Non-Monogamy and the 21st Century


Non-Monogamy and the 21st CenturyIn many ways, the technology we have in the 21st century enables non-monogamy. There are so many benefits: ease of communication, a wealth of informative resources, a worldwide community, dating sites aimed specifically at open romances, shared calendars so that everyone is in the know! – honestly, I could easily go on. There is much to celebrate; the internet has expanded minds and developed knowledge bases; it has started conversations and sparked lifelong friendships; it has inspired businesses and made us all feel a little less lonely. However, let’s be honest: it’s not always quite that rosy. The worldwide web has also created a space in which people have very public relationships. This public nature can, on occasion, cloud the well-communicated, deeply-considered waters of non-monogamy, and more than once I have found myself wondering, – not to sound too much like a certain Miss Bradshaw – when it comes to non-monogamy, are the benefits of 21st century technology really that much greater than its downfalls?

First, let’s consider those benefits. It’s an interesting point for me because I don’t really remember a time before the internet. I remember my Dad’s rather primitive first computer, but my parents weren’t the sort to let me watch much TV, let alone use a computer (a fact for which I am very grateful, by the way), so until I was about 10, technology was something of which I was aware, but with which I had little contact. By the time I was using it, I dove straight into a world of social networks and MSN, as if they had always been there. In fact I awoke to Bebo and boys at around the same time (and many hours were spent reading and re-reading the profile of my Brazilian, drummer classmate, who was the apple of my eye).

However, I have seen in films and the like that there actually was a time when dates were made over the phone and people needed paper diaries – crazy, I know. Sometimes I even find myself coveting that kind of simplicity: oh to not be able to see that your Whatsapp message has been read, and wonder why oh why he hasn’t responded. But for the most part, I doubt I would be able to maintain three relationships without the help of instant communication and informative podcasts (wink wink, nudge nudge), and all in all, technology is something from which my romantic life hugely benefits. I have yet to need those shared calendars, but I can see the day approaching, fast, and even if my romantic partners weren’t interested, it would certainly make scheduling podcast recordings a hell of a lot easier.

But I digress.

I have also found myself championing FetLife (despite its many flaws) for allowing an individual to list as many relationships as s/he pleases, and for the variety of definition those relationships can have (although there will never be enough variety). I was also thrilled to see OkCupid become more poly-friendly with its options, and even Facebook is beginning to catch-up. (Although I have to ask: what is the point of an “in an open relationship with”function if you can only be in that open relationship with one person?)

However, here is where the tables turn; because the ways in which we can now publicly list and display our relationships can also be…complicated.

The truth is – for me at least – no matter how supportive I may be of my partners and my metamours, I will never want to know everything. I am far too judgmental: even if the green-eyed monster is safely locked and caged, I am bound to find fault with some piece of public communication or the like. So from time to time I will stumble across something I really would rather not have known. However, that is just a part of living and loving in the 21st Century. We sigh, we take a deep breath, we move onto the next thing and remember to be grateful for the good in our lives. Regardless of how wonderful a relationship is, I defy anyone to look at a long-term partner and not be able to find at least one flaw. After all, behind the screens and avatars, this is still the real world.

Nevertheless, this is not where the complications end, and one in particular seems to prick me more than others: the speed with which the online world moves. Once in a while, I will discover something about my partners and my metamours which I do need to know, but which, perhaps, I ought to have been told. For example, it would be nice to know that my partner is dating someone new before I (and the rest of the world) spot an updated relationship status. Of course, as HAL 9000 would have it, this is “attributable to human error.” In the end – as ALWAYS – communication is paramount; but I do think the technological world encourages us to be public, and we all give in from time to time. I am by no means blameless when it comes to this: one example springs to mind, when last Summer a date went much better than expected, and my poor Daddy had to find out about my escapades by clicking on a photo I had posted to Twitter, of my bruised breasts. Having bounded headfirst, and unthinkingly into that small unkindness, I found the strength to follow it up, and have the difficult conversation, and since then I have made it my business to inform those I love before I inform the general public. I have also, since then, been on the other side, and I will confess, it really isn’t all that pleasant.

This leads on to so many things: holding people accountable, being mindful, realising that in the end you can only police your own behaviour, setting parameters, COMMUNICATING, being big enough to admit mistakes…and many other column topics. But I have to stop somewhere.

Relationships are hard to navigate. Non-monogamous relationships can be even harder. And it is no surprise that non-monogamous relationships under public and worldwide scrutiny are truly up against it. But I’m sure, in the end, it is a learning curve; and with a little bit of luck, I am still moving upwards.


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.


  1. Oh my! Thank you for writing this! So many times I’ve run across this, being the unwitting hapless oaf who stepped on someone by sharing poorly or stumbled across such a thing myself. Almost everyone who matters to me reads my blog, and well.. the internet just isn’t that private. It’s really good food for thought and I’m glad you talked about it.

    • Thank you so much for commenting! Actually since writing this and reading it back, it’s even made me think about my online behaviour. I’m glad it’s acting as food for thought for you as well.

Leave A Reply