PQ 5.7 — Are the choices I make in alignment with these values [the values that are most important in myself and others]?
For the most part, I do a pretty okay job making choices that are consistent with my values. This is a good thing as it causes me a fair bit of distress whenever I depart from my values. I’m like most human beings this way. Psychologists call this form of stress cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when our ideas and beliefs are either inconsistent with each other (we’re conflicted in our thinking) or when our beliefs aren’t consistent with our actions (basically, hypocrisy — or at least not living up to our image of our “ideal selves”).
Cognitive Dissonance Can Lead to Growth
However, my values and my behaviors aren’t always in perfect harmony. And while it can be humbling, I find that it’s the moments that they’re in conflict that I learn the most about myself and experience growth.
And cognitive dissonance? It’s the whole reason I ended up polyamorous in the first place.
I Had Experienced Disrespectful Non-Monogamy
I had long been a believer that monogamy is what I wanted. By the time I met Seth, I’d experienced my fair share (and some would argue more than my fair share) of casual non-monogamy. And a lot of my experiences? Had been pretty terrible.
Sure, I’d had some fun group sex encounters. But other encounters had been stressful. Soul-crushing. Disappointing. And what was worse, at least one of my casual hookups went around talking smack about me after. Which was odd. He seemed genuinely confused that I was okay with a one-night stand with no desire to build anything more. It had been an okay night. Nothing to write home about. But he still felt the need to sleep with me one night and then denigrate me the next.
And don’t get me started on all the weird experiences I had as a single bisexual women sleeping with couples. Let’s just say that things were unpredictable. And no, I wasn’t always treated well.
That’s where I really ran into issues with non-monogamy: There was often a lack of respect.
And I’d found while disrespect could certainly occur in monogamous relationships? People seemed to value those kinds of relationships and those partners and treat them with a respect that I longed for.
So when I was set up with a nice-enough guy by friends, I insisted on exclusivity. Seth knew of my reputation but agreed anyway to monogamy.
And for 8 years, we were monogamous. Seth wanted to open, but I didn’t see how it could be anything but a shit show. I just didn’t have a model for healthy, ethical non-monogamy.
Until we found out that good friends of ours, Megan and Pete, were polyamorous. And Megan and Pete? Well, they were mainstream. Like Barbie had married GI Joe. Two kids. Good jobs. Nothing like the hot messes of my youth – when I swung from bedpost to bedpost, chasing the next high.
It was the first time either of us had ever even heard the word “polyamory.”
The Best Problem-Solvers Keep an Open Mind
A while back, I took a course on spaghetti situations. And the one thing they stressed more than anything else? When people are trying to solve complex problems, they spend far too little time asking why and rush to saying because.
So being open-minded and not rushing to judgement before you have ample evidence isn’t just a moral concern (i.e., something that “good” people do). It has practical implications as well.
The best solvers of complex problems are open-minded.
And in real life? Nearly everything is complicated.
It was stunning new evidence:
Megan and Pete had been pursuing other relationship for years, without any of us knowing.
The revelation gave me pause. Megan and Pete were well adjusted, stable. They had their shit together. It flew in the face of what I believed about non-monogamy. That it was messy, chaotic, untenable. Just asking for trouble.
It occurred to me that maybe I didn’t know everything. Especially when it came to non-monogamy.
I spent days questioning my former beliefs. What was I afraid of? Losing my relationship with Seth? How did I know that would actually happen with other people in the picture? And if our relationship were so easily lost, so fragile, then maybe, I reasoned, it was something that should end.
As Carl Sagan wrote, “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
And shocking everyone, I changed my mind and finally agreed to an open relationship with Seth, something he’d wanted for years and I’d vehemently opposed.
Because to me? I valued monogamy less than keeping an open mind. And a commitment to seeking the truth.
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.