People always talk about finding "The One," the soulmate, the two star-crossed lovers, the Bonnie to their Clyde and the Piper Chapman to their Alex Vause (OK, so maybe the last one is just me). In the United States, it is considered common and "respectable" to date one person at a time, invest your romantic energies in only that one person, and then one day get married to that person; then, if you fall in love with someone else or find a romantic connection outside of your dyad, you are expected to cut it off with the previous person and date, have sex with, marry, or commit wholly to the second. Choosing to be non-monogamous isn't looked upon kindly — the option of loving two people is presented by every romantic comedy ever as impossible and deplorable, and as I have been told by many people my age and older, it's viewed as "slutty." But I refuse to practice monogamy, and no, it's not just because I want to have sex with as many people as possible.
At the beginning, my first serious relationship was a monogamous one because it's all I knew how to do. There is a very standardized way, it seems, that people are taught to date, as well as an even more meticulously standardized way we are taught to react when other people are brought into the relationship. Did your partner cheat? That must mean either A) you have to ruin their life; B) you have to ruin the life of the person they cheated with; or C) they probably don't love you anymore. Did your partner suggest opening up the relationship? That must mean A) they're probably cheating; B) they intend to be emotionally or physically involved with someone else; and C) they probably don't love you anymore. Do you find your partner flirting with other people? That must mean A) they want to see other people romantically; B) they're just not that into you; or C) they're probably promiscuous and, of course, promiscuity is a bad thing.
The huge problem with all of these deeply ingrained assumptions we make is that they both undermine the great human capacity to love and completely ignore the serious complexities of human relationships. We can meet tens of thousands of people in our lifetimes, and though I fully believe that we all create very unique relationships with every person we meet, I think it's selfish to believe that we (or that anyone) has "the most unique" relationship with any given person. Sure, someone may want to believe that they are the only person in the world for their partner, but at what point does that go from companionship to ownership? And at what point does monogamy start to resemble a claim one might have on, for example, a piece of property? This isn't to say that all monogamous relationships are a matter of ownership or possession; for me, though, it just doesn't work.
Non-monogamy can look different for everyone, but for clarification purposes, I'll briefly describe what it looks like for me. I'm comfortable having a primary partner, someone I can come home to every now and then, someone I can call my girlfriend, and someone I can introduce to my friends and family as such. I'm also comfortable having and comfortable with my partner having other partners, whether they are purely sexual, purely romantic, a combination of both, or something else entirely. Whatever the case, though, it's important to me to define boundaries and have a set of terms and conditions so we're all on the same page about what is and isn't OK. While I am open to complete non-monogamy, my partners often are not — so communication about the details can make a huge difference, as can compassionate honesty, a lot of patience, and kisses.
There are several reasons why I choose not to practice monogamy, and the refusal, on principal, to claim someone as my own property is the first. While I certainly enjoy coming home to my girlfriend everyday, spending time with her one-on-one, and getting to know her and grow with her, if my partner felt that she needed to experience that with another human she met, I would never want to infringe upon her rights and her happiness by denying her that desire. Furthermore, I would hope that if I ever expressed the need or desire to experience a relationship with another human in that capacity, my partner would allow me that freedom as well. Because the fact of the matter is, unlike everything we have been told by every rom-com ever, you can love two people at once. You can be romantically involved with more than one person — gasp! — because it is likely that your experiences loving multiple people will be different.
This refusal to claim someone also translates over to sex and physicality. For me, denying my partner the ability to be physical with another person translates to policing her body, and I have no interest in telling anyone what to do with their bodies. Sex and other physical forms of communication and bonding can be very spiritual and important; as I mentioned before, if my partner happens to find someone else with whom she wants to share herself physically, I don't want to stunt her growth and monitor her actions by denying her an experience she has every right to. And it's a proverbial two-way street, as well: I expect my partners to feel the same way about my own experiences and desires.
For me, being non-monogamous means accepting that my primary partner and I will meet a lot of people in this life. We'll have a lot of unique experiences and interactions with each and every one of them, and to limit those possibilities is unfair. It means breaking free from the socially-prescribed ways people are expected to behave within the context of dating and love and explore all the possibilities and permutations of human relationships. It means opening up a dialogue with my primary partner that, ultimately, strengthens my relationship with her and being honest with my other partners that ultimately strengthens my relationships with them.
Of course, I also understand that monogamy works for many people, and I am by no means implying that it's wrong or harmful in any way if it works for you. If you feel happiest, most comfortable, and free to be yourself in a monogamous relationship, awesome; it's totally your call, and no one else's. But for me, when I realized that there was a way out there for me to wholly experience loving many people in many different ways, doing it ethically and responsibly, and having a wider variety of experiences in my life because of it, it changed my entire outlook. I have no doubt it will continue to be enriching and important for me as I travel onward.
Images: lostintheredwoods/Flickr; Giphy (4)