To Make Mono/Poly Easier, View Monogamy and Polyamory as a Spectrum, Not a Binary

A venn diagram up above a cityscape. One of the circles says "yes," the other says "no." The overlap between the two is labeled "me."
Image by Terminals & Gates / CC BY

Mono/poly relationships (i.e., pairings in which one partner is monogamous and the other is polyamorous) are famously difficult.

While there are many factors, we do ourselves no favors by viewing monogamy and polyamory as polar opposites rather than as points on the same spectrum.

Consider this: It’s difficult to find a workable middle between two things if you’re convinced that one can’t possibly exist.

We recently published 2 very different posts about a week apart:

  1. 9 Things Monogamists Can Learn From Polyamory 
  2. 9 Things Polyamorists Can Learn From Monogamy

These pieces generated a fair bit of discussion on social media, especially the first one.

Orientation, Essentialism, and Gatekeeping — Oh My!

The most outraged readers were upset by the implication that people in 2 very different styles of relationships could learn anything from one another. They said that monogamy and polyamory weren’t relationship styles but sexual orientations, diametrically opposed ones at that, with no overlap. You were either mono or poly. No in between.

Additional gatekeeping ensued: Some insisted that anybody who said they could do monogamy or polyamory must be lying. Since you were born one way or the other, and that was it.

While it’s definitely a sticky issue and a question that’s far from answered, I can see the appeal of claiming polyamorous and monogamous as sexual orientations. Especially since much of the protections that cover sexual orientation (such as the very recent ruling by the federal appeals court that you can’t be fired for being gay) would also cover non-monogamy.

If Polyamory and Monogamy Are Sexual Orientations, That Still Doesn’t Mean They’re Binary

But here’s the thing: Even if we do consider polyamory and monogamous as orientations, why does this mean no one is in the middle?

Gay and straight are orientations. And so is bisexual. Heteroflexible. Homoflexible. There’s so much middle ground that the middle ground has middle ground.

Frankly, many of the arguments I see that position polyamory and monogamy as a strict binary are eerily similar to the ones that insist that bisexuality doesn’t exist.

There and Back Again: The Joys of Ambiamory

I personally consider myself able to be poly or mono and be happy with either. It really depends on the situation. I thought on word roots for a bit before I decided to go with “ambiamorous.”

“Biamorous” is a cute word but already means something else. It’s when a person is able to form romantic attraction to multiple genders. Like bisexual, but you’re not necessarily sexually attracted to more than one gender.

I did a quick Google search to see if “ambiamorous” is already being used this way and found this interview by Poly Role Models where someone who call themselves The Moorcat uses the word. I was amused to note that they’re in a mono/poly relationship.

Happy Mono/Poly Folks Seem to Acknowledge a Middle Ground

Because that was the most remarkable thing I noted as readers debated the binary vs. spectrum question: The ones most likely to insist on a strict mono and poly binary were the mono folks in unhappy mono/poly relationships. Ones who were stressed and struggling.

Conversely, readers that felt that mono and poly belonged on a spectrum were frequently ones who were in very happy mono/poly relationships (whether they were the mono or poly half).

It got me to wondering: Could it be that viewing monogamy and polyamory on a spectrum can lead to happier mono/poly relationships?

It makes intuitive sense. And it brings the monogamy or polyamory question out of a place of Us and Them. Focuses more on commonalities. And on finding that overlap and making the most of it.

It Could Just Be the Work to Get There That Made Them Happy

Now maybe I’ve got the whole way it works backwards. Maybe they believe in the middle ground because they had to find it to be happy. Maybe they didn’t feel that way going in. And maybe it’s only after doing the hard work of reconciling the two different relationship styles that they believe it exists. And it’s the work that made them happy, independent of any beliefs of monogamy and polyamory being on a spectrum.

I still think it couldn’t hurt to consider the potential benefit of thinking of mono/poly on a spectrum rather than as polar opposites.

Early Research Points at a Mono/Poly Spectrum

And the research is young but pointing away from a strict binary. There’s emerging evidence that monogamy (and non-monogamy) may very well be on a spectrum. A few months back, The Washington Post did a piece on a YouGov study that found just that. As Zachary Zane asks in that piece: “Since sexuality and gender aren’t understood as binary anymore, does monogamy have to be?”

I personally don’t think so.

 

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