The elephant in every relationship: monogamy. When are you going to be “official”? Are you “dating” or just “seeing each other” or merely “hooking up”? WTF do those things even mean? How do you refer to each other when making introductions? “Mom, this is Jack, the… guy I’m occasionally having mediocre sex with?” Or, “Everyone, this is Sarah–I think she’s my girlfriend but that hasn’t been explicitly stated yet so I’m not really sure. I know that I would like her to be, but I don’t know her feelings on the subject.”
To be, or not to be, monogamous–that is the question. It seems like American society and culture overwhelmingly promote monogamy when it comes to marriage, but anything short of that, it’s a free for all. There is no given–just because you’re going on dates with someone, or having sex with them, does not make them your monogamous partner. It seems like there has to be a conversation that establishes the rule of monogamy in order for it to actually be understood. Which, on the one hand, is good, because it promotes direct communication. But isn’t it also kind of sad–that you could be giving so much of yourself to someone, with what seems like an obvious understanding that you’re committed to them, and they could be taking it not just from you, but from Sheila in Accounting, Shelly the hairdresser, Crystal the bartender, and Jane the “artist,” too?
I don’t know if there’s a right or wrong when it comes to monogamy. I know that the concept of monogamy is off-putting to me, because it seems unnatural and unrealistic, but I also know that the alternative is equally off-putting. Which, as we already know, probably means I’m going to die alone. But let’s take a minute to explore the pros and cons of monogamy in more depth.
Yes, it seems bizarre to limit yourself to one partner, because there are SO many people in the world, and why cut off opportunities to meet and explore relationships with them? Not to mention that after a while, don’t you get bored with the same person, day after day? And their stupid, annoying flaws, and all the compromises you have to make, and the emotional energy required of you when maintaining a healthy relationship? Like, you actually have to talk about your feelings, and their feelings, and you have to pretend not to find theirs completely ridiculous, unjustified, and laughable. And you have to comfort them, when compassion is not your strong suit, and, frankly, you don’t even think they deserve yours because they’re being an idiot.
Not to mention sex–sex with one person until you die? Or until you break up? The sex would have to be really good to justify that, and we all know that 95% of people are not having really good sex. They’re having ‘lie there, pretend to be into it, but really just sneaking side-eyed glances at the TV while also fantasizing about the perfect banana split, and having sex with not the person they’re having sex with‘ sex. So it follows that with monogamy comes the laborious effort of having to ‘work on’ the quality of your sex life, which could not be more of a turn off. Plus, we’ve already been over how we don’t care to communicate, and working on our sex lives would mean we’d have to be upfront about our ‘sexual needs,’ which, again, is the least sexy thing.
However. The thought of having multiple partners is also a turn off. We haven’t liked to share since we were kids and our dads would eat OUR yogurt from the fridge even after we SPECIFICALLY labeled it with passive aggressive sticky notes with our names on them, and we’re not about to start now. Seriously–the thought of sharing a connection with someone that they’re also sharing with someone else cheapens it, I think. Maybe it’s unrealistic to only have eyes for one person, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying for. Personally, I would rather put the majority of my energy into building one relationship than spreading it thin over several. And I would appreciate the same effort from whoever’s basket I’m putting my eggs into.
Not to mention sex–the thought of having sex with someone, and them having sex with other people, is kind of gross. Even if you’re using protection–protection doesn’t cover everything. Don’t get me started on the things the condom fails to protect against–I could go for DAYS. And I know that personally, it makes me feel like I’m being undervalued when I’m having non-monogamous sex. Shouldn’t we, as ourselves, be enough for someone? And vice versa–I feel equally weird having multiple sex partners myself. Yes, germs play a huge factor in that, but also emotionally, I feel like I’m being disingenuous. I know sex is basically a physical urge. But it also has great potential to be really emotionally fulfilling, so I think it’s worth cultivating that with one person who you trust, and who trusts you, and knowing that you don’t have to worry about where you stand in that dynamic, because, at least for now, you have a mutual agreement to build something together, just the two of you.
I think, the more terrible dating experiences I accrue, the more I’m starting to lean towards pro monogamy. I want to be with someone who’s accountable to me, and who I am accountable to. Not being monogamous means there’s virtually no accountability obligation. And if you’re going to give of yourself emotionally, physically, sexually, whatever–whoever you are giving that to shouldn’t take it lightly. They should treat it responsibly and considerately. That doesn’t mean you have to rush into something serious too fast–I think you can be monogamous while still being smart about taking things slow. It boils down to valuing yourself and your self-worth. Engage with people in ways that value you and the other person.
Of course, monogamy isn’t for everyone (please see: Mormons and Tiger Woods). I believe that people can have non-monogamous relationships that are still built on respect, though. And while I personally feel more respected in a monogamous relationship than a non-monogamous one, I think, ultimately, the most important thing is to have a mutual understanding and agreement with your partner, that you’re both actually ok with–don’t sacrifice what you want if it’s going to devalue you. Because then you’ll have to get a lot of plastic surgery to cover up your disdain, hatred, and bitterness towards your husband, who cheated on you with 14 girls (hey, at least they were all of legal age) but you decided to stay because you love each other that much, and also for the children.
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