For a lot of people, nonmonogamy is part of who they are. They might have tried to be monogamous in the past and resorted to cheating and/or been deeply unhappy such that they wouldn’t go back. I’m not one of those people. My romantic life prior to my wife (the SexyThing to my Doctor) was a series of monogamous romantic relationships that lasted a few months to two years with relatively little time in-between. I have never cheated on a significant other and never even really wanted to; I was happy with the monogamous life and would go back any time if need be. While we have loved our time in this community and the experiences we’ve gotten from it, this is and likely always will be an excellent, life-enriching adventure my wife and I are sharing, not a core part of who we are as people or as a married couple.
And just to be clear, I say that not in a holier-than-thou sense: I have nothing but respect for those who have the self-awareness to recognize that they are not cut out for, or don’t want, monogamy, and who make the life choices necessary to be happy and to make their partners happy. I think recognizing what you need and want from life and being open with those closest to you are what matter here, not what sort of relationship(s) you lead.
In her seminal work on nonmonogamous relationships, Opening Up, Tristan Taormino discusses fear of abandonment in people who are nonmonogamous or considering trying nonmonogamy and advises them to “embrace the notion that your relationship might be about to end (which, remember, it most likely isn’t), that any relationship can end at any point, and you will go on. It will be painful, horrible, awful, but you will survive.” Now, I’m not one for deluding myself, and on an intellectual level, I know that what she’s saying is true. But when I read those words, I freaked the fuck out.
As hokey and cliche as it sounds, my wife is my life. Everything I do revolves around her and I really, honestly, do think I would do anything for her. The idea of losing her is not just “painful, horrible, awful,” it is world-shattering. I think she feels the same way. I would never, ever, voluntarily do something that I think created a serious risk of ending our relationship, or even causing any real, lasting friction in it.
Perhaps she’d disagree with me here, but I think that the implication of Tristan’s advice, a belief shared by a large number of people in our community, is that we should have a commitment to the idea of nonmonogamy that is greater than, or at least comparable to, the commitment we have for our primary relationships. That a relationship which ends as a result of nonmonogamy was either doomed to fail or was not worth the ‘sacrifice’ needed to save it. Otherwise, why should we be engaging with the fear of loss and accepting it? If that fear is there, and real, many people would say ‘thanks but no thanks’ rather than ‘embrace the notion’, a response which most in this community would find immature or wrong.
Maybe that’s not what Tristan meant, and if not, I’d add this to her advice: “You need to ask yourself just how much of a risk that is, and whether the risk is worth the benefit of being nonmonogamous. You’re the only one who can answer those questions, and if the answer to the first one is greater than you’re willing to bear, then either answer to the latter is ok. Even if you think nonmonogamy is for you, it might not be for your relationship, and that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with either. Sometimes, it’s not just about ‘being who you are’. Some things are more important, more crucial to your happiness, than that.”
Perhaps those out there who are older and wiser than I will scoff at this as young people who are still too wrapped up in their relatively new (almost 5 years, but for lots of folks that’s still new) relationship to see the way things really work. They might say that I don’t recognize the risk in prioritizing your relationship’s health over your own goals and happiness. I know I’ve had enough of those moments, even in my twenties, when I realize that younger-me just didn’t understand something that is now obvious to recognize that there’s wisdom in maturity and experience. And while I don’t claim to have access to the wisdom of traveling through time and space for 2,000 years (despite my pseudonym), I think I can safely say this: I am happy with my life, and my wife, and if I had to pick between nonmonogamy and my marriage, I’d pick the latter every day of the week and twice on Sunday, and I’d never regret my choice.
I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to make that choice. But for people who do, and who picked a traditional, monogamous relationship, I get it, I really do. And for you I have the same respect I do those who choose the other way.