When monogamy and polyamory get talked about seriously, lots of assumptions can often pop up. People of one view can get into a mode of thinking that looks down on people that think differently about things.
To me, this is a shame, because I find it kind of exciting, actually, to be able to talk openly about what kind of intimate relationships we want. My belief, first and foremost, is that we should be able to do this without assumptions about one way being better than the other. Relationships are not as simple as the words and labels we use to describe them. No matter what style of relationship you choose, there are plenty of people, both monogamous and non-monogamous, who screw it up badly. The fact that your [friend’s] last polyamorous lover used the openness of the relationship to go around having lots of sex with other people instead of deepening the relationship with you does not make polyamory an invalid way of sharing love. And the fact that the last relationship you were in was monogamous and the person you were in it with was too clingy or jealous does not make monogamy an invalid style of relationship, either.
In my opinion, concepts like monogamy or polyamory are states of relationship. They are not permanent structures into which the relationship must be shoved in order to succeed. In fact, I believe that a relationship is more likely to succeed if it is not shoehorned into dogmatic ideas of “how it must be.” There are times when circumstances prevent a relationship from going in a certain direction, it is true – especially when there are kids involved, or when somebody already is romantically involved with someone else, or any obligation that keeps a person from living in certain ways and lowers their ability to change and shift. Sometimes, it doesn’t work to continue a romantic and sexual dimension in the relationship. But very often, something can be worked out – IF the mindset of the participants in the relationship is flexible enough to consider different options. The fact that you change the style of the relationship also does not necessarily mean that you are committed to it forever. People do trial periods to test out how well different ways work, you know. In fact, pretty much all longer-term relationships start out this way – as trial runs – even if we try to deceive ourselves into feeling otherwise. 🙂
I find it sad sometimes to look out there and see how much people think they “should” do when it comes to relationships. Because truly, the only thing you “should” do is what is right for you. No social norm or family tradition can dictate that for you. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with changing your mind, if your needs change. The best relationships don’t make their participants feel lingering guilt for having a change of heart about something. They welcome truth, even when that truth may not always be the most convenient situation.
A lot of the polyamorous people that I have met and known started out in a monogamous long-term relationship. They had no idea that their relationship was going to open up, that polyamory would be the path of the relationship would take. I also have known somebody who considers herself polyamorous to the core, who told me that her then-current primary partner was more monogamously oriented, and that she was seriously thinking about embracing monogamy with this person. Sometimes, your needs and desires take you and directions you could not have predicted earlier in your life. 🙂
No matter what style of relationship you tend to think yourself to be more comfortable with, the main thing I would caution against is being dogmatic. When people constrain themselves to one or another style of relationship without even letting themselves look outside of their perspective, they tend to miss out on a lot by tying themselves down to narrower outcomes; moreover, they become prisoner to the fear that the relationships they get into may suddenly change and take a turn in the direction that they have been trying to avoid all along. You have every right to ask for what you want as a starting point – but let’s be clear: there is no guarantee about what will happen in the future. It is better to simply be honest and admit this, together with your partner, rather than sitting in denial and pretending such uncertainty doesn’t exist while in reality constantly fearing it.
One of the better ways to start a productive conversation about what we want is to separate myth from reality. It is a myth, for example, that monogamous people must be destined to be unhappy about not being able to have romantic or sexual relationships with other people. It is equally a myth that polyamorous people must always want to have lots of crazy relationships and don’t care about deepening intimacy over time. People can be unhappy or crazy no matter what their relationship orientation is.
Non-monogamy and polyamory have occupied a special place in my heart, because for me, the very fact that somebody would consider an alternative to the dogmatic monogamous norm implies an open-mindedness to other ways of sharing love; to extending the sharing of love beyond traditional boundaries. But considering yourself polyamorous is no shield against dogmas; one can be just as dogmatic about wanting to love more than one person as they can about wanting to love one person only.
There are times when, despite what your ideal is, the situation that you are in is calling out for you to go in another direction. If you listen, and remain open to the things you might not like, the time will come when you will hear the call. Sometimes this call will lead you to a very uncomfortable place, but at the very least, you will learn something quickly, and avoid feeling stuck in a rut for much longer (which is what happens when we don’t heed such calls). Then you can regroup and do what you need to do without having wasted a lot of time stuck in the rut – if you heed the call.
And often, that call to go in a different direction will lead you directly to a wonderful place. You cannot tell beforehand – but I’ve seen many people take a turn in their life that they never imagined, which also turned out better than they could have ever imagined. 🙂
Further reading in this vein: Desire, attraction, and the sacred middle ground.