Monogamous but not Exclusive. What does that mean?

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Anonymous emailer 27 asks:

I’m dating someone monogamously but we’re not exclusive. What does that mean?


Demetrius says:

Surprisingly, this is a common thing I’ve seen, and you know, maybe done once or twice in a former life, so let me try to break it down for you.

When we think of monogamy, we think of relationships, marriage, commitments between two people. When we think of “exclusive” we think of the “going steady” model of dating. You’re not exactly a full-fledged couple so much as you are on the path to being in a relationship. Maybe you’re at the point where you don’t call each other your significant other just yet, but don’t want anyone else swooping in and trying to go on dates with your partner. Being both monogamous and exclusive usually go hand in hand. A mix of either, whether non-monogamous and exclusive, or monogamous and not-exclusive flies in the face of traditional coupling.

That said, it’s possible to be both monogamous and not-exclusive and what it usually comes down to is sex.

You’ve heard the idiom “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”? Right. Well, monogamy without exclusivity is pretty much having your cake and eating it too. Here’s what I’m guessing your partner means by monogamy without exclusivity. You’re both dating each other, but not necessarily in a relationship that has been classified with a title. You’re “dating” or just “friends” but neither of you has a title (ex. boyfriend/girlfriend/signficant other, etc.). You’re probably currently sleeping with your partner, and I’m guessing you’re either their primary sexual partner, or only sexual partner. Beyond that is where things get tricky.

When people talk about monogamy, they’re often talking about 3 different types of monogamy: Marital, Sexual, and Social. I’m guessing that your partner wants to be Sexually Monogamous, having only you as a sexual partner, but wouldn’t mind meeting new people. They probably want to play the field while dating you and engaging in  a regular sexual relationship. Whether that’s because they are looking for the “Bigger-Better Deal” or they just like to date this way, I can’t know for sure. If I had to guess though, I’d say your partner likes the security of a quasi-relationship, but also wants to see what else is out there. Maybe they’re not ready to settle down, or they simply enjoy having a regular sex partner while still dating and never plan to settle down, or who knows what else. I do know the best way to figure out exactly what it means to your partner though.

Ask them. Seriously, just ask them what they mean by “monogamous, but not exclusive”. I know that sometimes discussing the particulars of a relationship can be a bit unsexy but what you’re doing right now is blindly agreeing to engage in a relationship that you don’t know the details about. Would you take a job offer if you didn’t know what your role, responsibilities, or expectations would be? Would you sign a contract without knowing the basics of what you’re signing? I’m hoping the answer is no to both of those. I appreciate you asking me what your partner might mean but I think you’d be better served just asking your partner what they mean by monogamously un-exclusivity.

Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions either. You deserve to know what you’re getting into. What if this entire time what your partner really meant was We have sex, I have sex with other people, but you don’t, and I don’t use protection with other people either“. It sounds bleak, but you can’t know I’m wrong until you confirm. Ask your partner details about what their version of monogamy means. Is it sexual, as I’ve been supposing this whole time, or is it that you both aren’t either dating or sleeping with anyone? Is it just that you’re in a committed relationship without a title? What do they expect of you? What should you expect of them? Where do they see things going? Ask those sort of questions.

Good Luck Out There.

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