There are many variations and different ways to do relationships, as we’ve alluded to in previous posts. We had the opportunity to sit down with Poly Toronto leader, Eva Dusome. This two-part Q&A series will take an in-depth look at what consensual non-monogamy means and doesn’t mean while learning more about the nuances of relationships with more than two folks in them.

PinkPlayMags: At what point did you realize, “this is for me,” with polyamory?

Eva Dusome: It was a decade ago and about 2007 when I first heard the term open-relationships. I jumped on the internet and realized that there were many different definitions, used in the community. What I was reading about at the time was great but I didn’t think it fit me, but when I researched more about polyamory, it resonated with me.

How so?

Over that decade, I’ve been really lucky to explore that and I’ve come to realize that open can mean a couple of things depending on how people are talking about it. It can mean our relationships are opened or they are closed. I may be polyamorous but I may be closed off to new relationships because I’m saturated. You can also be polyamorous but you’re in a polyfidelitous situation, where you have multiple partners but closed off. Typically when people are using that title, they’re talking about a married couple who have decided that some idea or some element of monogamish is what works for them. It truly doesn’t describe what their relationships look like that all. All that it describes is that they’re not monogamous.

Many folks assume that monogamy means that one way of doing things and don’t understand monogamish, polyfidelity, open relationships, etc., is not done just one way. What would you say to folks trying to simplify it into one definition?

It is way more complex than that. Monogamous relationships all generally have one thing in common and that is that they are about two people. Each monogamous relationship can look differently though, and the way that people choose to live their lives and “do” monogamy is on much more of a spectrum. When you start to get into the non-monogamous side, which I like to look at as an umbrella of non-monogamy, there’s probably a dozen terms, labels and structures that can fit within that. Then there are some parts of polyamory that I really don’t enjoy or like seeing in my community. I’ve taken on more of a political stance with it. For some people, non-monogamy was their political way of life. It was the way they resisted a lot of default heteronormative that’s applied to us. Much of that has really shifted with marriage equality coming into play so a lot of people aren’t that political feel that we’re done because everybody can follow the heteronormative dream, even if you’re not straight and monogamy is a part of that.

I think that a big part of it is political and a way to say that there is no default and that we can customize our relationships which is how I describe it. Non-monogamous relationships are customized so it is whatever you agree upon with your partners.

What a lot of folks may not understand is the way that monogamy is a colonialist import and how that’s impacted our understanding of gender, relationship styles, love. What would you say to someone who’s beginning to see this historical implication and help them better understand it in that context?

It wasn’t until I started doing research that a lot of these things made sense for me. Postpartum depression for example- there was no such thing as postpartum depression until we really started to reinforce nuclear families and isolate our mothers and children. When we had non-monogamous networks, support systems and family units or units that operated more like families, there was more care taking and less of this isolation.

It was once non-monogamy as a means of survival, and necessary. Even though it’s not necessary to survival, socially it still is because we isolate and stop hanging out with friends or we only have friends we can only be friends with as couples. The friends you had before you had this monogamous relationship are seen as threats. It still is very much a hierarchical way of living which I don’t organize my life in a hierarchy. There’s certainly an element of priority- every day there’s going to be a person in need in my life that I will prioritize. It’s never always that person. There is no one default in my life that I will fall back onto, which is how we organize our lives according to monogamy and some people still put relationships at the top of the hierarchy in polyamory. It’s still this idea that our romantic and sexual relationships are the ones that are supposed to be the most important in our lives even though the reality is that it’s not always the case, especially when we factor in divorce rates and lifelong friends, you have to factor those things in. We have relationships, that are meaningful and long term that our society really devalues. Friendship in this world is really de-valued.

It’s like everything is hypersexualized and even in some dating situations I’ve had people who didn’t like that I was doing LGBTQ2+ activism because they didn’t like the idea of me being around women who might be interested. Had I listened to that I would’ve missed out on amazing opportunities that helped me personally and professionally become who I am today

Those people were seen as a threat to the couple-hood. If you haven’t had a chance yet, read More Than Two because Ethical Slut is great to get a handle on your sexuality but it’s outdated. More than two is so great because the premise that the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship. How many people compromise and sacrifice- which aren’t interchangeable. Compromise is working with your partner to ensure that you’re both happy but sacrifice actually sounds like, “I stepping on my needs to meet the needs of the relationship before mine.” It sounds really unhealthy while compromise can sometimes bleed into sacrifice. When we’re talking about our own boundaries and our own needs, we shouldn’t be compromising.

It’s this way we keep our partners down because we don’t want them to take opportunities because we’re fearful about who they might connect with. When we’re at our most passionate, in passion projects, we’re shining our brightest and people are going to fall in love with us. They will connect with us and we need to understand that we can fall in love and we don’t necessarily have to do anything about it. We can just be in awe about somebody’s brilliance that they’re sharing but it doesn’t mean it has to be a relationship, but that’s every single romantic movie that’s ever been made. It’s about, “I have these feelings, now what do I do with it.”

The movie Once was one of the only films where I’ve ever seen it not ending a marriage or relationship.

You can still be in awe and say, “Wow, this person is remarkable and I’m so glad that I could share some of these pieces of their life.” We’ve definitely skewed the idea of love and romanticism into having to be something, be it a big R relationship or a little r relationship.

PPM: So many folks rush into that feeling before they understand more about the person they’re experiencing. It’s just a feeling though, that’s very fleeting. The idea of polyamory should be on people’s radar because it’s not just a thing for people who belong to the community. Conscious monogamy makes us kinder for asking these questions and thinking about this. It’s a situation where everyone can win but some folks are so afraid to admit that this is a valid way of being in a relationship.

It’s that scarcity mindset and abundance mindset. The idea that everybody wins, that you just mentioned works, but if you’re coming from a place of scarcity you think of life with a pie with 8 slices and therefore you don’t have anymore. We are however, human beings who are infinite in our energy. We only have so much resources, time and energy in a day but we get more days so we can renew. Sharing those resources may deplete them but I’m also receiving them from other people who energize me. It’s one thing you hear from a lot of poly interchanges and networks, that when people spend time with one partner and then come back to another partner, they come more energized. They’re not as depleted unless there’s a lot of emotional labor happening around one relationship or partner vs. another, it will impact what that person has left.

We all have different levels of what we can engage in so we have to keep that in mind for sure. They can get complex because we are talking about people’s emotions and we are talking about going against the grain of what we’ve been taught so we’ve been conditioned to believe certain things. When we’re going against them, the self-doubt will naturally creep in. If we don’t create those other support systems, there are others who are living non-monogamous lives but aren’t out about it, they end up surrounding themselves with a lot of isolation. Maybe they have friends who are non-monogamous and not talking about it. I wish we could get to a place of being able to be open about how we want to customize our lives and that monogamy wasn’t always the default.

It’s no less valid but it’s just less common but people seem to take that as meaning that it’s not normal. What would you say to people looking to create more safe spaces to be open but who don’t know where to start because they’re not poly?

What you’re really asking is how someone is an accomplice more than just an ally to this even though it may not be where they want to go with it. I think that one key factor is always education. There are lots of articles out there now, like this one, then educating themselves and slowly, as they feel comfortable and when these conversations come up, whether at work or with families, introduce these concepts to family in a non-threatening way. Some people want to jump to the, “It’s not for me, BUT…” and that can sometimes downplay it because it’s still shrouded in shame. It’s like saying, “it’s not for regular people like you or I but there are people out there that do this.” So another point would be to watch the language so we’re not stigmatizing further. We have these social media outlets now so that we can share articles, podcasts or YouTube videos very easily, to say, “Here’s a perspective you may not have thought about.” Many people with power and privilege are able to do this for many other areas of our society and this could be one of them as well. It could be part of that breaking open our relationship options. I have two children and I want them to be aware, to know that monogamy wasn’t the default and that they could explore different ways.

We’re certainly given these scripts that work for some people but they don’t work for everyone and the relationship escalator, is the concept behind default monogamy and riding that escalator with one person until death. It’s the only way you know you’ve successfully ridden the ride and it’s kind of sad to me that your partner dies and you’re able to say, “Yes, I did that right!” Not all relationships are built on longevity. I used to say often that what I strive for as a healthy relationship and if it’s healthy, then longevity takes care of itself. I also say that with a disclaimer that there are a lot of dysfunctional and abusive relationships that have staying power as well. Longevity is never a factor in success.

Stay tuned for part two of our in depth interview, for more great information and thought-provoking conversation.

About the Author

Cheryl Costello is the founder of The Finding Hearts Project, also writes for the Brampton Focus and formerly wrote at The Loving Instant. She has also worked with Fortune 500 and Financial Post 500 companies to bring greater attention, awareness and action for LGBTQ+ issues, giving the community a powerful voice. She has conducted workshops for LGBTQ+ students on the power of reclaiming their power through owning the stories they tell and was also a Keynote speaker at a Toronto World Pride event in 2014. If she isn’t writing or organizing in the community, she’s out with her camera, wandering a bookstore or out hiking among trees and water. Have a question you want to see answered on the blog? Stop by her page on Instagram, join in the good vibes and send her a message: @cherylalisoncostello