Mandatory Monogamy Doesn’t Work

This originally appeared on The Good Men Project. Republished here with permission.

Jasmine Peterson was polyamorous, her husband wasn’t… guess which one cheated.

It has been nearly a year since I had an epiphany and came to the realization that I am, by nature, polyamorous—six years into a monogamous relationship. There were several well-wishers who were curious to know how this would turn out for me. Just three short months after coming out as polyamorous to my partner (and the Internet), my life took a tremendous turn, relationship-wise, I thought I’d follow up. If you haven’t read about my self-discovery, you can read it here to give you a little background on my story.

The comments that I received were mixed; some were really supportive but others less so (i.e., hostile and even a bit derogatory, at times). In particular, my long-term monogamous partner of six years really struggled in coming to terms with my identifying as polyamorous. And I understood that, of course. But what I’ve discovered is that I’m not alone in making this self-discovery well into a committed, long-term, monogamous relationship. In fact, through the supportive comments, I discovered that there were a number of others struggling with very similar situations. And the more I heard from people who said “You know, I’m going through something very similar right now,” the more I knew that talking about this so publicly was the right thing to do (even if terrifying).

In our culture, monogamy is considered the only real, legitimate relationship style (heterosexual monogamy, in particular). I have noticed, in recent years, a proliferation of discussions about nonmonogamy in the media and at the cultural level. Sadly enough, these conversations often devolve into rhetorically vitriolic discussions based on misconceptions and ignorance in which nonmonogamy is vilified as being immoral and wrong. And this, I do firmly believe, is why it wasn’t until I was 27 that I was finally able to recognize that I, myself, am in fact polyamorous. And, this too, I believe, was why many commenters reported similar experiences, only discovering this of themselves later in life, while already in monogamous relationships (and even marriages).

And here is where the irony comes in. All of my monogamous detractors (just to clarify, this is not an imputation against all monogamous persons, by any means), who have suggested that polyamory is only about promiscuity, that it is based on an inability to commit to one human being, that it is somehow less than monogamy, let me tell you a story and explain away these misconceptions. Polyamory is about having the desire or capacity to engage in more than one relationship at a time—whether that be a sexual or purely romantic relationship would be up to the partners involved. It does not mean using the term as permission to have as much casual sex as you want (unless that is part of the understanding between partners). It does not mean cheating. The basis of polyamorous relationships should be open and honest communication. To me, that seems like a beautiful, functional way to relate.

After divulging to my partner that I am polyamorous, we had many intense (and often unpleasant) conversations. Having entered into our relationship with the understanding that we were monogamous, I assured him that, although I am polyamorous, I was fully prepared to maintain that commitment and to remain monogamous with him. It doesn’t change how I identify. It really changes nothing at all about our relationship. There were many who, probably largely due to misconceptions of polyamory, thought that our relationship clearly couldn’t work out because I would never be able to remain faithful. You know, because I’m polyamorous. But the reason I am so drawn to polyamory is not merely the capacity to relate to more than one romantic partner, but the openness, the honesty of the communication that must occur. And consent.

Things got pretty rocky for us, after this revelation (although, looking back, he’d been a bit distant before finding out I was polyamorous; I just didn’t make the connection until afterward). He became even more distant over the following weeks. I was alone in another province attending graduate school, while he remained in our house. I began to wonder if he couldn’t handle my being polyamorous, even though I repeatedly let him know that I was committed to our relationship, which includes maintaining monogamy. I thought it was me. I struggled with my loneliness, and with the fear that we were growing distant, and that things wouldn’t work out after all.

Then, approximately six months ago (it was on our six and a half year anniversary, to the day), he finally filled me in on what was going on. He’d been unfaithful. For months. In fact, it had begun a couple of months before I had even discovered myself to be polyamorous. She was pregnant. Given how much value he had always placed in faithfulness, my world was shattered in that instant. I spent a month reeling from the news, trying to come to terms with what it meant, and with how I wanted to move forward. But I could not fail to see the irony in this situation (I guess it’s a good thing that I love irony, huh?). Even more ironic, I think it was my capacity to understand the ability to love more than one person that had allowed me to forgive him and to attempt to work toward reconciliation (although this is not at all polyamory, given that there was no openness, no honesty, and I was not consenting).

In the conversations that ensued, he asked me at one point “How can a ‘poly’ person be faithful, and a monogamous person be so disloyal?” I think I can answer that. We are coerced into monogamy, in this culture. It is the dominant discourse of what a relationship ought to be, and so anything outside of that is considered less, is peripheral, and becomes a non-option for most people. We are inculcated into monogamy. However, I would say most people have the capacity to be polyamorous. Because anything that falls outside of hegemony is shamed and denigrated, most people hang onto monogamy because they feel they must. Thus, when feelings develop for others, because it is considered to be shameful in terms of monogamous relationships, additional relationships are embarked upon in secrecy. There is shame. There is guilt. But there is not honesty. In saying this, I do want to be clear that I am not suggesting that monogamy isn’t also functional, or that all monogamous persons will become unfaithful. I’m merely suggesting that this can set the stage for affairs, unfaithfulness.

Six months ago, when my ex first revealed to me that he had been having an affair with his boss, that his mistress was pregnant, my reaction was to forgive, to move forward. I’ve always been someone who resists change, but I’m also someone who believes that love doesn’t just happen; it’s something that we must constantly work at. There had been times in the past where I’d felt disengaged from the relationship or when he had talked about wanting out, but it seemed that through each of these times, one of us was always still in it, and it got us through a number of trials. So I held on…for a time. I had had a rough year (I can honestly assert that it was the worst year of my life, to date, given the number of tribulations I faced in the span of 12 months), and I wasn’t willing to lose one more thing in my life at that point. I booked a flight home, mere days after I wrote my last final examination. Just two days before I was scheduled to fly home, my now ex and I were conversing, and in the midst of that conversation, he had the audacity to blame his infidelity on me. While I was able to forgive his unfaithfulness, his deceit, his months of lying, I was not willing to accept blame for his actions. In retrospect, I can only thank him. I learned a lot about myself from this experience, and about what I want out of my relationships and life. I evolved, and was able to let go of a toxic relationship. I am now single, happier than I’ve been in years, and dating. And it has been wonderful.

If there is anything to take away from this, I think it is that honesty is (almost) always the best policy—for anybody, in any kind of relationship, with any sort of orientation.

Jasmine Peterson is a feminist and an activist. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. Her research has examined social constructionism, self-objectification, and, most recently, conceptions of health and their impact on males and females.

Related Links: