Comedienne Rosie Wilby tours a one-woman show titled, Is Monogamy Dead? As background research for the show, she conducted an anonymous online survey, “asking what behaviors would be considered infidelity. Seventy-three out of 100 respondents thought that falling in love with someone else with no sexual contact still counted, 31 percent selected staying up all night talking to someone else, while a scary 7 percent decided that merely thinking about someone else was unacceptable.”

Over the last few months I’ve asked people similar questions. If you are monogamous, where do you draw the line, and why? If you are in an open relationship, where do you draw the line, and why? And my conclusion is that… the question is irrelevant.

One easy way to think of relationship rules is as a slider that marks the dividing line between things your partner is free to do with anyone and things they are expected to reserve for you. Run the slider one way for more freedom, or the other way for more security. In truth it’s two sliders — one for your rules and one for your partner’s — and they’re held together with a stretchy rubber band. Because of course if they’re set too far apart, well, that wouldn’t be fair, it wouldn’t be reciprocal. (Right?)

With this metaphor, the concept of monogamy vs. open relationships lives inside the bigger question of where we set the slider on, as Wilby put it, “behaviors that would be considered infidelity.”

Only one stipulation

I called that an easy way to think of relationships rules. But it’s not how I think of it. At all. I’m in a committed relationship. We have boundaries for each other, but not about exclusivity. We communicate and we’re responsible. My girlfriend being the passionate, fiery human being she is, our relationship has a lot of intensity but little to no bullshit drama. We’re quick to apologize, and we’ve got each other’s backs.

My best gauge for how things are between us is… how things are between us. Outside of that, I’ve really only been able to come up with one stipulation.

If she’s doing something that consistently has her come back to me in bad shape, or worse off than she was, then I’d ask her to stop doing it.

That’s it.

The intent of most people’s exclusivity rules is to prevent their partner returning in significantly better shape.

Wow. How does that kind of thinking affect your relationship with someone?

Desperately turning the knobs

Ok, I get it. I totally get why people would think open relationships are difficult, dangerous to the heart, hopelessly complicated, and impossible to maintain. I get why they might think open relationships lack depth, intimacy or commitment.

I watch people testing the waters, “opening up” their relationship. I watch them adjusting and re-adjusting their exclusivity slider, multiplying it into a complicated panel of knobs and buttons, trying desperately to dial in the settings that will maintain their sense of security while adding richness to their lives.

“NO, I wanted to be told BEFORE you did it! We agreed to that. It’s not enough to technically send a text just before you’re about to do it — you didn’t even wait for an acknowledgement from me or anything! So I get out of my meeting and I’m reading about it while you’re in the middle of doing it! I felt totally sideswiped, dishonored and violated! Honestly, what were you thinking?? I’ve been going crazy! From now on, I want at least a 6-hour window. Oh, and if I text you, I don’t care what you’re doing, you better make it a priority to text me back within 5 minutes! Understood?”

It’s hard to convince them that the exclusivity slider is the problem, not the solution. They can adjust all they want. It isn’t going to adjust their sense of security. Or their partner’s level of commitment. Or the quality of their relationship.

Relationship without control

At this point you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. In order for this to make sense, we have to travel back in history. To a time when I’m young, successful, riding the tech wave in Silicon Valley… and completely clueless about women or relationships. I haven’t been with very many women, and I’m basically terrified of them. (Give me a break, ok? I was a nerdy software engineer.) The path from that man to who I am today is long and storied but for the purposes of this conversation I want to introduce you to Jennifer, my first experience stepping into the emotional firestorm that is non-monogamy.

To put it in the archaic language of the man I was: this woman is way out of my league. Confident, beautiful, charming, generous with her smile, completely comfortable with her sexuality, great in bed. I wasn’t really sure what she liked about me, but she did. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was, I wasn’t the only one.

She spent time with me when she wanted, and with someone else when she wanted that. Time and again, I would be overwhelmed in her presence, in heaven, hearing the angels sing, more blissfully happy than I’d ever imagined… and then crushed, heartbroken, devastated, and left in a broken, sobbing pile on the floor. And each time I was faced with the choice to see her, or not. And I always chose to see her.

Our time together was the most fulfilling, gratifying, healing experience I could imagine, and made me feel alive. And the reality of our relationship was that I would never control her to meet the demands my long-standing connection deficit, or shrink her to placate my insecurities.

After riding that emotional roller coaster numerous times, I learned something. There would be no threats or extortion to get what I wanted. No molding and shaping her to meet my expectations. Instead I started to discover what it takes to build a relationship with another human being.

I began to realize that it didn’t matter what she did with other men. Our relationship was either doing well or it wasn’t, and that depended solely on us. Since it hinged on how I felt, how I was showing up and how I treated her, I found I had a great deal of say in the relationship indeed.

This was my first step in learning how to forge a truly great, unshakable relationship, one that didn’t need a rickety fence around it to ward off marauders. We were together for a number of years. And, crucially, when in time we saw each other less and less frequently, it wasn’t because of some other guy. It was because our relationship had evolved, we had each evolved as people, and it was time for the relationship to take a different form.

Build a strong relationship

So that’s why I don’t think of my girlfriend having a rich, happy, successful, abundant life outside of our relationship — a life full of connection and intimacy and love and sex — as infidelity.

It’s why I see no clear relationship between exclusivity and commitment. I’ve seen monogamous relationships that fail, and open relationships that are resilient and solid.

So my advice is to set aside the exclusivity slider and build a great relationship — one that’s better than anything you or your partner can find elsewhere.

Because freedom and security aren’t opposites. A great relationship, even one that includes a great deal of freedom, can create the kind of deep security that shackles never can.

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.

This is the single most frequent topic I talk about whenever I give a talk or a workshop, because it ties in with so many other things that I teach.

If you want to see more videos like this, please leave a comment below.

These two technologies reveal a critical difference between men and women—that may surprise you!

Men’s “machinery” isn’t all that hard to operate. Rub, rub, rub, squirt squirt squirt. Not complicated. A typical adult male has easy access to as much climax as he wants; he doesn’t even need a partner.

Is that a gratifying experience? Well frankly it can definitely feel like something’s missing.

Now we used to think that women’s machinery was much harder to operate. That’s not true. But it certainly is different from men’s. They may not have quite as easy access to climax as men but they certainly have easy access to willing partners — if a partner were all that was needed. A typical adult woman can, in about 30 seconds or less, manifest a man willing to have sex with her.

Is that a gratifying experience? Well frankly it can definitely feel like something’s missing. Women can quickly find themselves in situations where they’re producing more pleasurable sensation in their partner’s body than what they’re experiencing in their own.

(This can be seen in everything from the so-called “orgasm gap” between men and women, to the predominance of women in the sex trade, to the fact that women are more likely to moan during their partner’s orgasm—to accelerate and enhance it—than during their own.)

It’s revealing to notice how men and women turn to technology in search of their respective missing ingredient. The technology women turn to most commonly is a vibrator. And the most common technology men turn to is is porn.

Think about that.

What these women are seeking out is proper clitoral stimulation.

And men are hungry for and seeking out exposure to other aroused human beings, other human beings in a state of sexual pleasure.

Put a different way, men have easy access to direct somatic pleasure, but what they crave, the vital nutrient they hunger for, is what we can call empathetic pleasure.

Whereas women have as much empathetic pleasure as they could possibly want, they have it coming out of their ears. And their sex lives with men often default to that, ie, vicarious enjoyment. Their missing ingredient, their vital nutrient, is direct, visceral bodily pleasure. That’s what’s harder for them to come by.