The Myths of Monogamy
Monogamy is pulling a fast one on us…
Which is not to say that monogamous relationships don’t work (they do), but instead monogamy promises things that it can’t deliver.
It promises us a one and only.
It promises a relief from jealousy.
It promises us protection from heartache.
It promises to have and to hold, to death do us part.
Maybe it’s not supposed to promise us those things, but it does…
Whenever open relationships or polyamory come up with folks who aren’t (yet) ready for it, they retreat to those promises: I could never do it because jealousy / heartache / my partner might leave me.
But anyone who has ever been in a monogamous relationship knows that the structure of monogamy offers no protection from heartache, from infidelity, from a relationship growing cold, from anger, from jealousy, or from any of the forces that tear (or drift) a relationship apart.
How many relationships have you had? And how many have ended? A quick reflection and simple math reminds us monogamy isn’t some magic love potion.
These myths have something to teach all of us, if we’re willing to let them.
Because these myths point to values that are near and dear to many of us — monogamous or not.
We want someone (or multiple someones) special in our life.
We want to feel safe.
We want to be free from jealousy.
We want stability in our relationships.
We want our relationships to comfort us.
Monogamy promises those things but it will never — on its own — deliver them. Instead, we must learn what will.
If you want someone special in your life…
Chances are you already have someone special in your life. Monogamy tells us that there is our “one and only” and then “everyone else” but that’s just not true.
Here are some people that hold a special place in my life:
- my boyfriend Peter whom I live with
- my best friend Matt
- my parents
- my sister
- a guy Peter dated who has become one of our best friends
- a guy I’ve been hooking up with for two years
- my group of local Astoria friends
- Shay & Asher, my two business partners
I love each of them — in similar ways and in different ways. I know there are others, too, that I didn’t list.
What makes these relationships special?
- Sharing our feelings
- Supporting each other emotionally (and sometimes financially)
- Being physically present
For some of those relationships, it also involves “great sex.”
Think about the people in your life that matter to you. What makes those relationships special to you?
That they know you? That they are there for you? That they see and hear you fully? That they’ve got your back?
While time and money may be finite, care and consideration aren’t…
If you want someone special in your life, cultivate something special (which is not the same thing as exclusive) with the people who matter most to you.
If you want to feel free of jealousy…
And the solution is to jealousy is, counter-intuitively, more jealousy.
If you run from jealousy, it will chase you. The only way to defeat jealousy is to stare it in the face.
Your jealous reaction is a signal, what might it be trying to tell you?
I made a video on the unexpected benefits of jealousy
When I’m feeling jealous, that’s a signpost that points the way to something deeper — to needs that aren’t met. What are those needs and how might I meet them?
Figuring out what you need can be tricky. Thankfully, the Center for Nonviolent Communication put together a list of feelings to help you get started.
If you want to feel free of jealousy, stare it in the face and ask what it is trying to tell you. Follow it. Meet your needs. You will be so much more satisfied than if you run from it.
If you want stability in your relationship…
One of my monogamy’s greatest promises is stability. That there will be this person who has your back—above all others—and will be there with you through thick and thin.
It’s an appealing thought.
It’s also a lie.
Think of how many relationships end. That’s not a judgement, it’s just a statement of fact. Most relationships end. Which is to say nothing of the marriages that end too. And whether it ends or not, most relationships involve some pretty rocky patches. Real life is not a Disney movie.
A relationship is two (or more) people coming together and choosing to do life together. You’re two people with hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions, habits, neuroses, and ingrained patterns of behavior.
You can’t just ask someone out (or even say “I do”) and expect to instantly merge.
Your greatest asset in your quest for stability is open and honest communication. Not just about how your day went but about the stuff that is really going on. Your deep-seated fears, your darkest insecurities. When you can talk about those things, you can get through anything.
On three different occasions, Peter and I have talked at length about breaking up. We were so young when we started dating. I want to move back to Los Angeles while he’s pretty content here. What if there is someone “better” for one or both of us?
Each time we had that conversation, it was super. fucking. scary. Like everything we’d held dear might be ripped apart. But something transformative happens when you bring out into the open the thing you fear the most. The fear withers in the sunlight.
At the end of each of those conversations, it became clear to us both that OF COURSE WE DON’T WANT TO BREAK UP. We work so well together. We communicate so well. We’ve built a life that we love.
The person I want to be with forever is the exact same person that I can talk with about breaking up and it not be the end of the world. If we can have that conversation and come out stronger, we can have any conversation.
So have thoughtful conversations with your partner. Here are some tips on how to talk well:
- Be fully present.
- Be trusting.
- Go slowly and patiently.
- Have heaps of grace.
- Talk about how you’ll talk.
- Assume the best intention in each other.
A final word on stability
Sometimes relationships end. Not just end, need to end. There is no formula you can follow to “save” every single relationship. So if you’re in a relationship and you feel that it needs to end, explore that (I’ll talk more about this in another letter). Don’t give into every whim, but don’t put off what you know to be right because it’s scary or you feel ashamed, either. And know that if your relationship does end, that’s ok too.
So, if monogamy is full of myths, then what…
This doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t be monogamous. On the contrary, what it means is that if you see the myths of monogamy for what they are, you can make your relationship stronger regardless of its configuration.
If monogamy is what you and your partner want right now, go with gusto! Just make sure you define that clearly for yourselves (more on that in a later letter, too) and you don’t expect it to offer you what it can’t — you have to do the hard work of relationship building yourself.