Imagine a woman who is seeking a partner. Then, she finds someone willing. Actually, he’s really willing. This guy is talking marriage around the one-month mark. What a catch. She skips time with friends. She puts her passions aside for her new passion. It takes up so much of her time that it starts to feel like work. But you should put work into a relationship, right?
Over enough time she starts to feel stifled and has low self-esteem. He continually shifts blame onto her. She feels ashamed of her desire to leave and tries to fix the relationship from the inside. Finally, she breaks up with him and it’s time to start over. He wasn’t the one. There’s no room to be happy and single if the real one is out there somewhere. She feels compelled to assign happiness to a new long-term relationship as soon as possible.
This pattern has been explored by countless psychologists, sociologists, entertainers, writers, and so on. I personally have decided to leave a life of independence and sexual autonomy for something with more definite promise. Unfortunately, in my case, the promises were perfectly empty and were made specifically to manipulate and monopolize me. Many women, myself included, are indoctrinated with a concept of exclusive love that eventually serves as leverage for controlling or abusive partners.
As many recently released and controversially celebrated books – such as Sex At Dawn and The Ethical Slut – speculate, monogamy for humans began around the same time as agriculture (about 10,000 years ago). So, if you’re a believer that humans didn’t evolve to eat gluten, corn, soy, GMO’s, etc., then you can apply the same logic to the heartache epidemic. We were never meant to be totally fulfilled by just one other person.
It is arguably the reason why jealousy, restlessness, and disenchantment are such common reasons for ending traditional relationships. Love, as outlined by everything from romantic comedies to fidelity clauses, is sold as an imperative, and that makes people vulnerable to sacrificing their own well-being in order to reach the finish line.
We were never meant to be totally fulfilled by just one other person.
The hypothesis of these contentious books is that we didn’t evolve for love, marriage, and a baby carriage. We just started doing it that way to protect our resources. These books and others explain that agriculture introduced – for the first time – the concept of property (over land, women, and resources). Food had gone from various, foraged, and shared, to nutritionally meager and difficult to harvest. Monogamy became a matter of survival, not necessarily a matter of evolution. Even many generations later, elements of monogamy-as-ownership still pervade some of the most seemingly progressive relationships.
I was once in a relationship that seemed positive and supportive at first. It began with a steaming pile of promises right up front. These promises included loving me forever (after knowing me for less than six months) and wanting to have children together (before even living together). It was my entire future wrapped in a button-up.
It soon leads to him doling out harsh criticisms of my professional endeavors, my friend group, and other aspects of my life. I’d established these things in my life to become a balanced and happy person. The basis for his criticalness was that my aspirations, friends, and lifestyle interfered with his fantasy of what monogamy looks like.
Later came threats in the form of physical intimidation. I was also given ultimatums between his affection and the time I was allowed to spend with other people. Beyond controlling, this particular relationship became textbook abusive. I denied and dismissed that fact because I had committed to the standard narrative which insisted that I stay with him.
It was my entire future wrapped in a button-up.
The final nail in the coffin of our relationship was when he told me that if we ever moved in together, then my out of town male friends couldn’t stay with us. I told him this was a deal breaker. He accused me of choosing another man over him, the father of my hypothetical future children. I’m grateful that I was able to respond, “No, I’m choosing myself over you.”
I mention these experiences to point out that in order to be emotionally controlled or abused (isolated, put down, threatened), I had to be emotionally dependent. People who abuse their partners find ways to isolate and put down the other person, and they will use their victim’s emotional investments to do this. The abuser must leverage something that their partner values. This can include lifestyle, promises of having a family, or love and affection, all of which fall under the standard narrative umbrella.
With all the prejudices women are saddled with in our society (family structure, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, double-standardized libidos, and much more) it can be easy to exploit insecurities and cultivate shame. This goes doubly for women who are still discovering their sexuality. So, as if it wasn’t hard enough to explore our sexualities, there is also the risk of predators eager to turn uncertainty against us.
I’m not insisting that monogamy is inherently abusive, or that everyone should try polyamory. I’m also not saying that men can’t be victims of a similar shame-control model. I am saying, however, that gender roles are thoroughly double-standardized when it comes to sexuality and building a family, and it creates way more blind spots for women when it comes to dangerous relationships.
The bottom line is, if a partner demands a drastic or traumatic change in your life in the name of love, it isn’t the beginning of a relationship worth nurturing. It is a bottomless and insatiable relationship. It will not be satisfied by anything, not “I love you,” not “I do,” and not “It’s your baby.” Controlling relationships will never make you as happy as nights out with close friends, seeing a friend or family member hold your newborn child, or accomplishing personal goals founded in self-love. A single partner bond is no substitute for an entire community.
Those partners who truly love you, whether they are your monogamous life partner or your twice annual secondary, will never want you self-doubting for their benefit. They will not minimize your endeavors or require more of you than you are able to give. A healthy romance will enrich your life, listen to your needs, and value compromise. There is no shame in leaving a destructive relationship, no matter what social pressures loom above. The first step in finding the right lover(s) for you is knowing when they’re wrong.