Show of hands: Who here was raised to believe that the only healthy, positive relationships are ones that are monogamous, just one-on-one?
Now a show of hands: Who here thinks monogamy is bullshit?
Many of us were raised on the idea that we would grow up and find one person whom we would marry and be with forever until death do us part. We would have children with this person, buy a home with this person, build a life with this person that would look like some combination of all the “perfect” families we watched on television and live happily ever after in monogamy.
I outgrew the fantasy of a “perfect marriage” in my 20s when I realized that most people can’t or don’t function well in long-term, monogamous relationships. The fact that my parents were my primary examples of this reality didn’t help; their marriage ended in a series of horrible fights and alleged infidelities on both sides, and we kids got to witness it all.
There is an argument to be made for monogamy being a social construct. In my personal experience, I’ve found that not only have I been able to feel romantic love for more than one person at a time, but as I move along this path, I have also found more and more people who think like me and are willing to engage in consensual, nonmonogamous relationships. Most of the relationships have actually been very healthy.
It’s no secret that nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and the number of people who report being cheated on continues to climb steadily. What is it about long-term monogamous relationships that makes them so difficult to maintain, and why do nonmonogamous or open relationships seem to be on the rise?
For me, the decision to be nonmonogamous was an easy one. As I have said before, I have been the unfaithful one in a relationship before. I have known what it is like to love two men at once, both romantically. What was missing was a way to pull those things together and be honest with the people I was dealing with about what I was feeling and experiencing and doing.
I have to tell you that the most freeing part of my nonmonogamous experience is being truthful with all my partners and potential partners. I have also been on the receiving end of dishonest nonmonogamy. A partner lied to me about his new love interest and lied to her about his level of involvement with me, and that shit cut like a knife. It took everything I had in me not to destroy her trust in him the way he had destroyed mine, but I realized it wasn’t her fault, and ultimately not my place to tell her what was going on.
I moved on. I grew up. I licked my wounds and I vowed not to be that person. I vowed not to be dishonest and to be forthright with everyone, because it is the right thing to do. People deserve their choices. They deserve to be able to decide if they want to continue rocking with me while knowing that it may not always be their night.
So what, exactly, is consensual nonmonogamy?
Consensual nonmonogamy, also known as an open relationship or relationships, can describe many types of arrangements that people in love partnerships, committed or otherwise, can participate in.
Those include polyamory, which is being in love or romantically involved with more than one person; polyfidelity, which is a polyamorous arrangement in which a group of people treat all the members of the group as romantic equals and agree to have sex only with people within that designated group; and swinging, which describes the practice of individuals and/or couples meeting up in safe, sex-positive spaces to engage in sex openly and consensually with other people.
Whenever I say that I am nonmonogamous, some people immediately equate that with being a swinger, and while I have participated in the swinger lifestyle, nonmonogamy for me is more about me being open to the idea that there are some people I am going to love and some people I will only want a sexual relationship with, and the two are neither mutually inclusive nor mutually exclusive. They can, and often do, exist in the same space.
Nonmonogamy also doesn’t mean that I am currently having sex with everyone I have romantic feelings for. One of the lovers I feel closest to, to whom I bare my soul on a daily basis, is someone I have never had intercourse with. I love him, and there is a level of mutual respect between us that keeps him at the top of my list as far as “lovers” go, even though we have never been intimate. He knows, understands and respects the lifestyle; he is also openly nonmonogamous.
We are sexually attracted to each other, and we agree that it will eventually become a sexual relationship, but right now it is simply a mutual admiration society with lots of long, deep conversations that we never want to end. He gets me, he listens to me and I can be totally myself around him. That’s enough for now.
Then there are the ones that I want only for sex. The sex is not detached or without emotion, but it is a contract entered into knowing that this is what we signed up for: the intentional rubbing together of our pelvises for mutual satisfaction and nothing more. We may converse, we may text throughout the week and we may even attend social gatherings in public together, but the understanding is always there that we are not looking for it to move beyond what it is right now, and that’s OK.
The bottom line is that at the core of nonmonogamy is honesty and mutual respect. You and your partners have to decide how you will navigate the open relationship waters, and once you have agreed on those terms, it is important to stick to them or renegotiate if you think there needs to be a change.
It is not a sexual free-for-all; while a lot of sex may be involved, it is important to remember that safety, consent and honesty play a big role in making this work.
I don’t pretend to be the expert on nonmonogamy. I can only speak on my own lived experience.
In the end, I wrote all this to say that contrary to what Molly said on last night’s episode of Insecure, open relationships and nonmonogamy are not just for white people. More and more black people are discovering and embracing the lifestyle.
I am out here living it, and when I tell you that I know for a fact that I am living my best life right now, it is no exaggeration.
Free up and be open to the possibilities.