The Polyamorists Next Door

Exploring the world of consensual non-monogamy

Why I Am Not Polyamorous, But You Might Want to Be, Part 3

The final installment of "Why I Am Not Polyamorous, But You Might Want to Be"

In part one of this series I explained how I came to study polyamory and why it did not work for my ex and me. Part two of this series provides details about why I do not choose to be polyamorous now. In this final installment, I explain what kinds of relationships I do have, and why.

 

Monogamish Relationship with Kira

 

Popularized within the last few years by Dan Savage, a well-known author and podcaster, monogamish relationships are those in which the couple is primarily monogamous but allows varying degrees of sexual contact with others. Rules structuring these external sexual contacts vary by couple, ranging from only allowing one-night stands (no second time with the same person) or only specific kinds of sexual activity (ie. kissing and groping is OK but no intercourse) to time limits (no more than a week) or location limitations (not in the couple’s home or only when people are traveling).

 

Two interlocking sylized hearts with swirly patterns
Google images

Together for almost three years, Kira and I have rarely availed ourselves of our relationship flexibility. Too busy to date and too tired to have sex even with each other sometimes, neither of us are out looking to hook up. If fleeting romance or flirting finds us, we have the flexibility and trust that allows us to have “little flings” with others. What exactly constitutes a “little fling” is not completely clear, as we have rarely tested the boundaries of our agreement and are waiting to see how things evolve. So far, making relationship decisions in response to shifting circumstances is working great for us, in sharp contrast to the endless discussions I had with Rick making rules for imagined situations that turned out completely differently in real life.

 

Polyaffective Relationship with Rick

 

Polyaffective relationships are connected by emotional intimacy but not sexuality, either because they have never been sexually engaged or because the sexual portion of the relationship has waned and they remain emotionally intimate. These relationships tend to form either between people who become close because they share a lover but are not lovers themselves, or between people who used to be lovers but are no longer. One common polyaffective configuration is a woman with two male partners who are emotionally close but not lovers. A quieter version of poly identity, polyaffectivity can be more durable and flexible than its romantic counterpart—often able to supersede, coexist with, and outlast sexual interaction.

 

While Rick and I are no longer in a romantic relationship, we are still in each other’s lives because we co-parent our children. “Splitting up” romantically helped to lessen some of our tension, and over the last eight years that we have been separated I have come to like him a lot better again. Things have not always been smooth, and during several rough patches we have argued over what happened in the past and sometimes money – much like other couples who split up. A big difference for us is that we followed the poly break up method that entailed lots of communication and trying diligently to work out our problems. When it became clear to me that the relationship was no longer workable, I told him that I wanted a divorce before doing anything that would spoil my ability to look him in the eye. Because we tried to work things out in a way that took each other’s feelings in to account, we are much less angry at each other now than if we had lied to, cheated on, and betrayed each other. Now we can have a congenial dinner together, chat about the kids, and share holidays together. Rick and Kira get along great, and the kids have three adults in two households who love them, and whom they can count on for emotional and financial support, rides, advice, and help with homework.

 

Why does it matter?

 

The word

Some of the folks who read this series and find out that I do not identify as polyamorous will decide that my research is more accurate and less biased because I am not poly myself. Others will see my research as biased because I “failed” as both a monogamist and polyamorist, and my current relationship allows me to occasionally snog other people beside my partner. In both cases, I would encourage these readers to question the underlying assumptions which frame the idea that if someone is a member of a group then they are less able to speak about that group – especially if the group itself is seen as different or somehow less powerful than other groups in the social context.

 

If we follow this idea that people are biased about their own groups to its logical conclusion but apply it to socially normative groups, it means that: only people who have never married should be allowed to make decisions about marriages and divorces; only child-less (or childfree) people should be allowed to comment on parenting; and only gay people should be taken seriously when discussing heterosexual relationships. When the power-relationships are reversed, it quickly becomes clear that the idea is simply ridiculous.

 

Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., is an expert on polyamory and sexual-minority families with children.

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