Honest Monogamy

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.

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About dranya

Heather Trahan, known to friends and colleagues as “Dr. Anya,” is an author, teacher, healer, meditation leader, and relationship coach. She holds a Ph.D. in English, with a speciality in rhetoric and writing. Her holistic health practice, Purple Mornings Reiki, offers assistance to people as they move towards a life of unconditional love and self-acceptance.
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8 Responses to Honest Monogamy

  1. amanda says:

    Thank you for posting this. I do think it is important to acknowledge all sides of the argument, so discussing various aspects of monogamy is necessary.
    Personally, I do not identify as poly or monogamous because I have a hard time using labels within my perception of my identity (although I know that these societal categories are just as influential on me and other’s perceptions of me), and thus the status of poly v. mono in my relationships is likely to change in my lifetime. I think the key will always be the presence of honesty and critical consideration.
    That being said, with identity often comes a sense of community. If you identity as poly, then you may be more likely to find support. Monogamy has loads of support for the lifestyle, defacto and institutionalized. Floating in the unknown spaces make conversations very difficult to start. For example, if I date someone who is monogamous, I do not know if they have or would want to consider another model for love. It is a risk to pose the question, as the person may not agree, or may even think negatively of me. The risk, however, is necessary because the alternative is an inauthentic lifestyle that will result in pain later on. Therefore, having a sense of honesty in a monogamous relationship is crucial, and fostering honest monogamy as a culture and lifestyle may make those conversations easier to have.

    • heathertrahan7 says:

      Hi Amanda,
      thanks for your comment!
      I really like what you said about identity: “with identity often comes a sense of community. If you identity as poly, then you may be more likely to find support. Monogamy has loads of support for the lifestyle, defacto and institutionalized. Floating in the unknown spaces make conversations very difficult to start.”

      You are so right. Claiming an identity helps make conversations easier, but there is often the reluctance by people to claim an identity in the first place. If queer theory has taught us anything, it’s that identity labels are hugely problematic.

      Thanks for getting me to think more about these issues. I applaud you for making “honesty and critical consideration” a value and goal for your life. If more and more people were to embrace these values, the presence of oppression and hierarchy (so devastating to leading enjoyable, quality human lives) would disappear.

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  3. Cornelioid says:

    I tend to agree with you about the prevalence of honest monogamy…or, to draw the parallel to our own pop definition, ethical monogamy. I suspect that some poly friends of mine don’t distinguish in the moment (though the would if pressed—i should try) between monogamy that is (1) “honest” in the sense that it is expressly discussed, chosen, and revisited and (2) “honest” in the sense that it was knowingly selected from among several forms that included polyamory. There is a difference between the immediate compulsion to choose a specific life course and the ambient, or cultural, compulsion to choose from among an artificially short list of options; though, with care, i think that it’s fair to call them both compulsory.

    • heathertrahan7 says:

      Corneloid,
      Agreed. Having no options (or not choosing) and then having an “artificially short list of options” seems to be, to me, to be compulsory.
      Question–have you ever heard the term honest monogamy used before you read this post? I was second guessing myself after I posted it, wondering if maybe I didn’t “invent” it and I simply had heard it elsewhere but had forgotten. Sometimes that happens to me…I read so widely.
      Thanks for reading and dialoging!

  4. Emily says:

    I’m glad to hear that your dissertation is winding to a close, it is a massive project. I fell off the blogsphere for a while due to my thesis (and recovery period), but am back.

    I like what you say here about the importance of honesty and checking in. They are really excellent communication tools that are every bit as important in monogamous relationships as in poly ones. It takes courage to check with one’s partner and be willing to listen to the responses; but how can we do anything less?

    Thanks as always for your thoughts.

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