There are a lot of terms out there to try to describe people’s relational orientations or styles. Polygamous, polyamorous, monogamous, monoromantic, polysexual, asexual, and I’m sure a few I’ve forgotten or never heard of. As I’ve made my own explorations around how I believe I am relationally inclined, I found that none of these really fit, for multiple reasons. It’s really a very nuanced thing, these labels not feeling “right” for me. I’m not really into casual sex. I’m definitely not into one night stands. I’ve found that every friend I’ve wanted to have benefits with are ones I also have and do develop romantic feelings around. I’ve tried poly in different forms, and am involved in a polyamorous relationship currently, though I myself do not identify as polyamorous. I just don’t know that it’s in me at every turn to have the ability to love more than one person… or that I’ll even want to.
Neither monogamous or polyamorous as a label really seem to find a way to settle as a good way of explaining how I view my relationships. I have known for a while that I am not a person made for strict monogamy. I like to flirt and flounce, and don’t want any person I care for to be offended or hurt by that action. I can honestly say that many times I enjoy flirting without it going any further into a relationship of any nature- be that sexual, romantic, or any combination of the two. I do enjoy the ability, though, of knowing that if I wanted to develop another relationship with another person, I have that ability- including it being a sexual relationship. I’ll be the first person to tell you that I have, more often than not, a tremendous sex drive and doubt that one person can fill that drive under most circumstances (and if they can, then I’m good with that too!). I don’t want to put that type of pressure on a single person, either. “Hi. I know you love me, and want you to know that I have an amazingly high need for sex and expect you to be the only person who ever fucks me in a way that fills that need for sex, whether or not you have the ability to meet that need.” I recognize that my sex drive is higher than a lot of other people’s, and no matter how much they may *want* to fill it, they may not have a sex drive that is as ample as mine to be able to fill it. I like knowing that I can, with the blessing of my partner, find someone else to have a friendship with that can help decrease the pressure I may put on the one partner.
So where do I fit on the big mono-poly scale? Well… I do think that… given the right people, at the right time, in the right situation… I could be content loving and having relationships with two people. I don’t think I could do more than two. Calling myself “biamorous” would just make people think of bisexual, and it would be a pain in my ass to explain the difference between my sexual orientation and my relational one. So the term I’ve been using for myself has been monoflexible. As it stands right now, I am a mono component of a mono-poly-mono “v” family.
Now, does this mean that I really just want to be polysexual? Well, no, not really. I recognize that little factual statement I gave earlier: The people I am interested in sexually often move into romantic interest as well. So I recognize that any relationship I may enter into sexually has the potential to turn into a romantic encounter for me, and that must be treated carefully on all sides to ensure it is something that would work for all involved. I would rather *not* get involved in a sexual relationship that cannot progressively evolve into more for the other person, because that ends with *me* getting hurt. I know it takes a lot to get me to the romantic relationship point of being, and I carefully guard that so as to not hurt myself beyond repair getting into a situation that is truly a dead-end of heartbreak for me.
Actually, if we get down to it… since shortly before Gabe and I decided to move into “dating” territory, I have been monogamous to Gabe. We have had sex together as a trio (Gabe, Eliz, and I), but I have not had sex with anyone outside of that in over a year, almost 2 now. Do I still have the amazingly high sex drive? Yes. And Gabe and I do everything we can to fulfill those needs and desires. But I don’t have a desire to bring anyone else in right now, either. There are a few people in my life who I fawn over and have *amazingly* large crushes on. Given the chance with those specific people, I would probably take it into consideration and open up the discussions towards having another sexual partner, knowing it could lead to more. I cannot and will not say that monogamy doesn’t fulfill me, because it does. Not “on it’s own merits”, not “while waiting for a second person”, or any other qualifier. I am content in my current situation. But I can see myself getting into, functionally and happily, at least 2 romantic relationships. I want a label that shows that I am content and fulfilled with where I am and that I recognize the potential scope of what could happen in the future with my relationships. I didn’t find anything in most media that I could happily identify with, so I chose my own and created a space for me to feel comfortable in that label.
For the last day and a half I’ve been trying to figure out how to address this adequately, and coming up short, so I’ll just say it like this..
A recent Stranger column by Mistress Matisse attempted to tackle the phenomenon of mono folks dating poly folks in order to change them, to rescue them from their wayward ways and live the romantic story of loving someone so hard that they became who they “should” be. I’ve seen of this kind of thing happen. It’s disrespectful at best and damaging to a person’s psyche at worst. It’s something that needs to be addressed.
Unfortunately Matisse did so terribly, and in the process insulted a lot of people.
She starts off describing monogamous “cowboys” who date poly folks to “persuade them to sever existing relationships and embrace monogamy,” but then paints every mono person who dates a poly person as one of those people.
Instead of speaking of cowboys and cowgirls, her language drifts into “monogamist” and “someone who is clearly monogamous” while still attributing the cowboy behavior to them.
Viewed through a monogamist’s gaze, dropping your lasso on a wandering heart is the stuff of songs, literature, and drama.
Not “through a cowboy/girl’s gaze,” which would make sense. She’s now expanded the manipulative behavior to all mono folks. So us poly folks are the fodder for the romantic fantasies of those monos, eh? The reason one of them would be attracted to one of us is because they can save us and teach us the truth about love.
She just defined monogamous ideals across the board as the fairy tale manipulative machinations of a Harlequin romance novel. If you only want to have one relationship at a time, this must be your drive.
She goes on to say:
Why the hell would a poly person get romantically involved with someone who is clearly monogamous in the first place? The honest answer is something like: hormones, misguided optimism and willful self-delusion, more hormones, and a little emotional masochism
And the only reason one of us would want to date one of them is that we’re horny and deluding ourselves. Right. It couldn’t possibly be valuing that person, up to and including the way that they love.
Where Matisse goes wrong in painting mono/poly pairings as cowperson/cow is in the expectation that a person of one relational orientation requires the same of their partner. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes that’s not. In my case, obviously, it’s not. Some folks, in order to be fulfilled, need their partner’s to have the same sort of numerical setup that they have. But how I work and what I need from my partner are two different issues.
Think of it like this. I’m starting a band, and I LOVE Black Sabbath. I bring Sabbath’s influence to my writing and playing. My bandmates find their inspiration in other places, like Black Flag, Bop and Jesus Freaks like Larry Norman. But we’re willing to work together, we’re compatible as writers and musicians, and we find unique, beautiful ways to blend our influences.
My buddy, another Sabbath freak, is trying to start up a band too. He found a couple of guys to play with who really believe that Led Zeppelin started heavy metal. My buddy decides to go ahead and start a band with them, even though he can’t stand Zeppelin. He figures if he just plays them enough Sabbath, and explains why its so wonderful, he can change their minds.
Which one of these is going to make it past 3 practices?
Now, is it the love of Black Sabbath that dooms bands? No. It’s requiring of others what they’re not willing to give, and not being up front about that.
In the same way, monogamy isn’t the problem in the mono-poly relationships. Those can be done really well. The problem is approaching ANY relationship as a means of changing someone to fit one person’s ideals.
It’s obvious Matisse doesn’t think so. After moving away from the cowperson language, as quoted above, she then goes on to say:
I can promise you, if you’re poly and you’re involved with someone who’s not, once the hot sex cools off and reality sets in, every single problem that occurs in the relationship will somehow devolve to: You’re fucking other people.
Suddenly Matisse knows everything there is to know about the workings of every mixed-orientation relationship. She’s just guaranteed us all that every mono person in a relationship with a poly person requires that their partner love and fuck only them. There’s no room for differentiating between two related but different needs. Matisse knows better than Elizabeth does that Elizabeth HATES me fucking other people.
And that is complete and utter bullshit.
I’ve respected Matisse’s advice in the past. I enjoy the podcast she does with Monk. I read her blog. That’s why I’m so waylaid by her sudden lack of nuance. The abruptness of her shift from talking about disrespectful behavior to asserting that behavior exists where it does not makes me angry.
Had she stayed talking about cowfolk, she could have had some useful insights, maybe even helped a few people. That without even seeing it she equated all mono-poly relationships with manipulation and abuse is impossible to overlook and difficult to forgive.
The problem with terrible behavior is the terrible behavior, not the other attributes that the person exhibiting it has.
It turns out, Elizabeth doesn’t need to love Black Sabbath the way I do. She’s just got to love that I love them. She does, and we make beautiful music together.
It occurred to me after writing my last post that I have some intentions and attitudes I could clarify for you. I talk a lot about how the connections between the mono and poly communities are shaping up, particularly around counseling theory and technique. And I have a lot of opinions about it. Here’s a little explanation of where I’m coming from in that opining.
I look at conversation about polyamory and/or monoamory through two lenses. The first is as a counselor. How does what you are saying inform counselors across the board who want to serve various populations? How does your theorizing and defining contribute to the bank of information available to everyone? If you’re narrowly defining the needs you’re meeting, that’s fine with me. Detailed work is as important as broader picture theory, and both can’t be served simultaneously by an individual project. But build your work in a way that it can fit into a larger picture peaceably. Give your colleagues something useful to work with. Don’t allow biases and restrictions to choke your work off from being included in a larger perspective.
That’s where the second lens comes in. I’m a Christian in a multifaith world. There’s a reason why my ministry was in chaplaincy. By experience and inclination I deliberately place myself in a larger picture and demand of myself that I live peaceably in that larger picture. I choose very intentionally to focus on Christianity in my personal faith life. But if I build within myself a Christianity that cannot play well with other faiths, I am limiting myself, choking off the Holy, and fucking over the rest of the world. That’s not cool.
So, I’m going to keep being the one telling relationship authors of all stripes to be less biased and restrictive. Do the work you want to do, in whatever broad or narrow stripe you want, but allow it to inform as many other people as possible. Find your biases and eliminate them. Find the ways you’re choking off conversation and expansion and loosen them. Leave the door open to feeding others besides yourself.
And yes, I’ve got a book I’m working on myself, so there will be at least one done my way. It’s in what you might call pre-production.
Are you mono, and considering dating a poly person? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
How often have you sought out therapy in your life? How much work do you consider to be a typical amount for maintaining a relationship? Communication and steady work are essential to maintaining any healthy relationship, and bad poly relationships are more noticeable than bad mono relationships.
What demonstrates love and commitment to you? Physically write it out. Make a list. Be specific. Regular physical affection? Words of love? Acts of service? (You may want to explore the 5 Love Languages as one tool for unpacking your style and needs). Continue to explore further. What daily interaction is important? What kind of participation in your emotional and/or spiritual life do you need? What kind of sex life do you want? Finally, how important is sexual exclusivity to you? Is it necessary, preferable, or not necessary? If everything else you need is present, including a fulfilling sex life, would your partner’s sex life with another person affect your sense of being loved?
Do you expect a partner to complete you, and fulfill all your needs? Or do you expect to have a fulfilling life and nourishing relationships outside your bond with your partner? If you find the former to be true, a structure where your partner has full romances outside your bond is a recipe for disaster, despite any fond feelings you may have.
Do you believe that (somebody else) being polyamorous is possible? Healthy? Ethical? Mature? Do you expect a poly partner to stop being poly at any point?
Now, about the person you’re considering a relationship with:
Are they supportive of your mono nature? Or will they be threatened by being your only partner?
Can they trust you to honor their poly nature?
Can they trust you to name your needs?
Are they willing to be supportive in your process of getting to know how poly works, and take the time you need? Are you ready to start that process?
Has your partner’s past behavior or current language emphasized “equality” among partners, like equal feelings between various individuals, or equal number of partners on either side? Or is there room for more diversity of shape? A mono/poly shape is going to be “lopsided”, not “equal”, and a certain level of comfort with that will be required of all parties for success.
How skilled is this person at providing reassurance when you need it?
How many other partners does this person have? How much time can they commit to your relationship? How much time do you need?
(This post is part of the mono/poly resource list, which can be found through the link at the top of the page.)