Editor’s Note: The views expressed in the following column are those of the writer only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Collegian or its editorial board.
Monogamy, or the practice of shacking up with just one sweetheart, seems to be the golden standard for sexual/romantic relationships the world over, but it isn’t the only valid and ethical way to love, nor is monogamy a long-standing norm in all cultures.
Non-monogamy has been performed all throughout history and across the globe, from the practice of men keeping wives and concubines in China and ancient Greece to plural marriage and assuming multiple sexual partners in Indigenous cultures. In more recent American history polygamy (the practice of marrying multiple people) remains illegal, while polygyny (the practice of one man marrying multiple women) is legal in many parts of Africa and the Middle East. Conversely, polyandry (the practice of one woman taking more than one husband) is illegal almost everywhere. However, despite legal intervention, polygamy is still pretty widely practiced.
If non-monogamy gives you the heebie jeebies, relax. If you don’t like it, don’t do it. But do understand that non-monogamy isn’t all that strange, and it’s certainly not just a thing of the past. Below are some examples of how non-monogamy exists today.
Unethical Non-monogamy: What is often stored in the brain-file under non-monogamy is cheating, affairs, adultery, infidelity. This is an example of unethical non-monogamy because it’s not consensual. Non-monogamy simply isn’t kosher when one person is “being faithful,” while the other isn’t without discussing it first. However, cheating is more widely accepted and performed than other kinds of non-monogamy in the United States. While the majority of married persons believe that cheating is always wrong, around 10-15 percent of married women and 20-25 percent of married men do it.
Ethical Non-Monogamy takes many seductive forms; here’s a few of them:
Polygamy: As previously discussed, polygamy is a marriage involving more than two people. While in a moral grey area because it’s not always consensual and because polygyny is “more acceptable” than polyandry, it’s not all bad. If everyone wants to be married, then party on, Wayne. Friendly note that polygamy, regardless of my opinions on the matter, is still illegal.
Open: This kind of non-monogamy is the most visible form of non-monogamy in 21st century America. These are partnerships in which there is one primary relationship, and all other sexual and romantic relationships are secondary. Secondary relationships may include sexual contact, casual dating, etc. Open relationships may include multiple people who are all involved with each other, multiple people who are only involved with one partner or a combination of the two. Open relationships may also involve one non-monogamous partner and one monogamous partner.
Swinging is another example of an open relationship that is pretty well known. Swinging often involves an “exchanging” of partners who then proceed to get jiggy with it. It’s typically just recreational and can occur between strangers to life-long friends.
Polyamory: This occurs when people consensually have multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at a time. Polyamory differs from an open relationship in that no relationship is secondary. All long-term relationships are just as important. Polyamory does not have to be sexual, nor does it have to be romantic. Confused? Let me break it down: Just as in monogamous relationships, people can be in love, but not wanna have sex. People can be in a relationship with someone and have sex, but not want to be romantic. Sometimes folks don’t want to be romantic or sexual, but still want to spend the rest of their lives together. It’s a beautiful, beautiful spectrum.
Polyamory also has a role in families. Multiple people can be involved in having and raising kids, forming family structures that are larger than the prototypical nuclear family. While this is difficult to navigate under the current legal system in which kids can only have two guardians and, to avoid bureaucratic obstacles, should have the same last name, these polyamorous family models are no less valid than monogamous ones.
Relationship Anarchy: This one isn’t super well-known, but it evolved from the critique that sexual/romantic relationships are valued more highly than others. Relationship anarchy can operate like traditional monogamy or polyamory, however it is unique in that values are not placed on relationships based on whether they are romantic, sexual, or platonic. Relationship anarchy operates under the belief that love is abundant and relationships should remain unnamed because they are all equally valuable, regardless of their nature.
While these constitute the primary ways in which non-monogamy is performed, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Non-monogamy has a long, rich history, and is enacted in many diverse and meaningful ways globally.
Is Non-Monogamy Better? You make the decision for yourself. Non-monogamy may be the more “natural” thing to do for some people, as strict monogamy is rarely enacted in other parts of the animal kingdom. However, social mores and values are powerful and valid forces, and monogamy often feels like the right thing to do. Practicing non-monogamous relationships could also curb cheating in marriages and partnerships, but being openly non-monogamous might feel like cheating to some.
Romantic and sexual relationships can be complicated. Confounded by loyalty, jealousy, religion, family expectations and notions of romantic and sexual exclusivity, choosing non-monogamy can be impossible for some. However, for a lot of people non-monogamy is what’s comfortable and is what feels best. Despite laws prohibiting plural marriage in the U.S., institutions that promote and reward monogamy and general public distaste for non-monogamy, it’s here to stay. And it’s not that weird. Really.
Allison Danish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or online @allison_danish