Can Monogamous Folks Use Advice For Polyamorous Folks?

I’ve recently made a few acquaintances who are curious about polyamory and ethical non-monogamy – in the academic sense, that is.

I answer as truthfully and honestly as I can – which leads to me saying “it depends” and “what I do is X, but others do Y”, and “you have to ask”.

Inevitably, they say something like this: “That seems like a lot of work!”

To which I say, “It depends.”

That’s a true answer. Especially when you’re just getting started in non-traditional relationships, or when you’re meeting brand-new (to you) people, there can be a lot of “what do you mean by X?” or “how do you typically do relationships?” Particularly when you’re coming from the default monogamous culture, it can get overwhelming.

There’s two things to keep in mind.

First, like any new skill, it gets easier over time.

Secondly, you should be doing these things in your monogamous relationships.

It can seem like ENM folks do a lot of defining of terms, sure. I also know monogamous people who define “making out” as just french kissing, and other monogamous people (about the same age, same gender, same region) who define “making out” as “underclothes stay on, but otherwise anything goes”.

All definitions are somewhat fuzzy in actual use – but monogamous culture pretends the definitions in your head are universal. That how you define things is how every other monogamous person defines thing. That how you expect a relationship to “progress”, or what constitutes “milestones” for you, or what you think partners need or deserve is the only correct way.

Even in monogamous mainstream culture, that’s simply not true.

But there’s enough cultural weight behind that assumption – and just enough overlap most of the time – that you can get away with assuming that everyone else’s definitions match yours.

At least, until you discover that some of your assumptions – things that, by definition, you assumed the answers to and never clarified – are incorrect, and seems like it is too late to ask. There’s no mechanism for asking, and even the act of checking to see if you’re on the same page can be interpreted as an attack.

So I keep reminding these curious acquaintances: Advice for ENM folks is usually good advice for folks in any relationship structure. Healthy communication, setting boundaries, knowing your needs and what price of admission you’re willing to pay, knowing how to deal with brain weaselsall of these are things you can bring into whatever relationship structure you prefer.

Nobody should ever tell you that you need to adopt a particular relationship style in order to have meaningful relationships. That would be deeply creepy.

But the positive flip side is that you can take lessons wherever they make sense for you, your style, and your relationship(s).

Featured Photo by Justin Follis on Unsplash

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