• Laura Boyle

Mono-normative Programming

I mention a lot, offhand, in this blog and on the podcast,”monogamy-normative programming,” “new attempts at polyamorous community norms” or “deprogramming mono-normative fears,” especially around jealousy, compersion and around independence from your partner - they don’t all have to be “our” friends for things to be OK, and you don’t have to either be filled with rage that your partner is out with someone else, or be the frubbliest bubble that’s ever lived about it to be “doing it right.” (Sorry, friend whose once-username I stole to craft that phrase, it’s a really good one, you’re cleverer than me sometimes, if just as prone to losing keys odd places.)


Let’s consider what some of this “programming” is.

  • That married people, or engaged people, or cohabiting people, or the “first couple” are the “real couple” in the eyes of “the public,” and that somehow this amorphous public matters.

  • That jealousy is how we prove we love someone.

  • That all of your partner’s time is owed to you

  • That all of their friends or your friends need to be “Our friends”

  • That one person can meet all your needs

  • That you’re going to live “happily ever after” once you find “the right person”

  • The most “real” relationships are the ones that lead to marriage; and the most “successful” are the ones that go “til death do you part.”

  • The "love triangle" plotline in every movie ever.




Now, let’s consider some realities:

  • The amorphous “public” doesn’t matter at all. And if we give their opinion more weight than our feelings, we’ll feel bad no matter what our relationship status, on paper, in housing, or otherwise, is.

  • Love is a verb and continuing to love someone, every day, in ways small and large, is how we love someone.

  • Time is a gift, and if we have multiple partners, we negotiate how much time we have available for each of them, make promises carefully, and hold those promises sacrosanct.

  • “Our friends” happen sometimes but aren’t a requirement of anyone, and independence is important

  • You don’t have one friend, you don’t read one book, you don’t watch one show, you don’t eat one food forever. Why should the concepts of romance or sexuality make it different?

  • Fairy Tales are for children. You have more than one “right person” and “happily ever after” is a lovely dream but...you may have noticed they never show it in the movies.

  • All relationships are real relationships. Fuck the Relationship Escalator. Miserable until death is useless; happy for 5 months or 5 years is worth more.

  • People can talk out their love triangle and maybe they do or don't end up as a triad but it's not staring down one person going " CHOOSE NOW!!!" In most of real life. Also, modern dating culture involves a lot of interesting dating octopi before making serial monogamous choices and that's perfectly normalized, so....


The reason any of this matters is that it, like so many other cultural norms, gets selectively down under our skins. Depending on what kind of parents we had, and where exactly we grew up, we probably got most of these, but more or fewer religious additions about modesty, chastity, saving ourselves for marriage, etc; and more or fewer about gender presentation; about what we can manage in a reasonable way; about what kind of jobs are “for us;” and about what our goals are and should be. All of these norms become an underlying part of our thinking.


When I first had the idea for this post it was from the combination of two conversations in a day: first, a conversation about being a young girl and having had to learn a whole series of norms around how to avoid attention - that was not my fault and shouldn’t have been my responsibility - from adult men; and second, a conversation about a friends’ partner’s lack of jealousy feeling like a lack of care, even though she’d done three different things in her love language to try to show him he was loved. They’re hard moments to realize weren’t a matter of fault, but one of broken norms that need rebuilding.


So, I hope this consideration of norms, of messes, of moments we wish we didn’t have to go through and those we’re still working through (I catch myself on the amorphous public’s opinion a lot more than I’d care to admit; and jealousy is my personal burden, though I shame myself for it much more than blame anyone else for feeling or not feeling it) has helped you think them through a little and realize they’re just norms, like Barbie dolls wearing pink and babies coming home from the hospital in little hats, and that they don’t have to happen that way, unless we choose for them to. While we as a society work on considering safer, kinder, more inclusive norms, individuals need to make choices that are safer, kinder, more inclusive, and best for them as individuals, keeping their own experiences & lives in mind. If broken norms have harmed you differently than me your choices now might look differently than mine even if we agree on how to raise the next generation so they have better norms than we did, inch by inch.


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