Non-Monogamy Is Not All Of Me

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Non-Monogamy Is Not All Of MeTwice this week it has been implied, by people whose opinion I greatly respect, that my being non-monogamous sets me apart; that most people aren’t like me; and, perhaps most poignantly, that non-monogamy is something I am rather than something I do. In both cases I know there was no malice in these implications. In fact, there was little emotional inflection whatsoever; they were just words, but, because we seem to lack a familiar vocabulary around non-monogamy, they were pieced together somewhat awkwardly.

Really, if I’m being honest, they were the kind of sentences that no one remembers. Sewn into the fabric of conversation, the filler between key points. The kind of sentences I feel a little silly for dwelling on. But actually, the two scenarios I am replaying in my mind are only the most recent examples; this most certainly is not the first time I’ve picked up on these kinds of points; the insinuation that I am now ‘other’ than most people. I suppose, really, we are all ‘other’ in one respect or another, and generally speaking I am okay with that. And I am well aware that in this overwhelmingly monogamous world, any form of non-monogamy is “other.” But in this case there are a few (somewhat interwoven) points by which I can’t help being upset.

First of all, I have observed in the people around me, a very strange shift. I didn’t ask for it, and I have never spoken in these terms, but now they know I am practicing non-monogamy, my family, my friends, some of my lovers, my peers, many people! are behaving as though I am, have always been, and will always be non-monogamous. There’s a suggestion that I can’t understand the importance or weight of monogamy because it’s not something I do, or something I am. There is also an unspoken belief that non-monogamy means less ardent love or less meaningful commitments. But I think that may be a post for another day. My point is that with these suggestions, there is almost a feeling that I have been given up on; that I have crossed a threshold and fallen out of sight.

Now, I am not particularly active on the dating “scene” at the moment. I have a handful of partners, lovers, and friends, and don’t particularly need – or have time for! – anyone new. However, I don’t think anyone likes to feel they have completely disappeared from the horizon. The silhouette of my relationship-model may look a little different from most, but I’m still there!

On the other side of this is a quiet, deep-set frustration. I feel cheated because part of the reason I decided to try non-monogamy in the first place was that I never met anyone who could really offer me monogamy. I’m not suggesting that monogamy is the apex of relationship models and being unable to achieve it, I stepped down to non-monogamy. It wasn’t like that. I just saw, in my relationships and the relationships around me, that monogamy seemed to be holding less importance. That people – myself included, actually – were not only bad at monogamy but also seemed to be putting less emphasis on it; perhaps they weren’t identifying as polyamorous or even open, but their actions were monogamish, at the very least. So I re-evaluated what was important to me. I had a string of relationships with men who either wouldn’t commit to me, or showed no interest in being monogamous, and so I decided to put more weight in the other qualities I was looking for. (As an aside, this is by no means the only reason I came into non-monogamy; it’s just one piece of the puzzle, and if you read back over my blog here, you’ll find other pieces.) I changed in ways I thought would be more conducive to healthy, happy relationships with the people around me and the people I am attracted to! Surely the smart thing to do!

Then of course there is the stagnance of being non-monogamous. This could, again, actually come down to a difficulty of semantics. I would like to think that non-monogamy is not something I am, but something I do. But the language with which I am familiar is self-identifying: “I am non-monogamous” is far more common than “I am practicing non-monogamy” or “I am doing non-monogamy,” which both feel a little awkward. And perhaps I’m even nit-picking; I mean, for all intents and purposes, and to the outside world, I am non-monogamous. And I would be happy with that, except the world seems to think my non-monogamy has lasted and will last forever. Whereas, for me, being non-monogamous is like being twenty-three. It is absolutely, unequivocally true that I am twenty-three; but in six months I’ll be twenty-four, and who knows how different from or similar to twenty-three that will be. As Heraclitus said, there is nothing permanent except change. It may be that I will be happily non-monogamous for the rest of my life; it may be that I meet someone tomorrow with whom monogamy just makes more sense. My point is that this is just one moment, what comes after it is so unknown, and ultimately I would much rather be treated like a girl, making her way through life, than an amalgamation of labels and boxes.

Whatever the reason, wherever the discordance is coming from, such conversations and interactions bother me. I fully understand that in many ways – particularly when it comes to identifying as non-monogamous – these are problems I have brought upon myself, pitfalls I have suffered as I traverse the rather unfamiliar landscape of non-monogamy. But there is still a quiet, sad part of me that feels she is being terribly underestimated and misinterpreted, all because of one small part of the way she is living. Really she’s just a girl, doing the best she can.

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Harper Eliot is a writer and podcaster whose work mainly centers around eroticism and social observation. You can find an archive of work, and links to all her other projects, on her website Harper Eliot. Harper lives in London, but rarely sees her own house, spending most of her time on public transport, listening to podcasts and tweeting too much. Her vices include cigarettes, lubricant, Earl Grey tea, opera, nail polish, and pinwheels.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I love how thoughtful you are and greatly respect your ability to stand up for what you believe in, particularly in a literary sense.
    I believe your non-monogamy is absolutely the right choice for you at this point in your life. And I absolutely believe it won’t be at some point in your future.
    Now I could certainly be wrong about that, but whether I am or not, I don’t think anyone should be able to tell you your choices aren’t the right ones. You make your own decisions and from where I sit, you are exceptionally good at doing so.
    Just felt the need to say that.

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      I actually could easily see monogamy in my future at some point, but I don’t know if it’ll be the be-all and end-all; I just envisage a lot of change throughout my life, and monogamy is a very possible eventuality.

      And thank you for your kind words. If we can’t make our own decisions, what do we have?

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