Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, as I work on the final chapter of dissertation, is the difference between compulsory monogamy and what I like to call honest monogamy. Compulsory monogamy is when two people get together and just simply go through the expected motions: they fall in love, they stop dating others, they (often) get married. Whole entire lives go by where the two people do not openly and honestly have conversations where alternatives are weighed. Too often, this is where cheating comes in. People don’t know they might or can have conversations where they express needs and desires not automatically fulfilled by traditional dyadic monogamy, so, due to shame/fear, they keep those desires under-wraps but go out and fulfill those desires anyway (because, let’s face it–those desires are quite powerful!), though an affair.
What I think polyamory activists are trying to do is make clear that monogamy can be a healthy and valuable practice/approach to life, for some. But what poly activists don’t often make explicit is the idea that monogamy is indeed healthy and valuable–but is is MOST so when those parties involved at the very least feel comfortable to, now and again, discuss the state of their relationship, asking each other if their romantic and sexual needs are being met. If the answer is no, both parties must ask, “What can I do to assist my partner in living a happy life?” Certainly, we can all agree that love is at its best when it is giving and unselfish.
Honest monogamy is a critical practice. It is not fearing asking the tough questions about society, about traditions. Through honest monogamy, partners can interrogate norms, and then choose to either live by those norms, or choose to eschew them, choosing instead a creative, unique path that may involve some aspects of traditional monogamy. For example, some couples might feel comfortable with sharing cuddles or kissing with other people outside of their pair bond, while other couples might feel that sharing emotionally-intimate conversations is okay. Some folks draw the line in certain places where other folks draw the line in other places. It doesn’t ultimately matter where the lines are drawn–what matters is the open, honest communication that comes prior to the drawing of those lines, as well as the communication that happens as those lines and boundaries might need to be renegotiated, as times passes and circumstances change.
I think that what honest monogamy and polyamory have in common is that folks are honest about their emotions, and secrets are not kept. These two ways of being are a far cry from compulsory monogamy, where it is just taken as a norm that relationships are static (“till death do us part no matter what happens forever and ever amen”) and that each partner owns the other person’s love and sexuality–thus, conversation about alternatives is not even an option because that state of owning does not admit that love and desire can bloom elsewhere, or in addition to.
…I am beginning to suspect, through my widening circle of friendships and networks, that honest monogamists are more plentiful than many might think.