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Two Become Four Become Six Become Infinity: On Consensual Nonmonogamy

To be nonmonogamous is to be taboo. While queer lifestyles and identities are becoming more mainstream, more conservative views of love are shifting left. But does that mean monogamy will erode too?

That is a fascinating question and much of what philosopher and writer Carrie Jenkins is obsessed with. In her new book What Love Could Be, she explores the notion that nonmonogamy is potentially the future, as being locked into a “true love” is an antiquated way of thinking. Yes, you can be in a loving and committed relationship for your entire life but one shouldn’t feel pressured to only love and experience a single person: that is her way of thinking.

She was recently the subject of an excellent Science Of Us story where this fascinating bite was brought up:

While singers and thinkers alike have been riffing on a “one and only” for decades, she argues that space is being made in the cultural conversation to “question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.”

What an interesting way to look at that: if modern love is queer and non-binary, an opening of the connections you can make, then monogamy must fall in line with heterosexuality as a point of departure, as “the norm”—and norms are made to be explored and questioned.

This takes us to “consensual nonmonogamy” or “CNM,” which Jenkins is a huge supporter and practitioner of. This is defined as “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.” Jenkins herself has both a boyfriend and husband and describes the relationship as V-shaped instead of triangular, differentiating the experience from polyamory in that the love isn’t communal but instead spread out. This relationship style is gaining in approval and more and more people are seeing such relationships as ideal as they don’t confine people, leaving greater avenues of sexual understanding open.

Jenkins also finds that people who eschew or actively hate the lifestyle are “mononormative” and tethered to an old world way of thinking that equates persons in more open relationships as vulgar, taboo, and morally corrupt. This is all to say that love is a lot more complex than we give it credit for. Moreover, the way one person or one couple or one group of people wants to be in love shouldn’t be defined by another.

Much of the subject has to do with our relationship to sex and some people’s inability to separate sex and love or destigmatize the act. To fully understand consensual nonmonogamy, you have to go beyond the two: sex and love are two different things and that’s what makes this all such a nuanced, mature subject.

“The way we normally think about romantic love, we don’t imagine that it’s entirely about sex,” she says. “For a lot of people sex is a part of it; if we’re just having a hookup or a friend with benefits, we don’t call that romantic love. When it comes to polyamorous relationships, if you’re in love with more than one person, the same applies — to fall in love with someone is not the same as to sleep with them. We’re clear with that distinction in monogamous relationships, but in CNM that distinction between love and sex gets collapsed.”

Jenkins and her work are important and point toward a further questioning of what love is and what it can be. Yet, many will likely scoff and laugh, seeing her and her beliefs as fetishized outsider thinking hoping for acceptance. That is not the case.

It’s a long read but it’s a very fascinating, great read, one for anyone who considers themselves and their views on love to be forward thinking: find the story here.

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