The Dynamic Spectrum of Polyamory and Monogamy
“I reserve the right to love many different people at once, and to change my prince often.” — Anaïs Nin
Polyamory, the practice and ability to love ethically more than one person and have your partners do the same, is a rather complex issue for many. Everyone has different needs as a person and for the partners they seek out. This often can add to that complexity substantially. I’ve heard it expressed as dating on hard mode, and that would be an accurate assessment.
However, many people try to pigeon-hole polyamory into a specific thing. For some, it’s seen as selfishness and a means to be a swinger without the stigma. For others polyamory is a complete necessity for their own happiness. Many dislike the word due to it’s hybrid word status despite heterosexual also being a hybrid word. There is a middle ground that’s often misunderstood, and that middle ground is often called polyflexibility, or monopoly by others.
A polyflexible person, to put it simply, can be monogamous as well as polyamorous. This isn’t a binary state, as societal understanding about gender binaries and sexual orientation binaries have been and are continuing to be better understood and defined. The capacity for love is simply not a black and white matter. This midpoint between monogamy and polyamory can also be seen as a scale, similar to the Kinsey scale of sexual orientation.
Levels of Polyflexibility
To help further appreciate the variety of human experience, as it pertains to loving more, I would like to go into detail how various levels of polyflexibility can be expressed. For the ease of explanation, here’s an ad hoc scale of five points showing a range from fully polyamorous to fully monogamous, and there is no judgement, positive or negative, implied on any of these views:
Polyamorous: An individual who is fully polyamorous can be seen as truly thriving only in polyamorous relationships. Monogamy in any form is too restrictive for this person. Solo polyamorous people are often within this level, but so are many relationship anarchists. A fully polyamorous person thrives in the complete honesty of their partners, and the fulfillment they find in feeling compersion, the state of happiness in vicariously experiencing joy via their partners exploring love with others. While they can be in a relationship with no one at all, or even appear to be in a mononormative single relationship, they are completely free and open to potential new partners.
Polyamorish: A polyamorish person is someone who is essentially open to complete polyamory, but also open to the possibility of a complete partner, the potential perfect partner as expressed in the title of the article. I will shortly go into what that means, but while mostly polyamorous there is a definite possibility of a closed monogamous relationship if this complete partner is found.
Polyflexible: A completely polyflexible person can have multiple partners or engage in serial or even long term monogamy. Often termed “playing the field” by those unfamiliar with polyamory, this kind of person is just open to whatever life brings, whether it’s Mr./Ms./M. Right or multiple partner relationships. They are the true midpoint of polyflexibility.
Monogamish: A term coined by Dan Savage in his Savage Love blog, a monogamish person is mostly monogamous, but allows for occasional sexual, possibly romantic encounters with other partners. This is not necessarily swinging, as the term has grown far beyond Mr Savage’s usage, as terms often do. This is a more recent and very popular view that many people choose to explore in their relationships to stave off the potential monotony that can occur in completely monogamous relationships.
Monogamous: Good ol’ fashioned serial monogamy, a monogamous person is typically only openly seeing one person at a time. This is, obviously, the most common paradigm, but the sunset of such relationships often result in micro-cheating and infidelity as people seek out needs that they are not finding with their partner. Of course, for many people this can also be a completely successful and lifelong approach to relationships, but divorce rates show it’s often close to a 40%–50% chance for marriages. Spiritual beliefs and the traditional needs of children often encourage staying together, at the emotional expense of the partners.
All of the above paradigms and views are completely right for some people. They all have benefits and sacrifices to life and personal needs. I’ve tried to present these levels as objectively as possible.
So What is a Complete Partner?
Simply put, a complete partner is someone who appears to fulfill all your needs as a life partner, whether those needs are for now, or for your lifetime. We all have specific needs that if not found in a potential partner, are deal-breakers. For some it’s a common religious belief system. For others, it’s certain shared interests. As a rule, all of these needs are valid, and needing them to be present in a partner is completely justifiable.
For example, to grab an item from my personal “list of needs”, a prospective complete partner for me needs to love dancing, and be willing to go dancing with me. This is something that I want in my life and I have found in the past, when in monogamous relationships if it was absent I became very unhappy with that reality over time. Not having a partner who would dance with me would cause regret and a sense of loss over time.
However, polyamory provides for multiple partners, so I could have a partner that fulfills other things, but not dancing. I would be able to explore dancing with another partner. This is one of the amazing things about polyamory, as a good relationship that’s lacking something does not necessitate ending that relationship to find what is missing elsewhere.
However, in the various levels of polyflexibility, what if a person finds someone with whom all of their needs for a partner can be met? There is chemistry, attraction, enough shared interests and compatible future goals. That is a complete partner. For some people open to ethical non-monogamy, this is an avenue they can accept, either for periods of time or for a lifetime. This isn’t settling and conforming, from the perspective of polyamorous people, nor is it “coming to their senses” from the perspective of monogamous people. This is finding what a person needs for their relationship needs, and is completely valid.
Accepting a complete partner into your life can come at a cost, to the individual and their relationship partners. Imposing new exclusivity limits on previously romantic and/or sexual partners can be difficult for all people involved. Sometimes it’s temporary, as some find a monogamous nesting period necessary. For others, this can be a complete closure of those relationships, and sometimes maintaining friendship will be strained and become untenable. Not picking a side has consequences for prospective partners on both ends of the scale as well. Some monogamous people will not date someone with the capacity for ethical non-monogamous regadless, as there is a perceived risk of not being enough for them. In contrast, many polyamorous people will eschew someone who can be monogamous as there is a potential threat of losing that partner in the future. Communication, as always, can mediate these issues but exclusivity, or lack thereof, can have its repercussions.
The purpose of this article really is just to share the very non binary approach that loving ethical non-monogamy can be expressed and practiced. When I first wrote this article last year, I intentionally didn’t state where I am in this particular spectrum, as I didn’t want to push any undue emphasis of any particular level. My own position is probably best defined as “it’s complicated”, largely due to my having number of emotionally intimate, but not necessarily romantic or sexual friendships. If I meet someone who needs to explore our relationship via monogamy — perhaps a better term would be monoamory — then I will. I am, as many people are, an evolving individual who is continually growing, learning, loving and trying my best to be a good person and a better partner.
I hope this helps, and please enjoying loving others, as well as yourselves.