December 8, 2013

Monogamy vs. Polyamory: Different Formulas for Different Folks. ~ Alia Maiter


How often does anyone really sit and ask themselves what their ideal relationship is?

In the age of free love, experimentation, and consciousness-expanding growth around our sexuality, many of us have been confronted by questions such as this. Many of us had relationships come to an end because we meet an impasse, desiring different kinds of relationships, while not wishing to constrict the desires of another, or dishonor our own.

I myself just had a relationship end because I set the boundary of wanting to be monogamous —and he wanted to be polyamorous.

At the onset of my first relationship at age 15, I chose to be polyamorous and have only had one monogamous relationship in my life. Now, at the ripe age of 27, I am turning towards monogamy again.

Monogamy and polyamory are not two separate boxes which we can perfectly cram ourselves into. They are not a binary of one or the other. They are a continuum, offering a broad spectrum of multiple ways we can interact in a relationship, and rarely do we fall completely into one category.

In the case of polyamory for example, I am okay with my partners cuddling with other people, being flirtatious, even kissing another person. However, partners I’ve had in the past were not so okay with these kinds of fleeting intimacies, but rather felt more comfortable if the extended branches of our polyamorous tree cultivated deep and loving relationships with the other particular beings that we felt a connection with. These are but two possibilities in the infinite spectrum between polyamory and monogamy.

What I know to be most important if I am choosing to play in this spectrum is to know myself and know my boundaries. Being able to clearly define what we are looking for from the start can save a lot of time and hurt. Finding out six months into a relationship that the relationship formulas are incompatible can be very difficult.

The arguments for polyamory are many. Some say that we are autonomous beings who should be free to pursue connections that dance on our heartstrings. Others assert that they may have past-life karma to wrap up with other lovers. Many believe there is no single partner that can fulfill all needs, so it is essential to have different lovers that satisfy different needs.

For example, if one sometimes prefers to be dominant and other times prefers to be submissive, one could have another partner to play these different roles with. This benefits the relationship as lovers cannot threaten one person‘s position in the relationship if they are fulfilling different needs. It creates a greater sense of security.

The more challenging sides of polyamory are all the emotions that this relationship style can bring about, from insecurity to jealousy. In most of my polyamorous relationships both myself and my partners have made a commitment to have open and honest communication which enables a process of self-growth and self-knowing.

Learning where these triggers arise from, we seek to experience them, not shun them, allowing oneself to move through challenging emotions and potentially gain a sense of healing and personal development.

Alternatively, polyamory can become merely a means of chasing temptation and an inability to stay engaged with or fully invested in intimacy. Is it the fear of remaining in the stillness of intimacy that keeps an individual running from one situation to another without fully experiencing the depth of intimacy? Or is it an addiction to fleeting temptations, a need for excitement and instant gratification that keeps an individual looking for the newest fix?

What’s the story with monogamy then? Monogamy comes with its own pros and cons. Many people feel that the depth one gains in a solid, monogamous relationship cannot be matched by polyamory. They see it as an act of devotion, of curbing desire, sacrificing that addiction, to go to a truly deep place of intimacy with one individual. Accepting them completely, unconditionally loving all their good sides and more challenging sides, as well as learning to not have all one’s needs met. Being able to commit rather than indulge.

It is supposed by many that sexual experiences create energetic cords and when sharing partners, you may not always know whose energy you are taking in. Some would go so far as to say this act devalues the energy and it is not honored for its sacredness.

On the other hand, monogamy can be just as much of a safety net as polyamory. Having no need to confront jealousy and insecurity, individuals can often fall into the safe womb of a codependent relationship. Is it attachment, or a need to feel ownership over a partner that causes us to choose monogamy?

Ultimately, through my journeys in both polyamory and monogamy, I see the benefits of both. Both can challenge us, inspire us, and help us grow. However, both can become means of escapism, a way to ignore healing both the triggers and the challenges deeply imbedded in our persona. The key to engaging these different relationship styles is first and foremost to know oneself, honor and respect oneself, and consciously move forward without allowing fear to guide us.

If we are choosing monogamy because we fear we may become jealous, have another look at what alternative reasons to choose monogamy might be. If we are choosing polyamory because we are addicted to the excitement of NRF (new relationship feelings), we can try to pursue connections with people that might offer us more than just sexual stimulation or an exciting chase.

In either regard, abstain from passing judgement on other people’s relationship choices, knowing that neither is right or wrong. They are simply different formulas of engaging in intimacy, and different formulas work for different people at different moments in their lives.

As I started out polyamorous (and have been so in most of my relationships), I am undergoing a process now of learning to be monogamous. Actually, monogamy-ish fits me better, seeing as I don’t think I will ever naturally be a strictly monogamous character.

However, in coming to terms with this new identity I realized I find it really difficult to ask individuals that I’m involved with to commit to me and stop seeing others, as I fear that in constricting someone they are merely driven to dishonesty or will end up feeling restrained from living their lives freely. In learning to honor myself and live authentically, however, I find myself choosing a grey area on the spectrum that is closer to monogamy.

My partners still have a lot of freedom to explore with others in a non-sexual way that is still intimate. When I am completely into someone, I tend to feel satiated and not desire anything more or anyone else.

It’s been hard to turn down so many beautiful, intelligent, spiritually driven men that could be such a perfect match if not for this one impasse: our levels of poly versus monog just do not match. Stretching our boundaries to accommodate any relationship only leads to resentment, so I honor my truth.

My dreams are sprouting from the seed of courage, watered by faith.

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{Photos: Flickr}

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Josiah Apr 17, 2014 12:33am

Hi Alia! Thanks for your insightful post; it's very clear you've answered a lot of important questions for yourself.

You discuss being okay with partners flirting with and kissing others. If I may, I am curious where you draw the lines, and why. What is it about monogamy that is calling you right now, and where do you feel your monopoly should start? Is your concern more physical? Emotional? About the role they will ultimately play in your partner's mental real estate?

This is not meant to be confrontational; I am legitimately interested in where you are and what has brought you there.

Many thanks!

Rob Connell Dec 10, 2013 6:37pm

Alia, what a great and clearly-written article; you certainly have a gift for distilling years of experience into concise reflections. I think you present a fair assessment of both monogamy and polyamory (both of which can be amazingly fulfilling or disastrous, situation depending), but I also like how you stress that rather than being completely distinct and separate approaches to love they are more like a spectrum, or continuum. Well done!

Alia Dec 10, 2013 5:18am

I absolutely agree with you guys and have asked ElephantJournal to change the title as it was not self created.

I do not equate poly with being less committed and a big point in the article is that polyamory is a completely valid way to choose to engage in relationships. 🙂

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Alia Maiter

Alia Maiter is a social worker by day and ecstatic dancer by night, working at the Central Toronto Community Health Center and taking a harm-reduction approach while serving vulnerable, at-risk populations. She also plays facilitator (and is a participant) for The Move, an ecstatic dance collective and has been studying yoga and meditation for 10 years. Her journey for inner-wisdom and community service has taken her from communal punk houses to her motherland of India and into the realm of academia. Alia’s passion for writing was born early and continues to connect self and learning as a means of navigating through life.