Not chosing monogamy: Why exclusivity doesn't matter

10 years ago

So I decided that I was ready to write an essay about dating more than one person at the same time. When I first got divorced, after being married for so many years, I was pretty clear that I didn’t want to hurry up and be in an exclusive relationship. It made more sense to me to try to meet someone special, but to hold out the possibility of dating others. After all, after so many years of being married, why rush to commit—especially when I didn’t really know what I wanted—or even what kind of person I might be looking for.

My goal back then was to have authentic, committed relationships (if the right people came along), but make sure I didn’t close myself off too early in the cycle to more life experiences and different kinds of men. As I met people and went on dates, I was clear that I was exploring, and I ended up having a relationship with someone who said he felt okay with my seeing others. Inspired, I did some casual dating, but at the point where I had to contemplate having two separate ongoing relationships with two different men, it got really dicey. One person was fine with it (he was also attached to someone else), the other was not and what I learned was that having equally meaningful relationships with two separate people, each 15-40 miles from me (and from one another) was difficult.

After a few weeks of trying to have meaningful relationships with each of them, I realized it was indeed too challenging—instead of feeling like I had choice and freedom, I felt like I was racing between two rivals, each with a scorecard, each waiting for the other to drop out of the running. When I was with Adam, Mark felt neglected; when I was with Mark, Adam resented the time I was not with him. It was a situation that seemed to make my overall life more stressed, even if it was supposed to make my emotional and sexual life richer.

After some reflection, I ended up ending my relationship with each of them. At that point, I gave a lot of thought to whether it was possible to have simultaneous meaningful relationships and if yes, what factors made it work—or not work—and totally re-evaluated how I was managing dating and what kind of relationship(s) I could handle.

These days, I am seeing someone that I am very passionate about. We haven’t discussed it, in absolute terms, but I think we’d both define our relationship as more “open” than “closed.” What this means is that we both understand that, from time to time, one of us may see someone else. At the same time, we both feel that what we’ve evolving is a close, committed relationship-and these things don’t, for where I am right now, seem mutually exclusive.

What is different, however, than three years ago, is that I’ve now kind of let go of the idea of having two separate, but committed relationships fairly equal in scope. In fact, I’ve made the decision not to look for anyone else to date seriously on an ongoing basis. Instead, my interest is in making this fairly new connection work with this person, and seeing where and how our connection can evolve.

And yet, I am writing this essay because I feel no closer to choosing monogamy than I was three years ago, fresh from a break-up and I think that’s something worth talking about. Although I was monogamous and faithful for all the years of my marriage (and a bunch of years before we married), and although I think monogamy is a good life choice (and the mainstream value system for intimate relationships in our culture), I have trouble, at this point in my life, choosing it as a relationship goal for myself, at least in the relationships I see myself having right now.

You see, even if I ended up getting super-serious with the person I am seeing, and decided to move in with him and make a long-term commitment, I just don’t think it would be truthful or wise to also agree to forsake all others. I don’t feel an emotional need to make this sort of promise, because I’ve come to question, okay, I don’t believe, that sexual exclusivity is a determinant for commitment. And I also don’t believe that being in a serious relationship and deeply loving someone always precludes caring for—and choosing to be involved with—someone else. Or that not being sexually exclusive is going to wreak havoc with a committed relationship, no matter what.

What really seems important to me in relationships these days, is not choosing monogamy, but choosing openness, authenticity, trust and communication. Sometimes it seems like living those values is a lot harder to do than choosing exclusivity, but I don’t want to make the promise to honor a commitment I don’t believe that I actually want—or need—to keep. Instead, I want to be honest about what I might or might not do, and expect the same honesty from my partner. I also want to be honest enough to recognize that what matters to me is not an abstract value, but behaving in a way that honors my own beliefs and makes people I love feel safe, valued and comfortable. If that turns out to mean choosing monogamy, I am willing to entertain the possibility, but I suspect my own evolving values will lead me to be closest to other people who want deep commitments but don’t see love and trust as being tied to being exclusive.

How do you feel about exclusivity as part of your relationship choices? What exclusivities do you want? Do you identify as monogamous? Why or why not—sharing in the comments highly encouraged, please.

Related links:

* Bridget’s Boys: Formerly polyamorous, always interesting

Feminism Without Clothes: Smart and smartypants--feminist, single & searching
* Sugarbutch: Queer, butch and an amazing writer--no matter what your sexual preferences or identity

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