Getting our needs met

There are no “monogamous” or “non-monogamous” people. It’s not an innately defined character trait that you either have or do not have. The distinction between those relationship arrangements comes not from personalities, but based on how we define responsibility for one’s own emotions and how we practically deal with and minimize risk of trauma.

In monogamy, sharing yourself with others past the point of what is culturally considered platonic, even if doing so might be pleasurable for you, can stir emotions in your partner that you are then responsible for. In consensual non-monogamy, the bearer of the emotion is primarily responsible for their emotion.

Like with most things in nature, there are no “right” or “wrong” approaches, and most realities generally fall somewhere along a spectrum between the extremes. Furthermore, drawing up a map of responsibility within a group of people of any size is a complex, nuanced, and continuous process.

An attempt to navigate such emotional space without recognition of its nuance and of its cultural and social context is very likely to stir up conflict. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t taught any tools to navigate such spaces effectively, since our time during traditional schooling is typically spent learning anything other than dealing with people.

Some examples of bad judgements we resort to when we give up recognizing the nuance of the human condition:

Both monogamous and non-monogamous people have a capacity to act like toxic, insensitive jerks. It should be noted, however, that only toxic behaviors motivated by monogamy are widely normalized as healthy in our current culture due to compulsory monogamy effectively being subsidized by highly influential institutions such as church, the state, and patriarchy.

In my experience, most people are practicing a fundamentally similar relationship style: maintaining a delicate balance of opening themselves up to others so they could get their needs met while trying to minimize risk of triggering past trauma.

Each person has a unique footprint of different traumas, but we all seem to share the baseline fear of abandonment. Furthermore, due to social conditioning, we all tend to attach self-worth to perceived desirability by others.

All this makes it generally terrifying to feel that someone whose presence we value is slipping away from us.

Jealousy is hard to deal with because it’s a state of distress of our nervous system due to one or more of our trauma responses being triggered at the same time. It can’t be wished away, it can’t be reasoned with, and none of us can be blamed for just wanting to get to a place of safety as soon as possible. We have different ways of reaching that safety, but often it involves exercising our influence over others to arrange expectations in such a way that minimizes our exposure to the same triggers.

Are we responsible for having had trauma? Never. But are we responsible for how we respond to trauma? This is hard to answer because even if we would like to believe that we have the power to do so, our capacity of reshaping our response is limited by many constraints, the primary one being time.

It’s hard to find time to recondition your trauma response in a world where seemingly nobody is available to patiently hold space for you while you do so, where seeking support for mental health is stigmatized, and where you have to keep a job and pay rent at the same time.

In the end, you can never go wrong with protecting yourself by reaffirming your boundaries. Please always do so to the best of your abilities and steer away from anyone who is trying to convince you otherwise. If you choose a single thing to be faithful to, it should be that principle.

I’ve spent half of my adult life practicing monogamy and the other half practicing consensual non-monogamy. I was toxic on both sides. I was mistreated from both sides. We are all essentially children who barely have a clue about what they’re doing, even as adults, especially us cis men who are generally allowed to stay children way longer in adulthood than anyone else.

What I’ve learned is that the only things that matter are:

You have the right to protect yourself from a person who insists on being more closely involved with you for any reason, at any time, regardless of any history together.


Your desire for wanting to have your needs met by other people on this planet for any reason is valid and you should not have to suffer through being guilted for opening up to that idea.