My neighbour Megan (not her real name) is always introducing me to new things. For my first VICE column, she dragged me to Vancouver’s drug-addled-nudist beach to hang out naked and join the convention. (I hated it.) She’s also introduced me to a variety of herbal drugs, makeshift medicines and intricate cooking techniques. Megan is a big believer in talking things out. I lay on her couch as though in a swank therapist’s office, while she schools me on how to deconstruct my most difficult emotions. Some would call Megan “granola.” I am one of those people, but I also value everything she has brought into my life. Above all things, Megan is a big believer in open relationships. She practices “monogamish” living with her boyfriend. While I admire her ability to be so free with her love life, I don’t get how she does it so effortlessly.
Legendary Seattle-based sex and relationship columnist Dan Savage first coined the term “monogamish” to describe a specific type of relationship in which the two people involved are not only sexually and emotionally devoted to one another, but also devoted to the idea that monogamy is not the only way to succeed at love. Monogamish relationships survive on trust, openness and adventure: things a lot of us are way too scared to try. While concepts of polygamy often mean one man has multiple wives (a dated and arguably sexist form of multi-partnering at best), “monogamish” relationships are an equal sexually explorative balance between two people — an open relationship. It’s the post-punk of love.
“So, you tell each other about everything?” I asked Megan while we drank cheap wine on my porch. “Every time you hook up with someone?”
“Yeah, it has to be full disclosure or it would not work,” she said. “The whole point is that this is a sharing experience and we should be happy for one another’s endeavours, even if they are with other people. It’s supposed to turn us on.”
“But don’t you get competitive?”
“Don’t you?” I pressed.
She did. Of course she did. Who wouldn’t? Megan told me about the “rules” she had decided on with her boyfriend: they told one another about every sexual adventure, they did not have penetrative sex with anyone but each other (oral was okay, though) and they made a pact to try to be extremely honest and to let the other know if something was bothering them.
I knew this last rule was the hardest one to follow. A few times our roles had reversed and I was the one playing therapist. I listened as Megan battled through the messy periods in her “monogamish” life; times where she felt jealous, confused or hurt by her boyfriend’s other girls. That’s why she liked threesomes — there was no hiding, no adventures without your partner. Both Megan and her boyfriend were there for the fun.
I remember reading a story in Salon about a woman who was jealous because her lover was getting married. The woman was already married herself, and yet the idea of sharing her soon-to-be-married lover with his new wife killed her. On the other hand, my friend’s parents had both had affairs nearly 20 years into their union and it saved their marriage. It all boils down to trust and confidence.
When we are children and we get in trouble, our first instinct is to lie so that we avoid disappointment. It seldom works and we learn this through years of trial and error. As we get older and have more people in our lives to disappoint, we learn when to lie. Lying to someone you love is terrible. I have cheated on every partner I have ever had and lied about it. Eventually, the truth came out. It always does and it always hurts. Thinking back on all the times I have cheated I see it now as a need for more attention. It’s completely selfish. Sometimes I wonder if the whole concept of “cheating” did not exist, whether I would have felt bad about fucking and feeling for another person? I broke trust to cheat, but if I had had a “monogamish” trust in the first place, maybe things would have been better.
Courting is over. We just don’t date like that anymore. Nowadays, we fuck someone and if they don’t totally annoy us, we decide to pursue the union. Sex, love and relationships have been stripped of traditional values and it’s freed us immensely, yet we still hang on to monogamy like a security blanket. Maybe some of us are still afraid to cut the cord on monogamy.