A lot of my friends in real life who find out that I am non-monogamous and do not ever intend to be in a “traditional” relationship think that I just (i) was born that way; (ii) am going through a rebellious phase; or (iii) have an obsession with sex that prevents me from just being with one person. But it’s not any of those things at all. I can’t point back to a single moment when I knew I was non-monogamous. It was an evolution, and I’m still growing and changing, but it all started at the age of 8, and it all resulted in me deciding that my only job in life was to worry about my own goals and my own happiness because, generally speaking, people had no idea what the fuck they were talking about.
Like so many of you, my parents split when I was young, and it was messy to say the least. I’m not sure how I came out as “normal” as I did. By “normal”, I just mean relatively emotionally stable and with my self-worth at least mostly intact. Although I was not conscious of it at the time, I look back to this moment in life, and that was the time that I realized that my perfect Christian parents who preached the love of Jesus and the sanctity of marriage exemplified none of those things at all. This actually did not drive me away from Christianity or organized religion at all, but it had to be the thing that started driving me away from the idea of traditional marriage. But I need to be clear on something here – I wasn’t driven away from it because I was bitter or disillusioned with love or family. I was driven away from it because these people who had told me they would love each other no matter what and that their marriage was God-ordained couldn’t make it work. So, I left that situation thinking that maybe my parents didn’t know everything after all.
I proceeded through middle school being home-schooled and then attended Christian high school. Do you know what I encountered? More of the same: teachers who taught about love and marriage and family, but who were divorced or estranged, or teenagers who were so sexually frustrated that they ended up having unprotected sex and teenage pregnancies or got married as young as 18 to someone they were not meant to be with for life. At this age, I still didn’t register it – I thought that all these people had fucked it up, and that I was strong enough and committed enough that I would do it perfectly. I would find the Christian guy, we would date properly, I would have sex on my wedding night, and I would be in love with one person forever. (By the way, I managed to accomplish all but that last part, and it’s no longer something I’m proud of at all.)
So, I went to college, I had almost solely Christian friends, and I maintained a decent bubble. I met a great guy (really, truly to this day one of the best guys I know), we dated properly, and we waited to have sex until our wedding night (though guiltlessly engaged in a lot of pre-marital behavior that probably neither of our parents and none of our friends would have supported). It was during these years that many things were happening simultaneously, which I will do my best to distill for you here. First, I was watching other friends get married and become quickly unhappy with people they had been madly in love with just a couple years before. I was watching couples who had waited to have sex for years become completely dissatisfied with their sex lives in just months. I was watching people “follow God’s calling for their lives”, yet they were completely unhappy day-to-day. Second, the year after college, I took a year off and did a year of AmeriCorps, during which I acquired a large, close-knit group of non-Christian friends. That was the first time I realized that I could have intense connection with, deep love for and incredible support from people who had nothing to do with and wanted nothing to do with organized religious or spirituality. These two things were really the start of my then-husband and I starting to branch away from the church and tradition and to proceed down a path that was all our own. This was around the time we started experimenting with drugs and watching porn together. We did so carefully and responsibly, and we were happier than ever.
Third, around this time, we were becoming close with another married couple who also practiced non-monogamy, and who I don’t believe stumbled into my life by accident. We learned little bits here and there from them and how they dealt with incorporating other people into their relationship even though the wife identified as much more monogamous than did the husband. I watched them become the happiest couple that we knew, and it was by a long shot. This doesn’t mean that they were perfect, nor does it mean that they were happy because they were non-monogamous, but it did mean that traditional relationship was not the key for everyone.
This isn’t the post where I’m going to share my ex-husband’s and my entire story and experience with our open marriage. That’s for another time. The point of this post is that THE MODEL DIDN’T WORK for everyone. It fucked some people over at the age of 18, it left most adults that I knew in loveless and sexless relationships, and it wasn’t necessary in order to have deep and true connection with others. When my ex-husband and I truly started struggling near our divorce, we received countless letters, emails and phone calls from family members talking to us about how dark times would come, but that we needed to stick it out. They talked to us about the joy of growing old together and how sometimes you just need to find a way to make it work. Yet, why was there all this value placed on making it work? What inherent value does staying with one person forever hold if you’re not happy? And where was this joy they were talking about? I hadn’t seen it in any of their lives. It was at this moment that I really stepped back and decided to not take advice from people who didn’t have anything that I wanted. It’s simple, really, but I had been taking advice from those people my entire life.
This was really the moment that I became non-monogamous, if there ever was to be a moment identified. I decided that I was going to follow what felt right to me and start experimenting with what made me feel happy, stable and fulfilled. I wasn’t going to follow the rule book, but I wasn’t going to buck against it either. I was going to break away from tradition, though not bash it or refuse to acknowledge its merits. I was going to place zero value on what others thought of my decisions and focus on what was right for me and my path, being willing to go through heartbreak and trial by fire in the process, and being willing to leave behind all that I knew, being forced to start completely fresh. THAT is how I ended up where I am today.
If you’ve thought about breaking tradition in some way, but have no idea where to start, this is one of best articles I’ve read on the subject.