A student experience of non monogamy

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Tell me a bit about yourself?

I’m Claire, a third year psychology student and aspiring teacher. I’ve been non-monogamous for a few years now, and have had 3 non-monogamous relationships

What exactly do you mean by non-monogamous for anyone unfamiliar with it as a concept? How do you define?

Non-monogamy is usually defined as having multiple sexual/romantic relationships at one time. But it’s not cheating, since everyone involved knows and is ok with it. Polyamory is technically different; it simply refers to having multiple romantic relationships. The difference is small but important!

How did you come to the understanding that you were interested in non-monogamy but not polyamory?

I suppose it actually has more to do with my partners than me: they’ve usually wanted to keep us as the sole romantic relationship and keep other connections casual, so I haven’t had much chance to explore it. It’s less of a concern for me. I’m pretty happy with the way it is at the moment.

How did you get involved with non-monogamy originally?

I mostly have other sexual relationships but rarely have other romantic relationships (although I have and do). I was first introduced to non-monogamy by a guy when I was 16/17. Whilst we were dating, he made it clear he was still seeing other people and it just kind of continued when we got together. We did speak about it and I came to the conclusion I was ok with it. After then, I really struggled with relationships and eventually worked out it was because monogamy wasn’t for me

What about non-monogamy is it that makes you more comfortable?

Ahhhh I love that question!  I’m far more comfortable with non-monogamy since it means I don’t have to limit myself and I don’t feel so restricted by my partner. For example, if I meet someone I fancy, I don’t have to worry about squashing those feelings, instead I can just go with it. For some people, once they’re with someone they’re not even attracted to anyone else and that’s fine too, it’s just my brain doesn’t work that way.

How do your relationships operate differently to monogamous relationships?
I suppose my relationships require a bit more communication, non-monogamy obviously runs the risk of jealousy so that has to be dealt with by talking about it. Also, nothing is assumed. I used to find that there’d come a point in time where the person I was dating would assuming I was only seeing them, with non-monogamy we have to talk about it along the way – what are we expecting? What are we comfortable/uncomfortable with? Etc.I usually find it’s a mixture of both, it’s helpful to have a conversation at the beginning outlining boundaries, but those are bound to change over time.

Both me and my boyfriend have a say, we both have a veto (we can stop the other person from seeing someone) on the understanding that it’s used fairly and it’s discussed beforehand. For example, I have a rule that he can’t do anything with someone that I dislike, since I don’t want any awkwardness between me and them or if he wants to speak to me about them.

What are the best things about non-monogamy for you?

Other things I love about non-monogamy include the lack of pressure on relationships with people. So if you follow monogamy, I think it can quite easy to fall into the trap of testing everyone you fancy to see if they’re relationship material, I don’t have that. If I meet someone I fancy, there’s no pressure to see where it goes, I can let it evolve naturally. This ends up with me having some utterly lovely varying relationships from people, I have people I might kiss and cuddle from time to time, to people I sleep with on a regular basis, to people who I love as friends and maybe sleep with occasionally. Each one is so different, and gives me different things, and I wouldn’t have that if I didn’t do non-monogamy.

Are there any negatives?

There are some obvious negatives, like jealousy, and it’s not like I’m immune to that, I suppose I just deal with it slightly differently. For example, with my current boyfriend I had a bit of jealousy surrounding a friendship he had with someone else, and I realised that the reason I got so jealous was because I didn’t know what was going on between them. Once I knew it was fine. So I suppose I have to be a bit more introspective and work out where the jealousy is coming from.

We also have no model to go off, which can be a good and a bad thing. It’s good since we’re not restricted with “how to have a relationship” since we’re doing it so differently to everyone else, but it can be a isolating if you have no friends who have a similar relationship model.

How much do you discuss your other romantic encounters with your current partner?

I discuss interesting things with him I suppose. I need his permission before doing things with other people and it might involve a little bit of detail, but usually not much. I’m very lucky in that I feel very cherished by my boyfriend, so jealousy is pretty rare.
Often non-monogamy is painted in a fairly negative light and gets a bit of a bad rep; how do you feel about the stereotypes associated with it and what do you think can be done about them?

I sometimes get assumptions like I obviously don’t love my boyfriend, which is frustrating since it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think it’s all about acceptance, and more honest representations of non-monogamy in the media.

As well being non-monogamous, you also identify as bisexual and attended the NUS LGBT Conference earlier this academic year. Tell me about that?

Yeah, last year I went to NUS LGBT Conference, where we get to vote on motions for the union to act upon over the next year related to liberation for LGBT students. It was a really good experience, it was amazing to be surrounded by so many activists and queer (non-straight) and trans* people (those who don’t identify as the gender they were assigned at birth). I definitely learnt a lot of different campaigns currently happening within the movement, such as Action for Trans* Healthcare which aims to improve access to healthcare for trans* individuals.

How did you feel about the level of representation during the conference?

Luckily it wasn’t too gay male orientated, since there are reserved places for people from other marginalised groups (ethnic minority/women/trans*). Since there are reserved places, representation is really good.

There’s been quite a lot of opposition to representation quotas within the student body (e.g. a certain number of places having to be taken by women). How do you feel about this sort of thing in light of your experiences at the NUS LGBT Conference where these were used?

As I experienced at conference, quotas obviously do increase representation and these can only be a good thing. Ultimately, the quotas are a safety net to make it easier for certain groups to run where they might find it difficult for multiple reasons. Once we create an environment where it’s easier for these people to run for positions then we can remove the safety net – but we’re nowhere near yet.

Do you think we’re making progress with getting towards that? Campaigns on campus such as She Should Run have had a really positive response in the past year or so.  

Very possibly, but I think we need to start seeing less opposition to these campaigns and more understanding of the social structures that prevent marginalised groups from running. Also, whilst I think women are finding it easier to run for roles on campus, I couldn’t say the same for marginalised groups since I’m not part of those groups, but I haven’t seen campaigns for those groups so there’s always progress that needs to be made

You’ve spoken out a lot about bi erasure; do you feel like that’s an issue on campus?

It’s hard to speak about it specifically related to campus, since I think it’s so ingrained into our culture. It’s just the general assumptions (“Are they gay or straight?”) and confusion if someone has a partner and then expresses attraction to someone of a different gender. I guess I want it to stop being such a surprise when someone is bi!

I know a lot of people feel like when they’re in a relationship with someone of one gender that the rest of their sexuality is erased; do you feel like that’s different when participating in non-monogamous relationships?

Yes – I think it swings back the other way. People try and create more of a connection than there is; “Oh you’re non-monogamous because you’re bisexual”. Erm, nope. I know lots of people in polyamorous relationships (having multiple romantic partners) and there is often an assumption that the women are bi, which is nice since it’s more accepted….but still frustrating.

How would you recommend someone interested in non-monogamy could find out more or bring it up with their partner?

Finding out more about it is relatively easy, there are some amazing resources out there from books such as The Ethical Slut to blogs online. If the general concept of non-monogamy appeals, go out, read, learn, speak to people, sometimes it can be hard to know if it’s 100% for you and it’s hard to know without trying, but making the most out of these resources can help

Bringing it up with partners is usually much harder, especially if the relationship is more established. I’d recommend small steps; seeing how they react to you stating attraction to someone else, then talking about feelings of jealousy etc. It’s kind of hard to offer advice since every relationship is different.

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