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

monogamy vs. fidelity

I was going to title this post “monogamy vs. commitment,” but “commitment” is kind of a cold word, and what I’m talking about is warm and vital. Fidelity, faithfulness… there’s a fire under those words. Commitment allows for a certain doggedness, a certain “because I have to” quality. You can be committed to a job or a diet. You can only be faithful to a cause, a passion, a love.

You can be faithful without being monogamous.

It’s so evident to me that this is so, that there’s no necessary connection between the concepts, that I almost don’t know what else to write. But let me try to spin it out further.

“My lover and I are faithful to each other.” What does that mean?

It means that your lover’s needs and wishes affect your behavior even when your lover is nowhere near. You think about how an action will impact them, whether it will enhance or impede your ability to love them. You give the whole question “will this strengthen or damage our relationship?” far more weight and prevalence in your life than you would give the same question asked of your close friends, or parents, or siblings.

I hope it need not be said that the question whether a certain action will strengthen or damage a relationship may have very different answers for different relationships. To take a non-sexual example: religious faith. For some couples, their shared religious faith (or lack thereof) is one of the pillars of their relationship, and a move away from that shared ground threatens the relationship. For others, it’s not that important; difference in their beliefs may fuel some interesting debates from time to time, but it doesn’t have much more impact than, say, one person loving musicals while the other hates them.

Similarly, for one couple sexual exclusivity might be a cornerstone of their relationship, while for another it’s not even expected. Definitions of fidelity vary widely from couple to couple. Some people feel cheated on if their partner masturbates or looks at porn (way over on the “unreasonable” end of the spectrum, in my opinion.) In the greyer areas, you have things like going to strip clubs… flirting with other people… getting cyber-married in Second Life. And the all the way over on the “laying no claim to monogamy” side of the spectrum you have swinging, relationships open to outside flings, and polyamory.

You can be faithful anywhere along this spectrum, as long as you and your lover have a sound understanding of what you each need from the other, and how your romantic and sexual activities will affect them. Your place on the spectrum is not likely to be static — I don’t think it should be. People grow, relationships grow, life circumstances change. It’s healthy to continually evaluate your wants and needs and the reasons behind them. Regardless of what boundaries you mutually agree on, it’s not exclusivity that makes a relationship secure — it’s fidelity.

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Comments on: "monogamy vs. fidelity" (1)

  1. I just realized that for me this is the difference between finding someone attractive and being attracted to them. For me there’s always been an obvious difference between the two. When I say I’m blind to other interests when I have one romantic interest, I don’t mean I cease to notice other people are attractive. I can find lots of people physically attractive, but I’ve only considered myself attracted to someone if I could imagine being faithful to them.

    I’m fairly certain that if I was in a relationship where my partner wanted to be exclusive, I could comfortably be exclusive. If my partner wanted to be less exclusive, say he was a swinger, I could do that, but I don’t think I could be faithful to more than one partner. I think the effort of holding the desires of multiple people in mind would be uncomfortable for me and would detract from the enjoyment of each relationship.

    Its interesting that I’m happy to be faithful to multiple siblings and multiple best friends, but I’m not interested in being faithful to multiple romantic partners. It doesn’t feel like a good fit for me. One faithful romantic partner feels like exactly the right amount. Of course that could change over time. All the standard disclaimers apply. 🙂

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