Negotiating Monogamy

 Posted by on October 2, 2013
Oct 022013

couple-2One of my biggest pet peeves is listening to people talk about other people’s sheep-like tendencies or “privilege” while failing to acknowledge their own. Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in my social circle about monogamy as social pressure and “mono privilege,” the invisible benefits of being monogamous in contemporary American culture. Generally the argument goes something like this, “People are only monogamous because it’s socially expected and, if they kowtow to social pressure and go along with the status quo, they reap benefits that the strong-willed and independent thinkers (read: polyamorous, non-monogamous, or otherwise “alternative” identified people) do not.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying society accepts all relationship models equally or there aren’t benefits to being monogamous in a culture built around heteronormative coupling. I think the frustration lies in the erroneous assumption that individuals who identify as monogamous haven’t consciously chosen that path and/or “mono privilege” negates relationship-based hardships or biases. This is where things get personal – I choose monogamy for myself and, yes, certain privileges come along with that. Yet, that choice doesn’t mean that I get to put my relationships on autopilot and never make difficult decisions or deal with problems.

Too often monogamy is seen as the default option. To a degree, this is true. Most of us are taught early in life to search for our “one true love,” the person that we’ll happily spend the rest of our lives with. Romantic comedies, fairy tales, and popular love songs glorify the notion of a romantic monogamous pair. However, as we get older, we often discover that we can be attracted to more than one person at a time and, if we’re lucky, we may have the opportunity to try alternative relationship styles (polyamory, non-monogamy, swinging, etc.) and see what fits. Even with so many available options, there are those that still choose to walk the path of monogamy.

For me, monogamy is a conscious choice; it just feels right. My experiences with non-monogamy were uncomfortable and emotionally draining. Some may argue the discomfort I felt stems from society’s pressure, the guilt complex religious and cultural stewards convince the general population they should feel if they step outside the bounds of “normal” sexual and relationship conventions. Yet, my concern was less “What will they think of me” and more “Boy, I’d rather be devoting this time and energy to my primary partner.” I love having a close-knit network of family and friends, but personally I need only one love. Additional lovers feel a bit like pleasant, but unnecessary distractions. However, I don’t expect everyone I meet to feel the same way. In fact, I don’t even expect other people that identify as monogamous to mirror my views.

As with all relationships, monogamy requires partners to negotiate their expectations and boundaries; simply because monogamy is the current cultural norm doesn’t mean everyone instinctively shares the same views. Questions still abound. What do you mean when you say you’re monogamous? Sexual monogamy? Emotional/romantic monogamy? Social monogamy? Does being monogamous promote longer relationships and lessen one’s likelihood of heartbreak? Is it okay to sleep with a platoon-worth of individuals as long as it’s serially instead of concurrently?

In the past, I didn’t think it was necessary to negotiate monogamy, surely everyone knows what a happy monogamous relationship is supposed to look like. As I’ve grown more self-confident and committed to living a life I take pleasure in, I’ve realized that discussing relationship expectations is paramount in promoting a successful, fulfilling union regardless of what “type” of relationship one is seeking. Human relationships will never reach their full potential until we recognize that ALL romances, even the culturally privileged ones, are choices that require thought and negotiation.

Originally posted June 15, 2011