In the LGBTQ community, our relationships don’t always mirror heteronormative ones. I discovered this over twenty years’ ago as I started working as a psychotherapist to San Diego’s LGBTQ community. In fact, the longer I worked as a psychotherapist, I began to notice that many of my clients were not in monogamous relationships. About fifteen years’ ago, at my clients’ requests, I started offering workshops at The San Diego LGBTQ Center on the topic: “Monogamy or Open Relationship?”
These workshops were packed.
Why? Because no one else was talking about this stuff and yet LGBTQ women and men were having all kinds of polyamorous relationships (often fraught with some embarrassment and a bit of shame).
Polyamorous relationships were such a hot topic that I even got a book deal to write about it. Six years’ ago, when I wrote my book, “The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Relationships” (the publishers insisted on aiming it exclusively at gay men), I focused mostly on monogamous and open (non-monogamous) male-to-male relationships, Today, I’d like to dive deeper into the many options that both LGBTQ and heterosexual men and women have to monogamy.
If you’ve never thought about alternatives to monogamy and having multiple romantic relationships, this might seem like a strange topic for you. If so, begin by thinking about your friendships. Our relationships with our friends are usually loving and affectionate, but they aren’t exclusive. We have plenty of love to give. Each friendship is unique, with its own intensity, shared activities and (mutual) emotional commitment. Expand that concept from friendship to romantic/sexual relationships, and you begin to get the idea of how polyamory can work.
Here’s a brief overview of some terminology:
Non-monogamy is an umbrella term that means dating or having sex with more than one person, e.g., polyamory and open relationships. An open relationship can refer to several different relationship arrangements in which someone dates or has sex with people outside of their primary partnership.
Polyamory is about loving/having sex with more than one person at a time. Polyamory can take a near-infinite number of forms. There are throuples (three people who date each other together); solo polyamorists (who may have many lovers without having a primary partner); and a V, (one person dates two people who do not date each other).
There are also other relationship styles that are more individual-focused, like solo polyamory: viewing yourself as your own primary partner, challenging the idea that needing a partner is the “right” thing to want. Relationship anarchy goes even further: moving beyond the idea of romantic love as the ultimate goal of a loving, passionate and erotic life. It invites you to rearrange society’s priorities, giving you a whole lotta room to decide what matters most to you, and to change and adjust it – over time – as you desire.
If you’re thinking, “This is all pretty confusing, what’s the point?”, you’re not alone. To me, the purpose of all these terms is to show us all the options we have for structuring our relationships. We don’t have to do it as previous generations have always done it: we can be more creative and experiment with different kinds of relationships to see what most fulfills us.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed supporting my clients in their explorations of monogamy, polyamory or other options to structuring relationships. If you’re interested in exploring polyamory for yourself, here are some suggestions:
· Stay curious about yourself and your erotic/sexual/emotional desires.
· Approach polyamory with an open mind: try to let go of what your parents told you about how relationships “should” be.
· Stop apologizing for what you want. Instead, hold yourself accountable and be healthily assertive.
· Educate yourself (through content creators and other on-line/real world resources) about polyamory and its many variations. Learn about it from different sources/points of view.
· Be willing to be more courageous and curious about how you love and express yourself sexually.
· Honor yourself and others with relationships that feel right for you.
Ultimately, it’s absolutely fine to choose monogamy and equally okay to explore alternatives. Give yourself the freedom to experiment with different forms of relationships and discover what works best for you: monogamy, polyamory or something else!