Recently, a friend of mine posted an open question on her blog asking her readers their stance on monogamy. She said that she wasn’t currently practicing it, but could see herself doing so in the future with an ideal partner. She wanted to know what other people thought about it. As I clicked the “reply” box to put in my two cents (“It’s awesome!” for those keeping score at home), I scrolled through some of the other answers and found that the vast majority — maybe 20 or so — from people more or less in my generation was some variation of “no way.” The consensus seemed to be that it was outmoded, that it didn’t work for most people, and that it was way too intimidating to undertake in the long term. I admit that I was a bit taken aback by the chorus of monogamy-naysayers (even if punctuated by the occasional “it’s the only thing that works for me”), though I can’t say it’s truly that shocking of a sentiment anymore.
Of course, this small sampling of a few young people on one young woman’s personal blog is not an accurate depiction of our generation. But it would be unfair not to note that, in the past few decades, the general stance about monogamy — particularly lifelong monogamy — has changed substantially. Where once the expectation was that one would marry in their early 20s to someone they intended on spending the rest of their lives (and starting a family) with, now the lines of what we want or believe we should have are much more blurry. Do we get married? Do we start a family? Does one necessarily imply the other? And if so, is divorce seen as a natural outcome of these relationships?
Surely the fact that we’re all more comfortable to experiment and choose what is right for us is a generally positive thing — and I would never imply that monogamy is the right choice for everyone. But is the natural progression of having more options for how one wants to spend their romantic life the outmoding of the two-person unit? Obviously there will always be practical reasons for the monogamous pairing — the rearing of a child leaps conveniently to mind — but even that isn’t inherently unachievable in, say, a polyamorous situation. (I would use the “it takes a village” adage here, but I’m sure you already thought of it yourself.)
What rubs me the wrong way, though, is all of the associations that monogamy is beginning to get, perhaps as a result of it being associated with “tradition,” and the old way of doing things. It belongs to another world, and isn’t flexible enough to accommodate all the realities of dating in the 21st century, we seem to think. When you can go online and, in a matter of hours, have all manner of sexual and romantic opportunities presented to you with a few clicks of a dating profile, it’s hard to pick just one. When there are websites created specifically for facilitating extramarital affairs, it’s hard to stay in line. And when dating and relationships are more open than ever to interpretation and personal liberty, it’s hard to settle on a lifelong compromise.
What we may be forgetting, though, is that there are many things monogamy can offer us which are hard to find elsewhere. The idea of finding a partner in someone — in every way from the financial to the emotional — and forming a kind of team against the rest of the world has long been a source of comfort for people who seek out monogamous bonds. The level of intimacy that can develop between two people, the compromises that are made by consensus of two, the families that are founded (whether biologically or otherwise). These are things which extend beyond the idea of “dating,” or even “romance.” They can signify many other areas of fulfillment in life — respect, honor, empathy, trust, compassion, and (perhaps most importantly) learning.
I have been told that I am not “open-minded” because I could never imagine myself in a polyamorous or open relationship. While I have nothing but joy for those who find happiness in those situations, I find it personally too scary a concept to attempt. In many ways, I am selfish when it comes to love, and I think many people are, as well. I enjoy the idea of committing to one person in a way that no one but the two of us will experience,and not sharing it with others. And I think there’s nothing wrong with that selfishness, I think it is a natural human impulse and provides a foundation for many of the prolific pairings that two people can prove to be. It is easy to get caught up in conversations with friends over a few drinks about how outdated monogamy and all of that stuff is, how much pressure it puts on people that they can’t live up to. But for many of us, it is still very much a dream we’d like to realize in our private lives.
The truth is, monogamy is not marriage. It’s not having kids. It’s not being together for a certain amount of time, or taking each other’s names, or even living together. Those can all be parts of monogamy — wonderful ones, if they’re what you want — but monogamy is just two people who commit to be only with each other. All of the scary stuff that comes along with it can be molded to your likings, and none of the rules have to be followed to the letter. While the idea of forcing people into a one-size-fits-all relationship model is certainly damaging (and hopefully going away for good), monogamy will never go out of style. As long as two people love each other and want to build something between the two of them, they should never feel like they need to get with the times.