‘There’s a lot of sex. But it isn’t about sex.’
– Peter Milligan, The Discipline, Volume One: The Seduction
I’ve been thinking a lot about non-monogamy and polyamory recently. I have a couple of posts that I’ve almost finished about a few very specific and personal difficulties I’ve been working through recently, using the act of writing to challenge these difficulties.
I’ve needed to think so thoroughly about this primarily for my own sanity, but also because society as it is now still looks at polyamory as an abnormal choice and one that I need to justify. It’s not the default and so it’s not a choice that comes without questioning, as Exposing 40’s Wicked Wednesday post this week has reminded me. I’m yet to tell anyone that I am polyamorous and not be faced with questions. Why? Don’t you get jealous? How can you agree to share like that? Do you know his partners? Do you like his partners? Do you have other partners yourself?
Ah yes. The question I’ve been dreading. It’s never among the first questions – they’re always about EA and his partners – but it always comes around eventually.
Because I don’t have any other partners right now. Fine. Except that I’ve never had other partners and I don’t have a particularly strong need for them. As I wrote in 2015, I could say that I’m monogamous against my will. I don’t believe monogamy should be considered the only or normal way, and yet I don’t need more than my husband to be completely satisfied, sexually and emotionally. I don’t have crushes on other people, I don’t fantasise about others except in group circumstances and I don’t yearn for experiences outside of my marriage. (Yet! I realise that this may change in the future – at 5 years, this is now my longest relationship so we are constantly breaking new ground but I haven’t needed more yet.)
But I hate to admit this as it completely shuts down conversations about polyamory. For those who don’t believe in it or who don’t understand it, this essentially answers their questions: I’m not really polyamorous, I’m just happy to let my husband fuck around. I can see the incorrect understanding settling in their mind, the almost pitying look in their eyes, and I can feel their judgement. I hate it. It makes me want to lie, making up a past partner who doesn’t exist for the sake of equality, or leads me to try and justify my position more than I need to as I don’t feel believed.
It’s been fascinating seeing polyamory from an outside perspective during these discussions because it reveals the inherent sexism in the way relationships are viewed, and I hate that the way I am provides evidence to support these biases. Men need to sow their wild oats, men can’t be expected to keep it in their pants, men can’t commit to one woman without sacrifice. Men fall in love with the people they’re fucking and then agree to exclusivity to please them. Women, on the other hand, need love to enjoy sex. Women don’t enjoy casual sex, women don’t like to date multiple people, women are always looking for The One.
So when monogamous people hear about our unbalanced relationship, it makes sense to them but they can never understand why I would choose it. It’s why I’ve had my self-esteem questioned, it’s why I’ve been asked why I’d ‘settle’ for this agreement. Why would I ‘let’ my husband do this? Why wouldn’t I want better for myself?
And every time the conversation reaches this point, I wish I could answer back with my own stories. I wish I could ‘prove’ that I am polyamorous for my own sake by having other partners of my own, taking advantage of the opportunity to spread my own wild oats and supporting the idea that women have as much sexual agency and desire as men and can enjoy a similar promiscuity.
My semi-monogamous state complies with what is expected because, as E40 so succinctly put it in her post that prompted this rant, people ‘assume that non-monogamy is something that is done to women by men and that it is something that women put up with because they have to…[It is] owned by men and accepted by women.’ She is my metamour, EA’s main secondary partner, but unlike me, does have other partners. She has found that the fact that she has other partners is almost as shocking as the fact that she is non-monogamous. People seem to eventually accept that she’s happy with a secondary role, being a secondary partner to a married man, but having other partners is ‘a bridge too far.’
Why is that? Why are we (and by ‘we’ I generally mean people outside the sex positive community) surprised that some women want more but just seem to accept that some men need more? To quote E40 again, the hesitation to accept that women can be happily non-monogamous suggests a view that these women ‘may be passively accepting something that is somehow second best’ and, to swing back to my main point, I struggle to shake the feeling that my status as a monogamous non-monogamous person proves these opinions right.
But I am annoyed about this for more reasons than my concerns about being a bad feminist. I strongly believe that this narrow view of polyamory and non-monogamy completely misses the point! I am not polyamorous because I want to fuck around or because my partner is incapable of not fucking around; I am polyamorous because I feel liberated by the freedom to just be myself. I don’t feel pressured to fulfil all of my husbands needs, I don’t need to be everything for him; I don’t need to be more than myself. He knows me and loves me and knows what I can and cannot bring to our marriage, and if he wants more, he can get that from another partner. And from a more positive perspective, the other relationships bring so much joy and love into our marriage. Love begets love; more is always better; the limit does not exist.
Although I may wobble occasionally, I do cherish and value the openness of non-monogamy and is why I still do consider myself to be polyamorous, even if I only need one partner to achieve it!