Always Poly, Sometimes Mono

TL;DR You might be poly, even if you only have sex with one person.

There is an important difference between being polyamorous and nonmonogamous. Polyamory usually refers to a relationship style in which one person engages with more than one romantic partner at a time. Nonmonogamy is an umbrella term for all of the relationship styles in which one person has sexual intimacy with more than one person at a time. It is often assumed that polyamorous folk are always nonmonogamous by default. But, I want to bust that myth. Contrary to popular belief, I propose that we can be polyamorous and monogamous at the same time. I know this because I am. Sometimes.
Polyamorous, which translates to loving (amor) multiply (poly), for me is an identity that speaks to my experience and philosophy of love–mostly, I actively experience and welcome in love for multiple people at a time. I’m willing to bet that you do, too. You might be shaking your head: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I love my family and I love my friends, but not like I love my partner. Those are different kinds of love. No way am I polyamorous.” 

And you’re right. We are capable of so many kinds of love, it is a shame that the English language lumps them all together. Yet, I think if we dig into the kinds of love we are capable of experiencing, and examine the way in which monogamy-as-default influences our relationships dynamics, we might open our hearts to even more depth of connection in all sorts of relationships–even if we choose to only practice monogamy. 

So, let’s follow the Greek’s lead and differentiate between different forms of love. For example, we can probably all agree that many of us are polyphiliac (we love multiple people platonically as friends). Of the Greek forms of love, only erotic love implies sex or sexual attraction for another. I bet it’s safe to say that most people who experience sexual attraction (erotic love) feel that for more than one person at a time–with this definition, most of us are polyerotic even if we practice monogamy.

Here we come to the difference between experience and behavior. Love in all its forms is something we experience while behavior is something we do. We have WAY more conscious control over what we choose to do than the feelings we experience. If we make this distinction, suddenly we can honor the feelings we have for others as we also honor our choices about our relationship structures. I believe from this understanding about ourselves we can make more sustainable and conscious choices about our relationship structures.

I want to add one form that even the Greeks don’t have a word for: Romantic love. Part of the problem is a matter of definition: What exactly is “romantic love”? If we separate romance and sex, how do we define romance, or romantic feelings? A romantic relationship? I believe that is one of those ineffable human experiences that we get to define for ourselves. We know it when we feel it. Some of us might find that we actually experience more romantic love than we thought possible once we open ourselves up to the possibility of experiencing it with people we aren’t having sex with.

So, not only am I polyamorous (and believe in this framework we all are), I am polyromantic. Sometimes, I express that love erotically with multiple people during the same period of time–sometimes exactly at the same time! For the sake of clarity, I call this polysexuality. Other times, I choose to be monosexual. I’m always poly, but not always having sex or sharing eros with more than one person

Monosexuality and monoamory are so engrained in our love stories and notions of success that  many of us get squicked out at even the thought of sharing our beloved with another lover–even as MANY people admit to unfaithful behavior (stats on this are hard to pin down, especially as more people forgo traditional marriage). We see people that our partners are or might be attracted to as threats to our worthiness or desirability, to our safety and security. We see others to whom we are attracted as threats to our fidelity, our honor, to our safety and security. Rather than investigating this fear, most of us view it as a sign of love. But what would happen if we could acknowledge the variety of loving relationships and intimacies that we are capable of and view these other connections (ours and our partners’) as part of our relationship ecosystems? What if we could see the ways in which we are poly and honor those while also committing to the ways in which we choose to be mono?

Monosexuality and polysexuality, monoromance and polyromance, are all valid choices for relationship styles, having more to do with preference than choice. We might prefer one over the other, and we may choose them both at different times in our lives. We have agency over our behavior. Whether I want to do a deep dive with my new partner or I simply have limited interest/time for sex, monogamy is the right choice for me at times. 

So, I am polyamorous and polyromantic, but not always polysexual. Always poly, sometimes mono. 

The idea that we either are or aren’t polyamorous is not only false, but harmful. It creates a cognitive dissonance for folks who feel supported by polyamory and polysexuality under some circumstances, and disturbed at others. I hope this helps some people make sense of themselves and their own identity and preferences. Many love the idea of polyamory–conscious communication, no “taboo” topics, intentional relationship design, non-possessiveness–but want monosexuality or monoromance some or all of the time. The amazing thing is, we get to decide what is right for us at any given time, and there are no rules. Only an invitation to more conscious communication and deeper intimacy with the many others with whom we are entwined.

4 thoughts on “Always Poly, Sometimes Mono”

  1. Brilliant! I read it a couple of times to really grasp and absorb. So well written and thought out as I’ve never been able to talk freely about or even verbalize. Would love to discuss and dig deeper during a session.

  2. Really interesting read, feeling like this knowledge is giving people permission they haven’t been willing to give themselves. Lovely.

  3. Brava
    For me Willingness to shine light on whatever I find squeamish and communicate it has been key to loving a little more cleanly….with feels and survival brains it can be messy regardless.. even that can be ‘fun’

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