F4TF: mono-poly

This week’s question:

Monogamy – do you think it is our natural inclination?
Are you in a monogamous relationship or do you you live a polyamorous life?
If you are monogamous, is it by choice? Do you find it easy or is it a struggle?

When I see the word “natural” I tend to go into sceptic mode – though that would suggest I occasionally leave sceptic mode, and I’m not sure that’s accurate. “Natural” is often used as a shorthand appeal to “natural law”, which is a set of moral principles that can theoretically be arrived at objectively. Beware! And it tends to be tied up with a confusion between is and ought, which in this case could take the form of “people in most cultures are monogamous, therefore all people ought to be monogamous.”

I don’t know if it’s actually true that most cultures subscribe to monogamy, and there are problems with definition, such as: does monogamy mean only one partner in a lifetime, or does serial monogamy (including marriage ending in divorce) count as a type of monogamy? and, if a significant proportion of people in a monogamous culture cheat on their spouses, is the culture really “monogamous”?

Humans are complex creatures. There’s a tremendous amount of individual variety, and the family and culture you grow up in have a massive impact too. We don’t have a great deal of instinctive behavior because we are intelligent and learn virtually everything we need to know in order to survive.

I’ve mentioned before that I considered myself strictly monogamous (in the serial monogamy sense of the word) until recently. I much prefer having few close friendships rather than a bunch of acquaintances, and I’d rather get to know someone one-to-one rather than while hanging out in a group. I focus. I’ve never had any difficulty with monogamy, was never tempted to cheat. When Wolf and I started seeing each other, we spent all our free time together for the first, oh, ten years or more. The longest we’d ever been apart was about a week. And then when he started studying in the UK, we emailed and Skyped daily.

But I also felt rather isolated and it turns out that I need more human connection in general. When I met Gawan online, I had no idea where things were going to go, I just let them unfold as they would, and it didn’t take long before I developed an attachment and the relationship became romantic (though not in a familiar form, due to the distance and other circumstances). I wasn’t expecting it nor was I looking for it, and I ended up having some emotional work to do, but I was interested to find that this relationship hasn’t resulted in any diminishment of my feelings for Wolf at all. (If it had, I would have pulled the plug on the new relationship.) I’ve since realized that I suffer from something of a love and affection deficit, and so now having the love of two people feels really nurturing to me. So I suppose I’m somewhat polyamorous now. (It’s complicated by the fact that the relationship with Gawan is long distance, so the practicalities involve email, Skype, and occasional big trips rather than setting up a date night etc.)

I don’t really identify as “polyamorous”, and I’m not sure it’s the most accurate term but it’ll do for now. Whatever this is, it’s a kind of ethical non-monogamy. Are monogamy and polyamory simply functional descriptions of how you arrange the relationship(s) that you have? Or are they entrenched orientations – like being heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual – such that you can identify as one or another even when you’re single? I certainly feel more mono than poly, but how much of that is my authentic identity and how much is culture and habit?

Romantic attachment parallels parent-child attachment, and most children have an attachment to two parents. I won’t say that romantic attachment to two partners is therefore “natural” or some kind of should, but maybe it’s not entirely unnatural. We are a social species and we seek connection.

I’m not looking for any new relationships. And if I found myself in only one romantic relationship again, I wouldn’t go looking for someone to fill the vacancy. But I probably won’t look at “friendship” and “romantic relationship” as rigidly defined, mutually exclusive categories anymore either.

33 thoughts on “F4TF: mono-poly

  1. This is such an interesting read and you raised terrific questions about the definition and range of behaviours that the term monogamy can cover. I think it’s worth a second read to be honest. What a great response! Thanks love!
    Oh and I’m so happy you have found just what you need too btw!

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    1. I’m not referring to the relationships generally, but to attachment:

      “Attachment is the evolutionarily adaptive emotional mechanism that bonds infants and adult caregivers… [Adults attach to infants.]

      “Babies attach, too, always seeking closeness with the adults who care for them. From birth, attachment is the pursuit of our own wholeness – being kept safe, and keeping safe that part of ourselves that lives in someone else’s body. Attachment is love.

      “When we reach adolescence, our attachment mechanism gets co-opted from parental attachment to peer attachment, in romantic relationships. There are certain attachment behaviors we engage in that innately activate the attachment mechanism, whether between infant and caregiver or between two adults falling in love: eye contact, smiling, face stroking, hugging, that sort of thing. But with the shift at adolescence, sexual behavior is added to the repertoire of attachment behaviors.

      For infants, attachment is essential for survival; as an adult, a breakup can hurt like you’re dying. (Emily Nagoski, Come as You Are at 132).

      See also Levine & Heller, Attached (full citation in my reading list).

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  2. I have always been monogamous (strictly). Now, I have an understanding of the serial monogamy and yet I still, as things change, I am seeing how I would still consider myself strict even as my partner would change. This is a major self-awareness of such a capacity that I didn’t think existed within my being.

    Thank you for your thoughts on this.

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    1. That’s cool that you learned something about yourself.

      Your comment got me thinking too. Wolf is monogamous with no interest in exploring, and I understand him well enough to see why this is so. Gawan wants ethical non-monogamy. It puts me in mind of BDSM checklists that distinguish between “want” and “willing”. Wolf wants monogamy for himself but is willing to “let” me have more; I get what I want here so “willing” doesn’t come into play. I don’t necessarily want polyamory, but I do want a relationship with Gawan; the “willing” aspect on that side of the equation is yet to be determined.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I should clarify that recent events and circumstances in my life opened my eyes rather than being influenced by external, non-contextual experiences of others. I have the capacity to love (this isn’t about seeking solely the fleshy connections but rather an honest relationship with that one person who I was “created to love” and was related to love me.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve found myself in a similar situation to yours. I’m married, and have another serious partner who only happens to be on the other side of the world. Yet I haven’t been throughly comfortable adopting the “poly” label. Most people in my town who identify with the polyamory scene seem constantly on the lookout for new partners in a way that I can’t identify with, in the sense that any connection at all, even for its own sake, is positive.

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    1. Distance is a drag. Gawan is pretty much the other side of the world from me too, in a country I’ve never been to. (Yet. I’m going to visit him soon.)

      I don’t actually know anyone where I live who is poly – the only place I’ve seen the “more the merrier” approach is online. It’s so not my style. If I were single and looking, I’d be looking for one at a time. Hmm, it seems like there could be something fundamentally different about looking for one versus looking for many.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Wounds do not heal in matters of the heart, especially when one wants to be reminded in order to not fall into the same, serendipitous situations. I’d rather continue on with the immense pain in my chest; the burdensome weight hanging about my neck, than to open myself up again. I have learned. I’d rather be alone, in solitude than to feel what I feel. I carry this to remind my spirit that it isn’t worth the pain. I apologize for the lack of specifics.

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