Polyamorous Monogamy

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I don’t know—something just doesn’t feel right about it.

We were shooting the breeze as usual, a group of university friends nursing coffees and arguing the toss about open relationships. I was trying—and failing once again—to find a way of reconciling my head and my heart. My head agreed with the logic of open relationships, but my heart was none too sure and I couldn’t quite figure out why.

Our discussions at the time were inspired by the lives of some of the writers we were studying—Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir in particular. And fueled in no small measure by our disillusionment with the relationship models we saw in our parents’ generation. Not that we were sure the French writers had the answer either. De Beauvoir, in particular, didn’t seem to have been all that happy with her relationship experimentation. But at least, to our young minds, they were open and exploring possibilities—something that was desperately important to us.

We had seen too many who had gone before us shut down on the richness of life, locking away their dreams as they got on with the serious business of building careers, homes and families. Remaining open to life was desperately important to us as we crossed the threshold into adulthood.

Roll forward a few decades and I’m still fascinated by those same themes—with how we stay open in love and life, and how we support those close to us in doing likewise. The term open relationship has now been replaced by the more descriptive polyamory, bringing me to the core of what had been my youthful reticence about the former. Maybe due to our age, discussions about open relationships—and my own early and simplistic explorations of them—seemed to focus mostly on physical pleasure, as if the underlying motivation was simply one of sexual freedom. For me, though, something was missing, and the term polyamory put the heart back into the matter.

It was love that was missing.

Like many readers and writers here, my spiritual journey has been about keeping the heart open. It has been about finding ways of allowing a greater love to flow through me, and about dealing with all the ways in which my very human self will kick and scream at times in resistance to that. So when I first heard the term polyamory, my initial reaction was: Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do—to love everyone? Do we really need a label for it?

I’ve always known instinctively that I could deeply love many, and would argue that it is a natural state for everyone. The term “polyamory” seemed to be stating the obvious. Sometimes, though, there’s a need for a specific word or phrase in order to bring greater awareness and understanding to a subject. If there is a need, in our society, to have a term which fundamentally means ‘love many’ then it is because we have developed attitudes that are other than that—and built behaviors and structures that run counter to it.

Looked at in this way, it brings us back to what may be the biggest challenge for many who struggle with the standard male/female monogamous marriage for life on which modern society values have been based. If we give ourselves permission to love beyond our current lover, how far does it go and where (if anywhere) does it stop? And what are the consequences?

photo: jen mckelvie

The core issue, then, is perhaps expression—how we choose to express love. Some individuals, and relationships, are comfortable with fully sharing their love in a physical way with many lovers. Others aren’t, or aren’t yet.

There is no one standard approach that works for everyone in terms of expressing love, and we’re all in a constant state of flux in terms of where we are with our personal growth, our desire to reach out or withdraw, and our intimate relationships.
The term polyamory, however, seems to describe an attitude rather than a set of behaviors, and for that reason I have found that I’m comfortable with it. It emphasizes the way an individual thinks andfeels rather than a prescribed way of behaving, allowing the freedom for each to find their own way of expressing the love that they feel. It allows for individual freedom which, strangely, the term ‘open relationship’ with its unspoken expectation that everyone had to have multiple partners, didn’t seem to.

But I’m also a romantic at heart, something I know isn’t true of everyone—although there are plenty of us in the world. Not the roses-and-chocolates type of romantic. No, I’m the more dangerous, intense kind—the romanticwho longs to merge body and soul with the beloved and swear eternal fidelity. Part of me has always wanted that deeper, longer, journey with another, where you learn to weather the storms together, share the joys, understand each-other deeply and grow together. I’ve always valued that journey of expressing and deepening love through a shared commitment with a significant other. I’m drawn to that ‘deep dive’ into the chaotic—yet constant—world of long-term intimacy.

And so, in my world, these two forces have to co-exist—my ability to love openly and freely, and my desire for that deeper journey with one. Polyamorous monogamy? Yes, strange as it sounds, it seems that this is the best description of where I am right now—a polyamorous woman in a monogamous relationship.

A few years ago the description would have been different, as I’m sure it may well be in the future again, depending on how my road through life twists and turns. My heart is definitely polyamorous but my choices about how to express that nature is colored by the others I exchange love with, and my journeys with them. Not everyone wants to share love in a demonstrative or sexual way, for many reasons. And there are times when it doesn’t feel right for me to do so either. And then there are times when it seems to be exactly what the moment is asking of me and what fits with my circumstances.

So my own expression of love changes month by month, year by year, flowing in and around the channels and resistances that it finds. It is a beautiful, if at times frustratingly inconsistent, dance through life. Sometimes I find myself intensely loving one as a representative of many, and at other times loving many as facets of one—mirroring the way humans have worshiped the Divine over the ages in both Its unity and Its infinite diversity.

(Originally published on Elephant Journal)

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