Emotionally unavailable? Not in my back yard.



One of the easiest accusations to level against a nonmonogamist is that they are a commitment-phobe. It happens over and over again. In casual conversation or in comment threads, it’s there. A couple of choice examples from the comments on an article on polyamory that the Guardian ran earlier this year: ‘It’s like all these people have given up on the idea of fidelity and intimacy, and they have just settled for screwing around‘ , ‘Emotional unavailability, nothing more less‘ (I assume there are some missing words in that comment but whatever). I’ll politely let rude and antagonistic people air their views about the way I’m doing stuff until they pull that one. If you try to tell me I do this because I’m incapable of real emotion then I will stamp on your toes and poke you in the eyes. Maybe some nonmonogamists are emotionally unavailable, but so are a lot of single monogamous people. Nonmonogamy is not characterised wholesale by an aversion to commitment and emotional availability. I am more than capable of committing, and I do it.

One of the reasons I do this whole thing is because my cup runneth over. I don’t date multiple people because I don’t have enough feelings, but because I can’t make my brain restrict those feelings to one person. I’m not incapable of affection, I’m too capable of affection. To me there’s nothing worse than ring-fencing myself into one romantic relationship when I know that I’ll always be inclined towards sharing my affection with others. 

The argument that nonmonogamists are emotionally unavailable is a hollow one. It quite clearly implies that the only thing motivating us is sex (and that in turn implies that sex isn’t a good enough reason to do anything) when most of us know that isn’t the case. It’s really fucking difficult to avoid attachment if you feel it. Dating 10 people wouldn’t make your instinctive response to them any less clear. Going over to your FWB’s house for an afternoon doesn’t make you suppress the warm, fuzzy, stomach-flipping feeling you get when you think about that nice guy you’ve had a few dates with. You don’t avoid it by diluting the numbers. You don’t avoid it at all. 

Why have we taken it for granted that commitment and monogamy are synonyms? Why is it such a surprise that you can be emotionally available to more than one person? When I commit to a partner it is implicit that this means they can trust me with their feelings. That I’ll be cautious and not try to hurt them. That I want to dedicate time to them. That I find them attractive on their terms (not more attractive than someone I’m already seeing). That I want to engage with them and know about them. And this is just as true for the way I treat a casual sex partner as the way I treat someone I ‘date’ in more traditional terms.

The structure may suggest avoidance and unavailability but really it’s about knowing your emotional resources aren’t finite. That you’re an adult and you’re capable of figuring out if you have enough warm feeling towards a potential partner to be kind to them and treat them in the way they deserve, even if ‘all’ you do with them is have sex. That commitment does not mean exclusivity, and you can build something fun and special and remarkable with more than one person while always looking after their feelings.

 (Photo of love locks taken from Flickr under Creative Commons license)


One thought on “Emotionally unavailable? Not in my back yard.

  1. “To me there’s nothing worse than ring-fencing myself into one romantic relationship when I know that I’ll always be inclined towards sharing my affection with others.”

    Thank you! I’ve recently begun exploring non-monogomous relationships and have found that the above quote is something that I’ve been feeling for years now but not allowing myself to admit to due to social pressures and a thoroughly English sense of not wanting to say something that others might not want to hear. It is stunning how many people seem to believe that polyamory is just an excuse to avoid emotional intimacy. I always try and point out that at any given time in your life you may well have multiple people you would consider your ‘best’ friend, multiple people you have a deep emotional and spiritual connection with and have absolutely no problem (on a day to day basis at least) sharing yourself with, so why is it so hard to factor sex into the equation? I guess a lot of it comes down to social constructs within the media and a lasting hangover from a time when the church had a lot more influence over peoples lives than it does these days.

    I think a lot of monogomy’s frustrations with polyamory comes down to a fear of looking at yourself and your relationships and realising how much of what you’re doing has been dictated to you rather than based on really truly asking yourself (and your partners) what it is you want from an intimate, sexual relationship. When I finally found the courage to ask myself I found that the answer (for me at this time in my life) was to share, regardless of gender, sexuality or anything else as divisive and unhelpful. Monogomy can be a beautiful thing but it has to come from a place of mutual understanding rather than feeling obligated to play the roles society has laid out for you.

    There’s loads more I want to say but I know I’ll be preaching to the choir so I’ll just leave it at thank you for this post, it made me smile 🙂 x

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