Lessons in Nonmonogamy
What I’ve learned from my polyamorous experiences in the non-Western world
Navigating nonmonogamy in any culture can be nerve-racking; navigating it in a conservative, non-Western country—as I have for the past two years—is like building a house with no blueprint. When things are going well, I think of myself as an explorer. Brave! Intrepid! Stepping into the unknown with one flower in my hand and another tucked behind my ear. When things are not going so well, I think, I am such a fool. An idiot! Voluntarily signing up for chaos. I should eat those damn flowers.
Regardless of how long you’ve been practicing it (or where), the challenges of polyamory are, or feel, new. There simply aren’t enough appealing cultural references you can use as working templates for #relationshipgoals or troubleshooting purposes. Sure, King Arthur wanted his wife to fuck his favorite knight and Kunti got impregnated by, like, all the seasons, but how many polyamorous couples do you remember seeing in Love Actually?
Monogamy is predictable and comforting. And don’t tell me that monogamy is equally confusing because love is love and love is confusing. Monogamy is a hole you fall into. Polyamory is a hole you dig for yourself. Here’s what I learned from digging mine.
Lesson 1: It Can Get Lonely
Exhibit A is the Indian concept of jootha, where water and food that have been tasted by someone else are no longer pure and eating them will make you feel icky. (It should surprise no one that this idea extends to that of “impure” women.)
Exhibit B would be arranged marriage, the threat of which is a constant background hum in the lives of most young people I know. They have evolved a fair amount, and shopping for a spouse can often resemble a high-stakes version of dating app roulette, but their basic framework is still that of a traditional romantic relationship: one man and one woman, ideally from the same community, bound for life.
Sexual and romantic purity and having a nice, defined structure around relationships are universal aspects of patriarchal communities, and most of India is patriarchal. This is problematic but survivable—until you realize your actions (as opposed to your views) mean…