Tag Archives: polyamory

Shining a light on monogamy

Why do people live with just one sexual partner, and are there problems that can arise with these relationships?

Many women, in the UK and around the world, live in monogamous relationships, where they are restricted to just one partner. Not only that, but the expectation is that they – and their one male partner – will remain absolutely sexually and emotionally faithful to each other for ever. Proponents of these type of relationships argue that this is a stable and fulfilling environment in which to bring up children, but failure to live up to this ideal can lead to the break up of the family home, costly legal battles – and worse.

Refuge, a charity devoted to preventing domestic violence and helping women and children escape it, states that:
– One in four women is abused during her lifetime
– One in nine is severely physically abused each year
– Two are killed each week.

Although it is hard to provide statistics on the number of monogamous relationships – the very nature of these relationships is intensely private – we can assume that the majority of these statistics are from nominally monogamous arrangements.

While there is little research specifically on monogamy as a lifestyle choice, some experts believe it is deeply problematic.

Dr Uninformed Expert, professor in social sciences at the University of Unreading, believes the main problem is that the isolation of monogamous relationships reinforces damaging gender roles and cuts both partners off from a wider support network.

“People in monogamous relationships expect that the relationship will be kept deeply private,” said Dr Expert, “and that the fact of their emotional and sexual fidelity means this relationship should be seen as separate and alone and more important than all others. Troublingly, this can lead to high levels of isolation in both partners, an inability to talk about relationship issues in order to avoid damaging the privacy of the relationship, and a lack of understanding of healthy relationships due to having no information or other models to learn from.”

“In addition,” commented Dr Expert, “these predominantly heterosexual couples find it hard to access models of healthy relationships – they have no other romantic or cohabiting relationships of their own, so the only other relationships they can see up close are those of their parents or those portrayed in the mass media. We are all aware of the problems of mass media portrayals of private relationships and the alarming gender stereotypes used for humorous purposes, and it’s an absolute lottery as to whether one’s parents had a healthy relationship.”

“It’s very common,” concluded Dr Expert, “to find levels of isolation, lack of communication, violence and abuse in monogamous relationships that would be clearly impossible in a non-monogamous relationship.”

We spoke to one couple who claimed to be in a happy monogamous marriage, but refused to be named.

“We don’t really understand what all the fuss is about,” said the woman. “We’re very happy, we like being committed to each other and we like keeping that emotional connection for just us, but we don’t really care what other people do.” Her husband also claims to be perfectly content with their arrangement. Both admit, though, that they rarely talk to family members or close friends about exactly why they chose monogamy or about exactly how their relationship works on a day-to-day basis. It can be difficult for monogamous couples to overcome this sense of shame or secrecy around their relationship.

We have encountered anecdotal evidence of monogamous couples in which:
– one partner is murdered by the other – often claimed to be in response to feared or actual infidelity
– domestic violence is a regular feature
– one partner is not permitted to work outside the home or keep control of their own finances
– one partner is kept perpetually pregnant as a form of control
– lying about infidelity has led to the unchecked spread of sexually transmitted infections
– one partner is lacking in employment skills due to staying home to raise children
– one or both partners have mental health issues
– both partners sometimes report dissatisfaction or unhappiness with their life
– both partners fear talking about difficult subjects like money or the in-laws
– both partners secretly read each other’s private communications (email, text, social media)

All this evidence suggests that, despite the claims of those who practice it, monogamy is deeply problematic.

We have even discovered that all of these have been known to happen in various other kinds of relationships – same-sex relationships, relationships with a substantial age gap, relationships with no age gap, same-race relationships, mixed-race relationships, cross-cultural relationships, relationships with two people who grew up on the same street. Clearly, this is cause for serious concern over the practice of monogamy.

“Despite listening to people who claim their monogamous relationship is perfectly happy, I am unconvinced, and have chosen to ignore their highly personal opinions.” said Dr Expert. “The evidence is not on their side; I fear they are deluding themselves.”

“Those of us concerned about the reproduction of inequalities will have some difficulty supporting monogamy.”

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In response to this BBC article.

Disclaimer: Yes, this is very silly; no, I don’t actually have anything against monogamy (keep reading the rest of the blog; I think it’s a marvellous life choice for many happy people). Others have written far more reasoned takedowns of this daft article, so I thought I’d write something equally daft in response. The only facts in here are those from Refuge.

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Poly Means Many: Explaining it to monogamous people

Perhaps I’ve been lucky so far, but I haven’t found explaining polyamory to monogamous people (or rather, perhaps, people in monogamous relationships) to be much of a challenge at all. I’ve written a couple of posts abut coming out as polyamorous, and the two topics seem to me to be inescapably linked – the moment you ‘come out’ about this is often also the moment you explain what on earth it is you’re coming out as. Plus, given the way that everyone’s relationships are different, all I can do is explain my own version of polyamory, and how it works for me and my loved ones.

I have the advantage of being in a very visible committed, serious and stable relationship with The Rake, so anyone I tell about poly already knows I have one committed partnership. I say advantage, as perhaps that very stability is what makes it clear to people that this works and isn’t about either of us secretly wanting out (one of the more problematic assumptions – ‘open relationships are relationships on the rocks’).

The way the conversation goes is usually this: it comes up somehow, and is an appropriate moment to mention that actually, The Rake and I have been in a non-monogamous relationship for years. I have a wonderful boyfriend too (who has requested to go by the name of Fafhrd on here… Yeah, I’d like to make it clear this was his choice), and everyone knows about each other and is happy. I tend not to go into more detail about any other connections at this point; that can wait. The smile on my face talking about these two wonderful men seems to make it pretty clear that this is happy and fulfilling for me.

But the point I always go on to make in this conversation, because it’s just as important for me, is that I get similar levels of joy and fulfilment from The Rake’s relationships elsewhere. The love I feel for him is only multiplied and deepened by seeing the connection he has with his girlfriend, for example; being able to see how happy that relationship makes him, what he can be for her, and delighting in the fact that I can give him the space to explore that (sometimes literally… We have a small flat, logistics can be tricky!). It makes me so happy to be able to add to my loved ones’ general stock of joy – whether that takes the form of my relationship with them, or being able to delight in their relationships elsewhere.

I don’t usually talk about anything other than the positive side of polyamory when explaining it. Partly as I don’t want to reinforce any misconceptions about all the potential bad things that could happen. But also partly because that glowing positivity is genuinely my experience; it’s been a long time since any notable problems came up for us, life is pretty uncomplicated, and my day to day happiness level is pretty gleeful.

Related to explaining poly and coming out, one of the things that means a hell of a lot to me is that some of The Rake’s and my oldest friends have started, in the same breath as ‘how’s work? How’s London?’, to ask ‘how’s Fafhrd?’. Whether intended or not, it comes across as a recognition and acceptance from them of our relationship choices, and that this is an important person in our lives. Makes me happy.

I’ve never yet had cause to use any of the standard ‘poly person explanations’ – like no-one doubts that a parent can love two children, etc. And I’ve certainly never yet faced outright criticism or hostility for my choices. Everyone I’ve told – friends, some family, even colleagues – has absolutely taken me at face value, and accepted that (though it might not work for them) it very obviously works for us – people who are absolutely happy in their own monogamous relationships have said things like ‘it makes perfect sense the way you explain it’. Often they’ve gone on to ask very interesting and well-thought-out questions, too. No doubt there are all sorts of unforeseen complications yet to come, especially as we move into different life stages, but my experience so far suggests that any complications of actually explaining this to people in monogamous relationships will remain pretty minimal.

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month six bloggers – Amanda Jones, An Open Book, One Sub’s Mission, Polyamorous Parenting, Post Modern Sleaze, and Rarely Wears Lipstick – will write about their views on one of them.

OpenCon 2012

Well this looks interesting. It’ll be run on the unconference model, too.

OpenCon is a 3-day event in the English countryside for everyone who knows that happy and honest relationships don’t have to be monogamous. It’ll combine discussions, workshops and socialising to give you a chance to meet like-minded people, to build our community and to celebrate its diversity.
There are so many possible ways of conducting relationships, and even all the terms like open relationship, polyamorous, or swinger can’t capture all diversity of ways in which people can relate to each other.
There will be talks and discussion groups throughout the weekend, along with lots of opportunity for socialising.
OpenCon 2011 was hugely successfull, and we anticipate that OpenCon 2012 will be even more fun. OpenCon has grown out of Polyday, which has been run in various cities in the UK over the last several years. We hope you’ll join us!
When?
Friday – Sunday, Oct 5th – 7th, 2012
Beginning at 6.00pm on the Friday and ending at 3.30pm on the Sunday.
How Much?
£90 for the entire weekend including all food and a hostel bed.
Extra for a private room.