Something that makes me somewhat unusual even among those who identify as some flavor of non-monogamous is that I never had the social conditioning that pressures most people into viewing monogamy as the one true way. Whereas many people pursuing ethical non-monogamy struggle to overcome the shame and fear that often accompanies trying to break away from the path that society attempts to impose on them, I just wandered off into the woods right from the beginning and nobody seemed to notice until I was pretty firmly established in my lack of concern about exclusivity.
As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons for this. One was a lack of positive relationship role models in my childhood. My parents split rather explosively when I was fairly young and the majority of adult couples I was aware of while growing up seemed short lived or dysfunctional. I was aware that most people only had one nesting partners at a time, but I wasn’t really clear on the difference between people spending time together as friends and spending time together as lovers. Even being aware of sex as a kid, it wasn’t like I knew who was screwing who when I wasn’t around. Adults didn’t seem to be very honest with each other about what they did with other people, so I had no reason to believe I knew what was going on in their love lives and I wasn’t terribly interested anyway.
The other was that I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of Disney-esque one true love fairy tales while I was at the stage of development where I was particularly impressionable about society’s expectations. I was an advanced reader, and moved past children’s books pretty quickly. The science fiction and fantasy novels that I attracted my interest were about things like racial tensions between humans and elves or the devil hiring an assassin to kill God (doing a book report on Victor Koman’s “The Jehovah Contract” when you’re 12 is a good way to get odd looks from your teacher). There wasn’t a great deal of focus on intimate relationships in the books I read. Except the Heinlein novels. Which definitely didn’t do much to impress upon me that monogamy was the only or best option for human relationships.
So, when my first serious romantic relationship was a deeply loving one where our age difference made it unviable for us to be life partners, I didn’t think anything of the fact that my lover had no issues with me openly courting women my own age that I would be able to potentially start a family with. It’s only in hindsight that I know how unusual it is for someone to be lovingly supportive of their romantic partners pursuing other romantic interests, though she did make it clear that when I’d found the person I planned to have children with that our sexual relationship would be over. Just one of many reasons she was the best love of my life.
My next partner, who became my first fiance, had mostly monogamous expectations but she explicitly left the door open to having a threesome with another woman. So, again, there was that element of the level of exclusivity in the relationship being a point of negotiation, not an immutable universal law of relationships. Unfortunately, that relationship failed in large portion due to the fact that I didn’t have the monogamous programming that made meeting her clearly communicated and quite reasonable expectations natural to me. I have no qualm taking all the blame on that one.
After that, I made one more attempt at a relationship that followed a primarily monogamous paradigm, and when that relationship ended with that partner ghosting on me because she met someone else she decided she’d rather be with, I just threw my hands up and declared that I was done with monogamy altogether. Also, I held a decade long grudge against Dave Matthews Band because she met the guy at their concert.
That was twenty years ago, and as the internet became more publicly accessible it wasn’t long before I found others who shared my desire to stay away from the monogamous relationship paradigm and a word that we could identify with. Polyamory. It was such a natural fit for me and I was so open about it (because I felt no shame about not fitting into society’s monogamy box) that I very quickly became the go to guy for people to go to for advice about polyamory. I’ve had a number of partners who whose interest in me stemmed mainly from being intrigued by the opportunity to be with a man who would let them be the sexually liberated person they dreamed of being while still being a steadfast and loyal partner.
The way that not having the typical monogamous programming has benefitted me in my polyamorous relationships is that I don’t have a lot of the anxieties a lot of people have about their partners’ relationships with others. I’ve never maintained a one penis policy, nor have I ever tried to set limits on how emotionally involved with someone else my partner can be. While other polyamorous men struggled with letting their partners spend the night at another man’s house, I was favorably discussing the possibility of my spouse carrying another man’s child. Polyamory only becomes stressful for me when people lie to me or neglect our relationship, and those are things that happen just as easily in monogamous relationships.
If there’s been any drawback to never having the monogamous mindset, I think it has been that I’m still sometimes blindsided by other people having that mindset beneath professions of being polyamorous. I have been taken off guard by people who have talked the talk of polyamory but monogamy’s influence comes through in their competitive and divisive behavior, treating their partners like a resource they intend to hold a monopoly on.
Why am I talking about this? Obviously, nobody can go back and change their upbringing. I bring this up not so others can emulate my path to polyamory but rather to demonstrate that it’s okay to let go of that programming so that they can find their own path knowing that they aren’t trying to do the impossible. One of the reasons that people have a hard time erasing monogamous habits is because common society not only insists that we stick to the monogamous script it gives us, but it convinces most people that the script is natural and inherent to being human.
It is not, and my own life is evidence of that.