Monogamy feels so strange.
After 24 years spent being critical of monogamy, it can be difficult to wrap my head around.
Ever since I was a teenager, I found the prospect of monogamous love and marriage to be somewhat limiting. Everything ends, right? Everything ends and everyone changes. Marriage seemed like making a promise to never change; the death of personal evolution.
I also felt that it limited the manner and extent you can have relationships with those outside of your romantic relationship. I despised the idea that one needs to put their partner above all else. Friends are transitory, monogamy is forever. This always seemed foolish to me because I still have friends that I have known since grade school. A monogamous partner couldn’t possibly know me better than they know me, could he?
In college, I was introduced to the concept of polyamory, and while I didn’t believe that it suited me at first, I was quick to realize that polyamory was exactly what I needed. Polyamory is the practice of having multiple committed partners at the same time. Sometimes all of the partners involved are in one singular relationship, but more frequently, polyamorous individuals only date each other while maintaining other relationships. If the idea of tying myself to one individual for the rest of my life was the problem with monogamy, polyamory seemed to be the answer.
Polyamory appealed to me because it seemed to be the way to date without falling into what I would consider monogamous pitfalls. I could give my friends and romantic partners the same priority in my life, give everyone an even playing field. As someone who makes strong, long-lasting connections with multiple people, I wouldn’t have to choose between casual dating and marriage-bound monogamy. I could have it all.
Knowing that this is what I wanted, I entered the dating world as a polyamorous woman. I very openly let my potential partners know that I was looking to date several people at once, and hopefully, fall in love with several people at once. I set up multiple online dating profiles and enjoyed my time connecting with new people. The time that I spent polyamorous was so rewarding and enjoyable.
But something — and someone — changed my outlook.
Dan came into my life at a very tumultuous time. I had just gone through a terrible breakup and lost my grandfather to suicide. The partner that I had been with at the time thought that continuing to date and search for additional partners would be good for me because it would give my life a sense of normalcy.
When Dan and I began dating, he was in an undoubtedly abusive relationship. We both had baggage, but we wouldn’t let that stop us. We forged a deep bond instantly and started seeing each other more frequently.
This relationship felt different than my previous relationships. Most of my relationships started off like fireworks. Lighting up quickly and passionately. This was slower-moving, like molten lava, slowly taking me over. My love for Dan was deep-rooted and strong.
I had never had the desire to build a foundation, a home with anyone else. He is more selfless and loving than I had imagined a person could be (not to mention the fact that he’s a great kisser…). Being with Dan has always been as comfortable as being by myself (sometimes even more so). When I’m with Dan, I don’t feel like I have to entertain someone else or struggle to make conversation. We are comfortable just being together.
When my previous partners talked about dates or sex with other people, I would feel happy for them. Jealous, but happy. They were clearly living their lives to the fullest. In fact, I liked to call jealousy “my next-door neighbor” when I was poly. While some polyamorous individuals experience little-to-no jealousy, I often experienced jealousy. However, for me, the constant jealousy made it easier to process. Being jealous to the point of trying to control my partner was not an option. I was forced to confront jealousy head-on.
But now, when Dan would go out on dates, it was painful. This was so far beyond the standard feelings of jealousy that I had become accustomed to. So, for the first time in a long time, I started contemplating the possibility of monogamy.
I couldn’t be absolutely positive that Dan would be on-board with closing our relationship, although he had shown signs of preferring monogamy over polyamory previously. At this point, he had broken up with his abusive ex, we were seeing each other almost every day of the week, and my relationship with my current partner had been slowly moving towards becoming platonic. If we were going to become monogamous, now was the time.
The story of our relationship closing in itself isn’t particularly exciting, but the identity crisis that I faced was jarring. Suddenly, I was thinking of Dan before I made plans. I was constantly reminding myself that I was now “taken,” and that flirting with people that I met while out was no longer an option. I was planning double dates with my friends, always including their partners because I wanted mine to be included too.
I had never been “the one with the boyfriend” in my friend group. The change in my identity felt wrong. Hadn’t I been against monogamy for so many years? Hadn’t I denounced cohabitation and marriage? What did I stand for now? I had looked down on others who put their significant other first for so long that I felt hypocritical suddenly wanting to spend all of my time with Dan.
It was a very uncomfortable transition for me.
On the other hand, the adults in my life felt much more comfortable with this new identity. After all, my mom had always taught me that your monogamous partner comes first. She had raised me to have a family-first mindset, and that’s hard to define when your polycule is changing so frequently that you don’t always know who your family is. Even my therapist seemed to respond better to my newfound monogamy than she ever had to my polyamorous lifestyle! I am reluctant to admit that their acceptance came as a welcome relief. I was surprised (though frankly, unnerved) to find that I felt better knowing that I was finally making everyone happy.
One of the most crucial tests of our relationship came when I began to interview for graduate school. I had only applied to one local school, so if I were to go to grad school, I would most likely be moving out of state. After a rather short discussion about our future, Dan decided that he would gladly, albeit fearfully, come with me. Loyal and selfless to a fault, he was ready to uproot his life and travel wherever I needed to go for my career. While I was also worried about moving away from home, I felt comforted by the fact that Dan would be going through it with me.
While interviewing at my fourth and final school, I realized that graduate school wasn’t the right choice for me. More importantly, this was the first time in years that I didn’t have a clear plan in my life. Something that would have normally sent me spiraling into depression suddenly didn’t feel so life-threatening. Part of my future was sure — no matter what came next, Dan would be by my side. I had never expected to find so much comfort in someone else, but he truly has become my family.
Of course, being the social person that I am, I had to explain my revelations about my future to every friend that I had. I was directionless but happy. As a young person trying to navigate life, that was pretty significant.
One of my asexual friends took the news less warmly, however: “I’m glad that you’re contented, I just wish it wasn’t centered around another person.”
This simple sentence threw a grenade into whatever progress that I had made in accepting myself as monogamous. She was right. How had I drifted so far from my own values?
But what stunned me, even more, was that I realized that I couldn’t make everyone happy with my relationship. On that rainy day, I walked out to my car to call my ex (and now close friend), sobbing. Everyone who had hated the fact that I was polyamorous was now happy. I was “doing everything right.” So why wasn’t this friend happy too?
And then my ex said something to me that would continue to be my mantra anytime someone announced their unwanted feelings about my relationship:
“The only people who need to be happy about how a relationship functions are those inside it.”
He was right, of course. While my overachieving and only-child brain was constantly seeking validation, the only two people who really needed to be happy in my relationship were me and my partner.
I’ve realized that, while polyamory and monogamy may be part of my identity, they can exist together. I can practice only one and still be capable of the other. While our relationship right now functions best monogamously, maybe that will change in the future. I’m open to appreciating all that my heart can do, and devoted to cutting myself some slack. I’m allowed to change my mind, as long as there is clear and open communication with everyone involved. I had never expected to be monogamous before, but I had never expected to meet anyone like Dan, either.
As if we could be any more non-traditional, I bought Dan an engagement ring this Valentine’s Day and the plans to propose to him are already in motion. Has my mind changed when it comes to marriage? Not really, though I no longer find it to be the dealbreaker I once thought. I still believe that most things in life are transitory, but my mind has changed as far as compromise. My partner really wants to get married, and I now find myself looking forward to the day I say “I do.”
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out If This Isn’t Love