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06 September, 2009

Yay serotonin!

Blast, it's been some time since my last post! I've been busy as a beaver on a flood plain, moving back into school mode and taking reunion as a cause for serious play mode. Let me tell you, going back to school makes me deeply pleased to be in a non-monogamous relationship.

I'm the sort of person who cherishes intimacy. I love the conversation space that only appears when people are lying in the dark together, naked, a little exhausted, and full of a desire to be close to each other. I don't think there's any way I prefer for getting to know people I already enjoy. There's a level of unguarded exchange that sneaks into post-coital conversation, and even if people have discussed the same topics under the sun, I see a special openness during those late-night moments.

When it comes to reasons to avoid monogamy, that's near the top of my list. I'm the sort of fellow who likes to share my favorite activities with my friends, and let's be honest here: sex is one of my favorite activities. I also treasure the trust of people I trust and respect in turn. Sharing secrets in the dark is one of my favorite ways to share and demonstrate - or, in the early nights, to create - that trust. I love that comfort, and sharing it with the people, plural, whom I love is a special source of joy for me.

But hey, you'll find a lot of praise like the above, if you go looking for it. Plenty of people online write about the joys of non-monogamy, and that's what I've mostly been doing so far. People also talk often about the troubles that arise in non-monogamous relationships - jealousy, time management, all the potential drama when people aren't seeing eye to eye - but I haven't seen a lot of serious discussion by poly folks about what you lose by being in a non-monogamous relationship. That's a category that I haven't seen acknowledged often. Since I'm hoping to gear this blog toward people in the early stages of exploring non-monogamy, it seems that some warnings are in order.

It's a category that's bound to change depending on the structure of the relationships in question, as well as the mental landscape of the people involved. First, just to restate the obvious, unless one is in a polyfaithful relationship, where more than two people engage in a closed relationship, one loses the luxury of ignoring sexually transmitted infections. I've had condoms break with three partners now, and let me tell you, that moment is both awkward and terrifying. Is there a polite way to ask whether this person you care for and respect has some kind of hideous disease? I usually just start by offering the most reassuring information I can, referring to the last time I was tested and being explicitly clear about what risks, if any, I've had since then. But, what a nightmare - if just one person who slept with you or that person since your last test had lied or didn't know about an infection, you and those you love could be in grave danger. Get tested early and often so that you can give your lover good news if something goes wrong, and if you haven't been tested yet, be ready to take that responsibility seriously if something goes wrong. Sex is great, but it's risky, and we owe it to each other to take our safety seriously.

Second, I want to mention something that's far from universal. It's a serious emotional issue, though, especially given the fairy tale expectations that a lot of us have buried at various depths in our psyches. Some folk like to imagine that their lives can be about someone else, or that someone lives for them; in a non-monogamous relationship, it's hard to pull that off without treating other partners like secondary citizens. The satellite relationships are a constant reminder that both partners are individuals with their own passions external to the dyad. That doesn't have to prevent domestic bliss, but it does change the context dramatically.

Perhaps it's just me, but that seems like a major point. Marriage - and today I mean the good old dyadic union - is still a big deal, and a lot of us grow up with a longing for that union. Intimacy you can have without monogamy; love, compassion, family are all available; but it's hard to combine polyamory with that branch of domesticity. I can't quite imagine having a permanent relationship along the fifties model, no matter how much I might love to play housewife to someone's snappily dressed gentleman husband. The fifties housewife doesn't get nights off to play the top to her submissive lover from out of town; who has time to play when there's pot roast to be made?

Many people like the comfort of knowing their role, acting it out, and pleasing the person who assigns it to them. I suspect that when that kind of codependent domesticity does manifest, it's as an escape - a kind of role-playing, not too far from BDSM in psychological terms. Sometimes that's sexualized, but at other times, it's present in the workplace or in the home (which, to be fair, might not be too far from where sexuality lives). One might be tempted to take on that role permanently, but when one doesn't live exclusively for another person, it's hard to pretend that one does. And that's definitely a healthy thing, by my book. I won't be one to advocate comfort when responsibility to one's self is at stake. (Thus my atheism.) Without monogamy, one is pushed to take responsibility for one's own feelings and not to let them rest on another person's shoulders. So. lost and gone forever are those shoulders one might like to rely on. But, if one pushes oneself to grow further, one can reach the point where the support of another isn't necessary. It's wanted - it's amazing, ineffable, the chiefest delight of my life and many others - but learning that one can live without it is a necessary step.

Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? What do we lose when we choose not to be monogamous (or when we realize that monogamy is as alien to us as heteronormativity is to Freddy Mercury)?

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