A few days ago a piece we wrote that made reference to what appeared to be the normative superiority of exclusive, committed relationships was reposted at Thought Catalog. A commenter took offense to this perceived judgment, saying that he or she had had several successful, healthy, and happy non-monogamous relationships and that elevating monogamy as the standard trivialized those experiences.
What I meant to imply by what I said and which could probably be inferred if you read all of the points together, is that if one person wants a commitment and the other person continues to want relationship-like things from them (companionship, sex, quality time, etc) then since those things together essentially ‘make’ a relationship it’s not fair to the other person not to agree to forgo things like the ability to pick up a sexy stranger at a bar without consequence (as though not having the commitment in place would make that totally acceptable, but that’s another point entirely). Obviously that person could still have legitimate reasons for not wanting to be in a relationship (in fact, one doesn’t even need to have a reason), but in that case the unspoken alternative to what I was suggesting, then, would be to break up with that person, knowing that no matter how comfortable you may be with the arrangement, it’s coming at the expense of someone else’s happiness which is unfair.
The commenter suggests that there are situations in which both parties willingly agree to remain (or become) non-monogamous and this dynamic works out satisfactorily for both. I don’t disbelieve that whatsoever; I am supportive and respectful of mutually consensual relationships of all types, traditional or otherwise. I have known of couples in at least outwardly happy-seeming non-monogamous relationships and to say that monogamy is the superior ideal—even if most people seem to think that—is, at the end of the day, as baseless as promoting heterosexual marriage in the same way.
However, I can’t help but wonder how often non-monogamous, mutually agreed-upon relationships are actually willful agreements that both parties are pleased by, and how often one partner is a begrudging participant. Perhaps they feel this is the only way to be with the person they care for (the old “take what you can get” method). Perhaps they are afraid to speak up, or maybe they assume that this is merely a stepping stone to an eventual fully committed relationship.
I’m curious because all of the “mutually agreed-upon” open relationships I’ve been party to or witnessed seem to fall under one of those categories. I can’t comment on other people’s relationships with any degree of authority (obviously) but any time I’ve played or been dealt the “I like you a lot but I’m not ready to commit” card, it was pretty obvious that the person whose idea it wasn’t wished it didn’t have to be that way. I understand that this is different in important ways from a relationship where, even if still one-sided, one party says to the other “I still want to have X level of a relationship/commitment to you but I want to also see other people under Y and Z parameters”, but even still, I wonder how often the person on the listening side of that conversation is like, “Yeah, totally!”
At the risk of closing this like Carrie Bradshaw would, I guess what I’m wondering is how often open relationships are sincerely a couple’s preferred relationship model, and how often they are the way for the person who has the power to avoid commitment.