sex, love, and relationships for those of us who don't quite follow the rules

What is monogamy?

I’ve had some conversations lately — I feel like every blog post I write could start that way — with self-identified “monogamous” people, and they’ve left me wondering: what is this  “monogamy” they’re talking about? I also had one conversation with Shaun, my very dear oh-so-poly boy, and it became clear (after much warm debate) that we were using very different definitions of “monogamy” and “polyamory.”

So, people who identify as monogamous, tell me what that means to you. I’ll get you started with a few ideas.

1) It means I hate the thought of my partner sharing sexual or romantic intimacy with another person. The idea of it gives me an awful feeling, and if it ever really happened I would be devastated. (If your answer is something like, “I don’t mind sharing a partner sexually, but I don’t want them to share romantic intimacy with anyone else” then can you please define “romantic intimacy”? Because it seems to be a concept that means something to people, but I really don’t know what.)

2) It means I can’t imagine giving sexual or romantic attention to more than one person. When I’m in love with someone, I’m blind to all other potential interests.

3) It means that even though I’m occasionally attracted to other people, I don’t want to assume the risks and possible costs of developing those relationships. I’d rather focus my time and energy on my single relationship.

4) It means that one of the most important things about a relationship to me is knowing we both come home to each other at the end of the day, every day. I want one person to be at the center of my life and my plans, and I want to know that I’m at the center of theirs.

Do any of these ring true? More than one? Do they capture the whole story or is there something I’m missing? I’m just curious about what monogamy means to people who choose it.

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Comments on: "What is monogamy?" (2)

  1. For me its about 80% 2 and 20% 3. So far I haven’t experienced strong attraction to multiple people at once, nor desire for multiple relationships. I notice this extends even to my fantasies. My fantasies often characters from movies I like, and I typically will fantasize about one character for, say, two weeks, and then I’ll move on to another character. I might still find other characters attractive, but the drive to fantasize will only be present for one character at a time. As for 3, I don’t really want the drama of having 2 or 3 or 4 romantic relationships at once. I like stability. I like the idea of having one particular person who is my partner. I say its 80% 2, because if I did feel a strong desire for multiple partners I’d probably try to work around the risks and the drama, but since I don’t feel that desire I don’t think it would be worth it.

    1 and 4 don’t really apply to me. I don’t expect to be the center of my partner’s life. I expect to be a priority, but I don’t expect to be THE priority. I expect to share that level of priority-ness with his mother, his father, his best friend, his siblings, his kids, and himself. My only objection to being with a poly partner is the same as my objection to being with a man who wants a huge fancy house. I don’t want a huge fancy house, I want a small simple house, and I think its tough to be in a relationship when both of you want a different kind of lifestyle.

  2. When I try to put into words, intelligibly, what it means when I say, “I’m monogamous,” I find myself at a loss. For me, the desire for monogamy is very caught up in feelings and intuitions that I find it difficult to “argue” for. But I’m going to try to explain it.

    Of the four options you offered, I find that options (1) and (4) most closely (but not exhaustively) describe my desire for monogamy. Although, when I first read option (1), I thought, “Nah, that’s not it. That’s silly.” On an intellectual level, I find nothing objectionable in “sharing sexual or romantic intimacy” with multiple people. Sometimes I even feel that it would be most rational for me to want to do this. But I don’t want it. Not only does the thought of my partner sleeping with someone else give me a nasty feeling in the pit of my stomach, the times that I have been in a poly arrangement (or something closely resembling a poly relationship), I’ve found it extremely stressful. Every time I’ve been in such a relationship, I’ve wanted to be in it and I’ve wanted it to work for me. But in order to be even remotely happy, I had to shut off parts of myself and continually repress my discomfort. It felt uncomfortably close to what I had to do back when I was pretending to be straight. It felt very unnatural and it was extremely emotionally taxing. In all cases, whenever these poly arrangements came to end, the feeling of relief was overwhelming. The more emotionally attached I am to someone, the less I can bear the thought of them sharing sexual and/or romantic attachments with other people. I’ve found this to be a measure of how “into” someone I am. If you and I are dating, yet I don’t care whether or not you’re seeing or sleeping with other people, I’m just not that into you. But as soon as I start to become emotionally invested in a way that goes beyond friendship, I find that I begin to want to be the center of your romantic universe. And it’s not because I’m a particularly jealous person. In fact, I’ve been described by several exes as their least jealous partner. I’m beginning to theorize that I just want lots and lots of romantic attention. When I begin to become emotionally attached to someone, they slowly become the focus of MY romantic and sexual energy. Because of this, it’s hard for me to feel loved by a partner if I’m not the sole focus of their romantic and sexual energy. Of course, I can reason myself out of the fear of being unloved, but nevertheless, poly arrangements never feel quite comfortable or natural. I find that this feeling of being unloved isn’t exclusive to polyamory. I’ve been monogamous with partners who have low levels of romantic and/or sexual energy, and this is uncomfortable for me as well. I do best when my partner naturally has endless stores of romantic and sexual energy and is willing to focus it exclusively on me. I think this ties into (4) as well, since it involves the desire to be at the center of someone’s life and plans.

    For me, monogamy does not mean having eyes only for my partner. I lust after other people, flirt with other people, and occasionally fantasize about being with other people. But these moments are pretty insignificant. I find it difficult to believe that there are people who are “blind” to other romantic possibilities when with someone they love, but perhaps they’re out there. I wouldn’t want to be with someone who never thought about being with anyone else… it would feel a bit obsessive to me. However, I’m beginning to wonder if polyamory and monogamy are not either/or categories. It seems to me that they might be at opposite ends of a scale, rather like the Kinsey scale. I wouldn’t describe myself as 100% monogamous any more than I would describe myself as 100% gay. I occasionally think about being with multiple people just like I occasionally think about being with men. It also seems to me that we may move up and down the scale at different points in our lives. Just because I self-identify as monogamous at this point in my life doesn’t mean that I absolutely won’t consider some sort of poly arrangement down the road.

    But right now, for me, monogamy in romantic relationships is what feels profoundly life-giving. And staying in tune with that is the best thing I can do for myself right now.

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