Not All Non-Monogamy is Created Equal
Mainstream society has many preconceived ideas on what polyamory is due to a lack of understanding and education. I find some people cannot wrap theirs heads around the concept of polyamory no matter how it is explained. Polyamory is commonly misclassified as cheating, yet cheating can occur in poly relationships.
Polyamory, open relationships, and swinging are all forms of consensual non-monogamy. Consent is the single most important difference between polyamory and cheating. Consent needs to be received freely and willingly from all involved. Consent cannot be coerced, as that is not consent if you agree under duress. Consent is not implied, it needs to be expressed.
Informed consent requires an understanding that comes with communication and transparency of all involved. Without these three things you also cannot have a poly relationship. Poly relationships are hard work and not the easy cop out for cheating, as it is sometimes referred to. Cheating creates an environment of dishonesty, secrets and an overall lack of trust. This is in contrast to poly, which fosters openness, communication, growth, and love.
When I started dating I had trust issues with my partners and were constantly fearful that they would cheat on me. Commitment and love were monogamy for me even though I believed that humans were non-monogamous by nature. It was the willpower to stay monogamous that proved that they loved me. At that time monogamy was so important to me because I saw my family destroyed as a result of cheating.
When I was around the age of eight my father retired from a long career in government. It was at this time he became “Mr. Mom”, I no longer went to a sitter before and after school and he attempted unsuccessfully to cook Eggo waffles for breakfast. He took a few part-time odd jobs to keep himself occupied during the day. He would pick me up from school and I would tag along until he was done for the day. I was his buddy and confidant.
One of these jobs was at our church were he was a minister. Stating my family was very religious would be an understatement. Faith was all encompassing; it was the sun of my family’s universe. It was the deciding factor in what movies I could watch. When planning vacations, the closest church and their mass schedule received just as much attention as which hotel to stay at near Disney. In addition to being a minister, my father was called to help Jesus’ “lost sheep” by counseling and assisting them to come back to Jesus’ flock and live a righteous life. As long as you lived under my parent’s roof, you attended in church every Sunday and all holy days.
There is a parable in the Bible that is about a Shepard that leaves his flock to find the one lost sheep that wandered off. The shepherd finds his sheep and returns to his flock with it rejoicing. In the Gospel of Luke the shepherd exclaims, “there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, then ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need to repent”. My father took this a little too literally.
My father provided counseling to former dancers who were single mothers and were struggling. He provided emotional support and financial assistance. He helped them find lawyers for divorces and child custody battles. He found drug rehabilitation facilities for them to attend and ensured they had the things they needed like toiletries and clothes while there. He helped them find housing and if they couldn’t, sometimes they would live with my family in our extra room while they got back on their feet. He was doing God’s work, or at least that is what he told people.
Afterschool or on days off I would go with my father when he went to counsel these lost sheep. I would watch with their children while he was counseling them in the other room. All the visits and counseling was our little secret, just between my father and me. He would buy my silence with trips to McDonalds, toys or money to get snacks at the convenient store that was located next to the Western Union where he would wire money to the lost sheep who lived out of state. This went on for several years until reality hit and I pieced everything together.
Under what appeared to everyone, as a perfect marriage was a dark secret. All of these “lost sheep” were sex workers. He wasn’t counseling them, he was sleeping with them, and these lost sheep were his girlfriends. This secret came out in a very public way and destroyed our family.
Apples & Oranges
My parent’s relationship had many secrets and some of which I think my father took to his grave. My mother was blindsided, she felt betrayed and humiliated. She had not provided consent to an open relationship.
Prior to starting my consensual non-monogamous relationship it had been something that was discussed for a few years. The pros and cons were weighed and details on what we both felt comfortable with were hammered out. We both consented to opening up our marriage as did Jack and Ashley. The four of us try our best to communicate as much as possible and keep things transparent. It may not always be easy but we are all in this together as informed consenting adults.
In any relationship, poly or other, consent and communication keeps openness within partners and allows honesty, transparency, and respect to be present. These are vital tools in any relationship and what sets polyamory apart from cheating.