There are some people who say that polyamory is objectively way easier than monogamy (or, the far less commonly used term monamory, the desire or practice of having a single intimate relationship at a time, which is perhaps a more accurate opposite).
They insist that polyamory more closely mimics our natural state or that it’s simply easier to manage. And not just for them, but for everyone. To them, it’s a no-brainer which relationship style one should pursue. That polyamory is the best, not only for them but for everyone else. And resistance to polyamory is only a factor because of cultural programming.
There are definitely people who say this. But I’m not one of those people.
(For more information, here is the most detailed account I’ve written of the first two years I was in polyamorous relationships.)
I believe that while polyamory can have many benefits as a relationship style that it isn’t a cure-all. And I’ll readily acknowledge that there are hard parts. And I’m not the only one. In an earlier piece I had conversations with four different people in which they answered the question “What’s the worst part of polyamory?” And they had a lot to say.
So I’m not in the “Let’s Do Polyamory Because It’s Easy” camp.
And inevitably, someone (especially monogamous or polycurious folks) will take in all of this and ask, “If polyamory is difficult, then why do it?”
All Relationships Are Their Own Form of Difficult
And the reason for me is pretty simple: Monogamy isn’t exactly easy either.
Because when it comes to relationships, no matter how you practice them, there’s really no getting away from some degree of difficulty. You’re just picking the form of hard that you prefer.
Human relationships in general are difficult. It can be tricky enough to nail down your relationship with yourself. Taking that outside of a person’s own self? Well, that’s another factor of difficulty altogether.
And while there’s a certain level of simplicity in monogamous setups as opposed to polyamorous ones, I’ve found that monogamous pairings often challenge me, too — just in different ways.
For example, many people talk about the possibility of experiencing jealousy as being a barrier to polyamorous relationships. But jealousy alone isn’t enough to pose a fatal flaw, for a simple reason: Jealousy isn’t just something that’s experienced in polyamorous relationships.
I struggled immensely with jealousy and insecurity when I was in monogamous relationships, years before I ever entered polyamorous relationship systems.
When I was in monogamous relationships, I constantly worried that my partner would cheat on me. And I was also on the lookout for signs that they might be about to. This meant I was often anxious and interpreting their harmless social interactions with others as being something that might threaten our relationship.
Essentially, I found myself policing monogamy as a relationship style. And being on alert that no one was going to threaten the life I’d built and make a fool out of me by “stealing” my partner, who I viewed so possessively at that point that I almost treated them like an object — all the while having no insight or understanding that what I was doing wasn’t doing me any favors. To me, that was normal. I’d been socially inculcated to believe that was the way that you were supposed to do relationships; otherwise, you weren’t doing your due diligence. And then you deserved to lose your relationship, your stability, your happiness.
It was exhausting. But I didn’t know there could be any other way.
(I would later go on to discover non-toxic ways of practicing monogamy, but that wasn’t for quite a while. In my own case, it happened after I’d been polyamorous for some time.)
When I initially became aware of polyamory as a possible way to structure one’s relationships, after a close friend finally came out to me as polyamorous, I was not initially on board. Instead, I was quite skeptical of the idea. And even judged my friend for her relationship structure (assuming her husband must be taking advantage of her).
But I stayed curious and maintained an open mind. And as the months went on, I got to witness my friend’s polyamorous life firsthand and realized how wrong I’d been. Polyamory really did seem to be something that worked for her and if anything strengthened the bond she had with her husband.
A few months later, I was actually dating her, that friend. And I discovered that I was a much better fit for a polyamorous style of conducting relationships than I’d originally anticipated I would be.
Does this mean that it was always easy? Oh, hell no. I really did experience some rather extreme waves of jealousy and insecurity, especially when I was new to consensual non-monogamy. And no, that wasn’t easy at all. It was humbling. And rough.
But on the other hand, I did find that those early spikes in jealousy were like exposure therapy. Much like the person who faces their fears head on will eventually come to find them less troubling, after that initial struggle I found that my global levels of jealousy and insecurity decreased. And with a bit of time and work on learning how to deal productively with jealousy and to build up my own sense of emotional security, they were lower than what I’d even experienced as a monogamous person.
This anecdotal experience is very much in line with empirical research that has found that in spite of the persistent belief that polyamorous relationships would result in sustained unbearable jealousy, folks in monogamous relationships actually experience more jealousy than those in consensually nonmonogamous ones (including polyamory).
Polyamory Draws Upon A Lot of Novel Skills, Ones Which Usually Need to Be Developed
So no, I’m not going to tell you that polyamory is the de facto easy way to do relationships. Managing multiple relationships requires tackling challenges we not only have never taken on ourselves but oftentimes have never vicariously witnessed anyone else doing — not on TV, not by watching our parents, etc.
And living a polyamorous life can draw upon a lot of skills that we don’t necessarily develop naturally. Many of them have to be worked on constantly:
- Learning how to be gracious and adequately reinforcing the graciousness of others
- Developing a sense of self-control that doesn’t need to be strictly reinforced by external factors
- The ability to sort out conflicts when you’re caught in the middle of multiple people’s competing interests
- Negotiating effective relationship agreements that aren’t there necessarily to police a relationship but instead to promote mutual understanding of expectations
- Getting a firm grasp of boundaries and how they function differently in polyamorous relationship systems
- Reacting productively within an accountability framework instead of a blame framework when agreements aren’t honored
- And of course, the aforementioned jealousy and insecurity challenges
Whew, that’s a lot of work, right? It was for me.
But I can honestly tell you that for me, working on those things was more than worth it. Most of that work wasn’t just applicable to my relationships but followed me everywhere I went. I was suddenly better able to manage difficult relationships at my workplace and with family members.
Because I gained a level of control of my emotional regulation and the way that I interacted with others that I previously wouldn’t have thought was possible. I was able to stop, slow down, and really think about the way I wanted to interact with others rather than jumping to the whims of my hottest cognition.
As an Ambiamorous Person, I Usually See the Choice as Picking My Version of Hard
These days I consider myself ambiamorous more than anything else, which basically means that I’m comfortable practicing either polyamorous or monogamous (slash monamorous) relationships. To me, the optimal relationship style really depends on what’s going on in my life and who’s involved.
And I’m not the only ambiamorous person out there. I personally know several.
Part of this, I think, is the fact that there isn’t a way of conducting relationships that doesn’t occasionally have problems, challenges, or parts that are distinctly un-fun. I think that’s the price of dealing with other human beings. Part of why they’re so fun is that they can be so unpredictable, but that can carry with it attendant stress.
What exactly those challenges can look like, whether they’re boredom, lack of free time, feeling restricted, or feeling sidelined or ignored — well, it’s almost as much a function of the relationships we’re in and who we’re spending time with as it is how we structure our relationships.
And if I’m being honest, I don’t think there’s a way to really do relationships on easy mode (other than finding awesome people who are really compatible with you, that’s the closest shortcut I’ve found). I think everyone’s playing it on normal difficulty, whether they’re poly, mono, or ambi.
No one really has it easy. You’re just picking your version of hard.
Now, to certain people at certain points of their lives, certain difficulties feel subjectively easier. Or if they don’t feel easier per se, the challenges at least feel more gratifying.
And that’s probably why I’m polyamorous right now.
But that doesn’t mean that others are wrong to pursue monogamy. And that doesn’t mean that this will necessarily always be the case.
But yeah. I don’t think either relationship style has to be easy in order to be something worth pursuing. I think it’s valid if you’re picking your hard.
Perhaps this might sound bleak to certain readers, but it doesn’t feel that way for me. I’ve come to love a good challenge.