This article might come as a surprise to those of you who know me — I’m 20 and I’ve already been in my fair share of long-term, exclusive relationships. On the rare occasions when I have been single, I have always gravitated towards one person — physical/emotional intimacy has never come easily to me, and therefore I prefer to be around people with whom I have already established a substantial amount of trust. As such, for all intents and purposes, I’m as monogamous as they come.
Recently, I’ve reflected a great deal on why this is the case. Monogamy is widespread and commonplace, and as a result, I have always been monogamous by default. Growing up, I always viewed polyamory as something foreign and kinky, and open relationships as overly complex and doomed to fail. But the appeal of monogamy cannot be attributed solely to social construct: exclusive romantic relationships also offer a promise of security and stability, and who doesn’t want that?
The problem, then, becomes our motivation for starting or staying in monogamous relationships. Are we simply scared of losing someone we love to someone else or being alone, or are we genuinely interested in maintaining a healthy relationship and focusing on building our lives with a single person? Too often we confuse how we feel about someone with genuine compatibility and the potential of building a healthy relationship with that person. Yes, I am aware of how cold and calculating this sounds. You should, by all means, go on loving who you love and fucking who you fuck — that is not what concerns me. What concerns me is that, more often than not, monogamous relationships do more harm than good. If the social pressure to have monogamous relationships didn’t exist, we’d be freer to love and/or engage in physical intimacy with whoever we wanted to. Entering an exclusive relationship would become a carefully made decision, building on an already-healthy foundation, rather than a decision made based on an unhealthy tendency towards codependency. If this were the case, perhaps divorce rates would be lower.
My first relationship was riddled with jealousy and emotional abuse. For almost two years, and the subsequent time it took me to recover from that disastrous affair, my perception of what a relationship should be was warped and juvenile. It feels weird to say I am grateful for something that caused me so much pain for such a long time, but I am glad that I learned so much when I was still so young. Thankfully, I was able to recover (and get to have a quasi-clean slate in love), but not everyone in an emotionally abusive relationships will be as lucky. Almost four years later, I still see too many of my friends and loved ones making the same mistakes I made back then.
My second relationship came not long after the first. It was fleeting and entirely unexpected, but in all the best ways (even if it took me a while to understand that). It taught me the difference between loving someone and being ready, able, and willing to commit. I wasn’t there, he wasn’t there. An exclusive relationship wasn’t something I thought I wanted or needed so soon after what I went through earlier that year. But we were close friends, and then we became more, and I guess we thought it made sense. It was this relationship that made me evaluate why we as an evolved society still believe that love = monogamy. I cared for him long before we made our relationship “exclusive,” and long after we decided that being together was not right for us. It feels unfair to say our whole relationship — romantic or otherwise — ended the day it ceased to be monogamous and “official” (i.e. the day we broke up). Most of the arguments we had while we were “together” stemmed from our frustration with navigating a formal relationship when neither of us were ready to do so, which in turn led me to question why loving someone necessarily meant that I had to be in a monogamous relationship with them.
This brings me to the subject of jealousy and possessiveness as a main motivator for entering a monogamous relationship. You want the relationship because it serves as a contract: the person with whom you are in a relationship with is yours and yours alone. Within this context, jealousy is treated as a natural product of affection. I disagree. Jealousy is commonplace, yes, and emotion-based. However, the way in which we choose to act based on these feelings is a choice. Using your jealousy to restrict your significant other’s personal freedom is addictive, selfish, and a choice. Wanting to be the only source of happiness in someone’s life is toxic, and trying to keep them away from others so you won’t lose them is pointless. If your partner is cheating, controlling behavior won’t stop them. If they aren’t, controlling behavior will only limit them and make them unhappy. You should, above any verbal agreement to be exclusive, want the people you love to be happy. Your jealousy and insecurities can be very real to you, but pushing that pain onto your partner is unfair and destructive. Jealousy, and consequently possessiveness, is something we should all aim to outgrow. If your reason to enter a monogamous relationship is linked to these negative emotions, then you are entering said relationship for all the wrong reasons.
Am I waging war against monogamy? No. It would be very arrogant of me to even consider that option: little old me, dismantling a social institution that has existed for centuries. Then perhaps the case could be that I simply have no faith in monogamy? That is also false. I can still see the benefits of monogamy on a personal as well as social level. This short piece simply reflects on why I believe society’s approach to monogamy causes so many monogamous relationships to fail.
With that out of the way, the point I am trying to make is that entering and staying in a monogamous relationship with someone has little to do with loving them or being in love with them. Many people love each other, or are in love with each other, and aren’t in a monogamous relationship. Other people are in monogamous relationships with people who they are not in love with and do not love. A relationship is an institution. It isn’t a feeling, it’s something you build with someone else. It’s compromise and commitment, it’s scheduling and buying furniture and moving into an apartment together. It’s friendship and sharing a space, but most of all it’s the promise that you will never have to be alone. This is why, more often than not, relationships, marriages, and so many other social institutions fail. They are built on promises and communication, and require constant, tireless upkeep. How many times have we said or heard or thought, “it can’t be over, I still love them.” Relationships fail because people realize too late, or not at all, what relationships are really about. Love and being in love, albeit a very important factor, is only a part of the equation.