Compromising Positions

A sex ed blog with more

The Choice of Monogamy

This is a reflective paper that I wrote for one of my classes, so it’s longer and sounds slightly more academic than my typical blog post. The goal: to unpack how I came to hold a certain belief about human sexuality/relationships. I draw on a couple of theories that aren’t explained in this paper, so… social constructionism is the theory that reality is created by society, by those around us, by where we live; it is all a mental construction. For example, a day is a day because we are told that it is a day and we buy into it because everyone around us also believes that 24h is a day. Sexual script theory is the notion that in every potentially sexual encounter there are certain set rules for men and women that govern how each party behaves and it can be confusing when someone strays from the script. For example, when about to have intercourse, the man’s script means that he will initiate any kind of sexual activity, he knows what he wants and what he likes, and his primary objective is to ejaculate. He will also be in control of what happens and when, how it happens, and what happens when his desired sexual activity is over. Please look up both theories or ask further questions if you are interested in learning more! And now,

The Choice of Monogamy: A Reflection

We live in a society in which heterosexual, monogamous romantic relationships are normative. For those of us whose sexual and romantic preferences line up with these ideals, life is relatively easy. Growing up, monogamy was presented as the only option: you were either single or married. If single, you were dating to find the one person that you would marry. I believe that consenting adults have the right to choose what their relationships will look like, be they romantic or platonic or some variation of the two. Polyamory is vilified in the news, a punch line on television, and a freak exhibit on reality shows. Some might say ‘I enjoy monogamy because I was raised by monogamy, see monogamy in the media, and see how polyamory is treated, so monogamy is the only palatable social option.’ But this idea does not appeal to me. After a lot of reflection and research, I believe that monogamy is the right choice for me based on how I now view monogamy, and not as opposed to what polyamory can be. The following are the experiences and interactions that I have found pivotal in the exploration of my belief: an instance in high school, a friend in university, a dalliance in Toronto, an acquaintance in Halifax, and a book.

In high school, I held the belief that sexual activity of any kind entailed and/or required a romantic relationship. Until April of grade 10, everyone I knew who had made out with someone was in a romantic relationship with that person. Some of them did a lot more than kissing, which was certainly more than I was ready for, but the point is: the two involved parties were in a monogamous, romantic, and heterosexual relationship. The first time I made out with someone, at age 15, I asked ‘So, are we dating now?’ I am very grateful that the response I got was ‘um, no’ because that would have been a terrible relationship and it opened my eyes to casual sexual activity. I came to understand that I could enjoy the physicality without the necessity of emotional intimacy, which was entirely contradictory to the belief I had held. To be clear, I thought: if I have a physical connection with someone, there must also be an emotional connection – though it doesn’t really matter which one comes first. I realized that it was okay to be physically attracted to someone but have no desire to date that person. This was the first big social constructionist and sexual scripting shift: social constructionism had taught me that sex meant love, and a man and woman in love get married to one another; sexual scripting required an emotional connection for sexual activity. These oppressive and stifling ideas were quickly and radically challenged, which in turn challenged the notion of monogamy.

During undergrad I had a friend who decided, while monogamous, that he wanted to date other people while maintaining his first relationship. His live-in girlfriend was not into this idea, so he started having intercourse with other people without her knowledge. He then convinced his girlfriend to go on dates with other guys and come home to tell him about them. He thought that if she was comfortable going on dates with others, she would understand if he did the same. She did not, so he continued cheating. This was my first foray into an understanding of nonmonogamy. His actions really upset me. I told him that it wasn’t fair for him to suddenly change the game without telling her: she was still playing baseball, but he had switched to soccer. I questioned why my dear friend’s actions upset me. Why was I okay with nonmonogamy? I am reminded of a scene from the movie The Wedding Planner, in which one character says to Jennifer Lopez ‘Love … is just love.’ With this friend, my biggest concern was the lying. This relationship can be viewed through the lens of exchange theory. In class we looked at the paper by Donnelly, in which she goes over various theories including exchange theory, which states that relationships work when all parties involved feel that they are being treated fairly. In this instance, my friend was not treating his girlfriend fairly. He eventually decided to be truthfully nonmonogamous and I wanted to learn more about how he was going to date more than one person. Looking back, I realize that I had a ‘not in my backyard’ mentality: I was okay with what he was doing because it did not involve me. I have no idea how I would have responded at the time if someone I was seeing had told me that he was seeing others as well.

When I first moved to Toronto I met a woman who loved to date; she dated as a hobby. She was also terrified of commitment. She introduced me to the ideas that a woman could be a Domme, a woman could be entirely in charge of her sexuality, and that a woman could date whomever and however she chose. When my friend started seeing a guy she liked for more than a few weeks, she would continue to go on first dates with various people. We had lengthy conversations about how she could separate her feelings, how she avoided thinking about one person while with another person, and why she chose to continue dating when she very clearly was interested in maintaining a relationship with the first guy. Once again, I was removed from the situation, so I was able to ask all kinds of questions to gain a better understanding of the choices she was making. Most importantly, she was unapologetically sexual, happy, and somewhat unemotional. She feminized masculine scripts, and showed me that sexual scripts can be rewritten to include whatever we wish. This has been vital in my development as a person and an aspiring sex educator. I am really glad that she was around to help me make sense of the year I was single.

Heartbreak is never easy: we all have different ways of dealing with loss, and many will try to be helpful, give advice, find distractions. My second love broke my heart, so I decided to be single for at least one year to allow myself time to heal. For me, that meant a lot of drinking and doing things that were new to me. I became even more willing to partake in various opportunities. For example, I hitch hiked across Iceland, went on a lot of dates, and my hair was blue for most of 2012. I was living in Toronto at the time, so decided to join in Shirley’s Dirty Bingo semi-regularly. On one such occasion, I met a guy I connected with instantly. We exchanged numbers and went on a few dates. The chemistry was electric. I made it very clear that I was not interested in a relationship, and he made it very clear that he was interested in dating multiple women. I remember specifically how he lit up when talking about his brother’s swinger lifestyle. I appreciated his honesty and it seemed like we were on the same page in terms of what we were looking for from each other. Everything was great until he told me about one of the other women he was seeing. My insecurities were suddenly at the forefront of my thought process: am I not enough? What does she have that I don’t? I promptly ended the short-lived relationship, realizing that I was not yet in a position to be dating, nor to be dating someone who was dating others. My increasingly feminist, liberated sexual self was mentally excited about nonmonogamy but emotionally unable to cope.

In May 2013, I met someone who self-identified as polyamorous. She was dating two men who were dating other women. One of her relationships had just ended and she was having a really hard time handling it, so she was reading a number of books to help her better understand what she was feeling. This was particularly fascinating for me: I don’t know many monogamists who read books specifically about how to be better at monogamy. This is an excellent example of how privilege fails us: there are so many examples of monogamy, yet they are not often talked about in a meaningful or helpful way. This woman explained polyamory to me in such a way that completely and utterly resonated with me. I could empathize entirely with what she was feeling and how she behaved; no one before had explained nonmonogamy in such an accessible way. She recommended that I read Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, which was a pivotal and poignant book for me. Specifically, there is a questionnaire near the beginning of the book that I encouraged both of us in my new relationship to go through. I wanted to be certain that monogamy was my choice, and the right choice for me. I wanted to know that everything about my relationship was happening because I wanted it to, and not due to societal pressure. This book led me to other books, and new ways of thinking and seeing and understanding. Thanks to Opening Up I am a more open-minded person with a better understanding of nonmonogamy.

I have recently surpassed two years in my monogamous relationship, and we are starting to feel other societal and familial pressures to live together, get married, and have children. It has become incredibly important to me to regularly check in with myself and him about what I want, what he wants, what we want, and make sure that the two of us are on the same page. Monogamy works for me because I have a significant fear of abandonment. I need to know that I have one person who is always at my side. I do not have the energy, headspace or heart space to be romantically involved with more than one person. I am in awe of those who can and do love many. Personally, there is a big difference between romantic love, familial love, and platonic love. Romantic love is reserved for one person because that is all that I can and want to manage. That being said, I do not believe in the myth that one person can be everything I need. I have a lot of friends and family and acquaintances who all fulfill different roles in my life. I love love. I love giving love, receiving love, being in love, sharing love. I love it all, and I have an awful lot of love in my life. I believe, more strongly than ever, that consenting adults should choose whichever relationship style best works for them.

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