Relationship Realness

A friend posted a meme on Facebook recently on “toxic monogamy culture.” First, I will give a short rant how much I hate the over usage of the word “toxic” when applied to any culture. There are times that it is a valid expression and then there are time in which someone uses it as a means to validate their claim over another. The inherent usage of the term toxic relationship is predicated on the fact that one side is wrong or harmful to the existence of those others inside of it. The flaw is that relationships and the ideals of them are based on the people involved in them as much as the values they were raised with. That makes both sides equally as bad. Toxic masculinity, for instance, is used to describe a particular set of masculine values that have been passed down from one generation to another that promotes misogynistic behaviors towards others that the male in particular is believed to be below them. Before we go any further, let’s look at the body of the meme, in question.   

(What I mean when I say “toxic monogamy culture”

    The normalization of jealousy as an indicator of love

    The idea that a sufficiently intense love is enough to overcome any practical incompatibilities

    The idea that you should meet your partner’s every need and if you don’t, you’re either inadequate or they’re too needy

    The idea that a sufficiently intense love should cause you to cease to be attracted to anyone else

    The idea that a commitment is synonymous with exclusivity

    The idea that marriage and children are the only valid teleological justifications for being committed to a relationship

    The idea that your insecurities are always your partner’s responsibility to tiptoe around and never your responsibility to work on

    The idea that your value to a partner is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy they spend on you, and it is in zero-sum competition with everything else they value in life

    The idea that being of value to a partner should always make up for a large chunk of how you value yourself.) 

ToxicMonogamy

When viewing this meme out of the context, in which the author intended, makes it really hard to say if it is valid or not. Your knee jerk is to read this and go “OMG, I so agree with these points. That is totally how I feel and how I should be treated.” Again, the context is not shown here, so it may or may not fully apply to you. Relationships are complicated and dynamic; they should never be undertaken until those involved know what they are getting into. What’s more interesting is if you were to strip off the header “what I mean when I say, ‘toxic monogamy culture,” and replace it with a title about how to work on a functioning relationship, the who tone changes. And many more would probably disagree with it all together.

Monogamy, in and of itself, is not toxic or bad. Monogamy is simply a status of a particular relationship. Monogamy is defined as a practice or state of being married to one person at a time, having sexual relationships with one partner at a time, or the habit of having only one mate at a time. For the majority of us, it is the default mode our parents and society has taught us to be. But it is also found in nature. Many animals only have one mate their entire pair bonding lives, look at a large majority of the bird population. Swans and penguins are good examples of this phenomenon. In fact, there is nothing wrong with wanting to find one person to spend your life with, to have them as someone to navigate all that life offers, together. That ideal is not toxic, it is one that many people desire.  

two people laying on a bed covered with a floral comforter
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The other problem I have with this meme is that is places any blame being implied, therein, on the person having the feelings. Most relationships are rarely solely about one person being the one held to blame. Relationship are about how things are connected to one another and how they behave towards one another. So, the very definition is about a unit working together. Do relationships do that? Many times, they do not and yes is it because of some kind of break down between the parties involved. If one feels they are always being wronged, then it can lead to that breakdown. The point is that it requires effort and constant nurturing. Like I said they are complicated and dynamic, so to must you be to fully be involved in them.

Jealousy is a horrible emotion rooted in desire for not having what someone else has or is perceived of having, unfortunately it is a quality of humanity. How we choose to overcome it is what allows us to grow from it. It is a wasted emotion that is rooted in fear and hard to dispel because it can make us turn a blind eye to the truth. I will not begin to say here is how to cure it. That comes from personal growth. “Love can move mountains” as Celine Dion sang, but love must be shared in a relationship and with someone you are compatible with. Many times, we see a “mate” and think they are perfect for us, we start dating and are caught up in the whirlwind emotions and think we have fallen in love. Then little things start to creep up, habits we do not mesh with, styles that are contrary to our own, and even behaviors that can be bad. These are the things we should have taken time to learn in the courting phase of the relationship. Once we think we are in love, often we feel we can change someone or look past those issues. The sad truth is if they are counter to our own feelings, we will not be able to get over them. They will only become more focused. Again, this is less about toxicity and more about personal development.

four men sitting on platform
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A committed relationshipis an interpersonal relationship based upon a mutually agreed-upon commitment to one another involving love, trust, honesty, openness, or some other behavior. Whereas, Exclusivity, in dating, is the point in which parties involved agree to not see anyone else but those involved in the relationship. So, they line saying that committed is not synonymous with exclusivity isn’t exactly true as one can’t be had, almost, without the other. Typically, in many dating situations, exclusivity comes before the committed relationship. You decide at one point you like the parties involved and you may state or think to yourself you are going to be exclusive with that person or you both agree to it. Then it moved to a committed relationship. Is that to say that a committed relationship cannot have an open clause? No, in fact you can, as long as both parties are in agreement to it. It can be healthy if the proper notions are kept. In my personal experience, I have seen far too often that when someone lists, they are in an open relationship it is more often than not that only one person considers it open. It becomes the avenue to sleep with other people behind their backs.

4 thoughts on “Relationship Realness

  1. Respectfully, I think you’re wrong here. Just as toxic masculinity is the cultural idea that there’s exactly one way to be masculine, and the way it suggests is often harmful to men, toxic monogamy culture is the idea that there’s exactly one way to be in a relationship, a way that’s often harmful to the individuals in that relationship. It’s a very real phenomenon not unlike heteronormativity and it’s important to recognize the signs so you can build a relationship, monogamous or not, that’s designed with care to provide a stable platform that helps both partners feel supported. I think you should ask yourself why you felt the need to end on a note that many who claim to be in open relationships are cheaters; it seems like you do, in fact, respect monogamous relationships more than open ones, and consider commitment and monogamy to be almost synonymous. There are many people who are committed, respectful, and honest, without being exclusive.

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    1. Your comments are appreciated, but also in part misdirected. You are inferring that I have little respect for open relationships based solely on the response of the part that says “in my experience.” It was based on a very specific instance and not indicative of the whole. But I thank you for your perspective.

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      1. I apologize if I gave the impression I was doubting your experience; what I’m concerned about is a pattern I’ve seen across many people where they give minor lip service to the idea that open relationships are valid, but be sure to end on a note of “don’t forget many people do them wrong”, as if they can’t stomach the idea of validating open relationships without saying something negative to ground the observation. It worries me, because there’s a lot of prejudice those of us in the polyam community still face. If an article spoke about being an ally to the lgbt community and ended with “in my experience, most gays are promiscuous, so do be careful when dating a gay or bisexual person so you don’t end up being cheated on”, it would speak volumes about the author’s allyship, wouldn’t it?

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      2. You are also equating polyamory with open relationships, which are not mutually inclusive. So your comparison to lgbtq being the same as promiscuous and cheaters is apples and oranges. Sleeping with multiple people in an instance where your commuted partner doesn’t know, isn’t poly. Calling the same situation open on a dating app when same Said partner doesn’t know isn’t an open relationship. This is what I was speaking to and not being negative towards your inferred meaning of polyamory.

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