The conversations you never have: taking a look at monogamous privilege

11 Oct

[[17Oct2011 EDIT: Thank you Bahli for the link! It seems somebody else has created a list of monogamous privileges. Check it out- it’s much more comprehensive than what I cover here and worth a read.]]

Just a quickie today, and I’m hoping for a lot of audience participation (I know y’all are out there reading, I see the stats, come comment!). Tell me the relationship privilege you’ve noticed!

I generally don’t make a big deal about being poly. I slip it into conversation where it’s appropriate, “oh, my sweetie’s girlfriend had a similar experience,” “yes, my sweetie works at xyz university…. yes I know I said he lives overseas, that’s a different sweetie,” and so on and so forth. Often, this immediately halts the conversation as people request clarification.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love educating. It’s one of my passions! But, there are times when I really wish I could just talk about my life, without having to go into a long explanation of how it works… And it’s at those times that I realize that it’s a kind of monogamous privilege, the ability to talk about your life and love without people needing heavy explanation or defense.

So, in the spirit of Peggy McIntosh, I want to start thinking and talking about monogamous privilege. This isn’t meant to be a negative conversation about monogamy, I am totally into the idea of all kinds of relationship structures, as long as they’re what people want to be doing- but I do think it’s important that individuals within a majority population recognize the privilege they have in some circumstances, even if it’s small social details.

I’m going to write this all in first person, as if I were a monogamous person recognizing my privilege, because it flows better. Just pretend for a moment that I’m monogamous, if you will.

  1. I qualify for “couples rates” at events such as dances or nightclubs.
  2. I can complain about a relationship difficulty without people immediately pointing out that it might be because I’m monogamous.
  3. I can trust that when I mention my partner in conversation, people will not then ask a series of questions about how our relationship is structured, ask me invasive questions about how I feel when my partner does x,y, or z, or how I handle my personal insecurities.
  4. I am not afraid of telling my doctor about my sex life.
  5. Individuals I talk to about my relationship tend to assume I’m committed and in love. I do not get asked when/if I am going to choose between my various life passions, or when I’m going to “get serious” about the relationship.
  6. People do not assume I am sexually available to everybody always.
  7. When I disclose that I am monogamous, I can be relatively certain I will not be called things like “loose,” “promiscuous,” “slut,” or “commitment phobic.”
  8. I am not accused of having low self esteem, low self worth, or allowing myself to be used because of my partner’s activities outside of our relationship. In general, people don’t ask me if I ever feel inadequate.
  9. Nobody ever reassures me that I’ll grow out of my monogamy when I find the right person I want to settle down with.
  10. I am not told I am a bad example to my children.
  11. When I see a therapist about relationship problems, I can be relatively certain they are not going to try to cure me of my monogamy.
  12. I always know who I’m going to bring to the company picnic or christmas party, or who I’m going to bring to my parent’s house for thanksgiving or christmas. I’m not afraid of my coworkers or family finding out I’m monogamous.
  13. I am not worried I will lose my children in a custody battle because of my monogamy.
  14. People generally assume my relationship is rooted in trust and mutual consent. I do not need to defend my monogamy and explain that my partner is fully informed and truly okay with it.
  15. I can pretty easily buy pictures, post cards, books, signs, tee shirts, etc with my relationship structure represented on them. I can easily see examples of my relationship structure in media representations of people in love.
  16. I am legally allowed to marry all the people (one person) I am romantically involved with. I know when people talk about fighting for marriage equality, they’re fighting for me, too.
  17. I can be relatively certain that most of the people I interact with on a daily basis have the same relationship structure as I do.
These are just a few forms of privilege that are relatively invisible until an individual begins living as a poly person and becoming increasingly more open about it with people they talk to. Disbelief or being challenged for how you choose to love is difficult. Often curiosity from our friends is driven by a good-hearted intention to understand, and that is beautiful. But, as I’m sure many people of different minority statuses can relate, there are those days when you feel isolated in your experience; where each inquisitive question reminds you that you’re something different.
Have you noticed any other privileges to add to this list here?

11 Responses to “The conversations you never have: taking a look at monogamous privilege”

  1. Sasha October 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    A few thoughts, criticisms: (by item on the list)
    1. The more partner’s you have, the easier it is to convince one of them to go to the club, couples rates favor polyamorists.
    5. do people ask you if you feel inadequate? that seems weird to me, but I guess I’ll believe you…
    8. Monogomists definitely need to choose between their life passions. ‘The girl I’ve committed myself to vs my career’ comes up all the fucking time, and the trade off is made starker by monogamy if anything.

    In general I don’t avoiding the complications from doing the same thing as everyone else is really a “privilege” in the proper sense of the word. A privilege is, in my mind, not something that you gain by behaving similarly to everyone else. If you behave differently then people will tend base analyses about you on that and bring it up in conversation, either out of curiosity or the minds relentless habit of attributing obvious differences to whatever subject matter is at hand.

    When people bother me about the financial crisis at parties, is not having to give an account of the difference between bond and equity finance on demand a privilege of non-economists. I don’t think so, I think of myself as privileged to be an economist, and the explanations as a duty that comes along with the charge.

    • Sasha October 11, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

      oh, I dropped a word, there should be a ‘consider’ three words into paragraph 2

    • Constantina Karathanasis October 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

      Interesting perspectives, some thoughts:
      1: It does make it easier to find a date, to be certain, but if you have an odd number of dates, you’re in a pickle!
      5(8): Yeah, you’d be surprised how often people chalk being poly and a woman up to not having a spine, and how often I get asked why my partners “need” other partners. I know I am not alone in this.
      8(5): I guess what I was getting at was the assumption that all poly people are just “dating around,” and will eventually choose a partner to “get serious and commit” with.

      I see what you mean about privilege, it’s a term with many different interpretations. In Peggy’s tradition, I see privilege as “unearned assets” gained simply by being a certain way. In this case, it’s a series of hassles that monogamous people simply don’t have to deal with usually, or situations tailored to prefer monogamy.

      I’m not sure the economy example fits; that would be more like somebody talking about relationship structures and me offering polyamorous input. A better analogy might be if you offhandedly mentioned you were an economist in the context of a larger story, and the person stopped that story because they really needed to understand why you would choose to do something like economy, and why you didn’t do some other (more popular, presumably easier) major.

  2. A different Sasha October 11, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    One argument that I hold by for everyone, regardless of sexuality, promiscuity, or relationship style: never be afraid to tell your doctor anything. If they react negatively to full disclosure of your habits for non-medical reasons, it is their problem, not yours.

    I do not consider that to be a monogamists privilege, since they get up to plenty of kooky shit that a doctor may frown upon. If I cannot feel comfortable talking to my doctor, then they are of little value to me.

    • Constantina Karathanasis October 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

      legit- I think it becomes more of an issue for people who live in areas, or due to their insurance policy have very limited numbers of doctors they can pick and choose from.. and I’m speaking from my own experience, but I know personally even the most progressive doctor I’ve had has donned a concerned look and made some ‘suggestions’ when I mention I have multiple sexual relationships. Maybe it’s more of a “very mainstream, classic monogamy” privilege, or “options for the well-insured and living in a populated area” privilege.

      And maybe afraid was too strong a word. Shall we replace it with “uncomfortable/worried/anxious”?

      • Still a differenter Sasha October 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

        I would go with ‘on the defensive.’ There’s so many things doctors will give us flack about : your cholesterol is too high! you stepped up a ladder that clearly wasn’t secured! you keep scratching after I TOLD YOU NOT TO SCRATCH! as opposed to things that we worry that doctors will give us flack about: you have an STI! you were having sex and your girlfriend was on top and you worry that you might have broken your penis! it hurts when you poop!

        I have had some genuinely awkward conversations about super-weird shit with doctors over the years. They are not perfect – even with the sweet lab coat, they’re still just regular peeps. I get raised eyebrows and concerned looks sometimes, and I get information occasionally that is a little (or a lot) patronizing. Most of these conversations have been unrelated to who my partner is also seeing (dear doctor who told me I was depressed when I actually had mono: fuuuuuuuuck yoooooooou). Doctors initiate conversations about how many sex partners I’ve had so that they can talk statistics with me, and make guidances accordingly, because that’s what I’m paying them to do. But they usually respond remarkably well to “thanks, but that’s not a topic I’m interested in discussing right now.”

      • Gwen October 17, 2011 at 2:36 am #

        That’s really unfortunate, I’m sorry to hear it. I suppose I’ve been quite lucky, but I always just assumed it was the norm. The only doctors I’ve really needed to bring my poly up with were the doctors at the STI clinic I used to go to – first because they ask about my recent sexual history, but also because I was in so often they asked why! They were concerned that I might not be using adequate protection or something – when I explained that it was because I get both myself and the new potential partner tested before we have sex, even if we both think we don’t have anything, they were very gratified. This is apparently a lot safer than common behavior they see from monogamous couples. I got a couple questions, but mostly along practical lines – what are my plans if I do get pregnant, or get an STI, etc.

        They were just basic free NHS doctors, so I assumed that was, well, basic behavior. 😦

  3. Molly October 13, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    I think it’s important to note that many of these points may not be true for non-traditional monogamous couples.

    One of my friends cannot marry her partner in most places, including her home state. She had to keep the entire relationship secret from her employer so she would not lose her job. Other relationship differences that I imagine would unfortunately run into issues could be difference in ethnicity between the partners, or a noticeable difference in age.

    I can accept that certain kinds of couples do have it easier in some ways, but I don’t think it is so inclusive a group.

    Also, I very much agree with A different Sasha: If I thought my doctor was taking issue with my choices in a non-medical way, it would be time to find a new doctor. But I do recognize this is an inconvenience and ideally would not be an issue.

    • Constantina Karathanasis October 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      of course. nothing is universal, and we all have different experiences of privilege or lack thereof. I love seeing this conversation on the topic happening ^_^

      I think we could make lists for privileges experienced by hetero couples (actually, I’m pretty sure one already exists), same-age couples, and same-race couples. The point isn’t to say “if you are monogamous, you automatically have these things regardless of your other life situations,” it’s to point out differences in experience that are easily overlooked.

  4. Bahli Padma October 17, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    #3, so much. Being poly and ‘out’, to me, kind of feels like being an exhibit sometimes. If I asked monogamous strangers the same probing, intimate questions that they feel are fine to ask me, I bet they’d think me oddly rude. But my family’s “weird”, so it’s okay to be invasive and condescending to us, right? >.<

    #7 = If I had a nickel for every time we've heard that….

    Also, this:

    • Constantina Karathanasis October 17, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

      Oh! This is a lovely checklist!

      Thank you for your feedback on those points I think exhibit is a great word for what it can feel like when people are dissecting your relationship in a conversation >.< been there…

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