Love Without Commitment: Non-Monogamy is a Sliding Scale


Love Without Commitment: Non-Monogamy is a Sliding ScaleThe various forms and facets of non-monogamy are often on my mind. Perhaps it’s all the podcasts I listen to and all the blogs I read. Or perhaps it’s because I have only identified as non-monogamous for five months, which is not a long time when it comes to something so significant. Either way, since the beginning of 2013, non-monogamy has been close to my thoughts at all times.

In my mind, I sort non-monogamy into three main categories: swinging, open, and polyamory. However, I also view non-monogamy as a sliding scale. There are so many degrees of variation, and for me, these three are simply the most prominent points on that scale; or perhaps just the points that have been most decidedly titled. So when I meet someone who is non-monogamous and they tell me “I am a swinger” or  “I am polyamorous” or however that person identifies, I never take that as the end of the conversation. To me these terms are ways of categorizing, in order to make conversation easier; they are not hard and fast rules.

However, there is one area where the lines seem a little clearer cut. Or at least the intentions seem clearer. When it comes to depth of emotional involvement, I have rarely heard discussions of much crossover: people who identify as swingers, talk in terms of sexual attraction; people in open relationships tend to refer to casual but ongoing secondary partners; and polyamorists deal with love. I do, occasionally, get the impression that these boundaries of emotion – which are naturally more complex anyway – can become blurred, but for the most part, if you love more than one person, it seems that polyamorous is how you identify. This makes sense as polyamory literally means “many loves”. However, in common parlance, polyamory also infers multiple significant relationships; socially, polyamory is not just loving more than one person, but engaging in deep, committed relationships with more than one person. Of course, this raises questions about how we define “commitment”, but generally speaking I think you can understand my point.

And this seems like an almost natural reaction: if you are in love with someone, you want to have a certain level of commitment with that person, right? It’s true in monogamy as well; in so many cases, our depth of feeling dictates our depth of commitment. But here’s the thing: how, then, do you identify if you love more than one person, but only wish to commit yourself to one?

Even when I was monogamous, I experienced this. Last year I was deeply in love with a man with whom it was very clear the relationship would always be casual. Neither of us were under any misconceptions, and I was happy to love him just as it was. I understand that for many, the magnitude of love seems to demand a certain level of commitment and partnership, but this is not true for all. Whilst I do dream of being with someone and having both love and commitment with him, for me the former is highly possible without the latter.

Socially, it doesn’t matter which term I most closely identify with. The general public doesn’t need to know the intricate details of my sexuality or relationships. But I have found, that without a fairly clear descriptor, dating becomes more difficult. It is not easy to explain to potential partners that I may be in love with several people, but I only want one core relationship; that I have no desire to get over the people I am in love with, but that I don’t necessarily want to be committed to them either. I suppose it’s just another conversation to be had.

Despite wishing that non-monogamy were a little more prevalent, the fact that it is still outside what most people would consider “normal relationships” can actually be a good thing when it comes to figuring myself out. With so much to explain and explore within our society, the rules of non-monogamy are not nearly as set as they are in monogamy. Although I wish this would change as well, certain assumptions are made when two people are in a monogamous relationship. But when it comes to non-monogamy, these assumptions do not exist, because society hasn’t created them. Or at the very least, there are fewer assumptions. What this means is that every non-monogamous person is encouraged to find, alter, and choose their own personal relationship model. So in the end, whilst I can’t quite find a term for myself that will help the conversation flow, I am at least under an umbrella term – non-monogamy – that always requires discussion and exploration, rather than sitting with the weight of numerous social expectations. And I do rather like carving my own path.


Harper Eliot is a writer and podcaster whose work mainly centers around eroticism and social observation. You can find an archive of work, and links to all her other projects, on her website Harper Eliot. Harper lives in London, but rarely sees her own house, spending most of her time on public transport, listening to podcasts and tweeting too much. Her vices include cigarettes, lubricant, Earl Grey tea, opera, nail polish, and pinwheels.


  1. Harper – I know exactly what you mean. I identify as polyamorous as I am in love with 3 men right now, but I still go and play at swinger type events alone or with 2 of the 3. So what does that make me? Do I care? Not really. I am clear about what I am/have been looking for with all potential new partners. Some don’t get it. I prefer the ones that do.

    The commitment thing is tricky. One person’s definition could be another person’s definition of confinement. It evolves, I think, with the relationship. Communication about expectations and feelings is required. Maybe even what some people would consider over communication. I prefer to be very clear – it avoids hurt feelings and wrong assumptions. But that’s what works for me and my poly posse.

    • Oh, I completely agree: I like to be very clear as well. Some have read that as being cold-hearted, or even cruel, but I am a strong believer in brutal honesty. With a touch of a respect – yes – but I’m always honest, from the get-go.

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