"In Praise of Monogamy" from a poly viewpoint
Clarisse Thorn ("There she is: a Chicago-based, feminist, pro-BDSM sex-positive activist"; logo at right) must have loads of readers at Feministe, judging by the flood of traffic I've gotten from there since she linked to one of my posts. The link was in her recent article In Praise of Monogamy, written from a poly perspective. She also posted the article on AlterNet.
And now it has been picked up by the website of the Guardian in England, a leading progressive daily newspaper. The Guardian's editor claims that its website is "the largest English-language paper on the web apart from The New York Times." The article appears as part the site's Comment Network, "a selection of the best comment from our partners across the web."
Monogamy's got a lot going for it
From jealousy management to social acceptance, there are many advantages to a monogamous relationship choice.
Clarisse Thorn for Feministe
There are lots of different ways of approaching non-monogamous relationships, such as:
• Polyamory: Usually emphasises developing full-on romantic relationships with more than one partner. Lately I've been pondering and working on a number of tricky questions about implementing polyamory. (I've been researching polyamory since my teens, but only in recent years did I decide to actively pursue it.)
• Swinging: Usually emphasises couples with their own close bond, who have relatively casual sex with other partners. (Another difference between swinging and polyamory is that swingers tend to be more at home in mainstream culture, whereas polyamorists tend to be geeky or otherwise "alternative". Here's a great long piece on poly culture versus swing culture.)
• Cheating: One partner does something with an outside partner that wasn't accepted or understood in advance.... Just in case it needs to be said: I never advocate cheating, ever....
Yet one thing that often gets lost in conversations about all these options is the advantages of monogamy. Of which there are many. Although I don't currently identify as monogamous, I had a very strong monogamous preference for years.... And lately lots of my monogamous friends have been getting married....
A few advantages of monogamy (this is not a complete list).
• Jealousy management
Some people experience jealousy more than, or less than, or differently from other people. Plenty of people in non-monogamous relationships experience jealousy – and handle it just fine, through open-hearted communication. Often, jealousy is managed through very detailed relationship agreements.... [And] there are also plenty of people who appear to lack the "jealousy chip".
And then there are plenty of people who experience so much jealousy, who feel that jealousy is such a big part of their emotional makeup, that the best way to manage it is simply through monogamy....
There's an oft-repeated joke among polyamorists that "while love may be infinite, time is not". And sometimes, I've found it a little difficult to "switch gears" to a different partner. New relationship energy can be a little harder to manage in the polyamorous context than it is in serial monogamy....
• Societal acceptance
Straight up, monogamy is the western societal default. In some ways this makes monogamy hard to understand and communicate about – because there are so many assumptions and built-in expectations, and folks don't always agree on those expectations.... Usually, however, being the societal default makes monogamy easier.
...When you're monogamous, you never have to articulate your weird relationship structure to your parents. You rarely have to think outside the box about relationship problems, and you can go to any western advice columnist or therapist and be sure that they'll recognise your relationship as legitimate. (Those of you who like privilege checklists might enjoy this monogamous privilege checklist....)
• Some people just like it better
Occasionally, people will toy with the idea of an "orientational" element to polyamory or monogamy: some folks just plain feel aligned with monogamy or non-monogamy....
Personally, I always think it's really key, during any sex-positive critique, to emphasise from the start that whatever you like is cool as long as the actions you take are consensual. I know people who act all apologetic for being monogamous, usually because they've been overexposed to "polyvangelists" who argue that non-monogamy is "better" or "more evolved". This is silly. Liking monogamy doesn't have to be justified, as long as you don't turn around and claim that non-monogamy is bad and wrong. And liking monogamy is a perfectly awesome reason for preferring monogamy!
Read the whole article (June 15, 2011).
Also well worth a read is her earlier article, My top questions about dealing with multiple lovers:
Polyamory is a form of consensual non-monogamy in which people have multiple lovers, and are honest with each other about doing so. I have a lot more theoretical exposure to polyamory than personal experience, but I’ve been gaining more personal experience over the last year. It’s often interesting, sometimes painful.
Some recent experiences are making me think I am not nearly as smart or as on top of my emotions as I like to believe I am.... [But] one thing I think I’ve figured out is what I want....
...My preference for polyamory presents some challenges, and questions that I worry about. Such as:
1. What are my responsibilities towards my partners’ other partners? A lot of poly people will tell you that if you get into a relationship with, say, a married polyamorous man, then you must also expect to interact with his spouse.... I’m totally fine with this, but on occasion I’ve felt like I was getting sucked into the couple’s problems....
Yes, it is certainly my responsibility to communicate with my partners’ other partners and to be friendly with them. But I need to set boundaries on that....
2. When is it actually the best time to start talking about polyamory and setting out relationship definitions?
...I feel like I talk to a lot of people who think they want a supposedly “polyamorous” relationship because they see it as a no-strings-attached free-for-all, and that’s definitely not what I want. Or I talk to people who back away from polyamory for the same reason. I see polyamory as being about more commitment to relationship negotiation, not less....
This is a hard thing to communicate in a small dose, though, especially if I’m dealing with someone who has minimal exposure to the concept. On the other hand, having a Serious Conversation about polyamory on the first date is a bit much.
3. Is it a good idea for me to get involved with guys who ultimately want monogamy?...
4. Some people see polyamory as a sign of commitment-phobia.... I feel pretty okay with believing in commitment in the context of polyamory. But my potential partners might not be.
...Some days, I get nervous that the guys who are going to be willing to talk about and process relationships in the depth that I’m looking for, with a degree of acknowledged emotional commitment, are all monogamous. Then I remind myself of how many awesome polyamorous men I know, and also that I’m falling for stereotypes yet again, just by having these fears.
5. Other questions:
How open am I to casual relationships that don’t seem to be going in an emotional direction, given that I don’t have to give up on more serious relationships to have them?
How does being poly change breakup dynamics?
In the absence of monogamy, are there different signifiers that a relationship is serious — or is getting serious? How can I get better at both giving and reading those signifiers?
6. Sigh.... Relationships are hard, and hacking the expected models makes them hopefully more fulfilling … but also so much more complicated....
Read the whole article (April 11, 2011). Many people's comments there expand on these questions.
Labels: Poly 101