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.

(Not So) Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Once upon a time in a not-so-far away land, there was a woman. She was what most people would consider attractive, and dressed a bit eclectically and hipster-like, without a lot of effort. The pattern of her socks would clash and yet match the shoes she was wearing. She liked flowered tote bags and maybe a delicate-looking pin tucked gently into her full, messy, deeply-to-the-side parted hair and overgrown bangs. She had been meaning to get a haircut, but every so often would trim the ends with tiny scissors she used for cutting thread while sewing. Her eyebrows are full and she sometimes wears red lipstick, but not always. The polish is dark on her short nails, usually a bit chipped. This is not from a lack of attempting to keep it looking nice, but simply because she likes to do things with her hands, like woodwork, and so they chip quickly after she paints them.

None of this is very important to who she is on the inside, though. These are just physicality descriptors to help us along as we imagine this woman in front of us.

Before we look within. Where the good stuff is.

She does a job that pays moderately well for the purpose of having the finances to support her pursuit in doing other things that are of more interest her, but are not necessarily very good capitalistic endeavours. Her childhood was relatively normal, with a few mishaps that left her with a sense of emotional strength being valuable. She had a weird uncle that always hugged and kissed her too many times which lead her to be stand-offish with physical affection unless she is asked for consent explicitly, even before that became a social expectation in her circle. Her mum kept fashion magazines lying around the house that she liked to admire the images in which gave her a value and appreciation for femme presentation. She wrestles a lot with her own identity as queer because of her femme presentation, and that she is able to “blend” and not experience a lot of the marginalization some queer people cannot avoid. She has a smallish social group of people she loves, and spends time with them, but also enjoys being by herself. She goes to shows: tiny local bands or deejays in the bar down the street on week nights. She really likes animals, and sometimes fosters for the local cat shelter, but does not want to have a pet at home all the time. She gets a lot of gratification from being a safe place for kittens to start out their adjustment to stable existence. She reads books in parks on Saturday afternoons, and is easily distracted from them to just look at how beautiful the trees are. She has a sense of humour that is on the palatable-to-the-masses side of dark, but gets much darker once she is comfortable with her audience.

She considers herself to be a loyal friend because she makes time for people and in good at staying in touch with them.

She takes her coffee with a small amount of milk in it, and always cold. She pays attention to people when they are speaking to her, and smiles at strangers, especially the people she sees regularly who live on the streets in her area. This is important to her because she really values witnessing the humanity of others and having small interactions that might brighten the day of someone without precedent. She has a purple string tied around her ankle and has done since the last time she travelled. It reminds her that her next adventure will sneak up on her, and to pay attention. Sometimes she is paralyzed with sadness because of the news she sees and the horrible things that are happening all over the world as a result of prejudice and hate, but has no idea where to start in order to help solve problems so systemic and huge. She usually looks like she’s carrying one too many things with her, but wants to make sure she is prepared. She would rather have a pen if she wants to write something down, or a scarf if it gets chilly out, than not.

She considers herself to be a relatively good person, but has a bit of imposter syndrome around this because she knows she could be better.

She had thoughts, feelings, and aspirations independent of anyone else’s experience, but is also affected by the societal structures that place her in a hierarchy. She listens to philosophical and political podcasts while she commutes to work. She has interesting and thought-provoking ideas. She likes social media, and uses it as a tool to connect information she thinks is important to people she thinks would be interested. Freedom of information is important to her. Feminism is expected by her of everyone as the default; when she is met with patriarchal nuances, it is off-putting and disappointing to her, but she doesn’t expend a lot of emotional energy trying to shine light on it for others. Sometimes, she’s tired and doesn’t want to die on that proverbial mountain, no matter how tall it is in the moment.

She has been called “pretty” or “cute”, sometimes “striking” or “beautiful” her whole life, therefore places little value on the compliment but has a lot of self-worth wrapped up in people thinking she is cute or beautiful. She doesn’t really like this preoccupation.

She doesn’t really like her feet. She thinks they’re a bit too big for the rest of her frame. She also wishes her hair would grow faster because she thinks she looks better with it long, and cut it off out of frustration with the combination of it being thick and the weather being quite warm.

One day, a particularly overcast day, this woman meets a man. He is around her age range, and looks like he hasn’t shaved in a couple of days on purpose. His jeans are straight-legged. He wears T-shirts that has things on them like band logos or emblems that reference sci-fi films.

He has just been through some kind of struggle. Maybe he just found out his partner was cheating on him, or a family member has fallen ill, or a professional endeavour just didn’t work out the way he wanted it to. His general outlook was “I need something to inspire me”.

She’s sitting on a bench in outside an art studio, or some such thing, watching the people inside who are throwing clay on wheels. He walks by and she says something funny about how muddy they all are, pointing so he will look. He looks and smiles and sits down with her to make up stories about the muddy clay-throwers’ lives. They decide that the two on either end are secretly in love and haven’t been able to tell each other because they are both either in relationships or not of the sexual orientation the other is suited to. They laugh for a while and she gets up to leave, commenting that sometimes it’s nice to stop and watch what is happening around us. It’s a nice reminder that we’re not alone. He asks her for her number. She declines but takes his.

He thinks about her a lot in the next few days, and makes up all sorts of stories in his head about who she is. He surmises that she is not that good a cook, but would try anyway, and that she likes the same music that he does. She probably lives in a really cool part of town that he would like to spend more time in. He could probably talk to her a lot about his problems and she would be a good listener. He is very sad about his recent turn of events, and upon meeting the woman, he is uplifted. He thinks she is magic.

A week or two later she texts him to let him know that she is going to go eat ice cream on the side of a bridge that is particularly beautiful at sunset and he could join her, if he wanted. He has been wondering a bit frantically if she was ever going to contact him. He has made an idealized script up in his head about who she is, and how that benefits him. “She’s so pretty and unusual; delightfully quirky,” he thinks to himself. “I hope she likes me and will listen to my problems, and help me solve them in weird and unexpectedly inspirational ways.” He rushes to the bridge to meet up with her and they go get cones from a nearby shop. She has a funny interaction with the girl who is working there, and he is enthralled with how easily she speaks to people. He resolves to talk to strangers more, and mentally pats himself on the back for this revelation.

They walk down to the bridge just as the sky is starting to warm up in colour scheme. They sit on a rock off to the side of the bridge, taking in the view. They talk a bit about their week and exchange some jokes. She asks him about himself. He tells her about his job, his family, the turn of events that has left him out of sorts. Whenever she starts to talk about anything that does not directly relate to him or him experience, he steers the conversation back to things that engage and benefit him. She notices this in the beginning and squints a bit whenever he redirects. As the dialogue continues, and the redirection continues, she speaks less and less about things that have to do with her. Her thoughts and feelings remain in her mind, swirling. She changes the subject increasingly often when he is talking about something he is interested in, and he seems to somehow be able to make it about him anyway, commenting on her unique perspective helping him see things in a different way.

He does not ask her anything about herself at all.

When they have finished their ice creams and their hands are empty, he reaches for hers. She looks at him, pulling her hand away,.

“Oh. So, um, you don’t seem to get it,” she says. “I think we’re done here,” and she stands up, brushing off her shorts.

“What?”

“Yeah, so, that conversation we just had? It was all about you. The whole thing. Do you know anything about me?”

“I… yeah! I mean, you like art, and…”

She looks at him, deadpan. “We just spent an hour talking about you: your problems, your thoughts, things that matter to you. I was interested, but I was also looking forward to sharing a part of myself with you. I thought the conversation was going to be reciprocal, because you expressed an interest in me, but I don’t think you’re really interested in ME at all. I have thoughts, feelings, aspirations and lots of memories that are important to me. I think you’re interested in what I can do and be for YOU.”

“………”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you would have much of an argument for that.”

She walked off over the bridge, away from him, and they never saw each other again. She lived a full, happy life with people surrounding her that empowered her and gave her validation, which she happily reciprocated because she felt witnessed, and thinks it is as important to see as to be seen.