The Year of Living Monogamously

This is a thorny one.

Our first assignment for the Graphic Novels and War course at Reed this semester asked us to explore a conflict. Specifically: “the largest conflict you’ve become aware of in the past year and how it has shaped you.” I tried to pick something a little more distant and less self-involved than my angsty issues about relationships, but if I’m honest, the questions outlined here have changed me drastically over the past 12 months.

It’s hard to post things of this nature out on the Internet for all to see. Partly because these characters are recognizable to the people who know them, partly because I move in a lot of circles that are heavily populated with poly and open folks. I should point out that I’ve talked with many of them in the course of this saga, trying to understand who’s making it work and how, where the nuances and challenges lie, and discussing whether I’m crazy to stick to my guns on this issue. Should I sacrifice my beliefs and emotional safety for the sake of staying with someone I love deeply? The answer seems easy on paper. But things like this are never simple.

Everyone is different. Everyone has preferences. Levels of trust and communication between individuals vary wildly, people’s emotional history is scattered all across the map. There is no simple answer. This was just an attempt to organize some sort of response to what’s been happening — even though I’m still far too caught up in it to feel like I have any real distance.

So with all that serious disclaimer stuff out of the way, here’s some art.

That’s all for now.

About these ads

36 responses to “The Year of Living Monogamously

  1. What a great comic. Yes, more please. This is clearly just the beginning of a story! You’ve certainly set up the characters and the suspense. Here’s hoping for episode two.

    One suggestion: I had trouble at first getting who the characters are supposed to be in the first panels. I suggest labeling yourself “ME” in the family portrait — so it’s clear that you’re not snarking at some abstract stereotyped ideal, as it looked like. And in the third panel, you could change “her words” to “mom’s words”. That would solve it.

    Cheers,

    Alan M.
    Polyamory in the News

  2. What a great comic. You’ve laid out the issues so beautifully.
    I can’t help hoping things are going emotionally well– however things are working out for you– for you based on that.
    (found this through Polyamory in the News).

  3. I’m here via Polyamory in the News. This comic is looking great so far, and I’d love to see more. It can be tough to put something like this out there, but I think you’ll find that there are a lot of others who will identify with your experiences.

    Oh, and for what it’s worth, I didn’t have any trouble understanding the first panels. The conversation makes it clear who the people in the portrait are.

    • Hah, thanks Jennifer! I wonder sometimes about the overall impression of my Internet presence: knitting, fine art, tall ship sailing, comics, dancing…it’s a bit incoherent. Nice to find someone who can dig it all.

  4. This is wonderful. I would love to see more. I am doing a presentation in a human sexuality class next week about Polyamory. I would love to use this graphic. May I. With attribution, of course!

    • Hi Christine,

      I’d be honored if you’d like to use the comic in your presentation — and thanks for being conscientious about attribution. It’s greatly appreciated. I wasn’t expecting this explosion of poly-related readers, so I’m going to reupload a version of the comic with my name and email in the bottom corner. I can email it directly to you as well.

      Thanks for reading!
      L

      • I do the Polyamory in the News blog that wrote about and linked to your comic. I haven’t figured out yet how to get Google Blogger to add a caption or a click-through to an image (can anyone just tell me the html?), so, I could only put the link and attribution in the text. Hope this is okay. Email me when the new version is up, okay?

        Cheers,

        Alan M.
        alan7388 AT gmail DOT com

      • First off, Alan, thank you so much for your support of the comic. I’ve been utterly overwhelmed by the response from your readers and their thoughtful comments. This blog has never seen so many hits in such a short period of time. I truly appreciated your even-handed introduction to the work, your kind words about my art, the multiple links you put to the blog within your post. It really goes a long way to making an artist feel good in an Internet world full of people telling you you’re going to get ripped off without proper credit for your labors. You prove those people way wrong.

        My html is very veeeery rusty, so you might need to look around the web to figure out how to link properly to the blog entry via an image, but I know it can be done. I’ll shoot you an email when the properly-attributed image is live.

        Many thanks once more,
        L

  5. i’m also here through Polyamory in the News. this is beautiful work. i’d love to read more. it’s brave of you to put this out there for the world to see!

  6. Third here thanks to Poly in the News. I know how hard it can be to open yourself up like this, but being selfish, it’s a great comic and I would love to see more of it.

    A personal opinion: changing yourself for someone else, no matter who they are, is always a mistake. And love,no matter how wonderful it feels, is not a good thing to base major decisions on. (IMO, the only thing that has ‘ruined’ marriage is the idea that if you marry someone you love you wll be happy forever, but that’s another topic). If you decide, for your own self, and your own reasons, that you want to change and be non-monogamous, that’s fine. If monogamy is what’s right for you, that’s fine too. Changing who you are for someone else? Eh, not so much.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jessica. I hadn’t intended this to be the first part of series, but folks seem to want more! It may take some time to get to a place where it’s okay material to share, but I’ll definitely consider addressing more of these questions.

      I completely agree with you about changing oneself for the sake of another. The challenge comes, I think when one partner wants to sacrifice a relationship preference for the sake of another. When it comes to mono people staying with poly partners because they feel like it’s “the only way” to make it work, I think there’s more of a negative connotation. However, the question I’m grappling with is related more to what happens when a poly partner decides to be monogamous for the sake of someone they love (but still maintains a desire for — but not an active pursuit of — other partners). Is that a greater or lesser sacrifice? Which is more (un)healthy? These are sticky problems, and of course there’s no way to express the entirety of the situation in a measly two pages, but it’s really nice to hear from other people who consider these questions in their own lives.

      Thanks for joining the conversation!
      L

      • Hello,

        I’m another one here via Alan’s Polyamory In The News post. I’ve come across the conflict between monogamous and polyamorus expectations myself – I’m polyamorus and have been for a decade now.

        About 3 years ago I got into a casual relationship with a work colleague who was based in a different office some 300-odd miles away. We flirted via Skype IMs and met once in a blue moon at first, but the longer kept things going the more often we saw each and the more we cared about each other. What her, being monogamous, really wasn’t comfortable with was the fact that I had two other partners. In essence, she was wanting more of my time than I could give, even if she never outright said that she wanted a monogamous relationship with me. The fact that it was a long-distance relationship didn’t make matters any easier either. Eventually she broke things off in favour of someone a lot more local and lot more monogamous.

        In retrospect (hindsight is always 20/20) I sometimes think we shouldn’t have got so deeply involved (or maybe not at all) with each other. On the other hand, I have some very very fond memories of the times we have spent together and we are still good friends.

        I think a lot of any such decision depends on what each other’s expectations are and how both parties involved manage those expectations. My long-distance relationship started out very casually but became much deeper as time went on. If you are monogamous and are solely and consistently looking for long-term relationships, then something like this is probably less likely to develop with either a monogamous or poly partner.

      • L

        A lot of people fall into the trap of assuming it’s a binary solution set – poly or monogamous. But there is a group of folks out there that I think of as ‘bi-amorous’. They are equally happy in a polyamorous monogamous relationship. For these people, choosing to enter a mono relationship with someone they love isn’t something they see as a sacrifice, because they can be just as happy either way.

        They may still be attracted to other people – but that happens to monogamous people also, one of the most happily married couples I knew used to go to the mall just to compare notes on who they thought was the most attractive then go home and steam up the sheets together.

        Just as you need to decide for yourself what’s right for you, he needs to decide for himself what is right for him.

        Beyond that, you can choose the mono/poly route, where you are monogamous with him and poly with you and others. It means both of you accepting each other as you are, and is difficult as all hell, but it can be done.

        Seriously, just as you not letting yourself get boxed into poly, don’t let yourself get boxed into an either/or until you’ve looked at all the options.

        Be well

      • “When it comes to mono people staying with poly partners because they feel like it’s “the only way” to make it work, I think there’s more of a negative connotation. However, the question I’m grappling with is related more to what happens when a poly partner decides to be monogamous for the sake of someone they love (but still maintains a desire for — but not an active pursuit of — other partners). Is that a greater or lesser sacrifice? Which is more (un)healthy?”

        I have experienced almost the opposite situation from yours (I’m poly, he was mono) and I know what I thought at the time: “I’m not asking him to change himself. He’s asking me to change myself. These are not comparable.”
        It seemed to me the equivalent would have been for me to demand he have other partners, which, while I prefer it, I would never force upon anyone.

        Then I realised it was a bit different. It was an issue of how you see relationships. As a poly person, I have always seen relationships as an individual thing. There are my relationships. With my partners, with my family, with my coworkers. They’re unique to me. If a coworker tells me to stop seeing another coworker, if a family member tells me to stop seeing other family members, if a friend tells me I can have no other friends, it’s infringing on my private life and I feel much less valued for myself. I feel like I’m taken for granted and they believe they can make my decisions for me.

        But the mono mindset is different. In monogamy, there is a relationship, which is a unique entity and “belongs” to the two people who are involved in it. And asking for polyamory, even on only one side, is including more people in the relationship, therefore it is still asking the mono partner to change who they are and what they believe in, even if you don’t ask them to have any relationships themselves.

        There is an analogy with children. In the poly point of view, you might not want children, but if your partner has children from a previous relationship, you might be fine with it, as it doesn’t make you a parent.
        But in the mono point of view, the relationship is your kid with this current partner, and they want to give them another parent, and you’re not cool with it, because it’s your kid too and you think you should have a say.

        Anyways, these are the personal thoughts I had on the subject. Since you say you’ve been thinking about this issue, I thought it might interest you.

  7. Also here from Poly in the News. Great comic, thanks for sharing it (although I’m sure at the time you didn’t realize how wide an audience it would receive).

    I thought your questions above were good, and if I may, I’d like to tease them apart a bit. First, let’s be clear about just who is being asked to “change” in the situation depicted. The monogamous person does not have to make a choice between monogamy and polyamory, they can remain monogamous even when involved with someone who is polyamorous. Therefore the real issue is centered around two questions:

    1) Can I be in a sexual relationship with someone who has other sexual relationships?
    2) Is it realistic for me to ask that someone forgo their sexual relationships to be in an exclusive relationship with me?

    I can’t know the answers to those questions for you, but here’s what helped me reorient my thinking. The first was to recognize that in all other types of love we feel and express for others (friends, family, etc) we have absolutely no problem in loving two or more people simultaneously. We don’t feel like our love for mom is diminished by our love for dad, and we don’t seem to run out of love the more friends we acquire. Love does not appear to be a finite resource. Is it not possible, then, that we are capable of loving more than one person at a time romantically? Thinking back to previous partners, isn’t it true that we still hold some romantic love for them (despite the relationship not working out) even as we love our current partner? Extrapolating, isn’t it therefore possible that our partners having other romantic relationships doesn’t diminish the love they feel for us?

    Second, we don’t typically let others dictate which types of relationships we have. We would look unkindly upon a friend who demanded that we not be friends with someone else, let alone a friend who demanded that we have an exclusive friendship with that person. Why is it the case that in a romantic relationship we are all to happy to cede veto power to someone over the relationships we form with others, and that we feel justified in demanding that veto power in return?

    Finally, jealousy and possessiveness are typically not considered positive traits in relationships, yet in our romantic relationships they’re not only tolerated but are considered an organizing principle. We teach toddlers that sharing is a positive trait for a social species, such as we are. If an adult were to throw a tantrum over having to share something they would rightly be ridiculed. Yet in our romantic relationships we are encouraged to think exactly this way; to feel affronted when our exclusive claim on another is questioned or transgressed; to consider any desire by our partners to seek relationships with others as a statement on their love (or lack thereof) for us.

    I’d encourage you to think about both what you want and what you need from a romantic relationship. Why are those wants and needs important for you? What do you feel a romantic partner being unwilling or unable to make an exclusive commitment says about their feelings for you?

    • Ramesses, you’re poly-’splaining. It seems pretty clear to me that Lucy has already heard most if not all of these arguments and has had plenty of time to consider them — in fact, I’m pretty sure that was the whole point of her post. I get the impression you’re more invested in convincing her of the rightness of polyamory than in listening to what she has to say about her own experience.

      The appropriate time to tell people why they should be poly is when they ask you why they should be poly. Otherwise, you’re skating perilously close to obnoxiousness.

      • Allan, the idea of labeling an argument as “poly-splaining” rather than critiquing the questions raised or positions taken is lazy and dismissive. I’m not an advocate for poly, I don’t think there is any “right” way to have relationships (other than with honesty and integrity), and I’m happily in a long term monogamous relationship myself. So what exactly did you have a problem with?

        What I have found, in talking with friends and family, is a lot of pain and wreckage from relationships gone wrong. Friends who loved each other deeply, but were nonetheless terribly hurt when their partners found that they loved more than one person. Friends whose marriages and families were ripped apart by an infidelity. Friends who were terribly naïve about their partner’s and their own capacity to love and be attracted to others. The cultural narrative is that when we love someone, we have eyes only for that person. We all know that’s not true, but nonetheless we have a hard time breaking free of that cultural narrative and creating one of our own. And so we have no script, no model for what to do when our relationships go sideways, other than the narrative that we’re supposed to throw a fit and blow up the relationship.

        If I have a position to advocate, it’s that everyone has the capacity to love multiple people and the question is one of behavior. What do we do when we find we’re attracted to more than one person? How do we react when our partner is attracted to someone other than us? What does that say about us, if anything? Why do we choose to be monogamous and what exactly does a monogamous commitment mean for us? Asking questions about what I expected from relationships, and what I expected of my partners in relationships, helped clarify what was important to me. If I was going to learn anything from the pain and suffering around me, it was that relying on your feelings alone without questioning why you have those feelings can lead to disastrous results.

      • Ramesses, my critique was right there along _with_ the labeling you object to. I didn’t need to address the argument you were making point by point because I wasn’t trying to argue against it (for what it’s worth, I’d probably see sense in your logic even if I weren’t poly myself); the only thing I was pointing out was that this wasn’t a useful time and place to be making the argument at all. And that still applies whether you are advocating for polyamory directly or merely advocating that the OP think more about her relationship needs; either way, I am sure she’s heard it already.

        I can see that you mean well, but right now you’re being helpy, not helpful. Your initial comment suggests that you are more anxious to have your advice heard than you are inclined to stop and consider whether it is necessary, and your followup comment suggests that you still haven’t stopped to consider it. How about stepping back for a bit rather than adding to the clamor of advice-givers of _all_ stripes? I really, really believe you can trust that your work’s already been done for you.

      • Allan, thank you for your comments. They’ve been super helpful to me and I’m sure everyone else.

  8. Wow! The comic is *so* well done! I hope you got awesome credit for it in your class.

    I really appreciated seeing this little piece of your personal journey so clearly expressed, vulnerabilities and all. I’m sure many people can relate to aspects of it. Thanks for putting it out there!

  9. Hey Lucy,
    Best of luck on your journeys, and thanks for the nuanced reference to our book. So many people think S@D is advocating this or that approach, when the real point of our book is just to try to make the options a bit clearer—not to tell folks which is right or wrong. Looking forward to more of your work.

    Please let me know when your new version goes up so I can post it on our site.

    • Hi Christopher,

      Thanks for taking the time to check out the comic and share it with your followers! I’m overwhelmed by the amount of views and feedback the piece is getting — and I’d say that’s mostly due to your links. I’m also thankful that you posted a full version of the comic on your site as well, since I definitely felt that the excerpt showcased the story in a somewhat lopsided manner. As far as my take on S@D: I completely approve of your approach to laying out a variety of options for people to choose from in the book. So often people approach new research on topics like this as conclusive proof that everyone who refuses to follow their path is living a backwards life, rather than framing it as the opportunity to make informed decisions and choose what is right for the individual. The irony that often strikes me is that poly is largely about letting people have absolute freedom to choose what is right for them, yet the discourse can sometime stray dangerously close to dogma. At the very least, it can be easy to feel un-cool in a poly community, even if one is not being directly judged for choosing to be mono.

      These are all big, important questions for individuals to ask themselves and their partners, and it’s wonderful that you’re bringing that discourse to the fore in your writing. Thanks for contributing so much to the field and for sharing one person’s experience so even-handedly. I’ll have that new version of the image up in the next hour.

      Cheers,
      L

  10. I love Lucy!

    Forgive me.

    The very concept of this issue never struck me until early 2010 in my dating adventures, coincidentally while entangled with a graphic novelist who fully embraced open relationships. Through happenstance while working at HarperCollins at the time, I stumbled onto a sort of “pre-street” Sex at Dawn and then promptly embraced the idea of humans as naturally non-monogamous.

    And then, through the normal dating routine, promptly fell in love with a girl who didn’t embrace nonmonogamy.

    Oh, what was a boy to do? To have this life-changing epiphany and to experience open relationships that can work and then to find perfect marriage material in a partner vehemently opposed to sharing lovers?

    Spoiler alert: I’m doing the monogamy thing.

    Natural or not, I made a choice, and the relationship has been wonderful. The fact that I still follow Sex at Dawn’s Facebook feed may belie the confidence of that choice, perhaps, but here I am, living the pre-epiphany dream.

    In other words: Yeah, I get it. =P

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Hah, it’s okay Matt. Most people can’t resist the gag at least once in the time they know me.

      Thanks for your honesty and humor in sharing your experiences with this stuff. I was in an open-turned-mono relationship directly before this one, so I had something of a similar trajectory. It really does depend on the person and the things you’re willing to accept to be with them. Everyone has to make sacrifices to be in relationships — even poly ones. I’m really glad to hear that you’re happy with your choice (and I think it’s perfectly okay that you maintain that skepticism rather than burying your head in the sand!).

      Take care,
      L

  11. Great comic! You clearly define a lot of the trouble people have accepting polyamory in a short, concise way. Looking forward to more! Good luck.

    PS,
    I too, saw you on Polyamory In the News.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s