What I Mean When I Say Toxic Non-Monogamy Culture.

This piece is in response to a short list of aspects of monogamous relationships that can be toxic.  Some of these are mirrors of the points in the list of toxic monogamy cultural norms, and some of them are very different. All of this is in my opinion, and probably has a philosophically anarchistic slant to them. They are accompanied by commentary on why the idea in question is toxic. Enjoy.

What I Mean When I Say Toxic Non-Monogamy Culture

~Jealousy is an indicator of the wrong-doing of the partner of the person feeling jealous

Jealousy is a word often used in non-monogamous discourse as a weapon. It is accusatory, as well as it is shamed. I think jealousy can be a catch-all term for bad feelings we have related to the other relationships close people to us are in, and starts within ourselves as a marker for things we need to think about regarding our personal development and that of our relationship integrity.

~A sufficiently intense love is enough to overcome any practical disagreements over needs, insecurities or other relationships

This is a fallacy. Sometimes, people are incompatible and that just becomes more and more likely the more people are added to the equation. Unless everyone has their shit together, it’s not going to function in a way that supports everyone involved, let alone manage to squeak by without anyone getting really steamrolled.

~Relationships are for getting your needs met, so if you aren’t getting a need met in one relationship, another with whomever will do

People are not need-fulfillment pegs to shove into the holes in your heart, y’all. Trying to find people with your specific “need” (let’s face it, we’re talking about wants) in mind first is not paying homage to the dynamism of human beings.

~Love is limitless, which means that you can have as many relationships as you want

Time is limited, and so is energy. While it is prudent, always, to consider whether the amount of time you have to offer someone lines up with the amount that they would like to have with you, it is also advisable to take a look at the assumption that time spent in each other’s physical company is the be-all-end-all demonstration of care.

~Commitment assumes exclusivity of aspects of relationships

Commitment is in the agreements, not the exclusivity. It is also a bit of a fallacy, as people’s minds can change about what they want to be doing, and then weigh the value of the relationship agreement against the desired change at any time, and it serves us to foster safe renegotiation in order to promote autonomy in our relationships.

~Marriage and children limit how non-monogamous someone is, or what they have available to other people

While children become a top priority in the lives of parents, this does not negate or cancel out the importance of their relationships to them, and how they engage with the people they care about. It can mean some finagling of schedules, but that can be easily managed when everyone is understanding and accepting of children’s needs being of high importance.

~Your insecurities are your partner’s responsibility to tip-toe around and never your responsibility to work on

This is precisely in conflict with why lots of people choose non-monogamy for their lives: the challenge, the growth, and the stretching capacity of their hearts and minds. Without a careful examination of self-motives and self-governance, non-monogamous relationships will crash and burn more often than not. Ignorance of self-work is a disservice to yourself, and to the people you care about. Asking for help with self-work is great, but it is still ultimately your responsibility.

~Your value to a partner is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy they spend on you, and it is in zero-sum competition with everything else they value in life

As previously mentioned, it is also advisable to take a look at the assumption that time spent in each other’s physical company is the be-all-end-all demonstration of care. This is simply not always true, and can be a showstopper if an inherent need for time, or lack thereof, is mismatched. There are lots of different ways to show care, but they need to be negotiated and desirable for all parties involved.

~Being of value to a partner should always make up a large chunk of how you value yourself

This one has been a trip-wire for me for years, and I am happy to say that I may finally be getting out of some very self-destructive habits around how much my friends and partners experience of me shapes my reality about who I am. While constructively critical feedback from loved ones is a help to anyone’s personal growth, boundaries around how another person defines your behaviour, and how your inherent character can be separate from their perceptions of your behaviour, is so important for self-sustainability.

Dear Chelsey: A Letter to My Previous Self.

Dear Chelsey,

Hello. I know, I’m surprised too. We have read lots of time-travel lo-fantasy, and we always wondered what we would be like when we were older.

Here I am. We made it this far, and we’re aging okay, despite our best efforts to self-destruct. Lucky us. It is a good thing we’ve eaten pretty well over the years, even with all the other toxicity we’ve subjected ourselves to. Hopefully we quit smoking soon enough, and have curbed our inebriation choices to a livable frequency and quantity. I’ll get back on that yoga train soon, I promise. This winter was really tough on us, so we’re being gentle and introducing a self-care regimen slowly.

I am pleased to be able to offer you some insight. I hate to say it, because this may come across as “I’m so glad I’m not you”. But I’m really glad that I am not even a moment younger than I currently am, and look forward to being older and having more experiences to draw from. They really knew what they were talking about when they said, “wait until you’re older”, or “listen to your elders”, or whatever other anecdotal advice some older person tried to give you over the years that you probably took with a grain of salt. Salt is a very important grain to take, but it helps to listen too, and we didn’t know that then, as most younger people overlook. We’re getting a better grip now, thankfully, and finally. It is so hard to listen to advice when we’re young and wilful.

We are going to be thirty-five this year, if you can believe it. That’s a third of a lifetime, done. Half, if we’re feeling not as optimistic. I tend to lean on the optimism end of the spectrum, or I try.

You’ve been through a lot, already, haven’t you? I’m pretty sure you were reeling from the things you had been through by the age of twelve, let alone where I am at thirty-four. I assure you, at each of the junctures I am going to acknowledge you at, you were tired. I think we’ve probably been tired our whole lives, and because we didn’t know any different, we just kept plugging along, kept trying, kept telling ourselves we were lucky it wasn’t worse. Now, I have learned about things like trauma-bonding, codependency, and how bad the things you have been through were. We used to talk ourselves out of that. We laugh when we’re nervous, and when we’re scared, because we want it to not be as bad as it is, or are trying to make light of our own struggle.

We gaslit ourselves for years because that was the way others taught us to treat ourselves by treating us as such. We know better now, but slip up from time to time and try not to be too hard on ourselves when we do.

It’s okay that the things that happened to us were bad, even if they weren’t as bad as some of the other things other people have suffered. It’s okay to have been hurt, and to have been unlucky in some cases, and to feel that. We are lucky in a lot of ways and have a lot of privileges, but those do not mitigate the hurt we have been subject to, and glossing over those hurts isn’t helping you move through them, so let’s stop that together, okay?

I’m going to go over some things that have happened, and are going to happen to you, and what I think would have helped you if I had known these things when they happened to me. I will refer to your age at the time of the event, or the instance, so we can keep straight what we’re talking about. That should help this be less confusing.

There may be an overarching theme to the information I am going to give you, but we will see if that emerges while I compile this letter. Who knows, this might even narrow down to one succinct piece of advice.

Let’s start early.

When the girls in your early elementary classes are not being kind to you, don’t worry about it. You’re a curious, communicative, amicable being; you want to talk to everyone, and have done since you gained the ability to speak. Your parents let you run wild at parties and other social spaces, and you made friends with everyone. This is not the way school is going to work for you, and it’s not really anyone’s fault. A bunch of kids are mashed together, coming from differences they don’t understand yet, and they can be mean, unfortunately. These girls are only going to be around you for a couple more years, and then you will find different friends that are nicer and much more supportive. They are probably just trying to work out if they have any power, just like you. There are differences between you and them that have to do with things you don’t understand yet, like class privilege. It doesn’t feel okay at the time; the rejection is palpable, and what you don’t yet understand is that you fall in love with girls. Their disinterest is more hurt-filled than you, or they, understand, because all the Disney movies show girls falling in love with boys. Try not to let this silence you. Keep being yourself, and don’t change so they like you. They are not going to like you anyway if they don’t want to, and they are not a representative set of how women can be in your life. Further, stand with the people those girls are mean to besides yourself. Those are your allies, and you will remember them until you’re me.

Your dad is going to go away for a little bit and you’re going to have to move house when you’re still quite young, at seven. It is not your fault, even though your words were an integral part of how this came to pass so suddenly. This is for the best, and he is just doing what he needs to do to be happy. He will be an amazing father because he is a happy man. He met his soulmate; she is going to be a wonderful support system for you later, so trust him. He will be back, and he will be a really solid parent for you, as will she. They will mitigate a lot of the damage done to you by others in your childhood life, and set you up with some of the skills you will need to navigate hardship. Through this, and through their examples of survival, you will learn profound resilience.

Your mum getting sick, diagnosed when you’re ten, is going to impact a lot of things in your life. She doesn’t mean to be angry at everything all the time. She can’t really help it. She wasn’t socialized to be able to deal with how angry she is at her circumstances very well, and is very resentful of how, now, she must rely on others to take care of her quite a lot. The betrayal she feels by your dad is going to go on for a long time, because it’s a tangible thing to blame. Try not to take that personally, or feel the need to defend him. It will just turn her anger on you, and that’s not really all that helpful. She sees him in you, and can’t not see him when she’s really mad. She mixes this up with all her anger about her illness, and it just compounds and fills her with vitriol. She has been dealt a hard hand, and can’t help but lash out at the closest people: her children. She can’t handle the injustice of it all, at times. Her body is failing her and she’s livid about it, but that doesn’t mean she gets to treat you badly.

You can leave, and you will. When you are ready.

Speaking of Mum, she is going to betray you.

Be ready, my dear. This is going to shape parts of your character, and be a shadow within your personality for the rest of your life.

This thing that is going to happen is going to shape a lot of how you engage with people, unfortunately. Let it wash over you; she is not the way all women are. Try not to let that betrayal shape your perspective of women in general, because you will have strong, supportive ones in your life much later, and you will love them very deeply, as they will you. Trust them, even though the first one to influence you was not trustworthy, as it turned out. I know it will be hard, because the imprinting that occurred with this betrayal is going to be a mountain to overcome, but you can do it. Women will be some of the greatest loves of your life, so start climbing that mountain. It will be so worth it.

Now, let us talk about your relationships with men.

Your first sexual experience with a male person should have been much, much later than it was. It’s not your fault; he’s a broken human, and he didn’t know not to touch children, for some reason.

Oh honey, I’m so, so sorry.

You need to be tough, and at the first sign that he may touch you, scream and tell someone immediately. He will start with just an escalation of affection, which feels really weird but you’re eleven, so you don’t know how to process it.

Stop him.

It will get worse, and he will keep going, keep touching you, escalate the sexual nature of the contact until you stop him. This is horrifically unfair, because you are eleven and no child should have to learn how to fight a grown man’s sexual advances off of them at that age, but you will have to fight him off. You will have to snap him out of the drunken haze that has allowed him to think this is acceptable. Tell people who are safe, and you will know who is safe deep in your heart, until someone listens and helps you. Don’t listen to your mum this time; don’t let her silence you. She is internalizing the responsibility of his actions, and she’s afraid of him, and what he will do if she tries to get him to leave. She doesn’t know how to get him to leave, or if she would be okay if he left, so she acts out of fear and tries to shove what happened down and away, tries to make it disappear.

She demands of you that same burial. She demands that you forget it happened, and ignore it.

Don’t erase yourself.

Tell your friends’ mums, or your dad and stepmum, or both. Just don’t be quiet. The silence will eat away at your soul worse than the impact of the assault itself. It will erode your personality, change you permanently, though not irreparably, but that will take years. I know; four years of quiet almost kills you until you are not quiet anymore, and you find support and retribution. You are so brave, and that bravery saves your life, even if you didn’t realize it at the time.

She does not understand what the silence, the suppression, and the lack of advocation by her, for you, is going to do to you. Years later, she will say so. She will not verbalize any understanding of what happened for you before she dies. Your peace with her will have to be made within yourself, without her.

Yeah, I know. This world is like, really fucked up sometimes.

Go to counselling. Even when you think you feel better, keep going. The days you think to yourself “I think I’m okay today. I wonder what there is to talk about?” will be the best sessions. Those sessions really get into your emotional process, and what you need to be healthy and safe. Keep going.

When your “friend” offers you that bag of drugs in trade for a money loan, think about what you are doing. This decision will evaporate a year of your life, at least, and turn you into someone you don’t recognize. Those particular drugs are the sort that erode a part of you that determines morality. You need that part, so stop using as soon as you can. You will come out of it okay when you’re ready, and you have the strength to overcome this particular bout of addiction, as you will overcome many, but your dad will age about twenty years watching you do this and he really needs that lifetime bandwidth.

When that charming boy you met in a drug-fuelled, or alcohol-fuelled, haze wants you to go to that party with him, or that bar, or his house in that cab, consider your options. Please, don’t listen to him. He doesn’t care enough about you and he will show it time and time again with his actions. Watch him, don’t listen to his words, and believe what you know in your heart to be true about him from watching his actions. He doesn’t see you. You are merely a shade, subtle, in his hero story. This is not good enough.

This particular piece of advice was offered without age or timeline, because it happens so many times, I cannot count them all.

Your dad is amazing. This means you trust men to support you emotionally and take care of you when you are too wrecked to take care of yourself, and they will not meet that bar more than most of the time. Approaching your relationships with men with some skepticism as to their ability to meet you where you are at is very prudent, and you will be alright regardless. You will survive them all, and you will leave them all on your own volition, because you should and you will know when to get out. They aren’t good enough. Whether they become such later is irrelevant, because the damage they are doing to you in their negligence is not worth it.

In fact, This is a key tenet to be mindful of: watch what people do. Don’t listen to what they say all the time. They will tell you stories with their actions, and those are so much truer than the words they say. Watch for the people who do exactly what they say, and keep those close to you.

Have sex with men if you want to, but be sure to check in with yourself and confirm that you actually want to. Do it for you, not because they want you to, or you think they will like you more if you do. They won’t. They’re taking your life-force from you if you’re not into it, and you need that to survive. You could be reliving past trauma by engaging in sexual situations you don’t one hundred percent want to be doing, and that’s hurting you more than you know. You are sensitive, particularly about sexual things, as a result of your history. Stay on top of using protection, and if they have a problem with that, leave. You will get lucky, but there’s no such thing as too cautious. This will fail once, and particularly devastatingly, but again, you are lucky: you live in a country that has legal and safe abortion access. You catch it early, and it is like it never happened.

Your body needs to carry you through your life; treat it with reverence.

It will take you until the time of this letter being written by me, by future you, for you to realize the trauma you have subjected yourself to by having sex with people you aren’t completely into. This will happen over and over again for years. You will have lots of great sex; you will be very into a lot of the people you are intimate with, but there will be as many, if not more people that you’re not. You are a sex-positive person, and this will conflate with your desire, which will lead to a lot of situations that are more “I guess, because I should be into this” than “fuck yes”. “I guess” isn’t consent. The people you were having sex with should have known based on your body language, your intoxication, your hesitancy prior to their coercion, but they went ahead with it anyway. That’s on them, so don’t beat yourself up about this. You are responsible for yourself, but you are also only fifty percent responsible for the interactions you have with others. You are also a conventionally attractive woman, so people are going to chase you. Your boundaries have been historically shaky, so it’s no wonder that sometimes, particularly manipulative and toxic people get in close with you. You get better and better at dealing with this every single day, and I am hopeful that I will continue into the future to get even better.

Here is something very important about that, something that I wish I had known so much sooner than ago:

People getting close to you and your not seeing their negative impact on you until it’s too late is absolutely not your fault.

How other people push you, push your soft spots to see where the weaknesses are, how they covertly cross boundaries in order to get what they want, how they don’t check in, how they take what they can extract from you, how they steamroll over you: that is entirely on them.

People who prioritize egalitarianism, and who care about you, will not do this to you.

You’re not going to find your people until you are in your thirties. Your social nature, the way you easily get close to people and the way you are always growing and changing will lead to you cycling through a lot of social circles through your teens, twenties, and beyond. You will manage to keep a few people for the duration of those years, but most of them will come and go. In your mid-thirties, you will still see some churn, but there will be a core network that challenges you, and nourishes you. The people who are close then will value everything you are, and you won’t have to change or try to muffle any aspect of yourself with them. You will be valued for your headstrong, intense nature and the depth and ease with how you feel. Let that shine, and they’ll be able to see you in the dark. The people who want to take advantage of you will not even try anymore because you will terrify them. They will back away from your fire, as well they should, because you will incinerate them if they get too close. Too often over the course of your life you have been made small and quiet by others, and not only was that an assault on your state of being and your psyche, it was unjust.

You are valuable, and so are your thoughts and feelings.

A thread seems to have emerged, as we both suspected it might. Alongside that of “watch what people do, and see if it lines up with the words they say”, the other is “don’t let people silence you”.

Don’t snuff yourself out your fire. Do not be quiet. Deafen them all with the sound of your voice. Do it to protect yourself and to support people who are struggling in your community.

Be as emphatic as you love, with all of your heart.

Much love to you,

Chelsey