Often people view monogamy and polyamory as being polar opposites. Some even take the view that monogamy and polyamory aren’t relationship styles but innate relationship orientations, diametrically opposed ones at that, with no overlap. In this view, you’re either mono or poly. And there’s nothing in between.
Setting aside the nitpicky issue that the more proper linguistic pairs re: opposites would be monogamy/polygamy and polyamory/monamory, there’s another, greater problem I see with this idea.
Even if we do consider polyamorous and monogamous as orientations, why does this mean no one is in the middle?
Gay and straight are orientations. And so are bisexual and pansexual. 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 and pansexuality don’t exist.
As it turns out, emerging research suggests that monogamy and polyamory aren’t a strict binary but a spectrum. This means there’s a middle ground in the mono/poly spectrum.
Ambiamory, Being Able to Be Happy in Either Monogamous or Polyamorous Relationships
ambiamorous (adjective) – able to enjoy being part of monogamous or polyamorous relationships
Indeed there are plenty of people who can be perfectly happy in either monogamous or polyamorous relationships, depending on the situation. And in fact, I’m one of those people. Like many others, I am ambiamorous.
I was monogamous for a large portion of my life. When I explored polyamory, it wasn’t because I was dissatisfied with monogamy. It was an exploration more borne out of curiosity as I saw people close to me that I respected carrying on polyamorous relationships with success.
As a result of this exploration, I was very actively dating multiple people for a number of years in what became a very complicated polyamorous relationship system. There were a variety of hits and misses, and then at one point due to a series of breakups, I found myself functionally monogamous with one of my partners (who also didn’t have any other partners).
I’m currently in a polyamorous relationship system again and have been for some time, but I did spend some time with just that one partner in my life. I had my own reasons for once again dating monogamously when I was, but I was curious about why other people were in that situation themselves.
So I reached out to other ambiamorous people in my social circles, focusing specifically on ones who are either currently monogamous or have spent a significant time dating monogamously after being in polyamorous relationship systems for a while.
Here’s what they told me.
1. Healing From Breakups
One person I spoke with had very similar reasoning to my own. Like me, they went through a number of breakups in quick succession and weren’t eager to date new people as they grieved the loss of those relationships.
“It wasn’t that I chose to be monogamous exactly,” they said. “I just didn’t replace the exes when we broke up.”
Like me, they took the time to focus on themselves. Where I went to therapy and changed careers, they got into better physical shape and paid off significant debt.
“I have decreased the amount of time I’m spending on relationships in general and branched out doing other things. For me, this involves a lot of time at the gym and spending more time with my friends.”
I asked them if they thought they’d ever go back to dating multiple people at once. They said, “Maybe.” And added that they felt like they had to get to the emotional place where they were strong enough that they could deal with breakups again.
“New relationships tend to fail faster, if they’re going to fail,” they added. “You really can’t go out there without expecting to have to deal with a few breakups on the way to establishing new long-lasting connections.”
2. Organizational Problems
Another person I spoke to put it this way, “I kept mixing things up. Confusing my agreements. Couldn’t keep track of everyone’s favorites. And don’t get me started on the scheduling.”
For them, polyamory revealed problems in their personal organization, shortcomings that went unnoticed in other areas of their life. “Never really gave it much thought before polyamory. It didn’t matter if I did dishes on Tuesday and vacuumed on Wednesday. But mix up Partner A with Partner B… well, I was screwed.”
They are currently monogamous with one of their previous partners. Somewhat amusingly, this partner was their most disorganized one. “This partner was also mixing things up and ticking their partners off,” they said. “So now it’s just the two of us. A couple of hot messes. Off by ourselves.”
When I asked them if they thought they’d go back dating multiple people at once, they said, “Who knows? Haven’t ruled it out. I could see us opening up if one of us met someone perfect who was understanding about the chaos.”
3. Trouble Talking About Emotions
“The constant processing was killing me,” another ambiamorous person I spoke to told me. “I love polyamory but not talking things to death. If I could get the first without the second, I’d be a happy person.”
When I asked them what particularly was difficult conversation-wise, they specified that talking about their emotions was an exercise in frustration. “It’s really tough to put those things in words. And I don’t know if it’s just the partners I had, but they were rarely satisfied with what I came up with. I got tired of being put on the spot, tested, and failing those tests.”
They added that it was also difficult when their partners would express their emotions and seem to have a very specific idea of the desired response. “‘I’d give my honest take, but it was ‘wrong.’ And they wouldn’t explain what the ‘right’ one was. It was really frustrating. I’m not a mind reader.”
They are now functionally monogamous with the partner they found the easiest to communicate with.
I asked if they thought they saw themselves being polyamorous again. “I honestly have a hard time picturing it right now,” they said, “but watch. The universe will make it happen now that I’ve said that.”
4. Living in the Country Now
One of the people I spoke to has a spouse who is a professor. While their spouse was getting his doctorate, she lived in a major city. But once her spouse graduated, he found a job at a rural college. When they moved off to the country, my ambiamorous friend had two additional partners. One of her other partners didn’t want to do a long-distance relationship, so the move meant losing that partner instantly. The other tried long distance but found it too difficult and broke it off.
“It was so much easier to find partners in the city than it is where I’m living now,” she said when we spoke. She stated that at first she did try to find people to date, but after exhausting the local online dating pool, she’s stopped looking.
Like the first person I spoke with who was healing from breakups, she reported that she’d shifted her focus to spending more time on non-romantic matters. Her relationship with her spouse is good. There’s a lot to explore in the new place she’s living. She’s been focusing on making new friends, no easy feat since it’s a more conservative state than where she lived before, and it’s tough to find people who match even on a friendship level with her. Slowly but surely, however, she’s been making progress.
I asked her if she saw herself dating multiple people again. She quickly responded, “Absolutely. Yes.” But added that she’s making the most of her current situation and would be fine if she never dated anyone new. “Honestly, the lack of friends is killing me more than anything.”
5. Can’t Deal with the Stigma
The final person I spoke with focused on another aspect: Stigma.
Of all the people I spoke to, they were the most reluctant to share their story, even anonymously.
“It doesn’t feel good to admit this,” they said, “but I got really tired of people being shitty about me being polyamorous.” They recounted stories of being shunned by family members. Disinvited from parties by monogamous friends.
“I grew up straight. I was one of the popular kids in school, a star athlete,” they said. “I’d never experienced anything like this. All of a sudden, it was like I was an outcast, which from my point of view was really weird. I was still me. I was just dating more people.”
They told me that they got tired of the stigma. “I felt like an asshole, breaking up with people I loved, forcing myself to choose, just because of how it made me look to other people… but it’s what happened.”
And they also shared that it made them rethink their former beliefs on privilege. “I was so stupid. I had no idea what it was like to be discriminated against. And it was for something that I could at least somewhat change by adapting my dating behaviors. It would be so much worse if it was for something that I couldn’t, like race, gender, or something else.”
Like all of the other people I spoke with, I asked them whether they thought they’d date polyamorously again. They responded, “Probably sounds cowardly, but yes, if polyamory gains broader acceptance, I could certainly see myself doing it again.”
But for now, they’re just seeing one person, and they say it’s going well.
Functional Monogamy After Polyamory Can Be Quite a Strange Experience — But Probably More Common than People Realize
Of course, plenty of ambiamorous people are currently in polyamorous relationships (including the writer of this article). But I found functional monogamy after polyamory to be quite a strange experience. In a lot of ways, it was a very difficult and lonely transition.
For me, it felt much like a state of post-poly exile. Because of my time in polyamorous relationship systems, I had developed quite an unusual way of thinking about relationships, one that persisted even though I was now “monogamous.” I felt rather confused about my identity. Even though our relationship functionally closed, I still had the same friends. And three-quarters of them were polyamorous, or at least some flavor of non-monogamous.
So I found myself in an odd spot. After years of evolution, self-exploration, and challenge, years when I discovered that polyamory brought out sides of me that I loved, I was suddenly advising people at parties, “You’re hot, but I’m in a monogamous thing.”
It was so they’d know that there were limits.
But I never stopped flirting. And my partner never stopped cuddling.
And the word “monogamous” always felt a bit strange as it came out of my mouth.
As it turns out, even though I felt like my situation was very strange at the time — and yes, I felt very alone in that experience — there are plenty of other people who go through similar transitions.
And now that I know of ambiamory, I believe not only am I ambiamorous, but that ambiamory is a lot more common of a phenomenon than most people realize, whether monogamous, polyamorous, or somewhere in between.
Fiction by Page Turner:
Psychic City, a slipstream mystery
Dealing with Difficult Metamours
A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching