What Can Monogamous Folks
Learn from the Polyam Commuity?
by Melissa Padgett
These days, polyamory is gaining in popularity. With so many people going poly, it can feel like everyone is leaving monogamy behind.
But the truth is that polyamory isn’t for everyone. Some people will feel more fulfilled, connected, and secure in monogamous romantic and sexual relationships than they do with multiple partners. And that’s ok!
It’s important to remember that non-monogamy is not more inherently ethical than monogamy. Any kind of interpersonal relationship requires open and honest communication, and sexually or romantically monogamous relationships can be every bit as radical, affirming, freeing, and intentionally cultivated as non-monogamy.
But like all people with opposing views, there are some things to be learned from polyamory, even if you’re more into monogamy.
So what can monogamous people learn from the polyam community?
The short answer is: communication.
It’s very important to understand and accept that we are all involved in multiple unique relationships with the other humans in our lives, and maintaining each of those interpersonal relationships requires clear communication skills. Not every relationship is sexual in nature – in fact, many of our most important relationships are defined by their lack of a sexual component. But no relationship is exempt from the requirement to communicate.
One rule I created for myself when trying to learn from my polyam friends was to no longer allow sexual exclusivity to be the defining factor in my primary bonds. In other words, I would no longer build my primary partnerships around sexual exclusivity. I found that making the active choice to really consider what other factors asde from sexual exclusivity makes for a primary partnership went a long way to alleviate misunderstandings or hurt feelings. What are the ties that bind so to speak?
For example, my sweetheart and I love to go out dancing. We live for live music. We met on the dance floor, and that night was filled with sexual energy. 10 years later, we still bring that same energy to every show, even at times where our actual sex life may be less active due to work or family obligations. We always know that no matter what, when the lights go up on stage and the music starts playing, we get to meet each other all over again on the dance floor.
Poly folks also taught me to let go of my worry over the concept of forever. Is this “the love of my life?” Will we be together, until “death do us part?” How do I make this relationship “the one?” Our culture tells us these are the questions that matter most when considering your mate. But it turns out that the best way to ensure longevity in any relationship is to shift your focus from what may happen in the future to choosing your relationship today. We rarely worry about our friendships lasting, and many of us feel pretty secure in our familial bonds lasting. But when it comes to our romantic relationships, we tend to waste a lot of time today worrying about tomorrow. But I have found that the more time in my relationships that I spend being present, the stronger they become.
Long term relationships lead to familiarity, which can encourage assumptions. If each person believes that they know the other entirely, they can often confuse their projections with who their partner actually is at the moment. This is why it’s so important to continually communicate with your partner and with yourself about what real feelings are coming up. Which brings us to my next lesson; Jealousy.
Jealousy is a natural feeling that humans have no control over experiencing. But what we do have control over is what we do with our jealous feelings.
Do we act out? Do we try to bury them? It was the poly community taught me not to run from my normal human reactions, and instead make space for my feelings to run their course and examine what is behind them. Was I really angry that I thought my partner was flirting with that waitress? Or was I just missing the time when our relationship was still in the flirtatious phase? Once I discover the root of my discomfort, I can discuss my needs and desires with my partner if needed. Or I might discover that it was just a temporary feeling, and it will pass on its own.
The antidote to jealousy, as I learned through the poly community, is called compersion. Compersion is defined as the feeling of joy one has when experiencing another’s joy, such as in witnessing a toddler’s laughter and feeling giddy in response. Compersion is an extremely common concept in the polyam community, but it can be applied to all relationships, even the monogamous ones.
To return to my dancing example, sometimes when I leave the floor for a bathroom break, someone else may start dancing with my sweetie. When I see that, I may feel jealousy. But I can also choose to look with unclouded eyes at my partner getting the joy of a different dance partner for a song. I get to see them interact with another person and I get to see my partner through the eyes of the new person. How are they enjoying his smile? His twirls? Is my partner lighting up in response to that rush we all get when someone notices and appreciates us in a new way? I know he won’t just go home with someone else because they are dancing with him. And I now know that when we get him home, we can talk about how much fun it was to experience each other’s pleasure from a different perspective.
Most importantly, I have learned that we should never shame other people for what their relationship structure looks like. If your relationship works and feels good for all the people in it – whether that’s just two or many – that’s all that matters!
Melissa Padgett is a certified sexual health resource and staff writer at As You Like It and The Eugene Intimate Health Center.