My journey to non-monogamy started when I was about 20. From an early age, I was aware that, for me at least, something was not quite right with traditional relationships.
The ever-present, life-long expectations of one partner on the other, the pressure to perform at home and conform to society’s expectations. The challenge of balancing the comfort of emotional stability and commitment with the multifaceted task of living and the push towards self-actualisation and fierce independence. And, most notably, that big taboo: the others. “Does wearing a ring cause a clog to your testicles so that you cease being attracted to all women other than your wife?” asked Janet Hardy in “The Ethical Slut”.
I still remember being in my first long-term monogamous relationship (which lasted 6 years) and bringing up the topic with my girlfriend. She was everything but impressed. For her, just as for many others, emotional commitment and sexual exclusivity are inseparable: “You can’t be in a relationship unless you are fully and exclusively committed to your partner”. Worse. If you have even considered what it would be to have sex with someone different, or perhaps even been tempted to act upon that thought, it means you don’t love your partner. You are a cheating, narcissistic, sex-addict bastard incapable of true love and commitment, and you must die in the ex-partners’ hell amongst atrocious suffering.
This didn’t make any sense at all. I knew I loved my girlfriend, and I would show her in countless ways day in and day out. Our relationship was a happy, deep and satisfying one; yet, I also felt attracted to other fellow humans. Not having the freedom to explore those connections when and if I saw fit was disheartening. I needed to find a way to come to terms with this and to make it a functional part of my life. A few years, and three monogamous relationships later, I found the internal clarity to come out as non-monogamous to my girlfriend of that time. We tried our hardest to make it work but after two long years, I had to realise I was deluding myself that she had accepted me for who I was and she was deluding herself that I would be “the One” and that I would “love only her”. In her mind, it turned out, non-monogamy was “just a phase” and she had chosen to “play along and let me be” until I came to my senses. Who had I been talking to for all that time?
The break up was messy and resentful, and the experience deeply shook me. It showed me the extent to which some of us are willing to repress their needs and deny themselves in order to abide by “The Script”, even when their partner offers trust, openness, understanding. It also taught me that we should operate under the general assumption that people walk into relationships with evolving needs and (sometimes very) different expectations, all of which should be reassessed regularly: “Where are we right now?”, “Who are we today?”, “What’s real for us in this moment?”. Lying about our needs because we are too scared of losing the other is a terrible way to conduct a relationship…
I now share a beautiful polyamorous relationship with Anita, and I am exploring romantic and sexual intimacy with other partners too, all completely in the light of day and with the consent of everyone involved. Loving Anita and sharing time and life experiences together does not prevent me from doing the same with others; chiefly, it doesn’t make others any less important or those relationships “secondary”.
As I experienced, for most traditional couples, openness is still an undiscussable topic, one that will lead instantaneously to the collapse of the relationship. As a result, one or both partners often end up consuming their “forbidden” fantasies in secret, behind the other person’s back. It should not surprise that, according to recent statistics, adultery is the reason why most couples in the United Kingdom and Wales split up, with the overall divorce rate for first marriages being around 50%.
I don’t need to tell you this. You know it already from the number of friends of yours who have told you they had an affair, who you have had suspicions about for some time or who you caught cheating that night at the pub. Or, perhaps, you yourself have cheated or have been cheated on. I cheated. It is not something I am proud of, but those experiences put my morals to test and made me realise that I find exploring intimacy with multiple partners beautiful, enriching and exciting. What I am not fine with is lying and hurting the people I love. That, I learned, is what the word ‘commitment’ means to me.
Relationship commitment has little to do with exclusiveness, a social practice arising with the agricultural revolution in order to hand down property, as brilliantly illustrated by Christopher Ryan in his “Sex at Dawn”. We often forget that romantic love, as currently portrayed by the Western mainstream media, is a product of 20th century culture. Marriage has been a contract between two or more (often non-consenting) individuals for most of human history.
Of course, exclusiveness is much more than that. Exclusiveness is comfortable and convenient. It helps us relax and put the relationship in self-drive mode. By operating under the silent covenant that “we have been chosen for life”, our partner is “committed to us” and that “there is no external threat”, we can safely shift our attention to work, friends, family and ourselves. It is a small step from here to not putting any more effort towards our loved one.
Habituation kicks in. This is defined as a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentation. Paraphrasing, by constantly seeing your partner, sharing your living space with them, doing everything with them, sleeping every night with them, you are not doing any favour to your relationship. Quite the opposite.
You gradually stop feeling attracted, and perhaps even start resenting each other’s presence. You regularly think of someone else during sex. You have issues reaching orgasm. Something must be wrong with you. You love your partner but…maybe you need Viagra or couples therapy. Surely it’s just stress from work or the children.
My personal opinion is that there is nothing wrong with you. Simply, you unknowingly set yourself up for failure. The tight commitment required by monogamy can be highly rewarding, but presents a set of challenges that are not for everyone. There is a wealth of relationships frameworks out there which are equally gratifying and better suit the needs of different individuals. Regrettably, despite societal advances in the acceptance of different sexual orientations, we are not taught to explore and discuss relationship alternatives to traditional married life.
If you think this “non-monogamy” implies you shouldn’t have children or share your living space with your loved ones, I beg you to reconsider. Awareness is not a synonym for renounce. Relationships are dynamic entities. They grow, change and evolve, whether we like it or not, and sometimes despite our best efforts. “The person I fell in love with is long dead”, I was told during my last breakup. Dramatic emphasis aside, that is strikingly accurate. We humans evolve all the time and throughout our lifetime – some of us gradually, others in bursts – often in ways that would have seemed unthinkable to our former selves, only a few years back. A relationship which does not embrace change and does not allow us to evolve is not a healthy relationship.
Only the awareness and the acceptance of similar truisms allow us to lay the foundations of solid, authentic relationships, where our needs for self-actualisation, intimacy and emotional stability are in harmony with our innate drive to explore, to grow and to seek the new and the different. This would be very challenging to achieve on our own and in a vacuum. It requires a strong, supportive community of partners, friends and likeminded individuals.
This is the rationale behind Alethya. Non-monogamy is an umbrella term denoting a type of interpersonal relationship in which exclusivity is not held as the primary fundamental premise of the relationship. Non-monogamy can include sexual openness alone (such as in open relationships) or sexual and romantic openness (as in polyamory). The different composition and degree of sex and romance leads to a multitude of possible non-monogamous interactions. For example, a platonic relationship features romantic feelings but no explicitly-sexual interaction among partners. Franklin Veaux (author of More Than Two) mapped out the most common ones here.
With Alethya, we aim to create a community and a meeting place for people of all sexualities, genders and backgrounds, whether monogamous or not, who are looking to challenge the traditional relationship framework and develop more conscious and intentional lifestyles. Alethya is a space to talk, learn, share, relax and play. Alethya belongs to everyone. Its mission is to give back to society by helping become a better, happier, stronger, more fulfilled you.
Welcome to Alethya. See you inside.