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.