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Does Monogamy Exist?

It might be time to change the way we define relationships and step away from traditional ideas.

By Thomas BrandPublished about a year ago 5 min read
Elisaveta Ivanova |

This article was originally posted at

Last weekend, I met my friend's new partner. They've been dating for a couple of months now, and he seems like a lovely guy. And luckily, he has no problem that she's already married and has another boyfriend on top of that.

You see, my friend is polyamorous. This new guy - for the purposes of this article, we'll call him 'R' - is monogamous.

Now, I've always been uncertain about the possibilities of a monogamous person dating a polyamorous one. I know there are people who manage it and apparently make it work quite well, but I've never been able to get my head around it.

But R phrased it in a way I'd not heard before. One that has made me question whether monogamy even exists at all.

Can a monogamous person date a polyamorous person and be happy?

I’ve always been cautious about whether this is possible because I’ve seen people get hurt. In the instances I’ve seen with my friends, the monogamous person has eventually got upset they don’t have their partner to themselves. Either they have discovered they are not as okay sharing as they thought, or it turns out they thought polyamory was a phase their partner would grow out of once they were with “The One”.

Essentially, in every case I’ve seen up close, the monogamous partner eventually decides they no longer want to share.

So, how did R put this all into another perspective?

Well, do you know what “polysaturation” is?

Relationships take up both your time and your energy. When you reach the point where you no longer have enough of either to fit someone new into your life, that’s what we call being polysaturated. (Some people call it polymaxed, but it means the same thing.)

And what’s important to know in this context is that the point is different for everyone. For some people, it could be when they are in two loving relationships. For others, it might be one long-term, loving relationship and three casual partners. It will all depend on your personal situation and personality. It may even change over time, with you realising that you have space to see someone new or that your current relationships are over-stretched and you need to cut back.

But there was one situation I hadn’t considered. And this was what R put to me.

“I’m polysaturated by one person.”

Changing the idea of what polyamory actually is

I’ll be honest, it took me a few moments to process this idea. Surely, he was using that word incorrectly. You can’t be polysaturated by one person. That’s just monogamy. To be polysaturated, you have to be seeing at least two people. Otherwise, the word is meaningless.

But then it clicked exactly how ridiculous I was being. I’m always arguing that being polyamorous isn’t about how many people you are currently seeing. Dating one person, or being single, doesn’t strip away your title. No one comes to take away your membership card until you are once again seeing multiple people.

So why on earth could you not be polyamorous and satisfied with just one partner?

Looking at R’s life, it’s clear that this situation works perfectly for him. He has a busy job with non-regular hours. He’s not looking for a “traditional” monogamous relationship, as it would be impossible to fit into his world. He often works evenings and weekends. Sometimes he’s travelling. Right now, in the place he is in his life, he doesn’t want to have to fit in an “Other Half” who expects a certain about of his time and energy every day.

So dating someone who already has a husband and a boyfriend is perfect for him. She isn’t available all the time. Seeing her is something he has to arrange in advance. He gets the romantic and sexual elements of the relationships, with none of the expectations. She expects only a portion of the time and energy a “full time” partner would expect from him.

And so, as seeing her takes up all the time and energy R has for a relationship right now, doesn’t that make him polysaturated?

Yes. Yes, it does.

If dating one person is enough to leave us polysaturated, does that mean monogamy doesn’t exist?

Okay, let me break this down logically.

Monogamy means only having one romantic/sexual partner, which we assume means your partner provides all the romantic/sexual needs you have. So, couldn’t we argue that being monogamous is just another way of saying polysaturated?

To be honest, I’m not certain that it does. Because the way I see monogamy, it’s a choice. You may well have needs that are not being met, but your choice of relationship model means they are officially out of reach. But this leads us down the rabbit hole into a much deeper conversation around whether monogamy/polyamory is a choice or something we’re born to.

But, assuming we decide that you can be polysaturated by one person, and that is why you would choose not to date other people, doesn’t that mean that monogamy doesn’t exist?

So this is my question. Is what we call “monogamy” simply just polysaturation?

Some people find it rewarding to have relationships with multiple people. Others don’t. But rather than looking at this as a choice between relationship models, is it not rather a question of simply choosing our own limits.

Now, I realise this seems like an argument in semantics. Why does it matter, I hear you ask.

Well, from an everyday point of view, it doesn’t. The exact reason you date the number of people who do doesn’t change your daily life. But from a more philosophical point of view, it has significant implications around how we think about relationships.

Because the traditional model of relationship in our society is not without unspoken implications. Our ideas about marriage and long-term relationships are steeped in patriarchy and capitalism. And while we are slowly shaking off some of those ideas, others still cling. And whether we see it happening or not, those ideas continue to perpetuate inequalities in our society.


I’m not going to try and make a serious attempt to argue that monogamy doesn’t exist. At least, not today.

But I do think this is something worth thinking about. When we talk about modern relationships, we often look at it as reinterpreting our idea of relationships. We take what we believe isn’t working and debate ways in which it could be retooled to fit into our modern philosophies.

Sometimes, though, we have to have deeper, less practical discussions. Questioning the very existence of the concept of “monogamy” isn’t going to have an immediate impact on our lives. But it is going to subtly affect how we think about relationships, as well as other elements in our lives. And this is why theory is just as important as practice.

Because at the end of the day, I’m not actually asking whether monogamy exists. I’m asking why it exists.


About the Creator

Thomas Brand

Blogging about polyamory, ethical-non-monogamy, mental health, and modern relationships | (He/Him) | |

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