why i think monogamy is as hard if not harder than consensual non-monogamy17 Apr 2021
i have this conversation pretty frequently. most often with my partners/lovers, but also a certain subset of my friends.
inspired and informed by people (mostly women?) who have spent decades researching this, i think that (at least in the society i live in) consensual non-monogamy is as workable if not more so than monogamy. (also th consensual part of this is really important. i am not talking about people in which power dynamics allow one person to be non-monogamous and the other not).
and it really boils down to these two things:
- it is impossible to get all your physical/emotional/spiritual needs met by one partner
- the boundaries on monogamy create impossible, unresolvable tensions
as humans, we have a range of needs that we get met through relationships. i think often about physical needs (touch, sex), emotional needs (needing to be understood, heard), and spiritual needs (needing to understand how you connect to that which is beyond you and engage in practices that affirm those connections). monogamy, as i grew up with, takes as an assumption that the person you marry will help you meet all of those needs. in fact, the way i remember people indicating they had found “the one” (which i think is a toxic myth) was their description of how many needs their person fulfilled. “he/she completes me” was the line.
but, as i have observed people in actual long-term relationship, the range of needs two people have pretty consistently outstretch anyone other person’s capacity to fulfill them. when people do try, it appears to be deeply exhausting. primarily because everyone isn’t good at everything. for example, if you have physical needs my body doesn’t jive with (you want more sex/hugs/cuddles/kisses/caresses than i want to give), then we have tension.
and these tensions, as i have observed friends marrying and divorcing for the last 12 years, seem to create two common outcomes:
- we both resolve to not get our needs met (because we absolutely can’t go beyond the bounds of our marriage to get them met - that would imply that you don’t complete me and if you don’t complete me, why are we together?) so we settle into a subpar life that neither of us really enjoy.
- we split, often deeply damaging our relationship with each other and our friend and family ecosystems. people around the breakup tend to ally with one or the other person. i think that happens because we don’t have good collective practices socio-emotional structures to hold both/and realities, but idk really.
of course, there are people who split and manage to not destroy the social ecosystem around them but it seems to take high levels of skill, investment, and/or luck.
anyway, all this is to say, non-monogamy makes sense to me because we simply have more places to get our needs met. when we can create boundaries that allow a broader set of healthy relationships, we put less burden on “the one.” that can increase the quality of connection with our primary partner, while also generating an abundance of resource exchanges around that relational core.
of course, neither is easy. by no means do i think non-monogamy is a walk in the park. but the conversations about boundaries that happen in non-monogamy seem to be just a complicated as the ones about negotiating needs in monogamy. it’s just that with non-monogamy, there is more to work with because you’re talking about more than two people. and, because of that, you can literally have more emotional resources in the conversation because more people are directly invested in the outcomes. with monogamy, what i tend to see is that people outside of the pair stay hands off because “it’s between them/doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
ok, there’s more to this conversation but i’ll stop here for now.
words / writing / post-processing
630w / 25min / 2min