PQ 18.7 — Do I fully understand my partner’s choice to be monogamous or polyamorous, and am I able to accept my partner for who she is?
Ah! Very interesting. I of course didn’t write this question — these are all questions taken from the seminal polyamory text More than Two, a book co-authored by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux.
Before I dive into the meat of any kind of answer, I’d just like to point out something about this question: It comes out rather solidly on one side of a long-standing debate: Are polyamory and monogamy innate unchangeable qualities of an individual (the “born this way” argument), or are they instead different relationship management styles that one opts for (the “it’s a choice” argument)?
The way this question is worded presupposes that polyamory and monogamy are choices.
The reality is that I know people that I respect who vehemently disagree with this view, believing polyamory to be an inherent quality of a person’s personality, not a choice. Or, in plainer terms, people are either born polyamorous or they aren’t. However, conversely, I also know people that I respect who vehemently agree with this view and see being polyamorous or monogamous as a decision that’s driven by personal choice, a choice which can of course be guided by innate qualities.
(It’s worth noting, however, that until very recently monogamy was presented not as a choice per se but a compulsory element of a committed relationship. You couldn’t choose to be in a non-monogamous relationship; if you were non-monogamous, then none of those relationships were real –whatever that means. Perhaps those relationships existed alongside the spooky graveyard of all the phantom bisexuals, who to many people’s view aren’t real either — whatever that means. Sexy, sexy hallucinations, all of us.)
How do I feel? I feel that I can’t speak for everyone of course — but that in my own personal life, I seem to not be naturally polyamorous or monogamous. I’m instead able to do either, depending on the situation and who is involved, a quality some have described as being “ambiamorous” (here’s a post on the kind of monogamy I can do). For me, structure is a choice. The way I am, however, is the way I am — and it might very well be different for other people.
One thing I will say that I do appreciate about this question is that it underscores something that I believe deeply: Even if something is a choice, and someone chooses differently than we do, we can still accept their choice.
I honestly think that’s part of having appropriate personal boundaries with other people, recognizing that people’s thoughts, feelings, and life choices are separate from my own and not under my control. That’s them doing them and I’m over here as me. Just doing me.
I can say unequivocally that I can accept other people for who they are — I mean, what other choice do I have, really? I can try to influence them of course, but that only goes so far. I can’t ultimately control who they are, their life choices, who they want to be. And if I push too hard, any attempts to do so could very well trend into abusive territory. So I’m left at the end of the day with accepting reality.
Now, what I do with that reality I’ve accepted? That’s another question altogether. When it comes to a romantic partner, this acceptance might mean that I continue to date them, even though we have radically different relationship philosophies. But accepting the reality of who they are might also mean fully grasping that we’re incompatible and that a relationship with them just won’t work.
So which is it then? What would accepting my partner mean in this circumstance?
Well, that all depends. On a number of factors — but for starters, I would need to know the following:
- How compatible are we outside of any mono/poly divide? Is this the one strain, or are there many?
- How different are we, really, in this one dimension? As I’ve written before, monogamy and polyamory aren’t a simple binary but instead are states that exist on ends of a spectrum. The distance between our orientations matter as much as the difference in labels we use (and arguably more).
- Is there an agreement we can strike that will leave us both feeling as though we’ve achieved a mutual win-win outcome?
But yes, I could certainly accept my partner for who they are, regardless of any differences. However, whether we could continue to date is another matter altogether. It really depends on whether those were perceived on either side as dealbreaking incompatibilities.
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 and answers, please see this indexed list.