My journey towards more conscious relationships started when I was about 20. It happened through a gradual coming to terms with my romantic self and my self-identifying as non-monogamous. Embracing and owning that piece of my identity was just the trigger that set off a wave of lasting change across all parts of my life, leading to a more honest, authentic, conscious – and happier – self.
From an early age, I was aware that, for me at least, something was not quite right with the traditional romantic setup. 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 relationship (which lasted 6 years) and bringing up the topic with my girlfriend. She was everything but impressed. For her, just as for many of us, 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 explore intimacy with someone different, or perhaps even acted or been tempted to act upon that thought, it means you don’t love your partner. You are a narcissistic commitment freak incapable of true love and allegiance.
This didn’t make any sense to me. I knew I loved my girlfriend. Our relationship was a happy, deep and satisfying one – mentally, emotionally and physically; yet, on occasion, I also felt interested in other people. Not having the freedom to deepen and explore those connections was disheartening. The traditional, and unhelpful, wisdom I received from friends was that if I truly wanted to pursue that, I had to be single.
That was not the point. I had been on both sides of the fence and it wasn’t about “either…or”. Instead, it was about making of both commitment and exploration functional parts of my life, with honesty and accountability.
And so it was that, after much soul-searching, in my late 20s and three relationships later, I found the internal clarity to come out as non-monogamous to my girlfriend of that time – as well as to myself. We tried our hardest to make it work but after two long years, we 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”. In her mind, it turned out, non-monogamy was “just a phase” and she had chosen to “let me be” until I came to my senses. I was broken-hearted and in shock. Who had I been talking to for all that time?
The break up was messy and resentful, but the experience taught me valuable lessons. It showed me the extent to which we are willing to repress our needs and deny ourselves in order to blindly abide by “The Script”, even when our partners offer trust, openness, understanding – although, perhaps, not in the direction we had hoped. 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 non-monogamous relationship with Anita, with whom sharing time and life experiences does not prevent me from doing the same with others; chiefly, it doesn’t make others any less important, or those connections “secondary”.
As I experienced, for many couples openness is still an undiscussable topic, one that will immediately lead to the breakdown 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 am less interested in the individual choices people make at this point, whether terminating a relationship, carrying on as if it didn’t happen, opening things up, and so on. 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. Whatever arrangement I have with someone – whether they are a partner, a friend, family or work – if we agreed on a rule that says that we should talk about an eventuality, then I ought to speak. The same applies if, in full honesty, I know that the other person would want to hear this update, even though we haven’t had a prior conversation about it.
We often forget that romantic love as portrayed by the Western 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, a social practice arising with the agricultural revolution in order to hand down property, as Christopher Ryan reminded us in his “Sex at Dawn”. Beyond this contract, commitment has little to do with exclusiveness.
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. From a neurochemical perspective, 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.
It is not uncommon to gradually stop feeling attracted, and perhaps even start resenting each other’s presence. Something must be wrong with you. You love your partner but…maybe you need medication or couples therapy. Surely it’s just stress from work or the children.
My personal opinion is that there is nothing wrong with you. Rather, you may have 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. That was, to some extent, 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.
The awareness and acceptance of this fact is the first step in laying the foundations of solid, authentic relationships, where our needs for self-actualisation, safety and 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 friends and like-minded individuals.
This is the rationale behind Alethya.
Ethical non-monogamy, as in my case, is just one of many possible conscious narratives. Even monogamy can – and should be – conscious. A conscious relationship is any relationship in which the parameters, the limitations and the challenges of the relationship are acknowledged and openly discussed, as part of a dynamic process of growth and change.
With Alethya, we aim to create a community and a meeting place for people of all backgrounds, genders and sexualities who are looking to challenge the traditional relationship narratives and develop more conscious and intentional lifestyles, whether in their personal lives, in the family or in the workplace. Alethya is a space to talk, learn, share and relax. 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.