Note: This is an edited version of a previously published article on Postmodern Woman.
People tend to look to non-monogamy for freedom. Freedom that the monogamous world rarely offers. Yet there is such struggle for so many in the beginning. It was difficult for me to understand why this was, at first. I’d had no rocky transition into non-monogamy. I never struggled with jealousy. Hell, I’ve been writing about non-monogamy in all forms for nearly 20 years in variations the polya, solo polya, and RA communities are only now realizing are even possible!
But there still exists this darkness. This oppressive and smothering air that the polya (and related) communities have yet to shake. The deeper I’ve looked into the polyamorous communities at large, the more disappointed I’ve become. These are supposed to be the vanguards of a more ethical way to conduct relationships and yet they’ve barely shaken off the assumptions our abuse culture has left us with. They’ll only go so far and then they’ll seek to normalize their experience rather than truly examining the precepts of their concepts.
Why is it more normal to want to be normal and fit in rather than wanting to the freedom to be yourself?
For those of us who tend to be the game changers (as Veaux dubbed those of us who actually speak up about oppression and other power imbalances) by the nature of our thoughts and very existence – what makes us that way? Why are so many polya people still struggling with issues that we’ve never had? Why are so many people still making it so much harder than it needs to be? To the point of requiring decades of exploiting unpaid emotional and intellectual labor from femmes and women?
My mounting disbelief and disgust weren’t for the polya community, alone, I finally realized. The rampant abuse, racism, and ignorance aren’t inherent to polyamory.
(Read my series on on abuse culture if you need more background on why I’ve been writing about romance, abuse, and non-monogamists’ unsatisfactory attempts to explain it away or actually deal with it.)
Those difficult first days of disastrous relationships and struggles with jealousy have nothing to do with polyamory. The whole idea of romo-centered compersion speaks to how backwards our ideas of love have become.
The community has to spend so much time teaching people how to love in non-damaging, nonabusive ways. We who are game changers can often see the destructive ideas that hold others captive. Myself and many others have had to consider leaving the polya label behind because so much of the community is still barely one step out of monogamy. They still treat their lovers and friends like shit. And they think they’ve actually learned something when they’re finally comfortable with their partner’s other partner.
These are merely symptoms of a deeper cultural issue. What most of these poly people are practicing is not ethical non-monogamy at all. It’s not intersectional, it doesn’t challenge societal norms, and it doesn’t extend past their polycule.
So what am I saying?
I’m saying that after the move to more patriarchal-inclined cultures, the notion of ownership seeped into every facet of our lives. I’m saying that even though many countries have outlawed slavery, owning your loved ones is still the norm. The concept of ownership is still so dreadfully common. It is the only instance in which it is considered okay, and even laudable, to exert control over another person’s actions, behaviors, and feelings.
Think about it. People are more likely to try to control their child’s behavior than to teach them a better way in the long-term. Parents are more likely to instill obedience as a virtue rather than integrity. And the biggest reason romance is such a turn-off for me is because it is the epitome of owning your partner. You’re supposed to bind together, merge together, for life. It’s “normal” to sneak into your partner’s phone to check up on them. It’s considered normal to forbid them from having sex with other people, or certain other people. It’s considered normal to feel jealousy over them spending more time with their friends than with you. The whole tradition of taking your spouse’s name is because you now belong to them.
This is why couple privilege is even a thing. Because people think of themselves in units instead of as individuals. They no longer think of themselves or others as humans first and foremost. Their partners are their property. Their children are their property. They force their loved ones to go to plays they hate, they encourage them to lie if they look fat in a dress, they tamp down on watching porn because their partner hates it. They control the other’s finances, travel, and social interactions. One partner belittles and guilt trips the other and the other partner withdraws and becomes passive aggressive.
They end up having ridiculous fights because they live on top of each other constantly, codependent rather than entwined. By trying to merge they only end up brushing against the harsh edges of one another’s realities. And when they finally tire of each other they either divorce, have a child, or open up their marriage. Really toxic situations can end in death, infidelity, or other abusive and destructive outcomes.
This is how we all learn how to live. People ignore the effects of owning your partner and wonder where they went wrong. And then they try polyamory and wonder why they’re having such a difficult time. They’ve never learned to to be free. They’ve learned to treat themselves and others as emotional slaves.
I’ll say it again; ownership is the norm.
Is it any wonder that abuse is still so widespread? 1 in 3 isn’t an anomaly; it’s a disgrace. These abusive ideals are embedded into our cultures and thrust upon us all from such young ages. And many people never shake them off.
No, not even polyamory will save you.
So how do you confront this? How do you shake off the notions of ownership, amatonormativity, heterosexism, ablism, and racism once and for all? How can your non-monogamy truly be transgressive of the norm?
Well, what’s the speed of ignorance and how do we combat it? How do we move beyond this addiction to facts to shine light on the darkness beyond? How do you become a game changer?
What does this have to do with polyamory and ownership? Well, those of us who are game changers live on that liminal horizon between the known and unknown. We are the ones who edge that light further into the shadows, expanding the realm of the known for everyone else. We’re not smarter, per se. It’s not so much a matter of intelligence. It’s about knowing that the darkness is always just out of reach, and that the more we learn, the more we know, the greater the darkness gets.
What we don’t know will always surpass our knowledge. That is the very nature of the universe we live in. I was born existing on that horizon and I live there. It is my home. I cannot help but to challenge what the light shows. It’s why I’m too heavy for most people. And it’s why I cannot let these poisons continue to eat away at polyamory and non-monogamy.
Instead of paying lip service to ethics, metanoia, and growth let’s actually push the boundaries of this limiting envelope.
We will forever be chasing the darkness. If you think you’re okay, if you think you’ve discovered your one, if you think you’ve found the answers simply remember that the circumference of your light will always be less than the darkness around you.
From the edge you have a better vantage point of the knowledge and patterns within as well as a front-row seat of the newly-discovered shapes being uncovered from the darkness. You can the destructive waves coming before anyone else even feels them.
If you wish to navigate that darkness then come along. After all, there’s always more room here at the outer limits than inside the crowd.