In our culture and many others, the typical relationship narrative goes like this: You date around a little, eventually finding one true soulmate—the one person you'll grow old with, raise children with, and the one and only person you'll have sex with.
But there are a lot of people who don’t subscribe to this narrative, myself included. The problem with the concept of “the one” is that it undermines each and every human’s capacity to love many different people in many different ways.
After I decided to try out non-monogamy with a former girlfriend, I realized how the standard concept of monogamy erases the complexities of sexuality, passion, and romance. Though I still loved her as deeply as ever after opening up the relationship, I also learned to love another person on a completely different level. With my girlfriend, the love was deep, full of history, and adventurous; with my second partner, the love was fiery and playful.
Non-monogamy gave me the opportunity to intimately learn about another person’s body and mind without restriction or fear, and ever since that relationship, I’ve practiced non-monogamy with all my partners. While it can look different for different people, in my case, I prefer having a primary partner—someone I can call my girlfriend, make a home with, and introduce to my friends and family. I'm also comfortable with us having other partners, whether they are sexual, romantic, or a combination, as long as there is open communication about all relationships. We make sure we're on the same page about what is and isn't OK.
What I've been most grateful for is how non-monogamy has made me a much better partner and person. Here's what I mean.
1. I’m not as jealous.
When someone hits on my girlfriend or when I see her express interest in someone else, I actually get excited for all the potential thrill and adventure that relationship could bring. This decrease in jealousy helps me fully enjoy my time with my partner and not question her use of time when we’re not together.
And when I do feel jealous, I handle it better than I used to. No relationship, whether monogamous, polyamorous, or non-monogamous, is totally exempt from jealousy. If you’re someone trying out an open or non-monogamous relationship for the first time, know that it’s totally normal and OK to get a little envious.
I like to sit down with my partner the moment I start feeling this way and ask some questions: Where is this coming from? Is it a little irrational? How can we work together to fix the problem now and avoid it in the future? By tackling these questions head-on, we avoid the nasty things that sometimes happen when people let jealousy fester.
2. I see partners as humans—not people I can control.
People in monogamous relationships often say things like “that’s my girl” or “you can’t talk to my man.” This reduces your partner to property, and though many people don’t mind this kind of language, I prefer to see, treat, and speak about my partner as her own person. When my partner is on a date with someone else, I am reminded that, though I love her, she’s not only mine to love.
3. I’ve completely stopped slut-shaming.
As I've come to understand that my partner’s body does not belong to me, I’ve become opposed to policing others' bodies. To me, bodies are about safety, health, and pleasure, and while I may feel bodily pleasure through exercise, sex, and deep-tissue massages, other people may feel that pleasure through different sensations and actions. Before I started practicing non-monogamy, I gave my friends who abstained from sex a hard time about their choices. But opening up that aspect of my romantic life has taught me all the nuanced ways people use (and don’t use!) their bodies, and I’m a better person for it.
4. I find joy in others' happiness.
Compersion is a term used in non-monogamous and polyamorous communities to describe the romantic or sexual pleasure that comes with seeing your partner loved or aroused by someone else. The first time I experienced compersion was during a threesome with one of my former girlfriends. I enjoyed watching the third person kiss her because I knew she enjoyed the kiss.
Compersion can cause an immediate surge of endorphins and arousal in sexual situations, but I’ve learned to translate the feeling into non-romantic and non-sexual situations as well. By embracing other people’s joy, I’m able to feel genuine excitement for their accomplishments (instead of jealousy) and happiness for their successes (instead of bitterness).
5. My sex life is way richer because I'm more open-minded.
Many people think non-monogamous people only open up their relationships for sex. While this isn’t always true, the improvement in my sex life has been undeniable. I’ve learned so much more about different ways human bodies feel pleasure, and I’m generally willing to act on fresh ideas in bed.
6. I can connect with diverse groups of people.
As a queer, non-monogamous woman of color, it’s sometimes hard to stumble upon communities who share all my identities and can intimately relate to my trials and triumphs. But when I do, the feeling is magical. Though I love my straight, white, monogamous friends, meeting a non-monogamous brown or queer girl like myself helps me expand my perspective on my own identities as well as empathize with (and learn from!) the perspectives of someone else in a position similar to mine.
7. I don't take my relationship for granted.
In a monogamous relationship, when an S.O. is expected to spend all their romantic and sexual energy on you, things can sometimes get a little stale and monotonous. When I opened up my relationship, I treated all the time we spent together like a gift and not necessarily an expectation. Despite what people may think, we didn’t spend significantly less time together. But on the nights she would be on a date with another person, I would have time to reflect on how much I loved her (and missed her!), so I was better able to cherish the time we spent together.
8. I’m a lot better at talking about my relationship.
From improvement strategies to big next steps (like moving in together or adopting a puppy) to simple check-ins, non-monogamy has made me a better communicator in general. I’m able to apply the same open communication principles to serious relationship talks, positive or negative.
9. I’m not quick to judge others.
It’s no secret that non-monogamy is unconventional and often frowned upon. As someone who takes pleasure in something society deems “unnatural” or “irregular,” I understand how important it is to approach any other lifestyles with an open and accepting mind (as long as those lifestyles don’t bring harm upon others).
10. I understand my own sexuality (and others') better.
When I was 17, I came out as a lesbian and understood my sexuality to be strictly one that aggressively favored women. But as I opened up my relationships and started sleeping with men, I found that though I still prefered women over men in every way, there was definitely room for men (both cis and gender non-conforming) and people who don’t identify within the binary. I started identifying as queer and learned that my own sexuality can be very fluid. Understanding my own sexuality helps me talk to my partners about theirs and ultimately helps me create safe spaces for friends and family to discuss the issue with me as well.
11. I take better care of my physical and reproductive health.
Having a variety of different partners means taking responsibility to ensure pleasant and safe experiences for everyone. I get tested for STIs more often and also make sure to tackle infections more quickly now that a variety of people may be exposed to them. Taking better care of my reproductive health contributes to better communication, since sharing sexual history with partners can be crucial in many non-monogamous relationships.
12. Saying “no”—without hurting someone's feelings—has become much easier.
Since I go on a lot more dates, I’ve become much better at sensing when I’m not compatible with someone. Because of this, it’s easier for me to tell people that things won't work out, which spares a lot of hurt feelings.
13. I’ve become more loving and open-minded overall.
As a final thought for anyone confused about non-monogamy or considering exploring it with a partner, I want to emphasize it is not just fueled by a desire to have sex with other people; in fact, people who are non-monogamous often seek to better their relationships with their primary partner and lead more understanding, open lives.