When I was in Grade 5, I had a boyfriend named Jonathan. Jonathan was a bird-like creature who was considered a very exotic catch since he was said to be a genius and had a sweet English accent.
But I was not Jonathan’s only girlfriend. He also sent letters to Samantha and had kissed Rosalee.
Luckily I had Michael and we had agreed, by letter, to be girlfriend and boyfriend. I also quite liked Paul.
It was the start of my relationship intrigues and, looking back at it, two things strike me: One, how very little changes as one gets older; and two, when did I decide monogamy was an obvious relationship model for me?
Oh right. I didn’t decide.
Like gender and sexuality, relationship models are assumed for you by the prevailing dictates of the social norm you find yourself in. And mine at the time suggested that for every princess there was one prince. Monogamy was simply the natural order of things. The End.
Had I known, when I hit my twenties, that there were other relationship models available, options such as ‘open relationships’ and ‘polyamory’ and ‘consensual non-monogamy’ – and that these weren’t just deviant tendencies – would I have made other decisions?
I don’t think so. I was too insecure at the time.
But it would’ve been nice to know there were options; that I could choose a relationship model that suited my sexual needs and personality instead of trying to adjust myself to a one-relationship-model fits all. And that capacity to choose is paramount.
In fact, not making a choice about your relationship model is the first sign of love trouble.
It’s like the wallflower of relationship issues, a deadly nightshade minding its own business at the party of love, but quietly spiking the punch bowl with downers so that things very slowly start going very wrong.
There’s nothing that kills desire quicker than the belief that you don’t have agency over your body; that you’re trapped by the expectation of what you should be rather than free to express and ask for what you want.
And I’m not saying that monogamy is the only relationship model that might make you feel sexually or emotionally trapped.
There’s a trend lately to vaunt more sexually open relationship models, such as polyamory or open relationships, as superior to monogamy; that they’re the more ‘natural’ way to be.
But this is simply changing the colour of those broad strokes we like to paint people with.
The real issue isn’t what anyone thinks is better for everyone else. It’s that you’ve chosen a set-up that works for you. And that you keep choosing it.
Currently, I’m in a monogamous relationship that agrees on consensual non-monogamy when play-time parties call for a little more openness. But that could change.
And that choice, that conscious decision, to keep checking in with myself and my partner about what model works best for us, means we’ll probably be together for a pretty good length of time.