The ins, outs, challenges and benefits of mixed-orientation matchups
Photo via Representation Matters
If there?s one thing I?ve learned about being human, it?s that we don?t have a whole lot of control over many things. Whether it?s a potential romantic partner or a friend, sometimes you meet someone and something sparks. Most of the time, that magnetism pays little attention to your logical desires. Mixed-orientation relationships are not uncommon. For example, people who are bisexual may be in a relationship with someone who is gay or straight. In polyamory, mono-poly relationships are one of the most common mixes.
What is a Mono-Poly relationship?
A mono-poly relationship is one where one partner identifies as polyamorous and the other partner identifies as monogamous. This usually means that the polyamorous partner is looking to be in relationships with more than one person; while the monogamous partner is only interested in their relationships with their polyamorous partner.
Mono-poly relationships can be difficult, but so can any relationship. Relationships between two polyamorous people or two monogamous people require care and attention, and this type of relationship is no different.
Why do people choose Mono-Poly relationships?
There are a variety of reasons someone might be choose a mono-poly relationship. These are a few of the more common ways that people find themselves in a mixed orientation relationship.
Different relationship orientations
Sometimes, mono-poly relationships start by accident or circumstance. A monogamous person and a polyamorous person meet and feel an attraction, and over the course of things discover that they have different relationship orientations. Other times, it happens because one partner wants to open a relationship and see other people, and their partner is just not interested.
Mismatched sexual appetites/desires
Mono-poly relationship sometimes work well for people who have mismatched sexual needs. A variety of reasons exist for discrepancy in sexual appetites or desires. Sometimes, it?s just a difference in libido where one partner is more interested than the other in physical intimacy. Beyond that, I?ve known couples where one partner is asexual and opening up the relationship for their partner strengthened their marriage by removing the pressure they were feeling to have a sexual relationship.
Physical limitations or disability, illness, mental health, and outside life circumstances can all have an affect on someone?s desires or ability to interact sexually. Some people?s love language is based on touch, and other people like to be touched only by a very few particular people or not at all.
Long distance relationships
For partners who are separated by a lot of distance, mono-poly relationships are one choice that can work. Because of people?s different needs and desires, they may be faced with a situation where the distance between is bearable for one person, but not for the other.
This can also be an ideal arrangement for people who travel a lot. It could mean an additional partner to keep the partner who doesn?t travel company in their absence, or it could mean that person has long-distance partners they?re able to see in person when they travel. For some monogamous partners, having their metamour be long-distance can create a level of comfort.
Time and energy limitations
Just because your soul jives with someone else?s romantically or sexually doesn?t mean that the rest of your lives will necessarily fall right into place. Sometimes there are mismatches in our everyday lives that create opportunity for mono-poly relationships to be a good option.
Perhaps one partner is an introvert, but the other needs a lot more physical and mental interaction with other people. Maybe one partner has a job that?s super demanding, or they have jobs with variable hours. Sometimes one partner finds it stifling to be someone?s sole love interest and focus, while the other is looking to be immersed in couple-hood.
What are the challenges of Mono-Poly relationships?
Every relationship has its challenges, and they can be as wide and varied as the people who are in them. In mono-poly relationships, there are some particular challenges that come up often.
When a poly person dates other poly people, there is often an unspoken understanding about the dreaded calendar. Generally, people already know going into it that they need to talk about their expectations and the amount of time they have to give to a particular relationship. Time management can be a challenge for polyamorous partners when they are dating monogamous people who expect them to devote more time to the relationship than they?re able.
Overcoming cultural conditioning
One of the most challenging aspects of polyamory is overcoming the monogamy-centric cultural conditioning almost all of us grew up in. It is hard enough to address this issue for yourself as a poly person, but adding a monogamous partner to the mix may mean addressing these things all over again or in more depth.
Sometimes it can be hard for a monogamous partner not to feel like their partner?s polyamory is somehow a reaction to something (or lack of something) in their relationship. Ghia Vitale explored this idea in their article, How to Love a Polyamorist.
Polyamory is about your partner?s individuality, not you.
Polyamory is my natural love-style and my lifestyle reflects it. My polyamorous orientation is a fixed trait and not something for me to overcome. It?s a part of my individuality. While people can and do change their minds about polyamory, your best bet is to assume it?s never going to happen. Sure, it took a little easing into after years of mononormative cultural conditioning. But at this point, after so many years of being poly, monogamy is almost as alien to me as polyamory is to strictly monogamous people. It?s not my years of experience that validate my polyamorous identity; it?s my feelings. Start thinking of polyamory as more of an emotional orientation rather than a set of relationship habits.
Don?t bother investing any effort in trying to fix something that isn?t broken. In this case, it?s a poly person?s heart. If you love and accept someone as an individual, you won?t want to stand in the way of their happiness. Anyone who can?t come to terms with polyamory being a fixture in their relationship is probably better off finding a monogamous partner.
Head vs heart
Several years ago, I dated a man who was not polyamorous. I was open with him from the beginning that I had another partner, and that I wasn?t looking for my ?one and only.? He understood, at least in his head. We talked about polyamory, and I could tell that intellectually he thought it was a fantastic idea.
Unfortunately, what we think and what we feel aren?t always the same thing. As much as he wanted to be okay with polyamory and with being in a relationship with a poly person, it wasn?t what his heart wanted. He wasn?t wired to have multiple partners, and what he really wanted was a partner who would be with him and him alone.
What helps Mono-Poly relationships work?
So, what are the biggest factors that contribute to a successful mono-poly relationship? In some ways they are the same things that contribute to any relationship, but that we don?t always pat the attention they deserve.
Boundaries and expectations
One of the biggest paths to success any time polyamory is involved is setting clear boundaries and expectations. Talk to each other about what?s okay, what?s not okay, and how you can best support each other in connection and communicating needs and desires. Discuss what has and has not worked in the past.
Revisiting your desires and ideas regularly is also a really good idea. Relationships are dynamic, and needs and expectations change. Early in my relationships with my now-nesting partner, I fell in love and he didn?t. I learned a lot about myself and about love during that time, and we revisited the conversation multiple times, with him reminding me what he was able to offer, and me assuring him that I was okay with it. That communication strengthened our relationship and gave us both assurance that we were not leading the other person in a direction they weren?t willing to go.
From day 1, be up front with potential partners about the type of relationship you feel comfortable with. If you?re polyamorous, this means bringing up early in a flirtation or dating journey that you are not willing to be exclusive. Explaining where you?re coming from and where you want to go clearly and concisely will help build security in your relationship.
Remember to talk about what kind of polyamory works for you. Not all polyamory is the same, and discussing whether you prefer hierarchical relationships and whether you prefer your metamours to meet or interact with each other is important.
One thing that can contribute to the success of a mono-poly relationship is when there are personal needs that the monogamous person is getting met by having a poly partner. Don?t be afraid to delve deeply into how you think your relationship can or cannot meet the other person?s needs, and the things you really want or don?t want.
Though it?s a common topic of discussion in polyamory circles, monogamous people often haven?t done much exploration of jealousy and how it can impact relationships. Because the expectation is that jealousy is mitigated by commitment to one partner, it isn?t necessary a lot of the time (thought it might be wise for self growth and discovery!).
The most important part of all of this is not giving each person the same thing, it?s making sure both people have their most important needs met. That can look different for each partner, and that?s okay.
What red flags should you watch for in mono-poly relationships?
If you?re dipping your toes into the waters of a mixed-orientation relationship, these are some red flags you can watch out for that indicate the relationship may not work.
Time limits on polyamory
I read a comment once where the poster described how a relationship turned. After dating for over half a year, her partner insisted he supported her but also said that ?in time, maybe a year, I?ll need a monogamous relationship from you?. It just wasn?t something she could give, and that was the end of their relationship. If your partner makes comments that indicate they?re okay with polyamory or being open ?for now,? it?s time to explore what their expectations for the future are. One does not stop being polyamorous just because they?ve been with a partner for a certain number of months, or because they get a ring on their finger.
This is a common one, and it comes up when a monogamous person decides to ?give it a try? with a polyamorous person, often without any research or knowledge of the situation. Sometimes this manifests in conversations that show that the person thought they?d be able to convert their polyamorous partner by being enough to meet their needs singlehandedly. Sometimes it starts to show up when the poly partner takes on another partner and suddenly the mono partner isn?t so cool with it after all.
Lack of honesty
When a mono-poly relationship starts with one partner cheating, then posing the solution of opening up, that?s not a good foundation. A partner who justifies lying and cheating with their ?true? relationship orientation being stifled is not in a place to form a trusting, functional mono-poly relationship. In this situation, the mono partner may feel trapped.
Any lack of forthcoming communication or honesty in a relationship should be a red flag, whether it?s in a romance, friendship, or even a professional relationship.
As with all polyamorous relationships, mono-poly relationships come in different forms, and different things work for different people. With communication and understanding, they can be wonderful, fulfilling, healthy relationships. I know several couples who have had long-standing mono-poly relationships that are still going strong. If you?re willing to keep an open mind and talk to your partners, opportunities for connection don?t have to be limited by relationship-orientation.
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