When I started reading about nonmonogamy, I began to realize that a lot of the appeal for me came from how closely it fell in line with my feminist beliefs. Because I’ve been socialized to see monogamy as the default, even within the feminist circles I’ve been part of, this seemed to me counterintuitive at first. But after a while, I realized that this was based on misconceptions of nonmonogamy and everything clicked in my head. There are two things in particular that helped me make this connection.
For starters, what I’ve heard, read, and witnessed over and over again is that nonmonogamy requires each person to be completely honest with themselves first and foremost. Each person must be open to exploring their needs, and must have a sense of what they want before taking action. So often in our society, we are expected to go along with things blindly. A set of rules exists that people hardly ever question. We are meant to follow a roadmap created centuries ago, even though the roads on that map have since changed or completely disappeared. We are led to believe that once you’re committed to somebody, you’ve now become one. Women especially are generally expected to put themselves last. They must worry about their children husbands, parents, jobs, household chores, etc. all before thinking about themselves. As feminists, we recognize that this should not be the case. And in a nonmonogamous relationship, this can’t be the case because you aren’t successful unless you’re navigating according to your needs and desires.
I realized another similarity between the ideals of feminism and nonmonogamy when I started talking to people about the dynamics of an open relationship. We would talk about jealousy, feelings of neglect, and worries of abandonment. It didn’t take long for me to figure out the real concern: possession. I find this to be a common block for people when they try to understand nonmonogamy. They become hung up on the idea that their partner belongs to them, and them alone. If their partner really loves them, then they have no business going around exploring feelings or impulses with anybody else. Why does he need to look at other women? Why does she need to have sex with other people? It seemed that the more I prodded my friends to get to the heart of the matter, it came down to a notion that somehow their partners were theirs and theirs alone.
This is obviously problematic. Each of us is an individual with our own autonomy, and the last I checked nobody owns anybody else anymore. This comes up in conversations about feminist relationships all the time. Many are against the idea of marriage and long-term partnership because of the sense that you lose your identity. Monogamy is structured in a way that makes it too easy to forget each individual’s autonomy. Before long, a loss of autonomy becomes the rule rather than the exception. Nonmonogamy, on the other hand, seems to hold autonomy up as one of the primary tenets.
Now, I want to be clear in stating that just because nonmonogamy holds up self-awareness, self-discovery, a lack of possession, and a sense of autonomy as the ideal does not mean it’s always practiced that way. I am not so naïve as to think that every nonmonogamous couple has got these things down. But it seems to me that the structure society has created for monogamy is not one that coincides as easily with what I’ve described.
I also want to be clear in stating that I don’t mean to say that these ideals are exclusive to nonmonogamy. Certainly, everyone should be striving for relationships where they are fully aware of their needs and do not see their partners are possessions. And of course there are monogamous couples who do not view themselves as one entity, but rather a pair of closely-bonded individuals. However, these are not things I see that often in monogamous couples, at least the ones I know. Maybe I just know the world’s shittiest monogamists, but what I usually see is a lot of jealousy (a rather unhealthy amount, if you ask me), a lot “we” with no sense at all of “I” (again, sometimes dangerously so), and a complete lack of internal communication. Not only are all of these things present, but so many people don’t see anything wrong with that, and that’s the problem.
There are other parallels I’ve seen, whether in theory or in practice — a shift in domestic burden from one partner to others (for those in triads, quads, etc.), a more equal balance of each partner’s needs, a willingness to negotiate priorities based on those needs, and so forth. But these are the ones that spoke to me the most. What I’d like to know is, for those of you who identify as feminists in open relationships, what made the connection click for you (if it happened at all)? And for those who don’t see open relationships as feminist, what do you see in nonmonogamy that conflicts with feminism?
(Cross-posted at Jump off the Bridge.)
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