When I was 16, I thought I had only two options regarding my love life: either I marry a Muslim man as my family projected, which would leave me suffocating but surrounded by family, or I disobey them and marry a kaafir, which may bring me greater freedom but likely cause my family to reject me. I knew I also liked girls, but I thought I’d end up in hell for this. I can’t remember how many times I cried to Allah for forgiveness or heard my parents ask God to protect us from the atrocities of queerness. I’m now horrified by how dark my existence and future felt at that time.
I grew up as homophobic as I was gay, in a restrictive environment – between a Muslim household and Catholic schools. Just like Mary MacLane in I Await the Devil’s Coming, my favorite book, I was desperate for anything to happen to me.
When the time came to leave my family’s home and study in another city, a rather big one, I was so hungry for life. I spent three wild years adventuring but still felt like a draft of a human being. The only thing I was sure of was that human interactions were rich, ever-shifting, and truly captivating.
I fell in love with Q. at 22. We were so young, and I brought up the idea of engaging in a non-monogamous relationship1 because I wanted us to continue to wander and cross paths with other souls and never feel limited in our possible experiences and connections.
THE EXPLORATIVE POTENTIAL OF NON-MONOGAMY
It felt like non-monogamy was the way to explore the universe and all of its possibilities, running up against the seemingly immutable norms of our society, even the idea that finding “your person” and growing old with them is the greatest and most sacred achievement, and that “true” long-lasting happiness is impossible without it.
Non-monogamy calls this and associated norms into question by showing the potentials of other forms of relationships and life models. Non-monogamy can allow us to develop more as an individual and to grow into somebody who is truer to how we naturally lean. Even when in (an) intimate relationship(s), one can continue to behave and grow in themselves rather than as just part of a duo.
While some detractors of polyamory2 retort that this shouldn’t be the case in healthy couples, they fail to critically examine the common organization or workings of many monogamous couples. We are surrounded by “not-that-unhealthy” relationships in which someone chooses to give up a dream or opportunity because they felt it was incompatible with their partner’s goals, tastes, or situation. It seems like society idealizes monogamous codependency, and that giving up parts of yourself comes with it.
In most non-monogamous relationships, partners must keep track of themselves – their feelings, experiences, failures, and desires – to make their relationship-mode work. They accept that our beings are constantly evolving and that no partner can or should have to carry/share every need, project, or desire their loved ones have. Practicing non-monogamy basically multiplies the opportunities to cultivate self-awareness and learn to communicate accordingly.
PLURALITY AND GROWTH
I mature and become more grounded with each of my partners, as I can engage in plural intimate dynamics with a wider range of people, each with their own personality, perspectives, and ways of communicating. I no longer feel the pressure to be someone’s “perfect soulmate,” nor do I feel pressure to hide parts of myself that cannot flourish in a particular duo. I, for example, was into BDSM3 when my partners were not, it was as important for me to respect their boundaries as my own desires.
Isn’t this what a soulmate is supposed to do? Make sure their own boundaries are not holding their lover back from seeing every part of themselves dawn, flourish, and be cherished adequately.MaxX
It’s not just about following your desires and dreams, but about identity. I’ve struggled to be seen or fully understood in my relationships even if my partners have been thoughtful and learned about my cultural background and social systems. I realized through my meaningful and tender relationships with fellow queer, Arabic, and Muslim friends that my lived experience is impossible to grasp entirely from the outside. Which made me feel like I needed to experience this level of mutual understanding with an intimate partner.
If we weren’t non-monogamous, as I am still deeply in love with Q., I wouldn’t be able to push this identity exploration further when it is fundamental to my self-growth and positively affect all my relationships.
INTERCONNECTEDNESS AND THE FEELING OF LOVE
I find that partnering in this way brings self-knowledge and personal growth, making me a better partner and improving all kinds of relationships I’m involved in. Being aware of your boundaries helps in having well-balanced work relationships. Accepting that you don’t always have to handle every aspect of a situation can help your mental health. Learning to face disappointment and admitting your mistakes can improve your friendships. And, becoming comfortable with communicating your needs and emotions helps you establish saner family relationships.
Non-monogamy also expands how we conceptualize love. I find that love is underestimated and restricted in our society, even though it is considered one of the “highest feelings”. What is the difference between romantic love and love for family, friends, or pets? What shifts to me is not the feeling itself, but the other feelings that become layered in these relationships (ie. responsibilities of motherhood, desire for a lover, or faith in God), how it is expressed, and the intimacy it produces.
Many people also tend to think that dating a polyamorous person equals being less loved, as if romantic love was a limited resource and had to be divided to be shared. If love is the most primitive feeling humans experience, and if our capacity to love grows as we grow, then why wouldn’t the same expansion apply to romantic love? Just as you can love numerous friends equally, you are able to do the same with several partners. You’ll never run out of love being polyamorous; rather, when you cultivate love it radiates and comes back to you multiplied through your polycule4, and this surrounding love lifts up the veil of jealousy and fear of abandonment on the grail of polyamory: compersion. Compersion is experiencing joy from seeing somebody happy and fulfilled. It comes from the butterfly effect of happiness.
Love is bigger than us, it is untamed and mighty and I am absolutely sure that no norm or rule should dictate how many people humans could be able nor allowed to love simultaneously. Especially as no one has such control over what they feel.
Illustration by Diane Milelli
ADAPTABILITY, INCLUSIVITY, AND MINDFUL PRESENCE
Establishing a safe dynamic in multiple intimate relationships obviously takes time and effort, but once a balance is established, non-monogamy can be one of the sanest ways of partnering.
It starts with consensual adaptability. Life isn’t linear and we all go through diverse events and struggles that can affect our love life. Partners may become depressed or withdraw, move for work or their studies, etc. And, needs may no longer align even if you love each other. As our lives and desires shift, we continue to have a right to fulfill our needs for touch, presence, care, etc.
This modularity is also inclusive of people who have a low emotional disponibility or specific relationship dynamics like asexual and aromantic people. It also is a good way to focus on one specific relationship that might need attention without worrying about your other partner.s’ needs.
I said earlier that love is an unlimited resource, but time isn’t. This obviously affects non-monogamous people but handling this time factor turned out positive for me. First, I tend to see my partners less than I used to as I need a lot of alone time to figure myself out. This realization emerged through polyamory questioning, and actually led to more connection; me and my partners have time to miss each other and are even more invested in the time we spend together.
Second, I realized that we underestimate the importance of time in building relationships. To be able to trust and love, to be vulnerable and sincere, takes time. And yet, most people throw themselves into intimate relationships, rushing important phases like the crush period, this intense feeling of “falling” that will never return and be missed.
Taking this time is about fully enjoying every step into intimacy and ensuring you’re making a mindful addition to your life, one that relies on deep compatibility and strong attachment roots.
I don’t think non-monogamy is healthier or better than monogamy, but it seems like non-monogamous people are pushed to learn alternatives that can enrich not only non-monogamous relationships but also monogamous ones.MaxX
THE UNEXPECTED SIDES OF POLYAMORY AND GRIEVING
Time and emotional availability being limited, polyamorous people obviously cannot partner with unlimited persons at a given time. This is what we call being “polysaturated,” and it comes from the realization that at some point “more” means less, which made me even more selective about my romantic partners.
And although non-monogamists are seen as always seeking “more” pleasure, dates, attention, or sex, what comes with the multiplied potentiality of love and affection is an increased risk of heartbreak and pain. Falling in love with someone who will realize non-monogamy isn’t for them is frequent, and some people won’t consider their relationship with you as serious and shut it down when monogamy comes knocking. I had to develop a whole new way of facing loss (حبة حبّ – “bits of love”) as grieving might be one of the most challenging parts of polyamory. Especially as you’ve to face it in a distinct relationship dynamic and emotional context. But, being hurt and loved through it by my other partners made it way more bearable.
Non-monogamy is expected to bring out insecurities and make you feel vulnerable. But being polyamorous/non-monogamous also comes with being judged, fetishized, shamed, and misunderstood. Both you and your relationships are disregarded. And it is especially difficult when you’ve worked hard on yourself and your relationships and people don’t even consider the possibility of you being “really” happy because your life doesn’t match societal standards.
It is, again, challenging. Non-monogamy is a whole new way of envisioning the world. It takes energy and work even when you navigate it in a thoughtful community. But it is only “hard” because you have to be mindful to make it work, and it is a blessing in a sense.
The initial feeling of vulnerability that comes with non-monogamy transforms into self-confidence when you realize that your partner chooses to come back to you despite being able to be with anyone in the world. And, the freedom from obligation can bring greater presence and engagement in conversations, activities, exploration, and desire. There is safety in being able to be your fully honest selves together; isn’t this what a soulmate is supposed to do? Make sure their own boundaries are not holding their lover back from seeing every part of themselves dawn, flourish, and be cherished adequately.
The freedom of non-monogamy comes with responsibilities and large emotions to handle. Despite the challenges, however, I wish everyone were free to choose the relationship dynamic that feels best for them. I don’t think non-monogamy is healthier or better than monogamy, but it seems like non-monogamous people are pushed to learn alternatives that can enrich not only non-monogamous relationships but also monogamous ones. In this sense, non-monogamy is deeply queer and revolutionary.
The concept of monogamy is tied to an oppressive system and is a tool of patriarchy, and I’d say that it should go through its own revolution to make it safer, more individualized, and more fluid. Loving madly and being happy with your lover doesn’t necessarily mean you must be identified as a unit, live together, get married, and have children. Whether you’re an activist or not, non-monogamy asks us to imagine an existence that, itself, defies capitalist societies and the nuclear family constructs it relies upon.
- Non-monogamy: Relationship dynamic in which people can consensually date, hook up and build relationships freely with multiple partners without necessarily being in love with all of them. That involves polyamory in most cases but not always as some polyamorous people choose to be in monogamous relationships.
- Polyamory: Relationship dynamic that revolves around the idea that the people involved in it can fall in love and/or partner with several individuals simultaneously. //In this article non-monogamy and polyamory blend into one another because I am both polyamorous and non-monogamous and my reflection can mostly be applied to both dynamics but it’s not necessarily the case for everybody.//
- BDSM: Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Sadism/Submission, and Masochism; a non-normative form of intimacy and/or sexuality.
- Polycule: Group of people that are inter-connected through romantic, intimate and/or sexual relationships. Partners and their respective partners.