Is Being Monogamous or Polyamorous a Choice?
Even though it is widely accepted that people can be attracted – even love – multiple people at once, there is a heated divide on whether Polyamory or Monogamy is an innate “orientation” or a “Lifestyle choice.” Is being polyamorous like being gay? Or is it like an extended vacation in Vegas meaning that, as fun as it is, you can live without if you must? Do we choose the relationship style that we are in or does it choose us?
What The Data Says
There are a plethora of variables that can act as predictors of ones propensity to be poly or monogamous. Many assert that sex drive, reactivity to jealousy, attachment styles, and upbringing are major catalysts. But what do the statistics say?
From the few studies out there, 4% to 5% of the U.S. population identify as poly. Scientists assert lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are slightly more likely than heterosexuals to enter non-monogamous relationships.“So far, studies suggest that polyamorous individuals are well-educated, holding more master’s and doctoral degrees than the general population,” said Champlain Holmes, who is conducting ongoing online research of 5,000+ poly individuals. “Despite their smarts, they’re not particularly wealthy. Also, people high in the personality trait of ‘openness,’ indicate high interest in new experiences.”
Polyamory “Feels” Like an Orientation
As humans, it is empirically proven we can love more than one person at a time, whether it is acted upon or not. In our Western society, acting upon this love is also a form of taboo. Does this mean that all monogamous people are in denial of their true nature?
I also sought out perspectives from the Open Relationship Community Board. One source said, “For me, it’s definitely an orientation. I absolutely cringe at the thought of ever being monogamous…Since my firm decision at age 28 never to agree to monogamy again, I’ve been overwhelmingly happier with myself, and a better person for it. I have a happy/healthy marriage of 16 years so far (non-monogamous from the start), and a happy/healthy secondary relationship of 13 years so far. And I’m still friends with – or at least friendly, and on good terms with – most of my ex-lovers.”
Another commented: “I think my partner is innately non-monogamous. He would feel miserable and oppressed in a monogamous relationship. He says when he discovered poly it was a huge relief for him, like he was discovering there wasn’t something wrong with him.”
It’s a Lifestyle Choice. Duh.
Dan Savage, radio host of “Savage love” who has been in a married “Monogamish” relationship for decades is adamant “Poly is not a sexual identity… it’s not a sexual orientation. It’s not something you are, it’s something you do. There’s no such thing as a person who is ‘a poly,’ just as there’s no such thing as a person who is ‘a monogamous.’ Polyamorous and monogamous are adjectives, not nouns…There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy.”
He ends his point with “If you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.”
Can Monogamous & Poly Folks Couple Up?
According to what many people refer to as their “poly Bible”, More than Two, “a person who self-identifies as monogamous may be able to be happy in a polyamorous relationship, but may not ever become polyamorous. That is why accepting your partner’s proclivities, whether it be ‘orientation’ or ‘choice’ is so important without trying to change them. It has to be something you don’t just cope with; it has to be something that you embrace, something that can give you joy too.”
This requires true self honesty and reflection to ask yourself: Is my need to be monogamous or polyamorous a non-negotiable prerequisite for my own happiness? Too often, however, people find themselves giving false consent. Becoming poly to save a relationship works about as well as having a baby to save a marriage!
Top 5 Questions to Ask When Entering Any Mono/Poly Relationship:
1. What do I/we really want this relationship to look like? This question doesn’t seem to be asked enough. Many people in the poly community will tell you that love is infinite and unique — but time and resources are not. Even in monogamous or ish situations, knowing yourself well enough to identify what you need and desire from your relationship(s) — how much time, attention — and communicating these desires unambiguously to your partner are two of the most crucial relationship skills one can have!
2. What is my/our motivation for being in relationship? There are many motivations that are going on under the surface. When you dig, you may find you desire growth, companionship, to masking sex addictions or traumas. Your motivation for wanting a poly or monogamous relationship may be due to developmental gaps, cultural influence, religious or familial rebellions. Either way, aren’t you curious to ask yourself “Why do I choose to do what I do?” “Am I living the kind of relationship paradigm that feels true to me?”
3. What is my/our attachment Style: The need to be poly or monogamous must be accompanied by a true examination of attachment styles (only 50% of the population is classified as having a secure attachment style, according to Amir Levin and Rachel Heller, authors of Attached). Anyone in an evolved partnership needs to know the deeper motivation for their preference, do their inner work and hold themselves responsible for their true intimacy needs, while allowing their partner/s to see them vulnerably and provide support in the process.
4. How do I/we handle jealousy or triggers? Steve Bearman, Ph.D., founder of Interchange Counseling Institute says,”Jealousy is an equal opportunity employer. It doesn’t matter if you’re monogamous and jealous because you think your lover is looking at someone else, or wildly polyamorous and jealous because your partner is going on vacation with their other lover instead of you. You’re having fundamentally the same kind of experience. The edge of what you can handle is just in a different place….Jealousy is really just one form of suffering, but all forms of suffering share some common traits. Once you understand how to end jealousy, you can apply the same principles to other forms of suffering in your life: guilt, regret, despair, anxiety.”
5. Does this relationship align with what makes me/us happy? Michael McDonald of Together magazine says “…Monogamy is more advanced than polyamory, because monogamy is less natural… If monogamy were natural, an expression of our inherent well-being, it wouldn’t require so much willpower. It wouldn’t require a commitment. Cheating and divorce wouldn’t be as common, and staying committed would be just as easy as when you first fell in love. How most people practice monogamy is a form of anxious attachment, using monogamy to ‘fix’ their fears, to ‘get’ love and support from the outside because they don’t think they are whole on the inside.”
Only you can decide whether or not you can be happy in a monogamous relationship or in a poly relationship – or something monogamish in between. What really matters is that we align with a life true to ourselves and that we treat our loves as the precious, baby Buddahs that they are!
It does not really matter if you are polyamorous, monogamous, or something in between. In the bigger picture, every relationship and interaction is really just an opportunity for us to learn about ourselves anyhow. How about that for a plot twist? It is, however, a great exercise to ask ourselves why do we choose to do what we do, so we aren’t living in default. Would you say you are living consciously and intentionally? Are your relationships fulfilling and in alignment with what you believe? Maybe the ultimate question we should be asking is: Are you experiencing relationships that are true to you?