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Ch 2: Monogamy / Non-Monogamy

“Eternally confused and eager for Love"

For those both new and old, ones who are sick of me talking about it and those fortunate amongst you who have dodged that metaphorical bullet, I do talk a lot about relationships and love and the different ways people do it. (By it, I mean love, so get your head out of the gutter). As I began exploring my relationship with relationships, I swung from monogamy to non-monogamy. In part, because I discovered newfound freedom, which seemed exciting in the aftermath of a drawn-out relationship, but perhaps because I had come to associate non-monogamy with a sense of freedom and individuality that I felt was sacrificed in monogamous relationships. I will forever protect and promote the practice of intentionally choosing your relationship style and defend, to no end, your choice of a relationship. I believe both monogamy and non-monogamy require a lot of work and have their unique set of challenges, and that regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, a relationship should represent you fully and be respectful of the partner(s) you choose to build that relationship with.

What I’ve never shared, or well, haven’t shared up until this very second is that I have forever been conflicted about Non-Monogamy.

I love the newfound lens that non-monogamy has offered me. It has opened me to new ways of both connecting and communicating with partners and myself. However, despite it, what I have never shared before is how isolating my experience of non-monogamy has been. If you listen to the last episode of season two, where I was interviewed by the absolute star of a human that is Amla Mehta, you can hear me preach the good of non-monogamy but what is entirely missing from that conversation is how unsure and progressively wavering my faith in it has been.

I am scared to say it but it does need to be said, I think for me, the theory of it has been nothing short of amazing but the practice of it has been nothing but a shit show filled with neglect, lack of intimacy and just a mess of google calendars.

It sounds contradictory, to have multiple intimate partners and yet feel lonely, and yet that has been my experience of it. And I want to emphasize the ‘my experience of it’ part because for so many that I know, it's been nothing but wonderful. Yet for me, part of what was appealing to twenty-three-year-old Pran venturing into non-monogamy is no longer appealing to twenty-seven-year-old Pran. The newness of non-monogamy has been replaced by a weariness fuelled in great part by a lack of intimacy. I’ll tell you now, twenty-three-year-old me wanted nothing more than to get with as many people, experience all the lust in the world, be left wrecked by the end of the week and start afresh the next wanting for more. My experiences have made me more confident and I am extremely grateful that I did take the time to explore the many facets of my sexual life, but I want intimacy now. The twenty-three-year-old that was okay with that lack of intimacy is now in his late twenties and wants to wake up and feel loved in the embrace of a partner.

I want to know how their body changes, and how different their skin feels in winter compared to spring.

I want to experience depth. I want to look into the eyes of my lover as our breathing picks up, want to feel the tension in their breath with the shift of touch, I want to feel their sweat, taste it, and want to be exposed, in body and mind, to their presence. More so, I want to extend that intimacy beyond the sex. I want to spend a lazy Sunday reading on the opposite ends of a couch. I want to cook for them after a hard day's work and be someone that I miss when we’ve both been away. There is an exhausting list of things that I want to experience but what is deeply true for me, is that I know I want and can experience this intimacy in monogamy as well.

If at this point, you’re left confused by my repeated claims of being very non-monogamous, I don’t blame you. I have been quite confused myself, for the better part of 18 months (actively) and I believe somewhat passively through it all. While I have felt my isolation and have had hints of wanting a certain monogamous intimacy, there is another reason, one that only made itself known in recent therapy, that contributed to my staunch identification with non-monogamy.

Short storytime - After our relationship ended - my ex and I met for coffee months later and admitted that it should have ended sooner. She then expressed that she had wanted to end the relationship for months but just didn’t find the right way to and therefore the end dragged on. We never discussed the exact amount of months but I would suggest that it may have been closer to nine. I will never truly know what she found difficult, but the message I took away from that conversation was that I had trapped her in that relationship. That it was difficult because of me and that if I had kept a more open-door policy in the relationship, she would have found it easier to leave without feeling trapped or beholden to some contract that we made aged eighteen and nineteen respectively. Enter Non-Monogamy. Part of what I appreciate about the practice of non-monogamy is how unique each relationship is but also how open the door is. I have been the one to say this and have heard the same from countless others within the community, “The door is always open, stay as long as you’d like but be sure to inform me on your way out and maybe don’t stand in the doorway while you’re at it.

Non-monogamy allowed me the opportunity to exist in a relationship model where the chances of a partner feeling trapped were minimized. Sure, emotional disentanglements are always messy affairs, but the chances of me making another partner feel held back by our relationship were significantly minimized. And I’d be lying if I said I did not find it appealing. The model of relationships I was offered and both experienced was an all-consuming and codependent one. To have one where your individuality wasn’t only accepted but actively encouraged felt like a paradigm shift! The exploration was deeply transformative.

The thrill of sharing sexual experiences with your partner or just experiencing the compersion that came with hearing about their relationship with others was new and empowering!

I think it is such an intimate and incredible space to be emotionally, where you don’t have to hide parts of yourself and are both seen and can see the other. To be recognised and bear witness to their recognition of you. I wonder why we create such stark segregations regarding our likes, attractions, past lovers and such in monogamy, when if anything, I have found those exact things allow me to know and connect with my partners more intimately. So perhaps a case could and should be made for similar recognition in monogamy because while yes, we have agreed to sexual and romantic exclusivity, it is natural that we will and do find others attractive. And rather than let our insecurities dictate our reaction (which let's be honest is policing either ourselves or our partner), engage from a place of curiosity. However, I am digressing, so let’s get back to the original point.

What I often leave out of the rose-tinted recollection of my non-monogamous life is how emotionally unavailable a partner I was. I know we each have a different attachment style (please do not refer to the many tables or reference guides), by which I mean that our ways of cohabitating with a partner are very unique and a sum of our collective experience of both observing relationships and pairings from a young age but also existing in ones ourselves. I am open-minded about non-monogamy but I identify greatly with having a nesting partner. Which is perhaps why I swiftly moved away from calling myself polyamorous.

When I was younger, at a time when I wanted to stay away from relationships, non-monogamy allowed me to naturally create a separation between my partner and me. There were many reasons for this, ones that I would love to cover in a later section or another essay. But the truth stands that there was a distance and that separation is also what greatly added to my unavailability. Because I did not attach a great priority to the people I was seeing, say something akin to a partner I would nest with (read; build a life with, pay the mortgage with, someday have kids with), there was a sense of coldness to me and what I brought to the table. It felt fine at twenty-three, even twenty-four. I was doing internal work, unpacking it all in therapy and while on that path, mindful that my time in Dublin was at its end. I was too burnt out with love to be concerned by it and all the while I could afford to entangle with different people on different levels and experience all the pleasures that the carelessness of youth could afford.

In my narrative of the self, I was free-spirited, an explorer, and I advertised that to anyone who dared come close. Allowing them to get close, but only offer a glimpse. I found safety in the distance that I created between my partners and me. But even then, as it very much is now, I knew that it was against my nature. What I never shared, and would take me years to get any clarity on, was that I was deeply conflicted. Conflicted not only about what I was doing but the why of it as well. I can see now that my separation was a means to protect me from getting hurt (classic), and in doing so, I continued to silence the part of me that craved intimacy. I both wanted it and yet was deeply terrified by it, and at the time was far and away from understanding the why of it.

I’m a sensitive boy, I always have been.

Of all the things I attach importance to, treating people with kindness, dignity and respect is up there as the most important one. And yet here I was, treating the people I was seeing with anything but that. At the time I thought I was saving them from hurt later on, but in reality, I was protecting myself from getting hurt and in doing so, ended up hurting some wonderful humans.

I recognize at this point that it is all too easy to be a very harsh critic of myself (which we as humans are notorious for), and I do not think I would be where I am at today if it wasn’t for all the missteps and debacles along the way. But I wish I wasn’t so much of a mess. And there is no time turner, no taking back. All I can do, and I do believe I have been doing, is be honest to myself and to the people I choose to be intimate with. Over the years, I have been asked what drew me to non-monogamy. Why I gravitated towards it or even deem to try it. There is an answer I’ve never shared and one that I’ve been alluding to.

I felt insecure and unsafe as a partner. I felt, for the longest time, and still do (although to a significantly lesser degree) that I could bring nothing good or meaningful to a relationship and therefore they should always have the choice of choosing others. I felt so deeply inadequate in myself and who I was, that I figured nobody would ever be content with ‘just’ me. Which in turn made me terrified of intimacy. Granted, I am deeply mindful that I may leave a lot to be desired in a relationship but something I have just started working on and I’d like to focus some of my therapy on is feeling worthy of being the object of another’s desire.

Do I believe it as I write this?

For the sake of honesty, not entirely. But I do believe it more than I did even six months prior and I want to feel that I’m worthy of being loved as I move forward with life.

There is a positive aspect to this answer as well. I mean I did aggressively practice non-monogamy for a solid four years for a reason. An aspect that is still quite authentic. I greatly appreciate how fully non-monogamy allows both you and your partner to experience each other. Even though I played intimacy safe, I came to appreciate this honesty and recognition that it made room for. Come to think of it, this should be the bare minimum of any healthy relationship. Yet through a mix of what I grew up around and what I experienced for myself, I genuinely believed monogamy was incapable of holding that kind of companionship and if you too, reading this, believe that to be the case, I want you to know that that isn’t true.

While non-monogamy may make it easier to start on that foot, I believe monogamy too can offer the same, so long as both you and your partner are willing to engage in that vulnerability. After all, It is the people at the centre of the relationship that matter. I believe regardless of which relationship style we choose, and what we can offer each other, it is ultimately the honesty and vulnerability with which you choose to relate with a person that matters. Monogamy, Non-monogamy or some blend on that spectrum, is all simply a means of connecting with another and yourself in a very intimate way and if the people in those relationships are incompatible, then there isn’t a workaround is there? How do you relate, share recognition, and build a soul-orgasmic intimacy with someone that is on a deep and essential level incompatible with who and what you are?

I do not know what your values are, I do not know what your hopes and dreams are, but I can tell you - from experience - that every time I have tried compromising on who I am to fit a mould (non-monogamy or monogamy) I have always ended up unhappy and spent.

In writing this, I have been confronted with the question of, 'What am I looking for?' And the answer I have does not look very glamorous but is perhaps the most honest one I can offer.

I am looking for companionship. A team-mate.

In a relationship without the need to be limited by labels that tell the world how we do what we do, but rather one that is private and nurturing. One where both are available and ready to build some semblance of a life that can make room for love. A companionship that not only respects but actively promotes and champions individuality.

A love where we exist beyond the relationship and every time we enter the common, we bring something of our own to it, something that enriches not only the relationship but by extension the other. Yes common interests are nice, and yes the big holidays and fancy dinners are great, but I want companionship where reading next to each other with a cup of tea is still enough. Someone that I share a value system with. Someone that sees me and to whom I extend that same recognition.

And yes, I hope that happens sooner than later, but I believe for the first time, I am okay waiting for it.

I do not seek a person or a relationship style. More importantly, I am open to both desiring and being desired (this one is still tough btw) by a person who I get to just build a unique companionship with, outside of the template of what monogamy for generations has told us a relationship should be and equally beyond the label of non-monogamy. A simple and loving life without the need to be defined by labels. One where we get to be ourselves and be loved for just that. Because that’s the bare minimum isn’t it? When the initial sexual excitement has worn off and the rush of the new has subsided.

When the honeymoon stage is over. When maybe the kids have left the nest.

To love and be loved for who we are.

And not passively, not drifting through it until it’s too late for something better or because this feels alright.

An active choice to love each other.

To communicate and hold each other in recognition.

Maybe it’s idealistic.

Maybe to you, it sounds unsexy.

But for me, it is enough.

And for now, that’s the hill I’m living on.


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