With the insurgence of information and resources about ethical non-monogamy, our culture has shifted a more critical lens towards monogamy. A growing skepticism (particularly in queer and trans communities) around monogamous relationship structures is valid after decades of being told this is the only “right” way to exist in romantic relationships. Monogamy itself isn’t inherently harmful — but the view of it as compulsory that society has established it as is. Much of what is critiqued or labeled as toxic within monogamy comes from societal expectations for romantic relationships. By inviting nuance into the dialogue we can separate out the differences between compulsory and intentional monogamy.
So what are these myths?
“Jealousy is an indicator of true love.”
This is one of the main scripts of compulsory monogamy: if you aren’t feeling jealous or making your partner feel jealous, it’s not true love. Toxic monogamy upholds the idea that if your partner doesn’t get jealous, they don’t really love you or possibly that they don’t love you as much as you love them. This idea is rooted in an ownership mindset, that partners own our attention, time, and energy. While jealousy is definitely not an indicator of love, it’s also not an inherently negative emotion. Jealousy at its core can also be about insecurity, fear of loss, fear of rejection, or fear of being replaced. Intentional relationships can leave space to communicate through moments of jealousy with compassion for all partners involved.
“Commitment can only exist between two people.”
Compulsory monogamy leads us to believe that any kind of relationship structure outside of monogamy is unhealthy and not “true” commitment. However, ethical non-monogamy teaches us the vast ways in which humans can structure intimate relationships. We are driven by connection with one another and commitment to others will look different for everyone. This might include lovers, friends, family, or community. Intentional monogamy allows room for these truths to co-exist.
“Monogamy only looks one way.”
Being in a relationship is an incredibly personal experience and the only people who get a say in the boundaries, growth edges, and expectations of a relationship are the people present in it. No two relationships will be alike, even if they are both identified as monogamous. Some monogamous people create space for flirting, sex or flings outside of their partnership. Others don’t. The most important thing is that these decisions are made mutually and consensually through intentional and negotiated communication.
“Intimacy is only for romantic relationships.”
The societal pressure to find “the one” is only amplified by the ways in which intimacy is often closed off in non-romantic relationships. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Intimacy doesn’t just mean physical touch or sex — it can look like holding one another’s truths, taking care of one another, or being tender/loving with friends. When intimacy is expanded to exist in platonic relationships as well as romantic, it reduces the pressure to be in a romantic relationship and allows people to explore dating with more curiosity and less out of necessity.
“Romantic relationships need to follow a script to be validated.”
Often referred to as the “relationships escalator” compulsory monogamy has a very specific idea of what a relationship should look like over time. Usually, that means dating, moving in together, getting a pet, getting engaged, buying a house, having an extravagant wedding, and having children. This narrative is amplified by heteronormativity and many people don’t feel aligned with these relationship expectations. Defying these societal norms happens within monogamous and non-monogamous relationships because there is no right or wrong way to live your life within a partnership.
“One person can meet all of your needs.”
This sentiment is romanticized by mainstream media representations of relationships that make it seem as though your partner should also be your best friend, therapist, caretaker, confidant, and family. That’s simply not realistic and it places far too much pressure on one person or the relationship. However, just because you accept the truth that one person cannot meet all of your needs doesn’t mean you have to be non-monogamous. Creating networks of care and support within communities allows this pressure on romantic partners to be alleviated. It’s okay to lean on others and call on support from friends or a therapist. A romantic partner can be an additive in life, a safe space to feel held, and not the only person for support in times of need.
“Monogamy means you don’t experience other attractions.”
Being monogamous doesn’t mean that all attractions for other people simply turn off. Intentional monogamy recognizes the fact that both partners likely experience attraction, or even crushes, on other people. That is healthy and valid. Moving through these moments with communication and compassion can allow for relationships to grow stronger.
“Monogamous relationships don’t need boundaries/check-ins.”
There are so many assumptions made about monogamous relationships and oftentimes people are led to believe that monogamy doesn’t require regular check-ins or communication about boundaries. All relationships benefit from communication around boundaries, expectations, and growth edges — even platonic relationships can deepen from this intentional work! Without this level of communication, things go left unsaid and tension can build up causing unnecessary resentment or misunderstandings.
“If you don’t get married, the relationship is a failure.”
Many people have been asked the question, “So when are you getting married?” by an older person or family member in their life. This is a common expectation of romantic relationships, particularly monogamous ones. While marriage is seen as the ultimate level of commitment in our society, it’s not something desirable for a lot of people for a variety of valid reasons. Not wanting to get married doesn’t need an explanation. It can simply be someone’s truth and that doesn’t make their relationship (no matter the structure) a failure.
Learning to unpack the toxic myths around monogamy can help us take stock of our own personal & relationship needs, and allow us to be more intentional with relationships moving forward.