Why I’ve Had It With Monogamy

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I write as a queer woman who has lived as heterosexual. I’m not a sociologist: I’m just going to write about my own experiences here.

I’m tired of my self and my sexuality being non-consensually labelled, inaccurately interpreted, distorted and most of all commodified by mainstream monogamous culture.

My experiences with monogamous partnership involve ‘partner’ being a personal and social slot given over for just one person to fit, and fill, at a time. The time period can be minutes or years, and a certain group of physical and emotional interactions can, and will, be explored within that slot (and there only) in that time.

It is expected that partners will be sexual: after all, if partners do not have sex, what is there to distinguish them from friends? It is expected that sex is off-limits to all others: after all, if people have sex with friends, what is there to make partnership special? The same holds for emotional intimacy, and if these things are not shared between partners, there’s something wrong. (Of course, asexuality is ignored and the coercive pressures associated with these expectations are not acknowledged.)

Definitions of intimacy are broad and thorny. Many types of interaction (often unproblematic between unpartnered people) become limited to partners only, and deviations from various unspoken unnegotiated conventions suddenly constitute cheating.

When the ‘partner’ slot is filled, new boundaries appear across interactions with friends: these lines vary, and are intangible, and often blur or smudge, but their effects are very distinct. Suddenly, I must be careful – especially with straight male friends who could potentially be attracted to me and so constitute a threat to a partner. Close hugs, eye contact for slightly too long, a grasped hand crossing a road – these have strong meanings. Even if they convey no additional emotional involvement for me, the other person may read them as interest or even flirting; all should know that I’m partnered and off-limits. Leading people on isn’t okay, and ambiguity is dangerous.

This also holds true when single. My experience has been that a straight man need only to express an interest in me to make a claim: it is expected that interest will be reciprocated, so any rejection cannot be neutral. In a culture where straight men push and straight women yield, I’m a commodity: to be fought over, then fiercely kept.

And if I smile too much, dance too close, hug too long with another woman’s man – meaning, risk his becoming attracted to me – I’m a bitch, a slut, out to steal others’ partners and wreck relationships.

I think that there’s a great deal of fear associated with mainstream relationship models. People look around; they form hierarchies, build a system of leagues, wonder constantly: should I leave this person to chase that one? Can I upgrade, find a better model? Will this amazing person think about leaving me, so should I settle for less?

The only way for people to feel safe, to be assured their partners won’t leave, is to ‘settle’ for what they can ‘get’, keep a tight hold and eliminate the competition.

I’ve been warned off leading on predatory competitors by a possessive partner who was no better.

I’ve had my behaviour criticised and curtailed because of the risk of giving out inappropriate messages.

I’ve watched people leave their partners for other people, repeatedly, constantly looking around to see if they were missing something better.

I’ve flirted with men at parties who have turned frosty on seeing me enthusiastically greet other friends.

I am tired of being a commodity. I am tired of communicating in code. I’m going to do things differently.

About Ludi

Ludi is a massive sexuality geek, a semi-professional pyromaniac and one of the organisers of Opencon. She writes an anticapitalist sex toy review blog at siliconevalley.tumblr.com

7 Responses to Why I’ve Had It With Monogamy

  1. Lotte says:

    At first I found the title of this article a little bit aggressive, but I know for sure I feel the same way. I was in a relationship with a man who was upset that I smiled at another man, and I cannot think of anything that suppresses me and my freedom more than something that prevents me from smiling. I remember being friends with a married man and asking if he wanted to come camping, and I didn’t fancy him at all, but it instantly made him uncomfortable, and I haven’t spoken to him for a long time since. I hate these unspoken rules, and question them as often as I can. From the age of about 11, it was all “don’t do this, don’t think this, don’t even think about being this.”

    • Ludi says:

      Hiya – thanks for the comment and for sharing your experiences, and sorry about how long it’s taken me to reply! Yes: it sounds like this is a really common trend: and the sad thing is is that it massively limits friendships as well. I used to have one friend who (after he became more religious) would only ever A-hug me, and would become intensely uncomfortable when alone in a room with me. This was similar for other female friends, and wasn’t the case for male friends – essentially I felt as though I was being seen as *only* a potential sexual object, a source of temptation, not a person, and my feelings had nothing to do with it: it was the fact that I had breasts! And it’s, like, as soon as we’re potentially eligible for dating (for me, it was since I was about 13 I think), all sorts of rules appeared – because of how I appeared to others, rather than because of how I felt. And in terms of activism, there’s so much more here to do than simply have poly accepted (though it’ll help) – it feels like there’s a whole system to be questioned, and mono people could benefit so much from questioning this stuff even if they decide to stay mono!

  2. [...] I think that mono-normativity is misogynistic, and I think that non-monogamy has huge potential to be feminist, especially as many people come to poly, and actively choose it (few monogamous people choose monogamy, as it’s a default) because they’re frustrated with the oppressive nature of mono-normativity. (I wrote about my experiences of that here.) [...]

  3. Trish says:

    Being in a poly relationship is no guarantee against many of the things you mention as drawbacks of monogamy. Being in a sexually monogamous relationship is no guarantee that any of them will necessarily happen. I’m glad that you have found where you want to be and how you want to be doing relationships but please bear in mind that plenty of poly people feel pressured to be sexual, stay in relationships that aren’t working, get hassled by predatory people, get accused of leading people on by other poly people, have possessive partners or are possessive, get treated like a commodity. It’s good that the poly scene has all this open communication and is able to help some people to challenge their more negative behaviours and thought patterns. While many people who currently label their relationships as monogamous are holding onto historic, narrow and possessive ways of being around their partners, many others who currently label their relationships as monogamous are actually able to communicate and treat others well, while being open to fluidity and change as and where it’s needed just as much as people who currently label their relationships as poly. I do not seek to deny your invalidate your personal experience one bit but just to point out that others might read between your lines and think you are saying that monogamy is a bad option, that nobody should ever choose it and that poly is the one true way – which I’m sure was not your intention.

    • Ludi says:

      Absolutely agree with everything you’ve said – yeah, this ties in to lots of my thoughts nowadays, how poly seems to have potential to be loads better but often kinda falls down. I was younger when I wrote this, and brand new to poly, and frustrated with my experiences with monogamy – I think nowadays I’d pin the bad stuff onto mono-normativity rather than monogamy itself, and I think that freely chosen (rather than default) monogamy is fabulous, just as freely chosen poly is fabulous. And there’s a whole lot of people railing against mono-normativity for the reasons I’ve outlined, and yeah, it seems to lead to a whole lot of idealisation of poly and ‘one true way’-ness, and that’s really problematic and needs challenging.

      Your comment is awesome, may I link it around? You’ve summarised a whole lot of stuff that I’ve spent years working out and mulling over, really succintly and well : )

      • Trish says:

        1) I didn’t look at the date on the post
        2) I didn’t look to see who the author was either – Hello Ludi

        I have similar feelings around hetero-normativity. I once worked at an STD clinic where sexuality (a list comprised just of Hetero, Gay, Bi) was recorded in people’s notes. I was a temp working at reception there and asked “so do we ask people this or does the nurse or doctor ask?”. It turned out nobody asked and that people were assumed to be heterosexual unless they said otherwise. I told them they were recording assumptions rather than data but they didn’t change it (nobody listens to the temp!).

        Please feel free to link to anything I say publicly.

        • Ludi says:

          *grins* hiya, Trish! and hey, past Ludi. *pats her on the head*

          grargh, that’s… surprisingly unprofessional. I really hope things have gotten better :/

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