Non-monogamy has been a hot topic in the last few years as we see more and more people claim this part of their identity and share their lived experiences with the world. Like with so many identity-related issues, it is normal that some people may only identify or understand this part of themselves once they have been exposed to or provided with the information and language to help them do so. This article includes a few things I wish I had considered as I started becoming comfortable in my non-monogamy. It is not a comprehensive list but I hope it stimulates some thinking on how you could navigate experiencing and expressing this part of yourself.
“Non-monogamy” is still just a word
Language plays an incredible role in helping us wrap our minds around how humans exist and especially how they identify and express themselves. It really is an invaluable tool that could lead to the erasure or visibility, the stigmatization or empowerment, of an individual or people. Language is important and words do mean things. However, remember that these words are often expressed in languages foreign to our own, and they always come up and exist in hindsight: by the time polyamory became a ‘common’ word, people had been polyamorous for years and generations. Language and theories exist way after humans have done what they do best: humanning and simply existing in ways they feel resonate with them.
I start with this point because I am about to encourage you to have fun and take your time discovering what your non-monogamy looks like, and which language resonates the most with you. There are plenty of theories, categories, labels and identifiers out there to give you a starting point on how you might identify in the space. However, remember that these identifiers do not encompass all the possibilities and variations of multiple connections and the different types of relationships you are capable of having and maintaining. If you do not identify or resonate 100% with any one identifier, use a combination of phrases when you’re trying to describe how you love and make connections with other people. Don’t allow these identifiers to limit your expression of self and how you understand and experience your non-monogamy. Don’t let them box you in and make you believe you cannot evolve or change as you grow as an individual, and as you navigate different relationships. You are the human who is actually living and experiencing your existence and this life thing. Those identifiers are just words that could help you navigate the world better. Don’t let them intimidate you.
Once you find the language that resonates with you, really sit and consider all those characteristics. Don’t be shy to say, “I resonate with this part a lot, but I am not sure about that part”. For example, ‘solo polyamory’ might be the closest term to describe how you navigate relationships, but there may be a family-oriented part of you that doesn’t feel represented in that term. That’s ok. Say that when you talk about your non-monogamy. What is more important is finding language that empowers you and allows you to express yourself. It’s not about fitting 100% into a mold that is created by a few letters.
You should at least like your partners
A lot of non-monogamous relationships are a success because of the coming together of common values. Value-based dating is a big thing in non-monogamy and while it is a beautiful and empowering thing to do, don’t make your dating life only about these values. You also have to actually like your partners in other ways that matter to you. I know it can be hard to find like-minded people who share similar values. There is a real temptation for you to throw yourself into the first non-monogamous relationship that remotely sounds like something that you want for yourself out of fear that you may never stumble upon that opportunity again. Unless you genuinely are a person who partners up solely based on values, don’t ignore the other things you crave and like in a person or a relationship. You are absolutely allowed to still want the small things that might seem silly, like good style or a sense of humor. Having someone who shares the same values is very important, but compatibility in other areas is just as important. For example, what kind of sexual partner are you looking for? Do you want them to be tall? What kind of hobbies are you into that you’d like to share with them? Do you believe opposites attract or do you prefer someone who likes similar things to you? Do you want someone who likes kids, or do you prefer having pets as part of the family?
As a coach who works with people who are still getting comfortable in their non-monogamy, I like to recommend that my clients make two lists: one list of non-negotiables, and another list of nice-to-haves. This allows you to have an overview of what is really important in what you seek in a partner, while also remembering what you like to have in a partner.
Community is important
We still live in a world where heteronormative monogamous relationships are still the standard and the expectation for most people. When you start navigating your non-monogamy, sometimes it can feel very lonely and isolating. I remember always being interrogated and questioned the moment I tried to express this part of myself. While most people didn’t mean harm, a lot of the phrasing and language sounded judgemental, undermining and dismissive. It created an inner dis-ease; always feeling like I have to explain myself and no one ‘gets me’. The uninvited opinions and judgements were the worst. I had to make a choice to find people where it was safe for me to open up about this part of myself – people who could give me resources, perspectives or just a listening ear in a way that would empower me and make me feel seen. Community also gave me more ideas on how I can be an even better person as a non-monogamous lover in this world. Like with monogamous and all types of relationships, there is no shame in needing help and support when you don’t know how to work through challenges. Having access to support and community, through your coaches and therapists, or with other people in person, online or on social media, can be a great help. I highly recommend it.
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Yes, navigating non-monogamy can be challenging and it may require you to really stretch yourself as a person. By virtue of being in multiple relationships, there is an element of added responsibility. This doesn’t mean though that you have to be superhuman before you give yourself permission to enjoy your non-monogamy. Take the responsibility of empowering yourself with information, talk to your therapist, coach or community and be invested in being the best version of yourself as you possibly can. And then…enjoy yourself. This is just as beautiful a part of your self-expression that deserves compassion and celebration and love as any other part of who you are. Be deliberate in making this part of your humanness a source of love and joy for yourself, and for the people who may encounter you. When I feel overwhelmed or I feel like I am deviating from the reasons why I live my life with non-monogamous values, I remind myself that for me, it all started with the awe and fascination of the power and potential of love and human connections. And while it can be difficult to unlearn, relearn and design my relationships using zero template or reference, it is the beauty of it all that got me here. I want that beauty of love to be the bedrock of each of my experiences. And I hope it will be the bedrock for yours, too.