Tetsu K, thanks for coming back and explaining yourself more completely. You are correct that in the lifestyle of ethical non-monogamy (ENM), everyone is responsible for doing their work, which includes but is not limited to being honest about your needs, as well as your limits; acknowledging feelings like jealousy or insecurity and taking them on for yourself, rather than blaming your partner or someone else for them; treating all parties involved with respect and being self-responsible in a variety of other ways, including high levels of communication. These are an active part of this paradigm. Not every single person who is polyamorous operates at this level of integrity, trust, and ethical behavior — but it is an intrinsic part of that kind of a relationship paradigm none-the-less. As you yourself said, “that comes with challenges that, from a monogamous perspective, must require a great deal of effort.” It does require significant effort — effort that is not inherently required by traditional marriage. This is my point.

These elements are not an intrinsic part of monogamous marriage. Sure, you are supposed to love and honor, in sickness and in health, etc., but it comes out of a patriarchal paradigm — one that is based in power imbalance and dependency (rather than the equality of power and individualism of ENM). This doesn’t mean that all monogamous marriage operates this way, but even within my very happy and largely egalitarian relationship, I’ve seen a huge shift towards better partnering since we’ve opened up.

A large part of this is because James no longer thinks of me as his. I am no longer his wife — instead we are partners. To this very day, most marriages begin with a woman being walked down the aisle and given by her father to her new husband. This is a hold-over from the days of wife as chattel, and although most people don’t take it that literally any longer, the fact that this custom continues indicates that it still plays a part in our subconscious beliefs about traditional marriage.

Gender equity was pushed to the sidelines and feminism was demonized. In 1992, when Americans were asked if the “father of the family is master of the house,” 42 percent said yes. By 2004 the percentage had risen to 52 percent. In other words, while women were advancing at work and earning an ever larger share of household income, the “lord and master” sentiment was actually growing.”

It took a little bit of work for James to move from that primarily subconscious belief (he was not a part of that 52% and I sure as heck never was either) that I somehow belonged to him to one where he really views me as an independent person who is choosing to live with him and have a child with him, but he did that work and got himself there. The other day he was a bit annoyed at me about something (we don’t fight any more, but it doesn’t mean it’s smooth all of the time). He wasn’t happy about a choice that I was contemplating and said, “Is that what you’re going to do? What about me and our son? What about Nat?” That’s how I know he has truly moved away from the possessiveness that was encouraged by mainstream society as being right, particularly for men. He was considering my other partner as well.

Other poly writers I know here on Medium like E. L. Byrne and Joe Duncan write about having many of the same kinds of experiences — of moving into a better relationship with Self, of being less co-dependent in relationships, of looking at life and love as abundant, in part because they are no longer engaged in the competitive aspects of coupling.

If you were to read some of my other writings you’d see that I constantly point out how living in a dominance hierarchy affects every aspect of our lives; not just intimate relationships. It’s what’s behind all of our social ills, like racism, sexual harassment, and bullying. I do not see any way to extricate the social systems that underpin our culture from the pervasive paradigms within them — and particularly not as relates to coupling.

“The officiant at the wedding also talked about how “two become one.” This was the one that really brought me up short. I think that is actually harmful and a terrible lie to encourage people to buy into that idea. I believe it’s one of the fundamental ways that we indoctrinate people into unhealthy ideas about relationships and commitment. Losing your self to someone else or to a relationship is not the way to have healthy love. We used to have two cats who were very good friends. One time we saw them walking together down our hill with their tails intertwined. They didn’t morph into one cat just because they cared about each other. They still retained their individuality and separate identities all the while choosing to walk side by side, close enough to be physically connected.”

“Once I left him, and started on my journey around the world, I realized one of the people I had to learn to have an honest intimate relationship with, was myself. I had spent so much time even before my marriage, planning and trying to be the person I thought I was supposed to be, that I hadn’t even admitted my own truths to myself. I needed to take the time to learn what those truths were, how to accept them, and then be able to own them safely within myself.

It took a few years, (and believe me, this is something to work on constantly, not just once) but I feel like I can look in the mirror, tell myself my truths, and respond, “You are safe with me.” I can accept the very sexual parts of myself and not feel guilty or feel like I’m a bad person. I can admit that my sexual preferences are fluid and I am happy to engage sexually with both men and women. I can even accept that I have kinky tendencies and being spanked can be a most cathartic experience for me. I love to engage in D/s sexual relationships with the right people and enjoy experimenting with my boundaries.

More than that, I can accept that I like being solo, my autonomy is important to me. I no longer feel like I have to be married to fulfill the proper role for my life. I have accepted my inability to have children. I have learned to hold myself safely when it comes to my body and how I feel about it.”

“They’ve learned how to compromise (and be happy about it) and when to stand firm and set out their limits, and they ask themselves constantly if what they’re doing is fair, taking the whole of their prior experiences in as a whole, taking the other’s perspective in, and asking themselves if a certain situation is important enough to them to refuse to bend or break.

They’re extremely respectful of one another’s limits and thoughts as independent, free individuals, and I think it’s the fact that they refuse to allow themselves to be completely swallowed by the relationship itself in the first place that they’re capable of doing this. When we maintain our own independent lives, we’re in a much better place to reasonable discuss things and compromise when it’s right to do so, but also to set forth the limits we need to when we need to.”

Written by

Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store