I’ve had an interesting week. Most of the interesting part has been online. Some of it at Reddit. I’m finding those new to the concept of ethical non-monogamy (ENM) can sometimes think of it as just lacking commitment, not making up your mind, waiting for “the one”–you know, just another word for dating. Dating is something you do regardless of your relationship style.
On this Bisexual Awareness Day, the experience of ENM isn’t far from my mind. They aren’t the same thing, of course, Neither is required by the other. You can have multiple partners/relationships of many genders and you can even have no partners and still be ENM. How, you ask, can you be ENM if you’re not even in a relationship? The same way you can be straight or lesbian or ace regardless of your current relationship status.
I’ve discovered this is controversial to some people. I guess that’s because ENM is seen as a choice of lifestyle, while I experience it more as an identity. I can choose to act on it or not, but I can’t choose to feel it or not. This makes me wonder if ENM is at that stage in our culture that being gay was a generation ago. We fought to get mainstream culture to understand the nature of sexual attraction, that it wasn’t a choice for most of us (I’ve had some friends insist it was a choice for them). Even the Church finally accepted that, and then it decided that being gay was all right, but doing gay was a sin (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church).
This is the difference I wanted to point out in my post title. ENM is not actually a choice, but one can act on it or not. One can commit to living it, living their truth, being “out”, being public, or not. Committing to ENM also means doing the hard work of managing multiple relationships. ENM is especially challenging for poor communicators, those who lack introspection, and insecure adults. As with most things in life, you can reap unexpected rewards from the hard work.
There are many reasons in our modern society to hide ENM, just as there always have been (and still are) for hiding alternative sexualities. But it’s not all about disapproval or risk. It’s also about co-opting. Patriarchy and capitalism have co-opted the LGBTQ movement in ways that are harmful, but we muddle through. They are and will do the same for ENM.
I use the term ethical non-monogamy because it’s an umbrella term. It includes different kinds of multiple partner relationships. Yes, there are different kinds. Now, go do some reading. Here’s a nice place to start.