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Love, Relationships and Non-Monogamy

Every February 14th in the UK, and other countries around the world, we celebrate Valentine's Day. Millions of cards are exchanged, tokens of love gifted to the special people in our lives and the floristry industry has it's best day of the year. The origins of Valentine's Day seem to be somewhat unclear, with the Catholic church recognising three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all were martyred and there are mixed stories about their lives and deaths. Some people believe the Christian church may have decided to celebrate St Valentine in the middle of February in an attempt to 'Christianize' the pagan festival of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god Faunus. This ancient Roman festival involved animal sacrifice and women being gently slapped with strips of goat hide soaked in sacrificial blood, this was believed to make the women more fertile.

Nowadays, Valentine's Day is seen as a day of romance and recognition of the love in our relationships. But in a time when many of us are exploring different ways of being with ourselves, in our relationships and in the wider world there continues to be a hierarchy of relationships in our society. Heterosexual, cis, monogamous couples continue to be depicted as the most desirable relationships in our society. For those of us whose relationships do not conform to this so-called ideal there can be many challenges to navigate from the judgment of others to hostility to legal inequalities.

At the end of last year, I received an email update from one of my directory listings telling me that one of the most searched terms on their site was non-monogamy. There are many different forms of non-monogamous relationship, the dynamic is dependent on the wishes of the people within the relationship. It's interesting to note here that monogamy is so often assumed when forming a relationship. We often talk with a partner about our expectations for a relationship but monogamy is not always part of that conversation. This may be as a result of society telling us that to be non-monogamous is to be unfaithful or lacking the ability to commit in some way. If we engage in sexual or romantic behaviours with people outside of our relationship, without the prior consent of our partner, we are certainly breaking trust and acting deceitfully.

But non-monogamy can be part of our relationship if we are able to have open, honest communication and all those involved are consenting and happy with this arrangement. This does not make us 'perverse', 'abnormal' or 'deviant', to use just some of the examples of labels that are often attached to people who have non-monogamous relationships. It makes us authentic in our relationships. In the book Rewriting the Rules: An Anti Self-Help Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships, Meg-John Barker talks about monogamy as a spectrum, a perspective I agree with:

"It's more useful to see monogamy as a spectrum rather than an either/ or thing. It isn't just a matter of deciding whether we're monogamous or not, but rather where our relationship stands on the spectrum of monogamy, and whether all the people involved can agree on that."

Viewing monogamy as a spectrum acknowledges the huge diversity of relationship structures. Wherever your relationship sits on that spectrum it is valid. Relationships enrich our lives so let's celebrate them in all their forms.

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