Monogamy After Polyamory: When You Can’t Go Home Again

a room that has a ceiling with stars on it and a mobile of the solar system hanging down
Image by R. Crap Mariner / CC BY

Hi Page,

First of all I just want to say thank you for your writing. I’ve read both of your books and loved them. I read your blog almost every day. It’s all been so helpful.

Like you I entered polyamory through a previously closed relationship that went on to open up to other partners. I quickly became part of a very complicated polycule. My polycule was amazing… while it lasted. Things were really good for a while, but over the course of a few years, a lot of drama unfolded, some involving me, some affecting my direct partners, and some just hitting at the metamour level.

During this I broke up with one of my three partners. Honestly, it had to happen. We just didn’t make sense romantically or sexually, and I was trying to force that connection and he could tell. It was making us both miserable. He wasn’t exactly happy about the news, but it wasn’t sudden. If anything, it was really overdue.

Not too long after that, another one of my partners broke up with me when she moved away for work. She wasn’t open to long distance and said her plan was to be monogamous with her other partner (who was relocating with her).

So I found myself suddenly with just one partner. And that partner was now only seeing me (because he had gone through a lot of his own turbulence and breakups).

We were “functionally monogamous” as you’ve put it, without even meaning to be. I thought for sure that this would only be a temporary state. That one or both of us would be dating other people soon.

But it’s been over a year now. And nope.

And… this isn’t something I feel like I can talk about except anonymously… but… I’m really happy.

That’s what’s really been bothering me. I’m happy being functionally monogamous. Me, the super poly chick. 

It honestly makes me feel really weird and guilty. Like you, I had to do a ton of work to be comfortable with polyamory, but once I did the work, I really loved it. I loved my polycule.

And I not only came to strongly identify as polyamorous but to consider myself anti-monogamy.

So it was a pretty rude awakening to discover that I was enjoying being functionally monogamous when circumstances left me that way. I felt like a hypocrite for trashing monogamy when I’d been poly. Because in reality it seems I can be happy being mono or poly. It all depends on who I’m with and how we treat one another. That seems to matter more than relationship structure.

Through a lot of reading, I was so happy to discover that I’m not the only person who can be happy in either monogamous or polyamorous relationships (and that there’s even a word for it — ambiamory!).

I also really enjoyed your piece “Post-Poly Exile: On Your Own in the In-Between.” So much of it resonates with what I’m currently going through (at least the first half of the article). It gave me a lot of comfort to know that you’ve been where I am and have worked into a mental place where you seem more at peace with it.

But I wanted to ask you if you had any words of wisdom, anything you wished someone would have told you while you were going through it.

If not, no worries. You’ve been really helpful already. Thanks again.

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Awww shucks. Thanks for the letter. And I’m glad you wrote. I’ve been through something very similar. And I know exactly what you’re talking about.

I’m not sure about you, but my own experiences with monogamy prior to finding polyamorous communities left a lot to be desired.

Pretty much every monogamous relationship I’d been in had involved hypervigilant jealousy and social isolation that was toxic to building or maintaining friendships with other people. Because of this, I found that when I was in a romantic relationship, my partner quickly became my sole source of emotional connection and social support.

Still, I didn’t see anything wrong with expecting so much of a romantic partner, wanting them to be my everything, not just romantically or sexually — but socially. Because I had never seen people do things differently. And I preferred this kind of smothering and mutual stifling arrangement to being all alone by myself (the only other viable option I’d seen at that point).

So I put up with the bad parts of it. And I was very proud that I put up with it. Even while I was quite miserable in other ways (or my partner was or both), I was very pleased and happy that I had what was to my mind a very successful relationship.

My own transition to polyamory was really rough but also really rewarding. I learned so much. It was a huge shock to my system.

In some ways, it was a lot like I’d spent my entire life in a house with a living room that had stars painted on the ceiling. I called that ceiling the “sky” and thought that’s what other people meant when they used the word “sky.” And then one day, someone had taken me by the hand and led me outside and showed me the real sky… and OMG.

Listen…You don’t forget something like that.

Being in polyamorous relationships was like being led outside for the first time.

So when I returned to being functionally monogamous again (a state which in my case lasted for four years), it was like going back inside again. Except this time I couldn’t really call the ceiling the “sky” anymore.

And I couldn’t unlearn the things I’d learned as a result of transitioning to polyamory.

Like you, I also felt really weird and bad about it. Even though it was completely unintentional and it just kind of happened that way, I was embarrassed and felt like a traitor to my ideals.

To follow the same analogy, I felt like I had been telling everyone I knew that I loved living outside off the grid in a tent like a big bad-ass outdoorsman under the REAL sky… and now here I was in some cookie cutter suburban house with full electric.

I was once again doing the thing I’d so braggadociously pooh poohed mere months before.

And yet, I wasn’t really doing the same thing. This wasn’t the old way I did monogamy at all. While my partner at the time and I weren’t officially seeing other people, we still behaved in ways that made our monogamous friends raise an eyebrow. We fostered deep emotional connections with friends. Flirted shamelessly. Cuddled.

We weren’t afraid of connection or the appearance of impropriety, and both would have been taboo in the monogamy we used to know.

Further, we agreed that all it would take to be open-open once again would be to have one conversation about it. Which is exactly what ended up happening (after four years of functional monogamy).

So under those terms, the relationship may have blended in from the outside to a casual passerby, but to us it didn’t feel like a cookie cutter house. It was like living in one that looked pretty normal from the outside but decorating it in a way that made absolutely no sense to other people and would become apparent to anyone who visited or spent any amount of time with us.

It also meant sleeping out under the stars in a little tent in our backyard whenever the mood struck. And keeping the option open to move off the grid again someday if and when that became something we wanted to do.

But all of that started with accepting something very simple, something that if you haven’t already that you will need to accept: You can’t go home again. And by that, I mean that you can’t unlearn everything you’ve learned.

You will never go back to thinking that ceiling is the sky.

But even if you can’t go home again, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find another place to belong.

You can. And you will.

Actually, to me, it sounds like you might already be there.

You just need to give yourself permission to unpack and settle in.

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Have a question about a post? Maybe need some advice about a relationship or situation? Write me. I love getting messages from you.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for your post Page. Gave me chills all the way up my spine when I read “You can’t go home again” with “Father and Son” from Cat Stevens playing in my headset. I think that’s something I needed to hear. <3

  2. This article reminded me of a friend who often jokes about my partner and I spending a lot of time together. We’re together at least two weekends per month and have traveled together over the holidays visiting each other’s family. She also commented that my partner and I are emotionally close. I told her being polyamorous doesn’t mean not having an emotional connection and it doesn’t mean there’s a lack of commitment to the relationship. Regarding the time we spend together, I explained it’s simply due to neither one of us having another romantic partner at this time. I am, however, in a Master/slave dynamic which is currently platonic due to my slave’s currrent emotional state (he is in therapy). I’ve realized that a platonic Master/slave dynamic is still a type of relationship that needs as much of my time and energy as an intimate relationship. Your articles have helped me recognize they each have their specific needs, to which I act accordingly, so neither my partner nor slave feels neglected. Thank you.

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