Changing the Way We Think About Consensual Non-monogamy | Nirel Marofsky | TEDxTerryTalks


Translator: Carol Wang
Reviewer: Rhonda Jacobs Ever since I was a little girl
I dreamed of my wedding day. I remember putting on
my mother’s engagement ring and pretended that I had found
my one true love. I could feel the petals
between my fingers. And how could I not? I mean, who here hasn’t dreamt
of getting married one day? In popular culture we’re saturated with these ideas of finding
our one true love; we’re saturated with love and romance
and sex in the media. And rightly so. Relationships are a really
important part of our lives. In fact, people report
that in the key stages of an ideal life, in the top five, they list
getting married and having a family as some of these important priorities. So relationships are a big deal. Unfortunately, this is the reality
of the situation. Forty percent of marriages
in Canada end in divorce. And the stats are higher in the U.S. –
they’re up to 50 percent. As Chris Ryan, the author, once said: “If boarding a plane,
you had a 40 or 50 percent chance that that plane was going to crash, would you get on that plane? Because I sure wouldn’t.” (Laughter) The story that we’re telling ourselves
isn’t working for everyone. A lot of marriages and a lot
of long-term relationships are ending in divorce and others
are unhappy with their relationships, trapped in loveless
or sexless relationships. And so why do we have
such a high failure rate? And why does nobody
seem to be questioning this? Well, some people are. But first, let’s talk about the reason
why we have this high failure rate. And the reason, let’s be clear,
is not monogamy. Monogamy is not working for everyone, but the reason really
is the lack of an alternative, or rather, the perceived
lack of an alternative. In our mono-normative society,
where monogamy is the norm, it’s given to us, it’s chosen for us
as our relationship model. We’re not given any choice. We put the expectation on one person
to satisfy 100 percent of our emotional and physical
wants and needs, and that seems like a lot of pressure
to put on one person. And so with no alternative,
we’re really setting ourselves up to fail unless we find this one true love or otherwise we are compromising
these wants and needs. And, again, it doesn’t seem like
a very fair expectation to put on one person, in my opinion. So what if I told you
that we do have a choice? That there is an alternative, and we can choose to design
our own relationships if we so choose? And what if I told you that four to five percent of Americans
are already doing this? And you may say, “Nirel, four to five percent?
That’s not a big number.” But four to five of Americans is actually almost half
of the population of Canada. (Laughter) Think about that for a second. So it’s not just like hippie,
remote communities that are trying this out. This is actually a big deal. A lot of people in our society are choosing to adopt
an alternative to monogamy. So, again, the solution
is a shift in perspective. It’s a shift in perspective from going to thinking that monogamy
is the only option that we have, that we don’t have options, essentially, to acknowledgeing
that we do have alternative options. So at this point you’re probably like “Nirel, what is my alternative?
You’ve talked so much about this.” Well, here is one alternative. Actually, multiple. We’ll talk about it. So we already know about monogamy, right? It basically means that your are with one person
exclusively at any given time, sexually or physically, and emotionally. And so the idea of consensual non-monogamy is that it refers
to romantic relationships in which all partners agree to engage in sexual, romantic and/or emotional
relationships with others. So at this point, you may be like
“Nirel, are you talking about cheating?” Well, no. This is not cheating.
In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Cheating involves deceit,
it involves lying and dishonesty, which go against the most fundamental
aspects of a relationship, which is honesty and truth
and open communication. And so consensual non-monogamy relies on agreements
made by consenting adults. It’s really fundamental
that you understand that distinction. So when we look a little closer
at monogamy and consensual non-monogamy side by side, this is how it can be explained
pretty simply, I think. So we allow ourselves to have
more than one familly member, right? And to devote our time and love and
attention to more than one family member as with more than one friend. But when it comes to sex and romance, these seem to be exclusive, we seem to devote these exclusively
to one person, at a time, at least. Whereas in consensual non-monogamy, the idea is that sex and romance
and friendship may intertwine to form any sort
of combination of relationships, and that you may have a relationship – or more than one relationship
involving anyone of these at any given time. And so in this model, what’s kind of cool is that
that 100 percent burden of satisfying your wants
and your needs, emotionally and physically, are distributed among multiple partners. And you may think, “But does this mean that I will love
any one of my partners any less?” Well, I’ll ask, “If you have a child
and then you have a second child, would you love your first child
any less than your second? If you have a best friend
and then you meet another friend, does this mean that you’re going
to devote less of your attention to your first friend?” Sure, time is limited,
but love may not be. Love actually may be infinite. That’s sort of the idea behind polyamory, which is one form
of consensual non-monogamy, and it’s kind of a cool one. And if you learn
how to allocate your time, then this actually can work pretty well. And so the bottom line again is that neither one of these
is better than the other. But on the left-hand side of the screen, that’s what we seem
to be given as our choice. And so the idea here
is to take a step back and realize that there is this other option. And in fact, with all these combinations,
there are multiple options. So … yes, this is a teddy bear. I like teddy bears. When I explain consensual
non-monogamy to people, the way that I like to talk about it
is that it’s kind of like the Build-A-Bear of relationships; or rather, this perspective –
this shift in perspective from only having monogamy as our option
to having multiple options – that really is the Build-Bear
of relationships. Now, I don’t know if you guys
are familiar with Build-a-Bear, but as a kid I loved this. You can go to a Build-A-Bear workshop and design all the components
of your teddy bear – you can choose if you want it
to be like a rhinoceros or a teddy bear, and either one is fine,
neither one’s better than the other. You can dress it up. That’s great. But we’re not talking
about individuals here, we’re talking about relationships – we’re talking about customizing and designing and building
our own relationships. So, spoiler alert: my parents are consensually
non-monogamous. They’re polyamorous. And, what does this mean? So don’t be scared by this slide, I’ll go through it and I’ll talk about
my parents as an example. So my parents have an open relationship. They’re polyamorous, and so they consider each other
their primary partners, but they also have secondary partners when it comes to their relationship style. My dad has a girlfriend
and my mom has a boyfriend, and they are also open
beyond those relationships to forming other
meaningful relationships with evolving emotional intimacy
and physical intimacy. And when it comes to communication, my parents are 100 percent
transparent with each other, with their partners and with us,
with my siblings and myself, which leads to me learning
a lot about my parents’ sex life. (Laughter) Awkward sometimes,
but also really informative, actually, because I’ve learned a lot
about myself this way. So it’s actually really helpful. And even if your parents
are not consensually non-monogamous, it really helps to have
open and honest parents. And this is pretty different
because when I was really little, actually, well, growing up, really, and coming back to the idea
of dreaming of my wedding day, I always thought of this
happily-ever-after as something that would end in me
being with one other person. But now I realize that I actually
have a lot more options than that. And there are lots of options. So, with my parents, like I said,
they’re polyamorous, but the choice that you have
regarding your relationships may also depend on the circumstance. So, maybe you have
a long-distance relationship, and you really care about this person, but it might be a better idea
in order for you both to have your physical intimacy
wants and needs satisfied to have other relationships as well. And maybe you want
to have those relationships also involve emotional intimacy, but it’s really, really customizable. That’s the idea. And also, why shouldn’t we get
to have a choice in our personal lives? That’s a question
that I like to ask myself too. Also when it comes to having kids,
maybe you find yourself one day in the situation where, I know
we’re all pretty young now for this, unless maybe you are ready
to have kids, which is great, but maybe you want to have kids
and your partner doesn’t, so maybe you can still be
in that relationship with that person, and you can also have kids,
so that’s kind of cool. And then, lastly, if you have any crazy
kinks or fetishes that your partner is maybe unwilling or unable to satisfy, you can have another partner
that can satisfy those for you. So that’s kind of neat. But why does this idea
still seem so radical? Because sometimes when people
see a photo of, for example, like four people cuddling, I mean,
I don’t know about you guys, I love cuddling, so I’m like “Oh, cuddles,
this is great. I want to join.” But maybe you don’t,
maybe that’s not your first reaction. And the reason is probably because, again, coming back to this idea
of mono-normativity, in which monogamy is so ingrained in us that we’re not really presented
with an alternative, and that any alternative
that people do present to us is stigmatized. And what about, though, that
four to five of Americans, for example, who are choosing to live this way? Well, an interesting study –
it just finished, actually, by a person named Ryan Witherspoon, and he found that as people
more closely identified with being consensually non-monogamous, so they considered it
a more core part of their identity, yes, they faced increased rates of stigma and discrimination against them, which comes to no surprise. But also, along with these
higher rates of identity, higher rates of stigma and discrimination, these people also reported
higher rates of satisfactions with their own relationship. So this is working out for some people, and that in of itself
is important to acknowledge. The bottom line is that
some people, a lot of people, are choosing to be
consensually non-monogamous, and, again, because it’s consensual,
everybody involved is cool with it, so the important thing
to take away from this is that we need to legitimize
those relationships, and we need to recognize them
as viable alternatives, just like we recognize monogamy
as a viable relationship model. And, so a big question
that a lot of people have is: Okay, great, this works well for adults,
but what about the kids? Well, as a kid of non-monogamous parents, it’s actually pretty interesting, like what you might be able
to teach your kids, or what you might be able
to learn as a kid. So, we are already used to the idea
of having multiple parents, if you think about it. With such high divorce rates,
we have a lot of step-parents. But the difference
between the relationship that step-parents normally
develop with children and the relationship that a metamour, or a partner of your partner’s, like your partner’s partner, that that person may establish
with your children, it’s kind of a different dynamic, right? Because with step-parents,
usually they end up being resented, at least by the other parent, and that often leads
to resentment by the children. Sometimes not, I see a head-shake
and that’s totally fine. If that’s not the case, I am so happy that you have a wonderful relationship
with your step-parents. But sometimes not. And so it’s just the idea that maybe this can actually
be a cool alternative since children do benefit
from having multiple adults living with them. It’s also kind of the idea
of going back to a tribe mentality and a more community-based lifestyle. So the effort to raise the children
is shared, it’s divided, kind of like that 100 percent of someone’s
emotional and physical wants and needs that are divided up
by having different partners. So it would also be the economic burden, and the time management of raising kids –
not that we’re only burdens, also the joy in the taking part
in raising children – that is shared among
these consenting adults. So that’s kind of neat. And a couple lessons that I’ve learned as a child of consensually
non-monogamous parents is to combat jealousy with compersion. I’m sure that jealousy
is on a lot of people’s minds, and it’s as much of a problem in consensually
non-monogamous relationships as it is in monogamous relationships. And basically it just involves
a lot of self-awareness and a lot of just really working on self-esteem, like boosting up
your self-esteem and realizing that someone is not going to be
more likely to leave you as a partner just because they have the option to. In fact, that’s kind of the point – it’s that each day
you’re making the choice to be with your partner,
not because you have to because you have a wedding ring on you, or because you’ve promised
to be with this person forever, but actually because you’re always
constantly making this choice, which is kind of cool. And also, again,
the idea of infinite love. So in relationships
that do involve emotional intimacy, this is kind of a cool idea
to share with children. And just to bring it back to home, actually recently, a triad in Nova Scotia,
a polyamorous triad of three men have announced that
they want to have children and all contribute
genetic material to the children. So that’s kind of cool – it just shows how actually
prevalent this is. Like, think about that – it’s real,
it’s in Canada, it’s happening. It’s in Canada! So it must be real! (Laughter) And just think about
the implications that this might have when it comes to Hallmark cards
or medical or legal rights. So this is kind of a big deal. [40%] This isn’t how it has to be. These conferences are supposed
to teach us to think critically, to challenge conventional models
that we are taught, right? They’re meant to consider
new possibilities. And so the bottom line
is to expose you to this new idea, to expose you to the idea
of consensual non-monogamy, not as the “new option,” we’re not replacing
one thing with another, but we are acknowledging
that we have the choice, that we can design our own relationships if we so choose. Now, some of us may end up
being monogamous and that’s great. If that works out well for you,
I’m genuinely so happy. And some of us
may choose a different path. My parents are super happy
in their polyamorous relationships, and I am still deciding for myself. But I acknowledge that I have this choice, and I encourage you to do the same. Thanks. (Applause) (Cheers)

Michael Martin

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