July 07, 2017

Typecasts of the Non-Monogamous Woman

A word of caution to women who chose polyamory/non-monogamy

To be polyamorous is to have more than one lover. The practice of having many loving relationships, as opposed to only one. It is not (necessarily) the practice of having indiscriminate sex, having one serious relationship and simultaneous frivolous ones, or multiple affairs. In a society that tends to see monogamous relationships as the only legitimate relationships, however, and too, being one that hyper-sexualizes women in general, being a poly-female can be a challenge.

Contrary to popular belief, people who choose a non-monogamous lifestyle are not necessarily making this choice for the purpose of being open to casual, no-frills hookups. But because of the way that women are perceived - namely as options to be experienced by others - often the goals and desires of the polyamorous woman are not considered with quite as much weight in and of themselves as the goals and desires of those that surround her, and how she may or may not suit them.

Be warned - in no way is this article discouraging anyone, particularly women, from choosing a non-monogamous lifestyle. Rather, it is meant as a sort of preparation, as there as aspects to the lifestyle beyond its on-paper definitions that one may not consider short of living it oneself. If you are a woman who is either already practicing a polyamorous lifestyle, or considering opening herself up to one, be prepared to deal with some inaccurate labels from the population at large. Or, in short, be prepared to potentially wind up being typecast as…

The Party Girl

Non-monogamous? Poly…what? No. You’re just going through a phase. 

Funny, short of marrying in Vegas when you’re twelve years old, there isn’t much you can do with a wedding band that society at large will regard as juvenile and impulsive. But despite the fact that many of us arrive at variations of non-monogamy over time as a deliberate choice, because it is unconventional, it is largely viewed as a form of experimentation. Especially if you are female. The stereotypical woman who is straight but kisses women in bars because she’s “exploring,” or who will eventually wind up with a husband, two kids and a dog in Connecticut but is poly right now because she’s “confused” is hardly a new cliché. 

Simply put, many people you encounter as a poly-woman - especially if you’re a young woman - will not take your lifestyle seriously, and in turn, will not take you seriously. They won’t hear your explanations and decide that it’s time to go out and purchase The Ethical Slut to get a deeper understanding of your philosophy. You won’t find them browsing More Than Two on their commute to and from work, or hanging out on the SwingTowns blog looking for literature. 

No. Most people you encounter as a poly-woman will assess your situation and decide one thing - that you’re a sexual option. This can be incredibly frustrating if your reasons for being non-monogamous are less about experiencing many people sexually, and more about not limiting yourself to the deeper connection found in romantic relationships with just one person. 

Society at large is still monogamous, and many people simply cannot fathom having a valuable romantic relationship that is not primarily defined by exclusivity. In my experience, even men who may have seen me as “girlfriend material” were put off by the idea of me having another lover and immediately downshifted and attempted to swerve into the booty call lane once my relationship style was disclosed. It is important to note this to avoid being objectified, fetishized and the like when what you’re really looking for is a deeper connection. 

Being non-monogamous does not mean you are not entitled to the same loving, caring relationships that monogamous folk experience. You may just have to look a bit harder and hold out a bit longer for those that are willing to invest in them with you. 

The Unicorn

This is tough. When you’re in a couple, it’s easy to fantasize about a unicorn. The perfect girl out there that you and your SO have always talked about. You’re both attracted to her physically, get along easily with her in conversation, you share all the same kinks and - ah ha! - she’s single. 

Sure. What often fails to make its way into the equation are the wants and needs of this mythical creature and, if you’re a single woman living a non-monogamous lifestyle, honey, that’s you! Maybe you don’t want a one night stand. Maybe you’re looking for something more consistent, not just being on call for a good time whenever the primary couple decides that it suits. Or maybe you just aren’t looking to be a third wheel. 

I was personally involved in a hierarchal dating situation for almost three months and it drove me absolutely crazy. I joined a forum where I vented about the challenges of dating a couple that had outlined terms of the relationship before I’d even arrived. When sleepovers could happen, when they couldn’t, if or when oral sex was permissible, when to get tested, etc. Finally one night my SO was so excited that we could finally have sex - because his primary partner said it was okay - and in a crash of clarity I realized that I didn’t even want to! I wasn’t ready. Not even close. I’d gotten so caught up worrying about their rules, their boundaries, that I was hardly able to see my own anymore.

That is all to say this - you are not someone else’s fantasy. You are a person in your own right. As a non-monogamous woman, particularly when you are unattached, there will be a tremendous amount of very flattering attention being thrown your way. But never forget the person that you are, and remember that you have to honor yourself, your rules, and your boundaries, not get lost in someone else’s. 


This next one is two fold. First, because you are non-monogamous, people may assume that you do not respect monogamy. Thus, people in monogamous relationships may treat you differently, as though you are secretly out to corrupt and bed everyone who should be off limits. Second, those who are new or reluctant participants in non-monogamy and/or polyamory may be very uncomfortable with your participation in their relationships. 

People often equate relationship styles and practices to a moral value system, monogamy being the most honorable of them all [read: sarcasm] and the rest falling into various categories of debauchery. The effect of this has less to do with your dating life and more with your personal life surrounding friends and family. You may need to prepare yourself for unfair judgement from those who don’t understand (or wish to understand) a non-monogamous lifestyle. (When I say this I’m particularly thinking of those who will behave like guard dogs if you merely sit on the same subway car as their husbands.) You may also find yourself the object of those wishing to start affairs, as many assume that being okay with many partners means you’re okay with cheating. 

In terms of dating, be careful with relationships with people who are brand new or reluctant to embrace a non-monogamous lifestyle, yet are somehow already deeply involved. 
Example: A mono/poly relationship. This is a pairing where one person is monogamous while the other is not. While this can work, both partners have to be fully onboard with the relationship. If the mono partner is simply hoping to convert the poly partner, or doesn’t truly understand and respect the lifestyle, this can cause a lot of friction for that couple. Said friction should be worked out before other partners are brought into the mix. Please spare yourself the confusion, the drama, and the pain of being involved in a multi-person relationship where one of the people involved is not truly supportive of a non-monogamous lifestyle. Otherwise, along with the stereotype of being the Jezebel out to steal people’s partners, you may find other stereotypes being imposed on you from inside your own relationship. 

Miss Anything Goes

For many the phrase “non-monogamous relationship” is an oxymoron. They believe that the only relationships are monogamous ones, and everything else is dating anarchy. Thus, particularly if you choose not to limit your dating pool to very specific sites or forums where you know the people you meet to be like minded, you may have to deal with people confusing non-monogamy with other behaviors, such as lying and cheating. 

For example, perhaps you are someone who only wants to swing as a couple, but upon hearing you’re non-monogamous, a new partner decides its okay not to tell you they’re still dating other people on their own. Or, perhaps you attempted a certain relationship structure in the past but it didn’t work for you. Someone who is aware of your dating history may assume the same rules apply in this new relationship before talking it over. 

Relationships are not one size fits all. There is not one neat label that predetermines what works for those inside, and one's past behavior is not always indicative of future behavior. Someone who has always has hetero-relationships, for example, but discovers a preference for the same sex cannot be accurately judged by past relationship behavior. Similarly, trust and transparency is essential to any healthy relationship, regardless of kind or number of participants. Even in a don't-ask-don't-tell situation the participants are aware of this clause. 

Personally, I’ve had people try to justify lying to me and cheating on me by saying that they thought I would be fine with it because I identified as non-monogamous. People have assumed that I am open to certain kinks because I identify that way. People have even assumed that I can’t break up with them because I’m non-monogamous, or that I don’t have the right to turn down a date. 

To be clear, being non-monogamous does not dissolve boundaries and suddenly make you any less of a person to whom no accountability is required. The same rules of basic care and respect apply. Period.  

Madame Ménage

Finally, particularly if you are a woman who is bisexual, gay, queer or lesbian, most men will not acknowledge the relationships that you have with other women as autonomous. That is to say that while a new male lover would not necessarily attempt to become a third in an existing relationship you have with a man, he may view your relationship with a woman as something he is entitled to participate in, without the feelings of you or your female lover being expressed or known.

This is the other side of the unicorn coin. If you’re unattached, you’re a unicorn. If you’re attached, you’re little miss threesome. This is frustrating not only for you, but for your female partner! Suppose neither of you is interested in a threesome. Suppose you aren’t both attracted to each other’s other partners. 

As women, we know that we live in a world that has intentions for us that are not always in our best interest. One of the challenges of being non-monogamous as a woman is that it enhances an already well established tendency toward objectification. Too often monogamy, the act of wearing a wedding ring, is a shallow shield that only masks the true desires and intentions of those that surround us. Polyamory is often thought to be synonymous with promiscuity and women who choose to live outside the boundaries are monogamy are incorrectly labeled as no-limit play things for all that may take an interest. 

However, regardless of your choice to love more than one person, and whatever variety of gender you may pursue that love with, no one is ever entitled to determine your fate for you. You are not limited to fitting into the roles of any of the aforementioned stereotypes, and are certainly not an merely an object to be played with simply because you choose a non-monogamous lifestyle. Your autonomy is important and you are entitled to enjoy care, trust and respect in all of the relationships you pursue. 


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