Have you noticed there seems to be a lot more talk about nonmonogamy these days? There's been an steady rise in the number of people who identify as polyamorous over the last decade. More and more people are exploring options other than monogamy. But what does this mean for each of us? Tristan Taormino’s "Opening Up" reminds us that there are “many ways to do” nonmonogamous relationships and the key to a successful one is making sure you and your partner want the same kind of nonmonogamy - essentially, that you are speaking the same language.
Make Sure Your Partner Speaks Your Nonmonogamy Language
Entering a New World
When you first “discover” nonmonogamy it can be very exciting and you may feel that you have finally found your people. Perhaps, like many others, you have turned away from monogamy because you don’t want to feel burdened by its restrictions. The unfortunate side effect of this is that we sometimes enter the nonmonogamous world as if it’s the Wild West - a lawless land where anything goes, a place where there are no rules and and you can grab just about anyone to partner up with because, hey, everyone is there to get away from the restrictions, right? This isn't always the best approach. Just because two people have chosen nonmonogamy doesn't mean they'll be ideal partners. (Read more about the nonmonogamous lifestyle in Polyamory: More Than Enough Love to Go Around).
“But, We’re All Nonmonogamous!”
Something we need to remember is that “nonmonogamous” is not, in and of itself, a type of relationship. It's an umbrella term under which a whole lot of identifications fall. Thus, deciding to date someone on the premise that you are both interested in being nonmonogamous is a dicey proposition unless you know exactly what that means for each of you. What if you want to date other people and they want to swing? What if they think random hookups are OK and your ideal life involves multiple long-term partners? What if you envision a “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy and they expect open and honest sharing between all partners involved in the situation at all times? Not knowing these things in advance can lead to misunderstanding, anger and hurt feelings very, very, quickly.
Learning Your Language
So, what is one to do? Well, the first step (like with almost everything else) is to be honest with yourself. What do you want from your nonmonogamous relationships? Dig a little deeper and picture the life you’d like to have. Do you want multiple partners who are committed to each other? Multiple partners who are each committed to you? One partner and the ability to date? One partner and sex with other people at parties? No partner and lots of people you see? Any combination of any of those things or something completely different? You need to examine your jealous tendencies. Are you someone who can feel completely compersive while your partner engages intimately with others or do you need structured boundaries to keep your jealousy in check? It's not fair to bring someone into a relationship without making your expectations clear. (Check out When Your Partner Sleeps With Someone Else - And It Makes You Happy for more on nonmonogamy and compersion - the opposite of jealousy).
Now You’re Talking!
You can treat the answers to the above questions as the road map to your foray into nonmonogamy. Use it to construct an understanding between yourself and your prospective partners - this way you'll be prepared to ask them what they want and what their boundaries are and see whether you're speaking the same language. Before you go wading into the waters of nonmonogamy, take some time to clarify and define your desires and boundaries - once you do this, you'll be swimming free.
JoEllen is a writer, speaker, researcher and mental health advocate whose work explores the impact of depression on sex and relationships. Since 2012 she has written about sex, mental health, and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site The Redhead Bedhead.
JoEllen's book The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression & The Conversation We Aren’t Having is now available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.