When I am drunk I become obsessed with two things: interrogating white men on whether they’re aware of their incredible relative privilege and asking people if they’ve ever considered non-monogamy. I know this makes me insufferable, and when it comes to the latter topic, seems like I’m propositioning some poor bewildered couple who just came out for a good time, but I can’t help myself. It’s like when you learn a new word and then all of sudden that word is everywhere.
When I learned about the hierarchies of privilege, I couldn’t believe how I had lived so much of my life without noticing how this accident of birth shaped my life and the lives of the people around me. When I learned about non monogamy, I couldn’t believe that monogamy had ever seemed like the only option — or even a sane one.
Once, I tried to explain to someone why I didn’t think monogamy was inextricably linked to love, and the girl I was explaining it to asked sincerely, “who hurt you?”
Another time, a man was so relentlessly cruel to me when I suggested that maybe monogamy wasn’t the only way that I had to go to the bathroom and whisper to myself, “you’re fine,”over and over again, to keep the tears at bay.
Here’s the thing: no one has ever hurt me. Well, at least not by cheating on me. Also, I am not and have never been in a non-monogamous relationship, I just think it’s an option. Everything I say is theoretical — but it’s a theory that terrifies people.
It’s like I’m suggesting that love doesn’t exist or that we should give people free reign to devastate us. I’m not. What I am saying is look at the reality: adultery has always existed. Even when the punishment for committing adultery was death, humans STILL committed adultery.
And it can’t be because we’re all incapable of truly loving someone. I don’t even think it has be a sign that the desire to be with someone else comes from a deficit of love. I think it’s possible to love multiple people at the same time and have neither of those loves be lesser because of it. I think it’s possible to love someone for a brief amount of time and return to your longterm partner with even more love to give. Maybe this is wishful thinking but no more wishful than expecting a lifetime of monogamy as a given.
What I want when I bring up this topic with new people is a little honesty. I want us all to say, “we want the opportunity to share our lives with someone, to truly build something, but that’s harder than any of us expected…so what do we do if one of us strays?” I don’t want the only answer to be, “throw it all away.” I want to have the conversation before it’s even a possibility, when we’re still so wildly in love that the thought of being with someone else makes us feel a little sick.
I want to talk about it before we have children or mortgages or the weight of shared decades tying us together; I want to talk about it when our reasons for being together are no more complicated than that we simply want to be. And I want to talk about it with other couples because I want to know how they’re navigating the exhilarating and often lonely terrains of intimacy.
In the words of Miranda July, “all I ever want to know is how other people are making it through life. Where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.” I don’t think it’s possible to do that without bringing up the topics everyone considers taboo.
Talking about polygamy seems to tap at the same level of insecurity that talking about privilege does. The people who react most defensively to my conversations about privilege do so because they’re scared that their accomplishments may not have been entirely achieved through a combination of sheer determination, talent and hard work alone. They may have to consider that the people they have dismissed as not having worked as hard as them, might have actually never been offered the same opportunities. They may have to become intentional and generous wielders of their own privilege. This requires a lot.
Similarly, someone who is introduced to the idea of non monogamy may have to suddenly consider that their idea of love is not as nuanced or as forgiving as it could be. They may have to have hard and intentional conversations. They may have to look at their own areas of insecurity and ask how much of them they’re hoping their partners will mend and continue to mend indefinitely. This also requires a lot.
I don’t want everyone to be non monogamous. I don’t even know if I want to be non-monogamous. I just want non monogamy to be one choice among a wide range of choices, none of which is lesser than the other. Mostly, I want it to be a topic of conversation that isn’t guaranteed to detonate a social situation or end with me in the bathroom, trying desperately to hold it together, and questioning whether I’m a bad person simply for questioning what’s accepted as normal.