Are There Alternatives to Monogamy?

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Just opening the web page to your favorite silly entertainment website or favorite trashy tabloid the words relationship can jump out at you immediately. From news on which hot celebrity couple is in a relationship and which one continue to be single to quiz quizzes on Buzzfeed letting you know who your celebrity boyfriend should be and tips on how to tell how your relationship is going. Our lives and our media are constantly letting us know how we can pair up and then later on how to make that relationship last. We have announcements about formations of new relationships on Facebook and that special “about me” information section to let to the world know whether were single, in a relationship, married, or complicated, whatever that means.

Though all these resources allow us to share our relationships with the world as well as peek into other peoples, the information given to us on relationships, how to be in one and how to maintain one, often leaves out what each couple defines as being in a relationship. This term, being in or out of a relationship is thrown around so loosely but it is rarely defined. Moreover, the advice and information given to us by the media would lead us to assume that the relationship model ideal is a heterosexual, long term monogamous one. This lack of exposure to other relationship models results in the misconception that it is possible to do a relationship “wrong.” Though alternatives to serious relationships are becoming more prevalent and accepted, with coined terms such as friends with benefits and one night stands, there are very few relationship model alternatives to the traditional long term and monogamous model.

The stigma surrounding non-monogamous relationship model leads many of the people that live their life that way in hiding, thus perpetrating the myth that these other relationship models do not exist. This lack of visibility, especially in the already judgemental world of celebrities, causes many of our favorite actors, actresses and general role models to stay locked in the proverbial “closet.” While the least favorable kind of, non-consensual, non-monogamy, cheating, is one of the only versions constantly seen in the media. Technically the most well addressed form of non-monogamy, one individual straying from the relationship, is a hot button issue in tabloids due to the drama that surrounds it. While no one seems to enjoy discussing the benefits to non-monogamy, the media is excited to jump into debates on how sexual indiscretions should be handled.

Though cheating is obviously not a relationships model, it is actually the first common misconception the public has about what non-monogamy actually is. Even after being explained all the various forms of non-monogamy, some still consider all alternatives to monogamy as adulterous. To people more knowledgeable on the subject, the level of transparency involved in non-monogamy makes all the difference. Consensual non-monogamy, otherwise known as CNM, is entirely different due to its distinctly different outcome than cheating. When practised correctly, CNM actually has the ability to bring couples closer together based in its foundational practices of truth and communication. While cheating is highly stigmatized, scholars estimate that approximately 20-25% of married men and 10-15% of married women admit to having an affair somewhere in their relationship brining to mind the question, is long term monogamy the most reasonable relationship model?

Those that practice polyamory would agree that monogamy might not be the most practical solution to a long-term commitment. Often confused with polygamy, polyamory is a relationship model that can be practiced long term based on the idea that individuals can form long and meaningful committed relationships with more than one person at a time. Occasionally these types of relationships can be constructed in a hierarchical format with two people being each other’s primary partners each with respective secondary and even tertiary partners. Many value this relationship model because it is believed to relieve a lot of pressure placed by that person’s primary partner to fulfill all their needs. The idea that it is possible for one person in a monogamous couple to meet the all others needs and sexual interests can be difficult to process when each person has so many diverse facets to their personality. Due to the stigma attached to polyamory there are very few celebrity examples of polyamorous relationships yet this relationship model is clearly being practised as seen by the relationship options on online dating sites such as OkCupid. When online dating first landed on the map, in a relationship or single were the only two options. Now, on OkCupid, not only is in an open relationship a popular choice but monogamy has a separate information box. The professionals behind OkCupid now understand that this generation of millennials see monogamy as an option but not a rule.

While the term open relationship serves as an umbrella term for a variety of relationship models, at its roots the term implies that the primary couple is open to sexual contact with others. Though this expression of openness can come in a variety of forms, one of the more popular interpretations is the idea that the primary couple that has been committed to each other for a long time might take on a secondary partner. A couple practising this relationship style might engage in sexual activity with a third person together or separately. Whether or not the couple acts on their urges or interested in being sexual outside of their committed relationship, this idea of openness allows for a feeling of greater freedom. Celebrity couples such as Tilda Swinton and her partner Sandro Kopp or Will and Jada Pinkett Smith both seem to agree. Though these celebrity couples still are not entirely open about their private lives, they have been open with the media on what makes their relationships special.

Tilda Swinton has always been an artist eager to march to the beat of her own drum but her unusual living arrangements caught the attention of the general public in a 2009 article in Bazaar magazine. Swinton told Bazaar that she shares her beautiful home in Scotland, not only with her two children and partner but also her ex-husband and father to her children, John Byrne. This unconventional living arrangement did not quite come as a shock to some of Swinton’s more dedicated fans but to the general public it was one of the first celebrity affirmations that open relationships were ok. According to AZ Central, Swinton has been quoted regarding her living arrangement saying, “It may seem odd but it is certainly the best thing for the children. It’s not something I try to promote as a radical lifestyle choice. But it’s a situation I find very healthy. I can maintain my life with my children and their father and spend time with the man I’ve become very fond of. I am very fortunate there has been a lot of understanding by the men.”

While Tilda Swinton’s arrangement alludes to more of a poly-amorous situation, Will and Jada Smith’s relationship seems to hint at a newly coined term monogamish. Invented by the gay activist, author and journalist, the term refers to a kind of very controlled openness. While some people assume that once the relationship is opened, it means a free for all with all involved, but in reality most relationships still have strict guidelines and constant communication. On the spectrum of open relationships, being monogamish is the on the opposite end of the spectrum from polyamory.

Invented for couples interested in opening up their relationship an inch rather than a mile, Monogomish is a hybrid of traditional monogamy with a little bit of “ish.” Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith are a perfect example of a monogomish relationship because though they are most definitely a strong power couple their extra curricular’s have been taken notice of by the media. Though Jada prefers the term “grown” relationship to monogamish or open, she has always been open about the freedom both her and Will have in their relationship, stating, “Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should ‘behave’?” she asked. “Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of ‘you better act right or else’ keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE?” Though Ms. Smith’s statements cover a large range of issues, she sums up the idea of non-monogamy the best when she brings up why people feel the need to be monogamous. Though each individual chooses monogamy or non-monogamy for different reasons, this new option gives people the opportunity to contemplate why they make the choices they do, whether its out of obligation and tradition or is it due to personal preference.

Feature image:Troy Tolley