The part of monogamy that I was completely missing.
This year many of my friends and clients are newly monogamous, after single life, dating, or being in an open relationship. My conversations with them have had me realize that I’ve been ignoring something important about monogamy. It’s as if I had only considered half of the equation.
In the past I’ve written about monogamy in terms of fidelity, because that’s how I’ve always understood it. There are some things you can do with anyone — like commute to work — and some things your partner will want you to do only with them — like have sex.
In other words, the purpose of monogamy is in the effect it has on the partner. You are monogamous so that they feel secure, safe, committed, etc.
But what about the effect that monogamy has on the self?
I don’t believe that exclusivity is a fundamental requirement for love, or sex, or intimacy, or commitment. I see all of those things in abundance with and without exclusivity.
But recently when my friends talk about monogamy, they talk about letting go of their addictions — to sex, to love, to novelty. Or about ending their eternal search for something that they are sure to find in the next lover, something that will sate the hunger — something that deep down they know they have to find within themselves. They talk about breaking their cycle of escapism and avoidance. Or about losing their taste for drama or intrigue.
And so they are choosing to be monogamous not just volitionally, but out of self-interest. Their reasons often have little to do with their partner’s comfort level or emotional needs, at least not directly. For them monogamy is a practice of cultivating connection and intimacy and depth with another human being that requires them to “play against type”, to break their patterns.
Speaking with them has given me a different kind of appreciation. Since I’ve never been one to exhibit addictive personality traits or compulsive sexual novelty-seeking, it’s all the more valuable for me to experience it through their stories.
It’s also given me a new understanding of my own relationship to monogamy. Being someone who was once plagued by low self-esteem and low self-worth… as that changed, there came a day where I said to a girlfriend — lovingly, honestly, and with no lack of commitment or investment in our relationship — “If you can find someone who’s a better fit for you than me, I want you to be with them.” It wasn’t cocky — it was more humble than anything else — but it was spoken from a newfound confidence and groundedness in who I was, as a person and in relationship. In that liberating moment I shed doubt, fear and clinginess. And I was able to step into the relationship in a whole new way.
Since then I have come to believe that third parties don’t break up relationships. Relationships thrive or fail because of what happens in the relationship. That flies in the face of all the beliefs of the fearful, clingy ones (like I once was), but it’s something they desperately need to know.
And to the same degree that the old me was threatened by my partner’s amazingness, the new me decided never to ask a woman to shrink or diminish herself in order to fit my tiny box of comfort. I don’t require her to have less, or be less, out in the world in order to have more with me.
So my relationship to monogamy is this: I don’t demand it from my partner.
And I’ve adopted that stance for myself, volitionally, because of its deep ties to my own sanity, my own clarity and solidity. Something I had to find within myself after years of searching for it in others. And what was initially my practice of playing against type has made me a much, much better boyfriend.
And in that regard… I am very similar to my newly monogamous friends after all.