If you’re a monogamist who loves a non-monogamist, there are three things you need to know.
The good news is that monogamous people can enjoy fulfilling relationships with polyamorous people. The bad news is that mono/poly relationships are not easy. Mono/poly pairings aren’t exactly doomed to failure, but the inherent dynamics are much more challenging than relationships in which both parties share similar love-styles. Not only does everyone love differently, but we all find fulfillment in different ways. The success of mono/poly relationships depends on both partners accepting and respecting each other as individuals with different emotional needs.
We live in a mononormative culture that tells us relationships are only valid when they’re exclusive. Mono/poly relationships challenge this unwritten rule because only one partner remains monogamous. Sounds challenging, right? As a polyamorous person, I’ve seen up close how a monogamist handles such a situation. I dated someone who had a monogamous wife. She was easily one of the best metamours I’ve ever had. (“Metamour” refers to your partner’s other partners. More on that later.) A monogamist in a relationship with a poly person must come to terms with the following realities:
Polyamory is about your partner’s individuality, not you.
Polyamory is my natural love-style and my lifestyle reflects it. My polyamorous orientation is a fixed trait and not something for me to overcome. It’s a part of my individuality. While people can and do change their minds about polyamory, your best bet is to assume it’s never going to happen. Sure, it took a little easing into after years of mononormative cultural conditioning. But at this point, after so many years of being poly, monogamy is almost as alien to me as polyamory is to strictly monogamous people. It’s not my years of experience that validate my polyamorous identity; it’s my feelings. Start thinking of polyamory as more of an emotional orientation rather than a set of relationship habits.
Don’t bother investing any effort in trying to fix something that isn’t broken. In this case, it’s a poly person’s heart. If you love and accept someone as an individual, you won’t want to stand in the way of their happiness. Anyone who can’t come to terms with polyamory being a fixture in their relationship is probably better off finding a monogamous partner.
We all just want to be our harmless selves in peace, don’t we? My partner of seven years wasn’t so crazy about non-monogamy when I first expressed a desire for it. But upon experiencing the joys of polyamory, he changed his mind and we’ve been happily non-monogamous ever since. My ex-boyfriend’s wife (my former metamour) tried polyamory out, but it wasn’t her thing. She had all the freedom to explore but felt most fulfilled by being monogamous with her husband, even if he wasn’t monogamous with her. I’ve noticed that most people, however, are monogamous in the sense that they only feel comfortable with other monogamous people—one of the things that make successful mono/poly relationships quite rare.
You will never be their one and only, and that’s okay.
Loving your poly partner for who they are means that you’ll also accept their desire to have multiple relationships. Though my partner wasn’t thrilled about non-monogamy from the get-go, he wanted me to live a full life. Every functional mono/poly couple I’ve met understands that the poly partner’s needs can’t begin and end with one lover. Metamours will eventually come into the picture and the poly partner will experience NRE, or “new relationship energy,” that intoxicating feeling of infatuation we’re all familiar when a fresh relationship is in its honeymoon phase. When your partner becomes infatuated with someone else, you won’t be the center of their attention. It’s a fact of biochemistry for which we all must brace ourselves.
If a monogamous person cannot foresee themselves ever coming to terms with the wild ride of polyamory, they should reconsider. Sure, poly people might experience lulls in our love lives for the same reasons as other people: not meeting anyone we fancy, being overwhelmed by other responsibilities, health problems. But eventually another poly person will show up and the cycle begins again. If your stomach knots at the thought of someone else laying their paws on your partner, then you still have work to do. With that said, the wife of my ex admitted to me that though her feelings of jealousy have waned, they never completely died and continue to occasionally pang at her soul. She just learned how to deal with those uncomfortable emotions without taking it out on either of us. Some mono-metamours get overwhelmed with jealousy and impose rules like DADT (don’t ask, don’t tell), often to create the illusion of monogamy while in a relationship with a polyamorous person. In turn, the poly person has to live up to the challenge of respecting each lover’s boundaries while nurturing each relationship to its fullest potential. No matter what, you must be prepared to be nice to your partner’s partners, just as they’d better be nice to you. It is never excusable to treat your lover’s lover with hostility, nor should your partner tolerate it if someone they’re dating disrespects you in any way.
Monogamous people not only need to accept that their poly partners love other people, but they have to become comfortable with the fact that they’re not their partner’s “one and only true love.” It often requires a substantial amount of emotional labor for a monogamous person to become comfortable with the mere thought of their lover being with someone else. If you don’t want to put that effort it, that’s understandable, and a mono/mono relationship is probably your best bet.
Your poly partner’s love for someone else doesn’t negate their love for you.
If I fall in love with someone else, it doesn’t mean I’m falling out of love with my primary partner. I hook my partner up with my friends because I seriously feel that secure in his love for me. Unlike time, love is not a finite resource. My strong sense of security is founded in bulletproof trust. I don’t care if my partner hooks up with a babe at the party we both attend and then takes her out the next day. Why? Because I know he loves me. I don’t mind him dating other people because his love for them casts no shade on his love for me.
When you’re content with your partner being polyamorous, you’ll fully trust that they love you no matter how many other partners they have. Like so many other poly people, I’ve been subject to poly-shaming by people even when I was direct about my desires. The fact that we live in a mononormative culture doesn’t justify any mistreatment. I am not ashamed about sharing my love with more than one person. If you’re monogamous and you care about your poly partner’s satisfaction, you’ll support their right to love freely and not hold them to ethics they don’t believe in.
Remember that unrelenting jealousy my ex’s wife spoke of? She also said those feelings were strongly outweighed by the fact that she knew how much her husband loved her. She was confident in her knowledge that nobody could take her place. That feeling of security and contentedness is the key to successful mono/poly relationships. If you’re willing to put effort into cultivating a sense of comfort in a mono/poly arrangement, you might find love in an unlikely place.