Lessons from polyamory that your monogamous relationship can't live without.
Call me selfish, but I get a little upset when someone asks to borrow a book or if they can have a sip of my coffee. I'm not really into sharing. I prefer monogamous relationships to pretty much all other relationship structures; with my personal belongings AND my intimate partners. I can be jealous, manipulative, and possessive. And then on the 2nd date, my true colors really come out.
But it got me thinking: Why throw out the polyamorous baby with the bathwater?
For all intents and purposes, we successfully sustain polyamorous relationships in many areas of our lives. We share the love of our parents. We share love for our kids, our friends, our pets. Why then are we told how "natural" it is to be monogamous in romance? So I thought I'd take a tour of the Land of Poly...
...Where rivers of love, sex and friendship flow freely and the roots of intimacy and self-validation grow strong.
It became quickly apparent, that all of us could stand to learn a thing or two from polyamory - especially we monogamy-loving folk. Just so we're all on the same page, polyamory is based on the idea that we can create full, ethical and loving non-monogamous relationships with more than one person, at the same time, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.
But it's not for the faint of heart.
Biological anthropologist and chemistry of love guru, Helen Fisher says that poly couples are "fighting Mother Nature" - that is, trying to bypass hard wired biological instincts such as jealousy. But poly folks aren't fighting these instincts. Rather, they are working with them, using them to build intimacy and self-awareness beyond their wildest dreams.
I'm not suggesting you become polyamorous, unless you want to. But I do challenge you to open your relationship to ideas that are certain to bring excitement and inquiry to your love life.
Lesson #1: If it's not consensual, it's not OK
The Ethical Slut (p.21), defines consent as an "active collaboration for the benefit, well-being, and pleasure of all persons involved." This means that whatever you do, in or out of the bedroom, has to be agreed to by all members of the partnership. From sexual positions to holidays with in-laws, if there is coercion, bullying, lying, manipulation or other uses of force, it is not consensual. And if it's not consensual, it' s not OK.
Lesson #2: Communicate or die
Poly folk eat process for breakfast. They know that their partnerships are only as strong and healthy as the people in them, and if you're not talking, something's wrong. Translation: say the things you're scared to say. Be willing to be vulnerable. Tolerate discomfort. Talk about your needs, your wants, fantasies, desires, boundaries, limits, hopes and expectations. Many poly people define fidelity not as sexual exclusivity, but as faithfulness to the promises and agreements made in the relationship. Commit to the truth and communicate it fearlessly. Take that rug that you sweep things under, and throw it the f*ck out.
Lesson #3: You’re human, so deal with it.
It so follows, that you probably also have feelings; Big, strong, unavoidable, Andre the Giant feelings. What matters isn't that you feel hurt, jealous, angry, or insecure. That's normal! What matters, is how you deal with those feelings and if you can use them to build intimacy. There's a whole lot of suffering that goes along with avoiding scary or painful emotions. Use your feelings as internal alarms to redirect your attention inward.
Lesson #4: Be an iconoclast
Poly folks are great at rocking the boat. So ask yourself how you can shake things up in your relationship. Question the rules and traditions that you've adopted into your partnership. There may be behaviors or beliefs that you grew up with in your family and never thought to question. Ask yourself if you're really into them or if you're curious about trying something different. Inquire into your paradigms around sex, money, family, spirituality, kids, communication. You name it. By implementing a framework of control, rules can be misused as means of bypassing honest-to- goodness trust-building. Forget about "the rules" for a minute and see what your wild heart truly desires.
Lesson #5: You do not complete me.
It's pretty risky business to put our entire emotional wellbeing in the hands of someone else. At least in theory, most of us agree that no one person can satisfy our every relational need. And yet, when it comes to romance, we shape shift into Jerry Maguires in search of an "other half" to complete us.
This isn’t about who you’re sleeping with, but about waking up and becoming you're own truest love before expecting anyone else to fill that position. Try to let go of expectations and understand that we can only count on our partners to help and support us to the best of their ability, their desire and their limitations. Make sure to cultivate outside friends, passions, hobbies and spirituality as part of your commitment to yourself and to the health of your romantic relationship.
Lonely Forever? No Way.