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ENM, polyamory, and social acceptance
Love, sex, and cultural norms
I’ve been practicing ENM - ethical nonmonogamy - since 1985, years before it was called that and a decade before the term polyamory was coined. Much of that time, while I was open and honest with partners and potential partners, I was not publicly ‘out’ until 2001. And even then, it was risky to be so. People have been ostracized by their family, harassed online, and even fired from their jobs.
But times change. Growing up, the predominant cultural narratives—from adapted fairy tales like Snow White, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid, up through Jane Austen’s body of work to modern romcoms—all promoted monogamous romance as the ultimate happy ending. And don’t get me wrong, weddings and celebrations of love are occasions for joy, mirth.
But ceremonious declarations of commitment aren’t the end of the story; if anything they’re the beginning. And they’re not the only valid and ethical way to have relationships. Modern stories should take into account that people can feel romantic love for more than one person at the same time.
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ENM covers a large number of sub-types, but at the core they are all about openly and honestly having more than one emotional and/or sexual relationship simultaneously. Emphasis is on the openly and honestly part. Everybody knows, everybody agrees.
Sounds easy, but it’s not. Monogamy is simple, but once you step out of that rigid box, shit can get complex real fast. For years, the poly community was small and the resources for how to navigate the complexities were hard to find if they existed at all. There were few, if any, cultural narratives from which to pull positive role models and stories of successful poly relationships. I’m happy to say that seems to be changing.
Because representation makes being openly polyamorous less socially risky. It also serves to demonstrate positive ways that ENM can make people happy. Here are some of my favorite examples of non-villainous ENM representation:
And last, but certainly not least, a recent podcast very much in the mainstream with frank discussion of the current state of ENM acceptance in society.
What do you think about the rise of ENM? Leave me a comment.