Keith and Roscoe*, two UA seniors, have been together since Valentine’s Day 2012. Six months ago, they made the decision to open up their relationship from monogamous to non-monogamous.
“It’s mainly been sexually open,” Roscoe said about his relationship. “[Non-monogamy in our relationship looks like] being able to hook up with other people, but I’ve been upfront when I’ve been crushing on other dudes. Neither of us see that as a threat to our stability.”
Non-monogamy and polyamory are a challenge to the tradition of two people per relationship that has been ingrained into our society for hundreds of years. Rather than being based in jealousy, possession and boundaries as monogamous relationships tend to be, non-monogamous relationships rely on communication, openness and self-reflection.
Non-monogamy/polyamory is the practice of being in or desire to be in an intimate relationship, sexually or not, with more than one person at a time with the consent of everyone involved. Non-monogamous relationships can take many forms, and depend entirely on the communication and comfort of the people involved.
There is no “right” way to do non-monogamy. Some follow group relationship models, where everyone is dating each other; some relationships are open sexually but not romantically; some relationships feature a hierarchy of partners. The only thing non-monogamous relationships all have in common is that consent is required from everyone involved.
If you don’t have consent, you’re cheating.
Roscoe says that his and Keith’s relationship is fluid, and strong communication and upfront vulnerability help them to balance other partners and to maintain their original connection.
“The first time Keith went out [with someone else], I was like, ‘Woah, why am I so jealous? Where is this coming from?’” Roscoe said.
It took time for the two men to work through their negative reactions, but now he says they’re very happy being in a non-monogamous relationship.
“There’s a lot of inherent jealousy and ownership in monogamy,” Roscoe said, “and neither of us are comfortable with that.”
In our culture, monogamy is seen as the sign of love. Every shitty young adult book with an overblown love triangle (looking at you, Stephenie Meyer), every romantic comedy with the “this is my ex from college” trope and every Disney princess’ happy ending has taught us that one person will sweep us off our feet and make us happy forever, and that anyone who comes close to that one person is a threat.
The relationships that we idealize in media and in real life are more often than not based on jealousy and possession — Ted and Robin, Betty/Veronica and Archie, Arthur and Guinevere. It’s hard to fight that sinking feeling in your stomach when you’re afraid someone you care about is drifting from you. We’re conditioned by our surroundings to protect what is “ours.”
Even our country’s tax and legal systems are rooted in the expectation that everyone — one man and one woman in most states — will marry off and settle down. Non-married relationships have no tax, insurance benefits or spousal rights. To be recognized as “being in love,” you need a marriage certificate. Why do we need a piece of paper to recognize personal relationships and a level of commitment when “family” is undefinable?
According to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we all have the fundamental right to family. United Nations representatives have said it is impossible to establish a definition for family due to its infinite variations of structure. A man, a woman, and 2.5 kids? Family. A single mother and a child? Family. An unmarried elderly couple with no kids? Family. Two men and a woman who all love each other? Family.
We should treat all families with respect and recognize that love is love, and consensual sex is wonderful, no matter who is involved. So whether you’re hooking up for one night this Valentine’s Day, taking both your girlfriends out to a fancy restaurant, spending the night in with your dominant hand or having a delightful orgy in a hot tub, remember consent and communication are always vital.
*Disclaimer: Names have been changed because of the sensitive nature of this column.
Kat Hermanson is a gender and women’s studies freshman. Follow her @queerwildkat.