“Muriel and I talked about love as a voluntary commitment, while we each struggled through the steps of an old dance, not consciously learned but desperately followed … In those warm spaces of survival, love was another name for control, however openly given.” – Audre Lorde
I return to this quote from Zami so often. It makes me think about the ways I have loved, do love, and aspire to love. It makes me reflect on how all those things are connected to fear, habit, inheritance, desire, and choice. Loving folks is entangled with so very much. Even when we intend to love in a particular way, it doesn’t always come fully to fruition without snags.
I’m currently non-monogamous. It happens to be the right choice for me. I know this. I don’t desire a monogamous relationship. At the same time, making this choice didn’t mean that complications both old and new suddenly disappear.
Here are three emotions that (still) pop up in my practice and exploration of non-monogamy and why I make the choice anyway.
1. Fear of loss: “Am I going to lose this person?”
I was in a monogamous relationship for five years. Monogamy worked for me at that point in my life (and might again at another). I cherish that relationship. We loved each other deeply. At the same time, we knew no other way to love.
We were both in college. I started meeting folks who were not in monogamous dynamics and became so intrigued by what that meant. I brought the idea up to my partner. I have really clear memories of us lying in bed, judgmental as hell, talking about how that would never be us, they must not be in real love, we could never imagine sharing each other, they might as well break up now. In those same conversations, I remember how tightly we would start holding on to each other.
Growth and time have taught me that judging someone’s relationship structure choices just because they don’t match yours is a trashy thing to do. But I’ve also learned that a lot of that reaction had to do with our own fear of losing each other to others. This was something we admitted to each other long after we broke up.
Sometimes our investment in monogamy is an investment in a sense of safety. And that is a VALID investment, but it shouldn’t be confused as somehow being a more authentic version of love, or the only way to practice love.
More Radical Reads: 4 Ways Non-Monogamy Helps Me to Feel Safer and More Comfortable in Romantic Relationships
As I practice non-monogamy now, this fear of losing my lover/s to others still exists in some ways, but it’s just not as important as it used to be.
2. Navigating worth and desire: “If they want someone else, does this mean they don’t want me?
Desire and self-worth are so deeply intertwined. We live in a society where we are told constantly that our desirability is directly correlated to our value. This notion underpins so many oppressive structures and practices. And it often seeps into our relationship with self and others. If we aren’t being desired, what is wrong with us?
Currently, I’m in this beautiful, committed, consensual, super communicative, non-monogamous relationship with someone… and with all of that, some of this anxiety still lingers. I think there can be this pervasive fear that if “your” person loves/fucks/desires some other person, this means that they don’t really want to love/fuck/desire you any longer. And maybe they never really did.
More Radical Reads: Radical Honesty: 7 Ways to Create Safe Space in Non-Monogamous Relationships
3. Self-judgment: “If I want someone else, does this mean I’m a bad person?”
When I was around 19, I cheated on someone while we were in a monogamous relationship.
I had this intense guilt about the situation. I was honest with the person and I put a lot of energy into trying to make it up to them. Internally though, I also remember feeling intensely confused. How could I possibly care about this person I’m dating and desire another person? I couldn’t understand how both those feelings could exist at the same time.
I remember wondering if this meant I was a terrible person.
Since then I have come to understand desire much differently, but there are still remnants in me of this kind of thinking. I still have to catch myself downplaying or feeling some type of shame in the fact that I desire connection with more than one person.
Lesson: I am my own primary partner
For me, practicing non-monogamy is a way for me to move through the world and attempt to attend to the fact that people loving, connecting to, and desiring other people is a messy, complex, and vulnerable undertaking. It’s a way for me to honor myself.
Throughout this exploration of non-monogamy, I have learned that I am my own primary partner. After all, we are always with ourselves. This relationship we have with ourselves is the only one guaranteed to last our whole lives.
In so doing, I have begun to learn how to treat myself like my most cherished lover.
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