“How do you know if your friend is polyamorous?”
“Oh, trust me, you’ll know, they never stop talking about it.”
I heard this joke the other day, and I laughed because it’s generally true. People who are poly (short for polyamorous, and a style of Ethical Non Monogamy) are often pretty vocal about it. Sometimes to the point of evangelizing and driving their friends nuts.
I’m not here to try to convert you to trying a non-monogamous relationship. But I do want to help you understand what it is and why it might be something to consider.
First Things First: What IS Ethical Non Monogamy?
Unlike monogamy, in which two people decide to refrain from intimacy with people outside their relationship, Ethical Non Monogamy (ENM) is a relationship style that allows people to maintain or pursue intimacy with multiple people. (For a comprehensive guide on ENM, see Ethical Non Monogamy Forum.)
Most people usually see monogamy as the “default” relationship style. But some researchers posit that this has only been the norm for the last 1000 years or so. And many people argue that another shift, one toward polyamory, is necessary and beneficial.
For a great discussion of how increased female sexual choice improves our lives, check out Layla Martin’s podcast featuring Dr. Wednesday Martin (available on Apple podcasts here).
ENM is Like a Graduate Level Seminar on Effective Communication
At least when done well, anyway.
Done poorly, it’s a dumpster fire of uncontrolled anxiety. (But then, don’t we see that in monogamous partnerships as well?)
While most people feel more secure within a monogamous partnership, ENM forces people to have difficult conversations about relationship goals, agreements, safety, jealousy, and boundaries.
Mind you – we should be having these conversations even if we’re in a monogamous partnership! But being ENM forces the issue, because everyone has to agree and consent.
A client of mine who doesn’t generally consider herself ENM tried it for a while. She ultimately didn’t find it completely satisfying. And she will probably lean more to monogamous partners in the future. But in the process of experimenting with ENM, she said that the frequency and the normalcy of the conversations she and her partners had about boundaries and consent helped her immensely. Now, she says those conversations no longer seem difficult, because she has a lot more practice.
Why Choose ENM?
You might wonder why my client decided to try ENM if she considers herself mostly monogamous.
ENM is a good way to get your needs met if you aren’t in an ideal relationship and want to explore options while remaining available.
Some people are probably just more wired to ENM anyway.
But for people wired more for monogamy, I would argue that trying ENM even if you’d prefer to be monogamous is a good idea (if you’re single and haven’t yet met an ideal partner).
What if You’re Partnered?
If you’re partnered and you’d like to try ENM, I recommend approaching the subject with great care. Assure your partner that you love them and that they don’t have to consent to anything they don’t want to do.
For many people who are accustomed to monogamy, simply discussing options other than an exclusive dyad (two-person partnership) may be triggering.
However, if ENM is something you really want to do, putting off having the conversation with your partner because it scares you is not a good choice, either.
We all deserve to live an ecstatic life. And sometimes doing so means making choices that fall outside the norm.
Thankfully, ENM gives us a framework for exploring multiple partnerships without sacrificing trust or honesty. (Hence the “ethical” part of the name.)
Is ENM “Better” Than Monogamy?
No. While evangelical polyamorous folks might try to tell you otherwise, there is no one superior style of relationship. ENM isn’t better, it’s just different, and what works for you might be some mix of the two. As Layla Martin said in a podcast, she and her partner are “California Monogamous.” She explained that they’re mostly monogamous, but they still hook up with their hot friends!
What style you choose is entirely up to you. I just believe it’s important to recognize that there is no one right style. And it’s healthy to have a conversation about it so that you get to enjoy a love life that brings you peak joy.
Where Do I Start?
If you want to explore ENM, one option is attending an in-person gathering of like-minded people. More intimate versions of these are called cuddle parties, sensual snuggle parties, or second base parties. Or, for a less hands-on introduction, you could attend a “munch” (an informal gathering of poly people usually centered around food and drink).
Have you tried ENM?
How did it go? Did you feel you learned something from the experience?