By Renata Leo
Polyamory is a concept that has been gaining in popularity over the past few decades. In contrast with an open relationship, which typically features one committed relationship and other more casual relationships, polyamory features several committed relationships.
When I learned about polyamory and combined it with my current beliefs about romantic relationships, I realised that it would suit me well. In my mind, it meant having my proverbial cake and eating it too. Not only did I get the benefits of wonderful, loving relationships, but I also got to live the single life and continue dating. I know that for many people this could feel like a waking nightmare, but when I set about living a polyamorous life, I realised I loved it. Since I entered the dating world, I’ve considered myself ‘polyamorous at heart.’ As someone who thrives in serious relationships but also loves dating, polyamory suited me very well.
When my fiancé and I started dating three years ago, we started out in a polyamorous relationship. However, it quickly became apparent that our relationship would function better monogamously. We were spending every day together and knew that we didn’t want to cut back to seeing each other a few times a week. I also had never met anyone like him and didn’t want to go into other relationships unconsciously comparing other potential partners to him.
Due to those reasons, we decided to close our relationship, and I found myself living the monogamous life for the first time. Beyond the obvious differences between polyamory and monogamy, there are some very apparent, and surprising, differences I’ve found while making this difficult transition. Even though some of these observations may have been unfavourable, a monogamous relationship with the right person makes all of these differences worth it.
Firstly, jealousy is the most prominent difference between monogamous and polyamorous relationships. This is also a hot topic in the polyamory community. For a lot of people, the fact that your partner is dating someone else while they date you is a tough pill to swallow. What if they like the other person better? What if they leave me for someone else?
Since polyamory is predicated on honesty and trust, polyamorous individuals console themselves by remembering that if their partner wanted to be with someone else, they would. No different than in a monogamous relationship, really.
This doctrine helped me when in a polyamorous relationship, by encouraging me manage my jealousy more easily. If my partner was dating someone else and still choosing to date me, then they must really like me. In a monogamous relationship, if you meet someone you want to date outside of your current relationship, the only way for that to happen would be to leave or cheat (obviously not ideal). Multiple studies, like a 2019 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, have shown that relationship jealousy in people in consensual non-monogamous relationships are less compared to people in monogamous relationships.
In the polyamory community, jealousy is understood but discouraged. Jealousy is an emotion like any other, so polyamorous individuals encourage each other to work through it like any other negative emotion: process it and then let it go. Some people experience very little jealousy when practising polyamory, but personally, I experienced it often. To be honest, I’m glad that I experienced jealousy so frequently because it helped me learn how to release that emotion. I realised that I had no right to be jealous of partners who were dating others while I was doing the same, and so I was able to learn how to process jealousy and let it go.
Conversely, I experience jealousy much more readily while practising monogamy, and I’ve had to become a lot better at controlling it. This is because jealousy is much more justifiable in monogamous relationships. Jealousy between monogamous partners is practically encouraged in our culture, and it can be difficult navigating this type of acceptance. If jealousy is allowed and encouraged, it can be hard not to get carried away with such a strong emotion.
On that same note, talking about exes with current partners is generally frowned upon in the monogamous community. It took me a while to understand this as I watched my (very monogamous) partner cringe as I told him stories about my exes. To me, they’re just stories about my past, with all the feelings attached to the story left behind when it happened. Understandably, though, monogamous partners typically try not to openly discuss their exes with each other. Talking about exes could seem more malicious because it forces them to compare themselves to past partners, which might not always be pleasant.
When polyamorous, talking about previous partners is only a very small part of the jealousy-inducing conversations that can occur. If you ask about how your partner’s date with one of their other partners went, it’s possible that you could end up with more details than you wanted…but it’s okay, because you did the same thing last week. Even if this discussion is a little awkward, what matters in the end is that your partner is happy.
Another difference I’ve found is via the experiences of my peers. When my monogamous friends talk to me about dating, they stress that they do not want to select one person for a relationship until they’re sure that they have a future with this person. If they choose the wrong person and remove themselves from the dating pool, they could be wasting valuable time instead of searching for the ‘right’ person.
Since polyamory does not involve removing yourself from the dating pool, it’s not necessary to find a perfect match. You can enjoy having committed relationships with partners while also actively searching for other people to date. The only time you have to remove yourself from the dating pool is if you become ‘poly saturated’, when you have just as many partners as you can handle. No one wants to neglect their partners.
I can’t imagine the pressure of being a monogamous person in the dating world, and I’m grateful that I’ve never entered the dating pool looking for one end-all-be-all partner. Low-risk dating while still seeking out long-term and dedicated relationships is so much more preferable for me.
Finally, long-distance is not as difficult when you’re polyamorous. While dating polyamorously, I usually had a single local partner and multiple long-distance partners. It’s easier to not feel neglected by a long-distance partner when you have a local partner who you can see in person and can be your main date/shoulder to cry on/best friend. I’m sure that there are still plenty of polyamorous people who still don’t enjoy long-distance relationships, but because of how I handled them, I found long-distance relationships easy to accommodate.
Considering which one I’d prefer, I feel like polyamory and monogamy both have their benefits. I believe that my relationship with my fiancé functions better monogamously, but do I still believe that my previous relationships functioned better polyamorously? Yes, I really do.
While I may have found monogamy to have its downfalls, polyamory had its downfalls as well. There is no universal ‘right or wrong’ when it comes to polyamory vs. monogamy. The most important thing is to build a relationship with your partner (or partners!) where everyone feels fulfilled and happy. Don’t let societal pressures keep you from creating the relationship you want.
Transitioning to monogamy wasn’t easy, but my fiancé and I found a way to make it work for us. We’re happy together, and that’s what really matters.
Renata Leo is just an open-minded, overly-sensitive, optimistically cynical millennial feminist and creator of Pure Human Content. She considers her passions in life to be people and words. She loves using words to make people feel less alone and maybe even chuckle along the way. You can find her blog over at buffalosauceeverywhere.com
Cover photo by Christopher Beloch on Unsplash.