It was like that, this…tension.
Despite getting married, actor Nico Tortorella and partner Bethany Meyers describe themselves as 'queer polyamorous'. Source: EW Magazine
I am a hopeless, helpless, romantic. I am in love with love.
Monogamy is an exclusive, loving, affectionate relationship with one partner at a time or having a sexual relationship with one individual at a time.
Non-monogamy, on the other hand, is a term that encompasses just about everything outside of this. This may be an open relationship, where you have one loving and affectionate primary partner, and you are both open to sexual interactions outside of one another. This may look like polyamory, which is where one individual participates and enjoys multiple relationships. This may look like three or four people all in a relationship, or it may look like one individual with two separate partners. There are so many different types of relationships. It’s something that’s become a large part of social conversation over the last few years, and even a part of the media we watch, follow or listen to. To be in an ethically non-monogamous relationship encompasses the way in which we enact these relationships - with communication, understanding, sensitivity, respect and accountability.
Quite a long time ago, what we understood to be non-monogamy was the norm. What we now understand about primitive homo-sapiens, was the enactment of ‘tribal community,' which involved the sharing of sexual partners for the sole purpose of the healthiest babies being born from the healthiest men. A tribe was one collective family and mothers saw all men of the tribe to be the fathers of their children. Everybody in the tribe cared for and loved one another and slept with one another. So, if we no longer hunt and gather our food, nor live in tribes, why should we be sharing sexual lovers?
Hear me out.
Initially, I became extremely curious about the world of non-monogamy in early 2020, after exiting one too many complex and unsuccessful relationships. Additionally, it had occurred to me that I really never approached sex and relationships in a self-indulgent way.
Most of the sex I’ve had has been within monogamous, loving relationships. Thus, I believed sex was for a relationship, therefore somewhat within the realms of trying to impress, please and adore my partner. During these relationships, I often felt paralysed in asking for what I needed out of sex. I was completely mute and ashamed when I needed to talk to a partner about what I required. I edged around the topic with my female friends, instead seeking out validation elsewhere.
Because of this, my conversations with my community began to evolve around the topic of what is known as ‘ethical non-monogamy’ or ENM. I became infatuated with reading more and more on the topic. It was a breath of fresh air amongst what I felt was a very backward, patriarchally instilled dynamic of dating and courting.
That said, not everyone was so receptive.
ENM became a very provocative and taboo topic around both my friends and my romantic interests. Granted, I am a heterosexual gal in her early 20s, so my potential suitors are generally also within their early 20s, and the males in this group can still afford themselves the status in a society where they can act like kids. Whereas from the age of about 13, a woman is already a sex symbol. And therefore, sex and relationships are innately mismatched. What was particularly prominent was that some men were particularly excited about the notion of ENM and some were utterly repulsed by the very idea. All I am saying is that sex and relationships are innately mismatched due to gender roles and dating culture.
Nonetheless, people are complex and come from a wide variety of experiences and contexts. I am not one to box anyone, nor am I the kind of person who wishes to judge anyone on their sex or age. I did feel, however, that men whose eyes glisten at the idea of my suggestion of 'no strings' were a product of societal context. It was something to be wary of in my ENM journey.
When I began exploring this outlet, it began with fun, playful and flirtatious interactions with friends and acquaintances. Sexual interactions were spawned from long conversations, discussions of boundaries, wants, needs…it was thorough.
Sounds immensely unsexy, doesn’t it?
But actually, not at all. Remember that tension you had once upon a time with someone you worked with at the office or bought coffee from one too many mornings in a row? It was like that, this…tension. It was the possibility, the discussion, the chess game of attraction that is the to and fro of will-they-or-won’t-they. Granted, it was for all the right reasons. It was playful, yet deeply ethical and considerate when the games of traditional dating were nowhere to be seen. We’re so used to traditional dating where we’re in our own heads, playing games, playing it cool. This is when I fell in love with ENM. It makes consent and boundaries easy, innate and more importantly, fun!
That said, ENM often means saying no a little more than we’re used to. It means walking away when boundaries don’t match, instead of it feeling like some kind of personal attack like we’re not good enough.
I’ve now participated in a few non-monogamous sexual relationships (no shame in that - nobody got hurt!) and one non-monogamous relationship (yeah, this is where shit got messy).
My first ENM relationship was with the loveliest man I’d ever met. He had never been interested in ENM before, nor had he thought about an open relationship, which is what our connection eventually blossomed into. I gave him books that he read within days, and we had more conversations about our feelings than I had ever had with anyone else. With everything ENM has to offer, I want this to be the takeaway - the open conversations.
Within a couple of months, his expectations evolved. He wanted more. He wanted a partnership that was probably a little more intimate than I was capable of at the time. And here, we met the climax. I was enacting an open relationship because it afforded me with extremely open conversation which I innately craved, without the commitment. Previously, my relationships had ended in arguments, cheating, lies, mistrust and confused expectations. Our ENM relationship allowed me to avoid these complications. It dawned on me that this new mindset I had adopted had become somewhat of a trauma response.
So, I left him as soon as I could, in a quick-fire attempt to avoid any hurt. I’d felt I had broken the rules of ENM and betrayed the beautiful community I had found. I had also betrayed the loveliest lover I had ever had the opportunity to know. I felt like I had stormed out of one room and landed myself in a hallway of locked doors. Stuck in some corridor with just myself and my gosh darn unanswered questions.
Relationships are subjective and entirely up to our own design. This does not mean it is sustainable to adapt them around our own trauma. This does not mean non-monogamy is the wrong kind of relationship for someone who has been hurt, nor does it mean it is right. If you’ve always been against the idea of non-monogamy, I encourage you to read into the concepts, belief systems and community that exists around it. ENM taught me how to communicate my needs, feelings, doubts and insecurities. It helped me wake up to what I was hiding from, playing out the role of a monogamous partner within the patriarchal expectations of marriage, jealousy and frankly, rape culture. It enabled me to find out what I want, what I need, what I need to ask for and what I need to walk away from - even if it feels too good to walk away from.
The kindest, most generous, least judgemental people I’ve had the pleasure of calling friends have been ethical, open, polyamorous, swingers or somewhere in the middle. There is no moral code for dating, nor are there any rules around what it should look like, or when it should. It starts with hard conversations with yourself and ends with listening to one another’s needs, separate from the expectations of society.
I’m no expert, but let’s not forget that time that King Henry VIII had more mistresses than he had marriages. Get your love cup filled, but make sure you’re not messing with anyone else’s in doing so. Break society’s rules and for gosh sake, unpack it.