Two very close friends of mine have been in a monogamous relationship with each other for many years, but one of them has a long-standing habit of forming very intense friendships with other women. His wife always finds this difficult and frustrating at the beginning of a new one, but in the long run she’s never all that bothered by it; she’s noticed that when he doesn’t have a particular friend like that their own relationship seems to suffer from the extra pressure that’s being put on it. But where exactly is the line be between something like this and cheating?
Someone else I know has never had a monogamous relationship in his life and is a firm proponent of non-hierarchical polyamory, but he has particular places he goes to with each of his partners and he always finds himself getting upset if he hears any of them have visited those places with someone else. I’m something of a Career Secondary and have managed - through lots of hard work and conscious effort - to turn being a good secondary partner into a life skill. I’ve had fantastic relationships with most of my metamours, and have no jealousy trouble at all regarding the primary partners of the people I’m seeing - but if one of them finds another secondary partner I’m liable to struggle with it a great deal.
Regular readers here at Fuck.com will have seen me say this a hundred times: all relationships have boundaries. The dual concepts of ‘monogamy’ and ‘polyamory’ are too simplistic; the truth is that every relationship has rules, and those rules are different for every relationship.
I’m often asked if it’s possible to cheat on someone in a non-monogamous setup - and of course it is. “Cheating” doesn’t mean “sleeping with someone else”; it means “breaking the rules”, and even in so-called conventional monogamous arrangements the definitions of that differ. There’s ‘emotional infidelity’, which some people say is worse than the physical kind and others don’t understand the concept of at all. There’s the Big Flirting Debate. There’s panicking about what it means if your partner is interested in pornography or cybersex. There’s “what happens on tour stays on tour”. There are hundreds of examples of people knowing that monogamy means something different to them than it does to some other people, but not quite having the vocabulary to describe or even understand those differences.
Those of us who have made other choices about how to run our love lives are privileged in that regard. We’re given the opportunity to set boundaries that really mean something to us - and we can set those boundaries explicitly, consciously and on a case-by-case basis, which means that our partners are less likely to unwittingly cross them and we’re more likely to understand why something seemingly innocuous has upset us.
My unsolicited advice to you, then, is this: take advantage of that fact. If you and your partners spend a little time figuring out exactly what your respective rules and boundaries are, you’re each much less likely to do something that you had no idea would be difficult or upsetting for someone you care about deeply.
Abi is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to genre fiction, social justice and M.A.C lipstick. Follow her on her website or @see_abi_write.
© Sam Caplat via Flickr with CC BY 2.0 license
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