I’m a huge fan of “open” or “non-monogamous” relationships—when two or more people consensually agree not to be sexually and/or emotionally exclusive. Sometimes this looks like a couple being open to sleeping with others but maintaining their relationship as “primary,” and sometimes it looks like someone maintaining multiple relationships simultaneously (called polyamory).
Many have written compellingly about why humans are better suited to be non-monogamous and how to do it ethically (see Opening Up by Tristan Taormino and Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan). Non-monogamy can be challenging, rewarding and fun when done correctly.
In past columns I’ve written about how successful open relationships require honesty, complex boundary-establishing and a lot of scheduling and emotional processing. While cheating in a monogamous relationship may look like one member of the couple having sex with an outsider, cheating in an open relationship might look more like one member of a couple violating a relationship agreement (such as having unprotected sex with a non-primary partner). Despite assumptions, non-monogamy is more talk than sex.
But this isn’t a column about non-monogamy, it’s about monogamy. Friends and I often joke that we get lost for so many hours on our favorite dating site, OKCupid, trying to follow the links to everyone’s polyamorous partner’s partners that we forget who we were initially interested in in the first place. In our progressive, forward-thinking college town it’s becoming almost a faux pas to be monogamous, especially if you’re under 30 and not heterosexual. Polyamory’s the new trend.
But monogamy isn’t that bad, is it?
No one gets castrated. Jealousy crops up in every relationship, but it’s a larger, more persistent beast within open relationships. Constantly processing your own value to your partner while she is out on dates with others can be emotionally draining. Sure, some people deal with jealously better than others (testicles have literally been chopped off in the name of jealousy), but some can only manage their jealously by being monogamous And if you know that about yourself, congratulations. Lock it down.
You get more focused free time. Old polyamorous kumbaya preaches that “love is limitless.” But time isn’t. Having one partner is high-maintainance enough. One you’ve got multiple relationships, the calendar really starts filling up. Imagine how much yoga, gardening and sleep you could catch up on by having just the one partner. And being emotionally focused on one partner can feel less scattered.
It’s cost-effective. We’re still in a recession, people. Having a weekly date night with three partners is downright pricey. And if you love being spoiled like I do, it’s nice having all of your partner’s resources instead of a measly third.
You take fewer trips to the clinic. I don’t believe that monogamous sex is inherently safer sex or that open relationships are “dirtier.” However, having one partner means there are fewer variables to consider in the safer-sex aspect of your life. If you chose to forego certain safer sex practices after being tested, the safety of your sex relies on one person’s honesty and actions instead of several people’s.
Instead of being up on our “evolved” non-monogamous hipster high horses, perhaps we need to look at both open and closed relationships as valid choices. There’s a difference between “de facto monogamy” and “chosen monogamy.” De facto monogamy happens because “it’s just the way things go”— boy marries girl, boy never looks at the waitress sideways or masturbates in the shower or even thinks about watching porn because girl is all boy will ever need. Somewhere in there there are also 2.5 kids and a white picket fence.
De facto monogamy doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of non-monogamy. It was built on social constructs and is supported by laws involving tax breaks and idiots fighting against gay marriage. It often ends in cheating, divorce, child custody battles and castration byjealousy.
Alternatively, those who consciously choose monogamy have considered all of their options. They might believe that sexual monogamy isn’t naturally our strongest suit, or check out a hottie in a bar without being dishonest about it, but they also might just prefer being exclusive with their one and only honey. And they’re probably well rested and rich and still have their balls.