What Does Non-Monogamy Look Like?
“You can be with someone absolutely right and compatible with you, but not be monogamous,” says Arden Leigh, author of The New Rules of Attraction. It’s worth noting that “non-monogamy” is an umbrella term, and there are nearly infinite variations of what venturing outside a relationship can look like: non-exclusive casual dating, “monogamish” (a Dan Savage-coined term for being mostly monogamous), polygamy (the practice of having multiple husbands or wives at the same time), polyamory (engaging in multiple romantic relationships), cuckoldry, swinging (you know what that means), group marriage (where multiple partners marry to form a small group unit) — this list goes on and on.
Who's It For?
Terri Conley, PhD, of the Stigmatized Sexualities lab at the University of Michigan has conducted studies showing that, contrary to popular belief, there is “no evidence that ostensibly monogamous relationships are happier or more satisfying than sexually open ones.” Her work aside, there is very limited scientific data about who chooses to participate in consensual, non-monogamous relationships. Dr. Verdolin, the animal behaviorist, notes that “there’s some evidence that genetics influence an individual's propensity for monogamy,” while Arden Leigh observes that millennials are negotiating consensual non-monogamy more than any previous generation.
How Do You Discuss It?
Say you’re interested in testing the waters of your new partnership. When you get to that relationship talk, it’s a good time to say something like, “I want to keep seeing you, but I’m not necessarily interested in monogamy.” This opens the door to chat about what you both want from one another.
Relationships By The Numbers
Indeed, when it comes to the strictly monogamous ideal being the status quo, the fantasy may be starting to stray (ahem) further from the reality. The still-escalating divorce rate speaks for itself — in 2012, the number of Americans getting divorced climbed, for the third year in a row, to about 2.4 million. That’s around 50% of marriages ending in divorce. According to one survey, only 17% of married couples consider themselves happily wed, and infidelity is the third most common reason for divorce.
But, Don’t People Get Jealous?
Many partners in non-monogamous relationships develop a feeling called “compersion,” or a sense of enjoyment and pleasure when their partner has found someone else they also love or want to be with. “People who are monogamous are flabbergasted…that concept even exists,” notes Dr. Conley.
Non-monogamous participants Jenna and Beth, mentioned earlier, obviously aren’t alone in their current or former ways. The stigma around non-monogamy, as represented in pop culture, may be starting to fade. Leigh thinks so: "A lot of mainstream media is talking about [non-monogamy] in a way that’s not as sensationalized — it’s not like, ‘look at these freaks,'" she says.