You are currently viewing ENM, WTF?

Words: Abby Hopes (She/Her)

Artwork: Katie Stewart (They/Them)

TW: fuckbois

Are we too obsessed with keeping it cool? Has our casual dating/hookup culture gone too far? Or is Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) the answer to our modern-day relationship dilemmas?

It feels like we have adopted a general fear of labels as a generation, preferring not to hold ourselves to the commitment of a relationship status. It’s no wonder we’re all giving each other mixed signals. Experiencing the aftermath of divorce and marriage breakdowns of our parent’s generation, perhaps we are searching for an alternative to monogamy. Capitalism incentivises us to get it all, to want more than what we already have. But if the majority can’t figure out WTF we want, is there a way we can have it all? 

My dad says that back in the nineties this was the dating script: you ask someone out on a date, and if it goes well then they are your girlfriend (or equivalent) from that point on. That was the general assumption in small towns, and it worked for some, I guess. He doesn’t understand any of this ‘seeing each other’ stuff. And he’s right, what does that even mean? 

It’s hard enough trying to explain modern-day casual dating to older generations, never mind trying to actually do it. Here’s a classic example provided by a friend: she liked a guy, he liked her back. They wanted to keep it casual, see how things go – he had even proposed to her the idea of entering an open relationship together. It certainly took me by surprise. It felt out of character for her; she’s used to a traditional relationship style, but was excited by this potential new way of dating that she hadn’t considered before.

Sadly for my friend, he quickly changed his mind and got back with his ex. Typical. It got me thinking about what I would do in a similar situation? What would I want? I’ve always been single and had a casual approach to my dating life. I’ve been in countless ‘situationships’, friends-with-benefits style, maybe 3 months of dates and hookups, only for things to fizzle out after the honeymoon period ends. It always felt like neither of us knew what we wanted from each other. Or, unfortunately for me and many of us I’m sure, I’ve felt like the ‘other woman’, caught in the middle of a relationship drama. Then there’s being messed about by fuckbois who say they don’t want anything serious, but make you feel otherwise. People’s actions and words too often do not match up. 

Ethical non-monogamy (ENM) is the umbrella term for anything that sits outside of a monogamous, two-person party relationship. It allows one or both parties to pursue other romantic or sexual connections outside theirs, with active permission and support from everyone involved. Some people who practise ENM do so under a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ model. But just like with any encounter, non-monogamy must be consensual, or else it is not ethical, or could be considered cheating. ENM can look like polyamory: having multiple romantic partners, open relationships, and swinging where you sleep with other people together, among many other things. 

The queer community has paved the way for alternative relationship dynamics for decades before us, forced to exist outside the constraints of gender roles and heteronormative relationships. ENM is something I am trying to practise in my approach to relationships for the foreseeable future. Particularly as a Queer woman myself, I want to explore all facets of my sexuality, and this could be a solution for me to do so ethically.  

However, I’m struggling to see if ENM is for me. As a fun consequence of my turbulent love life, I can be riddled with jealousy, prone to misreading situations, and overthinking can get the better of me. Anxiety builds and my fear of rejection can limit me from pursuing what I want. But people within ENM relationship dynamics do experience jealousy, attachment issues, and obviously desire for others. We are all human, and we all experience human emotions. The secret? Communication. It is fundamental. From my experience, particularly within British culture, we are far too polite and awkward to say how we really feel. We hurt ourselves and others the further along the line we hold these feelings in. Resentment builds in any relationship when you can’t say what’s on your mind. 

I feel that only when we are able to be fully honest and emotionally literate within ourselves, can we practise ENM successfully. Depending on your approach, it can take a lot of commitment, empathy and time management skills, or can just mean being casual without being a dick about it.  

But for now, my Dad need not worry – I don’t have a boyfriend (yet). 


0 0 votes
Article Rating

Leave a Reply

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments