feel isolated and trapped inside of ourselves, agonizing over our very real commitment for our partners and our very real desire for novelty. You wake up one day and just think, “I’m so bored! I can barely get in the mood for sex or romance anymore, what’s happening to me?” Yet, this feeling is painfully impossible to share with almost anyone else in our lives. The pressure to maintain the perfect relationship in the eyes of others is too real, not to mention, there’s a lot of moral baggage in our culture attached to the idea of moving on when someone hasn’t been horrible to us.
It’s okay for you to admit all this, even if only to yourself, at first. It would be a massive paradigm shift the moment we as one great big human race learn how to have this discussion maturely, honestly, and freely with one another, and it will be the icing on the cake when we learn to do it before this moment strikes.
If you can’t admit to yourself that you’re starting to crave sexual variety or novel experiences, how can you talk with your partner about it? Our socially implemented monogamy culture doesn’t even really allow for another option to be on the table. That’s changing with the internet and the rise in popularity of polyamory. Back to the moment when we first start to wake up to the fact that our attraction is waning…
There are some people who continue this pattern until their lives end or until they can no longer secure mates, when all too many of such people become bitter and disgruntled. Not all, but many monogamists tend to view relationships as one constant state of emergency, each one bouncing into the next, and as such their lives could be interpreted as a series of relationships. Like the authors of book, The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People, wrote:
Ironically, however, monogamy itself isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as are the consequences of straying from it, even, in many cases, if no one finds out. Religious qualms aside, the anguish of personal transgression can be intense (at least in much of the Western world), and those especially imbued with the myth of monogamy often find themselves beset with guilt, doomed like characters from a Puritan cautionary tale to scrub eternally and without avail at their adultery-stained souls, often believing that their transgression is not only unforgivable, but unnatural.
They remain in their belief that humans are monogamous because that’s what society teaches us when we’re young. It’s the default mode of existing. The science has spoken pretty clearly and echoes what I think we all intuitively know but, like myself when I would secretly resent my partner, refuse to admit to ourselves. The likely reality is that humans were fashioned through evolution to mate with many partners across the span of their lives. I personally believe this, and you might be able to come to believe this, too. There is quite a bit of evidence that tells us that when it comes to mating strategies, it’s just the most intelligent and convenient for everyone to splice and mix genes through multiple mating sessions throughout a lifetime. Sex evolved so we could mix the genes in a way that asexual organisms could not and thus it gave organisms that could mix their genes (without having to wait for mutations) a competitive advantage and varied global protections against pathogens.
The Experience of Non-Monogamy
I’d like to start by asking you to ask yourself several questions if all of this sounds like you.
- Why is it that every partner seems to get old or boring?
- Or, at the very least, at some point I begin to feel stifled?
- And if none of this happens and I’m completely enamored, they get bored or feel stifled and go elsewhere?
- Do I really believe that the default mode of operation is to find just that right magical person and somehow, all of the confusion, uncertainty, boredom, anguish, and other problems which have come about in all of my other relationships will go away?
Ask yourself those and see where you land. You’ll notice that as you begin to peel back the layers of the monogamy onion in your mind, discarding the stuff that doesn’t seem to make sense and keeping the rest, pretty soon you have an empty hand with discarded onion layers on your kitchen counter. If you’re a proponent of monogamy you either have to believe that you’re extremely unlucky (and haven’t found the magical person who somehow eliminates these very human aspects of relationships) or you’re a masochist and understand no such person exists, but you find a sense of purpose and meaning in your pursuit of such a difficult task. I can’t hate on this idea, but I can suggest we don’t lie to ourselves and one another about what our lives are like.
When I was monogamous, I once used to look at non-monogamists as really sad souls, lost, confused, people who just didn’t ‘get it’ in love and life; I tended to think that I had something they didn’t, that I was going to find that magic someone, someday, and I’d never have to think about relationships, dating, being lonely, pain, heartache, sorrow, etc., ever again, not to mention, the sex life would just maintain itself. I felt like they were a bunch of people who wanted to love each other but just didn’t, anymore. I’d close my eyes and imagine them in my head, sad after a sex session with another partner they’d invited into the bedroom, somber, unloving, distant, and cold.
This image, the one that I’d made up in my head, was a complete farce. All of the presumptions I had about non-monogamy turned out to be untrue and, counter-intuitively, quite the opposite.
Once I began to question why my love life kept failing, over and over and over, I finally just owned the fact that I need less rules, more freedom. This went both ways, of course, my partners would then be endowed with more freedom that they could in turn enjoy, and if they didn’t value such freedom, they should not be with me. I would come to meet many, many people in and out of communities, people who were loving, kind, embracing, and seriously had a strong affection with one another. If you want to hear what this sounds like firsthand, I’d suggest heading over to listen to Kinky Koach podcast. Stephanie and Fox navigate the world of sex and relationships through the lens of their own experiences and non-monogamous relationship together. It’s a treat to hear people so happy and refreshed and they tell their stories of non-monogamy well.
I would come to meet many, many people in and out of communities, people who were loving, kind, embracing, and seriously had a strong affection with one another.
Full disclosure: the wonderful people over at Kinky Koach and are openly swingers, discussing their lifestyle openly and honestly, maturely, and like reasonable consenting adults; this can sometimes sound jarring to someone who’s used to having to hide parts of themselves all the time, but it’s refreshing once you understand that you don’t have to.
That image of the unloving couple was so backward because so much effort is needed to sustain the illusion of monogamy. Beyond just the sex, let’s talk about how many couples go through one another’s phones and Facebook accounts and private lives, shall we? What about the constant worrying and anxieties that so many people feel when their significant other works late?
“Are they straying, right now?” we wonder to ourselves. “Are they out flirting with other women? Are they trying to replace me by chatting up someone new? Does she have men in her life that makes her smile more than I do?”
These thoughts can be invasive and nagging. They can put a massive strain on our relationships. Non-monogamy isn’t just about doing away with forced sexual fidelity, it’s about embracing a life of freedom and understanding the limits of our human selves — and still finding love, comfort, and solace in the fact that we aren’t some Medieval version of perfection — we’re not monks nor saints.
Polyamory has allowed me to embrace a life that seems like all of my monogamous relationships should have been and that’s because it’s a lot less pressure, virtually no hypervigilance, and a whole lot more moments of wonder to share with each other.
Most of all, I realized after becoming non-monogamous myself that love isn’t measured by sexual fidelity. It’s no something that’s diluted when we give it away to someone else and neither is attraction. We can be attracted to multiple people at a time and not feel jealousy or like we’re cheating someone, we just must outgrow some uncomfortable things we’ve been taught. That was the hardest part, the hardest part of transitioning out of monogamy to non-monogamy was dealing with myself. I had to smooth over my own preconceived notions of what a relationship meant and what bestowed it with value, but, as you’ll see, a lot of these ideas were toxic as hell…
Monogamy and Misogyny
A lot of my misogynistic beliefs of the time grew out of this monogamy principle and I think a lot of men secretly believe that if they can just find that right woman who’s a freak in just the right way, they’ll have somehow won the monogamistic lottery and be able to live happily ever after. This is a lie.
I think a lot of the sexual demands that men make on women, demands which often get blamed on porn as such men suddenly try to coerce women into doing things they don’t want to do, can be blamed on forced monogamy. Let’s tease this out and I’ll show you what I mean.
A big part of monogamy in practice is limiting our options in order to remain faithful. The tonsure haircut of Medieval monks was said to teach humility by making oneself as unappealing as possible and thus reducing the temptations toward sexual interactions. I think a lot of us still have these sort of quirky, outdated religious hang-ups in our lives, when we limit who we will befriend so we don’t become attracted to anyone else but our partners, when we shut them up and disallow them to have a flourishing social life for fear that they’ll — gasp — become attracted to someone who isn’t us, when we live as virtual recluses because it’s the only way to deal with our temptations that monogamy so ruthlessly forbids.
Once we embrace the freedom of the self and the freedom of the other, things begin to get better, day by day. They did for me; they have for many others. I’m not saying that poly situations can’t go wrong or can’t be controlling, but deprivation isn’t the fundamental cornerstone of the philosophy and practice of non-monogamy — it just isn’t.
The stakes are high when you feel like one partner must satisfy all your needs. Ever feel like your partner is just a vampiric black hole of energy, sucking the life out of you, yet you’ve diminished your other outlets? Yes, we all have. Non-monogamy does away with most of these people who rely on the mutual acceptance of such levers of control to keep their relationship (barely) functioning. When we embrace the fact that one person shouldn’t be the one we turn to for significant emotional and physical weight in our relationships, we can suddenly breathe more freely and enjoy our lives without the weird, in-fighting that takes place when we place all of our eggs in one basket. This raises the stakes of how important our partner must be, in our minds, and it also makes us hard pressed to get it right.
And, of course, when things go wrong, we tend to (wrongly) blame the person and not the system which was created to be painfully, lamentingly hard in the first place. A lot of misogyny is tucked into that little package, the idea that a woman must be everything for a man and thus, many men think that it’s better to attract one mate who’s sufficiently good-looking and change that person — through coercion, argumentativeness, or force — than it is to take a more broad approach to dating in general, realizing that we can have some people fulfill some needs and others who fulfill different needs.
The Scientific Reality
Populations that lack genetic diversity also lack a more varied approach to dealing with outside threats, especially pathogens, like the novel coronavirus the world is facing at current. Monogamy stifles genetic diversity by forcing each person to mate with one other person. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out how a poly approach to mating was best for our ancestors. More people, more mates, more genetic diversity, and more offspring with a diverse set of genetic tools to deal with the harsh conditions of the world are all good for human flourishing. For more on the science of non-monogamy in the human and animal kingdoms, I suggest checking out the following story on the subject, Why Sex Becomes Mind-Numbingly Boring.
Here are some interesting facts for you:
- Only 3–5% of mammals are monogamous.
- Birds, once hailed as the champions of monogamy, have turned out to be anything but. We once believed that 90% of birds were monogamous because they’re often seen living in pairs, but DNA testing has proven that birds have an intricate system they use to have children from different mates. A lot of chicks, in some instances greater than half, are fathered by other birds besides the primary male in the pair-bond, who’s usually out philandering himself when such extra-pair copulations occur.
- Primates are 18% monogamous.
- Human societies have traditionally been, with all their laws and enforced religious customs, only 20% monogamous.
Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, we’re a little overconfident in our ability to be monogamous? I think we’d like to think that just because monogamy is the socially expected default mode of relationships, that we do it well, but do we really? After all, Ashley Madison, the site that championed an alternative to boring, marriage sex, had thirty-seven million subscribers in 2015. NPR has a fascinating story on the prevalence of infidelity even within our so-called ‘monogamous’ society which will be linked at the bottom of this story.
And much of this depends on where we draw the line. Most people, when asked, will tend to consider only extra-marital sex to be ‘real cheating’, but what about emotional cheating? What about online affairs that are foiled? What about all the massive energy we must put into being vigilant and worrying about whether our partners are straying? All that extra headroom, in my experience with non-monogamy, is created, a vacuous space for us to fill with love, passion, kindness, care, support, listening, helpfulness, and hobbies we enjoy together. The emotional load is lessened.
And is it worth the pain and agony, the soul-crushing torment and often lifelong guilt that comes along with straying from the idea that we couldn’t find and keep one person for life? The idea is just so Medieval, so Shakespearean, which can be cute, until it’s not. But alas, as I said, non-monogamy is a choice, above all; it isn’t something that can be forced, it’s something we need to ask ourselves what we truly believe and where we truly fit into the grand scheme of relationships.
To be sure, I think that people can be monogamous, but whether we should be is a question of trade-offs — a question that I answer with a resounding no. What works for you is for you to decide. Do what makes you happy.
Thank you for reading. This story contains affiliate links and, full disclosure, I may make a commission from any sales made. For more on the science of non-monogamy, I highly recommend the book The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People, which has been referenced for several parts of this article. It can be found throughout this story as well as through an affiliate link here, and it goes into detail about the scientific evidence which all points to the fact that monogamy is more myth than reality. Another recommended read is titled Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan. All the sources for this work can be found below:
- The Kinky Koach podcast, (available here on Spotify)
- Sorting Through the Numbers of Infidelity, NPR
- The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People
- Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships
- The Uncomfortableness of Monogamy: Desire. Attract. Self-Destruct. Discard. Rinse. Repeat.
- Why Sex Becomes Mind-Numbingly Boring: The Trade-off of Sex and Monogamy
- The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature