16 Surprising Things I Learned in 4 Years of Ethical Non-Monogamy
I was committed to the same lovely woman, happily and monogamously for 18 wonderful years. Nonetheless, as in many marriages, things came up that could not be reconciled. As such, we chose to consciously uncouple close to 3 years ago.
We are now best friends and actually live happily (even after). We still support each other in many ways and successfully co-parent our two sweet children. In fact, we spent the first three years of separation living next door to each other, with our new lovers (4 adults and 4 kids in all) ALL on the same property. Now we live 6 minutes apart.
I know what you’re thinking…who does that? Aren’t ex lovers supposed to hate each other and create as much distance as possible?
I can tell you that it doesn’t have to look that way. We get along great. Our kids are not experiencing the standard “broken home”; instead, their experience is one of an expanding & loving tribe.
My “ex” is happily monogamous with her new partner and I practice a conscious and responsible form of consensual non-monogamy.
For clarity, there is some contrast (for me) between my version of polyamory (loving more than one) and the more common “swinging” or “open relationships” versions that most associate with the word Polyamory. I am not choosing this Polyamory because I am seeking a ton of sexual variety. For starters, I am a Sapiosexual, which means I don’t only seek connections based on physical attraction. I am ultimately seeking emotionally & intellectually stimulating connections. I am also seeking to curate a close community of lovers (a poly-cule). I like to call it Tribal Polyamory or even “Polyamorish” because there are elements of fidelity and deep commitment to more than one.
I strongly believe that this one life experience will only be as fulfilling as we choose to make it. For me, life fulfillment means creating circumstances and experiences that support growth and healing in myself and contribute to growth and healing in others.
More specifically, the growth I speak of may be emotional, intellectual, spiritual, erotic, or professional. For me, when there is no growth in myself or others, there is stagnation. Where there is stagnation people feel unfulfilled. For me, a closed, fenced, or monogamous relationship does not set up the most ideal conditions for growth, healing and contribution for myself and others.
I posit that multiple, committed diverse, heart centered human relationships can inspire and accelerate these conditions and experiences for everyone involved.
I also posit that our yearning to create such circumstances and experiences that support growth and healing in ourselves and others is LOVE in its purest form. As one meets other souls where growth and healing are exchanged, they are all BEING IN LOVE, IN A “STATE OF LOVE”. Not an illusion of love (a dependency).
Then, in many cases, where humans share a growth or healing together, a natural sense of sexual desire can occur. Sex is, after all, a natural expression of gratitude and connection with another (it has unfortunately been bastardized, used for control and therefore reduced). Sex can deepen and inspire growth and healing experiences. When we wish to act upon these sexual desires, the standard narrative tells us we cannot. Sexually loving more than one, aka polyamory, is “forbidden”. So then less conscious and destructive outcomes manifest themselves. These include emotional or physical cheating, the nasty break ups that traumatize couples and families, and lastly, the martyrs who suppress their needs and stay faithfully and UNhappily with “the one” even way after they stop being a good match.
Initially, in my ravenous new interest in polyamory, I mistakenly downed monogamy, even calling it a “disease”, in agreement with OSHO.
I realize now that was a mistake to be so extreme. Monogamy is actually wonderful when it works for both partners. What could be more beautiful than the conscious union of two people choosing to focus exclusively on their special connection for any period of time? I did monogamy, better then most, for almost 18 years and it had many rewards and wonderful memories. When it works, monogamy can certainly be a blessing!
I realize now that it’s not monogamy or commitment that I question but rather the traditional marriage vows that have wrongfully “set in stone” the standard narrative for mostly all romantic relationships…
“Forsaking all others… for better or for worse… till death do us part”… !!!
To me, these phrases alone are dizzying and unrealistic on their face. They set up dangerous expectations that lead to painful outcomes and wounding for men, women, children, families and society as a whole. These vows, by my definition are unconscious because they are hardly ever made with complete clarity.
After all, 80%-90% (pick a study) of those who make these aforementioned “vows”, either break up before “death does them part” OR do not “forsake all others” OR they stick it out “unhappily ever after”.
The shame or guilt when transitioning out of long term relationships can also be so painful, because such transitions represent such a big failure in our society. They are not a failure! Modifying or transitioning out of a relationship that no longer serves you, or your partner for that matter, is one of the wisest choices a person can make!
Acceptance that other humans (lovers, friends, family) are in our lives for a reason, a season or a long time is possibly the greatest life lesson to learn! So conscious transitions are a big part of emotional growth and healing too.
Why are we making commitments to the “one and only”? Why are these commitments so often not realized? Why are we not making a commitment to something more natural, more conscious? And more realistic?
I propose Conscious TRIBAL Polyamory.
Consider the nuclear family financial model and how real the financial insecurities are when considering a transition out of a bad marriage OR long term relationship. One woman (or man) should NOT depend on just one other for their survival or even worse, go at it as a single parent. A single parent should not have to leave his/her kids in daycare services while he/she goes to work only to come home too tired to parent at their very best. All parents, especially with young children, should be supported by extended families or strong communities.
The coupledom dependency model (the center-piece of marriage) is the cause of such misery, often leading many to feel trapped in relationships, acting as martyrs for the sake of family building & survival. It is a form of unintentional imprisonment (relationship duress) and it is unkind to society at large.
Unaware of creative solutions such as conscious/tribal configurations, women and men are forced to choose between three evils when their relationship is unmatched;
A. They cheat to try and have their needs met and carry on with the guilt and shame.
*related side bar alert*
Esther TED (short) :
B. They break up and give up all that may still be good in their relationship (in many cases risk losing the financial support).
C. They stick it out and pray for things to improve.
Three terrible options, no?
The fatal flaw is that conventional (marital based) relationships are structured to create a financial and/or emotional support system to build a life as a couple and/or raise a family. This is usually a very LONG TERM expectation and plan. However, most romantic relationships do not work out long term, especially now with technology and the easy access to so many other possible connections (Bumble, Tinder, OKC). There in lies the tragic flaw and the recipe for all the relationship pain we see in our society today. There is a real mismatch between a long term plan to exchange time & resources (family building) AND the likelihood that same one person can also meet our core needs for the long term. This is indeed a fatal flaw.
I believe that our relationships should not be measured by how long they last but rather how they heal us, stimulate our growth and expand our overall life experience. A mis-matched relationship, can stifle life experience and bring great misery. A well-matched relationship, can bring about immense growth and fulfillment. The challenge lies in building the emotional intelligence required to actually change our “relationship with relationships”, to make them more conscious and more flexible.
Whether it’s monogamy or polyamory, it should start with accepting the impermanence of relationships as they can last for a reason, a season or a lifetime. I believe that we should breathe more openness and flexibility into our relationships to allow for easier, less painful adjustments or transitions, when needs simply don’t match. Naturally there’s always going to be changes in individuals over time and therefore an impact on most relationships. Romance can fade, people can grow at different paces, interests may change, or values may even change. There may be significant life events that shift EVERYTHING!
To use an analogy, one teacher may be ideal for 1st grade but in other grades, other teachers will match or specialize better.
I believe that romantic relationships should be treated with the same level of emotional intelligence as non-romantic relationships. Of all the friendships that one can experience in one’s life, some are short-lived, some last for decades and everything in between. Sadly, we seem to transition out of most of these non-romantic relationships in much healthier ways than our romantic ones. We seem to accept that some friendships match well and some don’t and that they can also change over time. We find a way to move on or allow our friends to move on, if the match is just not there. Our friend may take on additional friends, simply because those other relationships provide that something else. We share our friend’s time with these other new connections because we naturally want our friend to grow and be fulfilled. We do not feel as much jealousy or possessiveness in non-romantic friendships.
Simply put, why would we not want our very best friend, our big love, to experience one of the greatest joys of life… discovering and loving (friending) someone new & wonderful?
There was a time, before the invention of marriage/monogamy (8,000-10,000 years ago) when romantic relationships were actually viewed and handled in the same way as non-romantic relationships. Everyone was free to connect and love as they saw fit. Jealousy and possessiveness we’re just not a thing.
I believe that our society will need to “un-evolve” back to the mindsets of our ancient ancestors in order to push our “relationship with relationships” back onto a healthier path. It will be quite some time before this collective consciousness shift takes place.
For my part, I’ve started with my own work; the work that becomes unavoidable when practicing polyamory consciously.
In three years I’ve grown in these ways and more:
1) I’ve learned how to transition out of my romantic or sexual relationships with grace and how to keep my post-romantic friendships intact. I was able to transition even the most painful breakups into sweet long-lasting friendships. In some cases, I was even able to transition back from friendship back into romance. It’s all possible and ok by me. I work to stay passionate and also detached from specific outcomes, and this frees me immensely.
2) I learned how to handle female rejection with emotional intelligence and understand that when it’s not a match, then it’s just not a match. It’s not personal. It allows me to explore synergies freely with other potential lovers.
3) I’ve learned how to share my lovers with another in a healthier and freer kind of way. I fully support them if they desire to connect deeply with another. I’ve come to believe that their freedom makes our relationship much healthier, even with understandable “fear of loss” discomforts. I am authentically in my relationship to serve the other and not for myself. My lover DOES NOT “belong to me”. That’s pure form love. That is the very definition of Unconditional Love, to me. Their joy is truly my joy (also known as “compersion” in the language of polyamory).
4) I’ve also learned that you can have too much of good thing (even a wonderful thing), so romantic variety and contrast have been vital in stoking the flames of my relationships.
5) I’ve learned how sweet the relationship can be between my romantic partners. This is known as the “Metamour Relationship”, or “lover of my lover”. There is so much potential healing here, especially for women. Our patriarchal society has inflicted much self-esteem wounding and created a global culture of women relentlessly competing with each other. The natural sisterhood between my lovers and even ex-lovers is a sight to behold! The healing I continue to see is so gratifying!
6) I’ve learned to transmute the discomforts of jealousy or possessiveness into compersion. Compersion means loving someone so unconditionally that you can affirm to your lover… “your joy is my joy. All of it, even if it means your joy is loving someone else. Even if it means losing my time with you to someone else. That is where you belong if that is what brings you the most joy and I wholeheartedly accept that. This is my selfless and unconditional love for you…”
7) I have learned that I can be in more than one big committed relationship. I have learned that these relationships can be deep and sacred at the same time and in their own way, just like in monogamy. No different! They are even deeper for me, because of the freedom to connect and love others. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true for me. Each relationship has an exquisitely unique fingerprint. The love is unconditional and therefore more authentic.
8) I’ve also learned to respect that some partners may prefer not to be shared and only want my attention. I’ve also learned this could change suddenly. Ebbing & flowing and being ready for change is beautiful growth work.
9) I’ve done a tremendous amount of work in compassionate communication, meeting my lovers where they are at and learning when it’s smart to nudge discomfort boundaries and when it’s not. I’ve also learned to communicate my own needs.
10) I have learned that in conscious polyamory it is difficult to be as complacent as can happen monogamous relationships. The constant communication work and slight “fear of loss” motivate partners continually working to show up as their best selves.
11) I have learned that conscious polyamory, at least for me, makes more biological sense than lifelong pair-bonded monogamy. Sexual variety is the spice of my relationships (for me). But it’s also about so much more than sexual variety.
12) I have learned that conscious polyamory is a love-style movement with many women leading it, because it actually empowers women. It scares men (and even women) because it finally empowers women. NO ONE is quite ready for such a radical paradigm shift in control, where women are finally in the driver’s seat too.
Some examples of strong Polyamorous women women:
13) I learned that it’s possible to share our “private parts” aka our sexual organs with more than one person, without having 12 kids by accident or catching several scary STD’s. In some ways conscious polyamory can be safer sexually because of the openness and honesty required. People in open relationships are no more likely to acquire an STD than in monogamous relationships (source).
14) People often ask me how my love-style affects my children. I’ve learned that my kids are not only fine around this love-style but that they thrive in it. They have benefited seeing the honest communication and growth work all around them. They are also embracing the impermanence of relationships and are learning how to emotionally transition in and out of relationships with grace, as I do. Lastly, if partners are carefully curated, children are influenced and molded by many philosophies and skills taught by a variety of healthy adult role models. Diversity is strength, and more adult caretakers mean additional layers of emotional support.
Psychology Today further discusses the benefits to children in polyamorous families.
15) I’m happier, and according to this article in Psychology Today, I’m not alone.