An Open Letter to Monogamy.

Via Kimberly Lo
on Aug 9, 2013
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John Cusack, men, beta men, masculine, relationships, love, men vs. women

Dear Monogamy:

You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but you aren’t very popular right now. You’ve become a bit of a scapegoat at the moment. Not only are there are a plethora of books and articles claiming that you are unnatural, blaming you for the high divorce rate and levels of marital dissatisfaction, but you just seem, well, so dull to many. Polyamory is the like that girl who spent the summer before freshman year in Europe and comes back with all that cool stuff that hasn’t yet made it here to the U.S. (Yeah, I know better than most that Polyamory is nothing new, but it seems that way to many.)

Still, Monogamy, I like you. You may not always be easy, but if I had to chose between you and Polyamory, I’d pick you-hands down. And Polyamory, since I mentioned you and will continue to mention you, please know I have nothing against you. I am not condemning those who go off with you. I believe there are people who are truly happy in polyamorous relationships. If it works for them, then good. The world could use more happiness. However, you’re just not the one for me. If you want to know why, then keep reading.

1. It’s a lot less complicated to be monogamous.

Wipe that smug look off your face, Monogamy. I am not saying you aren’t complicated. Goodness knows, you are, but simply put, I have found that the more people in any situation, the more problems.

Even people that are polygamous admit it takes a lot of time and effort to sort out the logistics. Some people are great at planning. Alas, I am not one of those people. On most days, I hardly have time to balance work, parenthood and one intimate relationship. I cannot image adding any more. Heck, some days I can barely find time to brush my hair, and I don’t even work outside the home full-time.

However, even if you have the time, the money and ground rules in place, there is still the problem of jealousy, which I will go more in depth on in #2.

2. The jealousy factor.

As one of those pseudo-intellectual types who hangs out with other pseudo-intellectual types, I can appreciate the arguments that jealousy may be a learned emotion. However, I do not have the time to devote to unlearning jealousy.

If it sounds like I am blaming time again, then I am partly guilty of that. Still, here’s another one: it’s not high on my list of priorities to get over jealousy.  If I had endless time, perhaps, but given the choice I’d rather learn how to be a better parent, how to be a better photographer, or even how to change the oil in my car. However, I don’t think the jealousy I feel if my partner is having sex with another person is necessarily a bad thing.

Ironically, I don’t consider myself a jealous person in general. I never objected to any man I was involved with devoting time to his friends whether they be male or female. Yet, I did draw the line at them having sex with other people if they were with me. Having them be honest with me, and tell me, did not lessen the hurt.

Call it unreasonable if you will, but I don’t see this part of my personality ever changing.

3. Break ups are easier when there are two people as opposed to more than two.

There is no question, breaking up tends to suck no matter what. At least with one, it is easier.

Also, even if your significant other was a jerk and your friends didn’t like them, they are far more likely to give you a shoulder to cry on.

In polyamorous arrangements, one is far more likely to be asked, “Well, what did you expect?” It may sound harsh, especially to someone in the throes of a break-up, but they have a point: opening up a relationship does increase the likely that one or both of you might partner off with someone else. I’ve known at least one situation where the couple vowed that, no matter what, they would stick together only to have the husband leave for another woman. I don’t doubt that when they made this vow they intended to keep it. However, human behavior is notoriously unpredictable which brings me to #4.

4. My own family history.

This probably is not a huge surprise to you, Monogamy, if you know anything about Asian culture, but polyamory went on in my father’s side of the family for many years. It was actually fairly normal amongst the upper-classes throughout Asia until the early 20th century. I had a great-great uncle who at one point had over five concubines and one wife. Anyone who thinks that this was a happy, harmonious group was gravely mistaken.

This was more Lord of the Flies than Utopia.

From the sound of it, the only one who was really happy was Great-Great-Uncle, and I wouldn’t be surprised if even he got frustrated over the endless bickering and back-stabbing. As he got older, the concubines got younger and younger. And lest anyone think these women were forced to be there or had no choice, that wasn’t the case from what I gleaned. Indeed, it seems they all wanted to be there at least in the beginning, and it was even a status symbol of sorts to be one of the concubines. Judging by one photo I saw, I don’t know what they saw in him, but I would guess the fact he had a lot of money and a high social status had a lot—if not everything—to do with it. In any event, it’s too long to go into here, the tales of drama between the wife, concubines and the various children born of this arrangement where the stuff of family legend.

I know that some fans of your rival will say this is hardly typical or fair and modern day polyamorous arrangements are not like this. This may be true. However, it is a true example of a polyamorous situation where it appeared that the participants thought that they knew what they were getting into and, as it turns out, did not. Sometimes things sound very good in theory, but in reality they don’t go quite the way anyone plans.

In closing, Monogamy, I am sticking with you. Your critics may say that neither I nor anyone can get all my needs met from one person and, in all fairness, they are right. That is why I have friends and other interests. I love my friends (female and male) with all my heart. I make it a point to spend time with them. Still, I draw the line at taking them as my lovers. Some may disagree, but I do not like to mix the two. (Of course, your spouse or partner can also be your friend, but sleeping with people tends to change the dynamics of a relationship.)

Saying that I am in a monogamous relationship is not the same as saying that I intend it to last forever. As much as I would, very few things last forever. I may indeed, at some point, move on to another monogamous relationship and be one of those “serial monogamists.” I am even open to the idea that some day I may change my mind about polyamory. However, for the time being, I seriously doubt it.

So, Monogamy, I am sticking with you and all your imperfections. As someone who is imperfect, you and I are probably well suited. You’re not the perfect fit, but you’re good enough. And I will gladly take that.



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Ed: Sara Crolick


About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework, travel, and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


25 Responses to “An Open Letter to Monogamy.”

  1. Dara says:

    This is the second post of yours I've read and I must say, you are a woman after my own heart and my new hero. 🙂 Regarding polyamory, I just couldn't handle the logistics (I believe the concept of multi-tasking is a modern day conspiracy to keep good people down) and as for jealousy, I'd be eaten alive.

    I don't think monogamy contributes to the disintegration of a relationship over time as much as marriage does. People get married and *bam* the roles of wife and husband slowly but surely start eclipsing the fact most couples start out woman+ man = lovers. Monogamous lovers are with each other because they want to be and are committed to devoting their love and attention to one person in a deeper way whether they choose to declare any sort of marriage vows publicly. When the state of marriage is used as an excuse or explanation for one's choices (gosh, I'd love to sleep with you but unfortunately I'm married)…I'd say the relationship needs a divorce from marriage and a hook-up with the heart.

  2. Leo1973 says:

    Please write an article defending traditional marriage over gay marriage next!
    Gay marriages are so much work! And confusing too, who is the groom and who is the bride?
    I get overwhelmed easily when people choose things different than what I choose.
    When that happens, I write long articles detailing why I am going to stick to the norm, a norm that is beyond any doubt, an overwhelming majority under no threat whatsoever.
    Also, let's make a case against something for very generic reasons: "It’s a lot less complicated to be monogamous" and let's use slightly uninformed generalizations to make a point: "a true example of a polygamous situation where it appeared that the participants thought that they knew what they were getting into and, as it turns out, did not" -Really? That's right, because that only happens with those icky and confused polyamorist!

    I respect the author's brave choice to stick with 99% of the population, but I am sorry and I bit sad that I read this article.

  3. kimberlylowriter says:

    I guess I touched a nerve.

    You're projecting a lot of stuff onto me that I simply did not say. No where did I call polyamorists "icky or confused" nor did I imply they were.

    Please note that I wrote that "I believe there are people who are truly happy in polyamorous relationships. If it works for them, then good. The world could use more happiness." Just because I don't think it could work for me doesn't mean I don't think it could work for others.

    And as to that sarcastic comment about why not write an article touting the benefits of traditional marriage over gay marriage that is such a classic strawman argument.

    I truly don't understand why SOME people who practice or espouse polyamory tend to take it so personally if some people say they don't think the practice is for everyone or not for them. It's as closed minded as someone saying that monogamy is the ONLY way to have a relationship.

    BTW, if you want to cite stats, per scientists, actually only about 17% of people worldwide practice "traditional monogamy".

    Lastly, I will say this much: I have met a few-not most, but a few-people who are into polyamory-who are practically evangelical about it.

    I mentioned my family's history because at least unlike many the people I cite above, I actually do know of real life situations which directly impacted my family and are quite different from theoretical situations or reading books on the subject. That doesn't make me an expert, but it does make me someone who has an insight that perhaps many (esp. in the US) do not.

  4. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thank you so much for your feedback. I am flattered you liked my articles.

    BTW, ITA with your second paragraph. Thank you so much!

  5. @alif_layla says:

    You may very well be right, and monogamy is probably right for you. But I have to say, as far as polyamory (which I think is what you meant when you said "polygamy" although the words are far from interchangeable), you're doing it wrong. If you don't make it a priority to eliminate jealousy, it will never be successful. Ever. I can't even imagine a monogamous relationship being very successful if jealousy is a factor, but I'm sure you don't have to confront that emotion and challenge yourself as much in a monogamous relationship. At least when both parties are acting within the confines of the relationship. Also, this is the second article where you mention how much money it supposedly takes to be polyamorous. It's expensive to date lots of people. I don't understand why you think you have to take all your partners to fancy restaurants all the time or something. The dating game is absolute BS. I started challenging that around the same time I started to challenge monogamy because they both come from the same bullshit social constructs. You don't have to woo your lovers with fancy shiny things anymore. Why can't we just go out and go dutch? Or stay in and just hang out? Why such a need to impress people? Can't we be as comfortable around each other as we are our other friends? So we just happen to be lovers, too. Does that necessitate formality and decadence? No.
    Polyamory should be about evolving, and if you "don't have time" to deconstruct and remove negative social constructs (or negative natural instincts) like jealousy, all you're doing is screwing a lot of people.

  6. Leo1973 says:

    Thank you for your reply Kimberly.
    You did touch a nerve, as I re-read my letter, I guess my sarcastic/tongue in cheek tone does not read as well. Sorry about that.

    I was very mindful to not attack you or project onto you.
    My "icky or confused polyamorist" comment referred to your statement "participants thought that they knew what they were getting into and, as it turns out, did not", as a sarcastic commentary that both monogamous and non-monogamous people can be in situations where "participants thought that they knew what they were getting into and, as it turns out, did not". It was my way of showing how it can read when one paints a specific group of people as more "likely" to be confused by relationship parameters versus another. Does that make sense?

    My intention was to address what I thought was a weak argument against (or I guess "sort of against, but just for me") something I perceived (wrongly I guess) to be practiced by a tiny minority. Growing up in America, as a middle class white male I find the 17% monogamy stat shocking, I would say about 1% of my friends are non-monogamous, but I won't dispute your numbers.

    As a closing thought, regardless of our difference of opinion, I would say that the only thing I am certain of is that everyone needs love (in it's many shapes & forms) and there is little need to compare or highlight one road to get to it over another. There are many paths up the side of the mountain, but they all end at the mountaintop. Everybody gets to pick their own, and the best I can do is not judge any of them, but cheer all of them on.
    So, Cheers!


  7. kimberlylowriter says:

    When I made that statement, I was referring to my own particular family history and situation. I never said it was applicable to everyone. However, I do stand by my claim that "[s]ometimes things sound very good in theory, but in reality they don’t go quite the way anyone plans" because I do know people who get into situations-whether they involve romance, business, etc- and thought they had all the facts they needed only for things turn out quite differently than they though.

    As far as the 17% stat goes, here's the link to the recent NYT piece that quotes that. Per the article: "Only 17 percent of human cultures are strictly monogamous."… As I stated in my piece, it was widely practiced in Asia and within my father's family which is Hong Kong-Chinese.

    Lastly, I want to make it clear that no one has to agree with my opinions. This was not a case of me arguing that monogamy was the right model for everyone. Just for me.

    Also, I don't think I necessarily took the safe road. There have been quite a few articles on here about polyamory and most of the comments have been overwhelming positive and come from a number of people who practice it themselves.

    Anyway, thank you for your feedback. I sincerely appreciate it and I am in agreement with your last paragraph.

  8. lia says:

    Thanks for sharing your insights, experiences and opinions! Exploring and connecting with the ways others think and communicate is one of my favourite things in life. I definitely enjoyed this post. That being said, I find it troubling that your article starts out by contrasting monogamy with polyamory, and ends by contrasting monogamy with polygamy. The two terms are not interchangeable, but despite this, there is no explanation provided around this shift within the article. This is very important for two reasons. Many people practising modern polyamory do not believe in traditional marraige in general, no matter the number of partners involved. This is not true of everyone: some do wish to be married, or hold those values. However, the term "polygamy" literally means multiple marriages, while polyamory, meaning many loves, neither specifies nor precludes marriage, and is therefore much more inclusive. The second and more important reason–and one that I feel you may have some responsibility as a writer/social influencer to become familiar with–is that many people who have had limited exposure to polyamory do associate it immediately with polygamy, which is then associated immediately with traditional religious groups (the most frequent or at least most famous practitioners of which) are controlling and abusive toward women and minors.Even the example provided in your article in the "family history" portion, while understandable given that it is part of your experience and knowledge base, seemed to detail a set of relationship problems given rise to primarily by gender and financial/cultural power imbalances. Thank you for sharing your mind and words.

  9. John V says:

    Love it!

  10. Lover of Many says:

    A nice article that offers some validation to those of us who feel oppressed by an overwhelmingly monogamous culture. I hope that soon, non monogamy will be a pervasive and legitimate choice, as monogamy already is.

    You might want to add “polyamory” to your spell check dictionary; it seems to have been loosely replaced by “polygamy” here and there. And vice versa, as your male relatives were likely polygamous, not polyamorous.

  11. Lover of Many says:

    Well put. Let’s not forget the most significant feature of polygamy aside from marriage and religious basis: its roots in misogyny. Polyamorists are, for the most part, feminists, egalitarians and LGBT/allies.

  12. mal says:

    There's a vast difference between "17% of people worldwide" and "17% of human cultures".

  13. kimberlylowriter says:

    There was another article written on here by someone in a polyamorous relationship saying it can be expensive. See her article for the reasons for that. (I suggest reading it because maybe you'll be more likely to believe her as she is one of the people who is actually in the situation.) I never once said you have to woo your lovers with fancy shiny things. Never. I also never wrote another article before about polyamory. The ONLY previous mention was in an article about signs about being dumped, was that having your partner say s/he wanted to open up the relationship when neither of you never discussed it before could be a sign. NO mention of money.

    As far as jealousy goes, I am the sort who will probably always be jealous if someone I am with is having sex with another person. Does that mean all my relationships are doomed? Perhaps if I am with people who do that. Perhaps not if that is not the case.

    I do not agree with a blanket statement, though, that "If you don't make it a priority to eliminate jealousy, it will never be successful. Ever."

    However, I am being honest about myself as a person-not saying how I should be or presenting an idealized version of myself.

  14. kimberlylowriter says:

    You're right, it should have been "polyamorous" throughout. My mistake.

    I know the two are different. However, some people say they are polygamist in the US even though, legally, they only can have one legal spouse.

    FWIW, the polyamorous couples I knew were overwhelming marrried. A few were not. As you point out, it varies.

    And yes, there were huge gender and economic differences in my family. However, I point that out because SOME polyamorous people I have met point out how great it must have been in the old days and how everyone pitched in and was one big happy family when my point is, it certainly was not in that case. (Does that mean it's impossible? No. But that is a world example that I am very familiar with.) BTW, they were, strictly speaking, polyamorous as he only had one legal wife and in the community she was his wife. The others were not recognized socially or legally.

  15. kimberlylowriter says:

    BTW, here's a link to the "5 Signs" post and exactly what I wrote: "Full disclosure: I have no problem with whatever sort of relationships consenting adults agree to get into. If you want to be polyamorous, then best of luck with that.

    However, based on what I have read as a research assistant to a retired biology professor who studied human sexuality for years, it is far more challenging for couples to go from being in a monogamous relationship to a polyamorous one. In my own experience with people where this happened, one partner wanted it while the other was ambivalent or only agreed to it so as not to lose the other. In the three cases I have known, all of the relationships ended and the partner who suggested opening up the relationship went on to someone else.

    While it isn’t always the case, asking to open up the relationship could be a sign that the other person has met someone else and is either already having sex with them or is wanting your permission to do so. (I know a woman whose now-ex-husband suggested they open their marriage shortly after he suggested they pack up and leave Virginia to live in a town in the Pacific Northwest neither of them had ever visited. As it turns out, he met someone else at a conference who lived there.)

    Ask your partner what brought this up and don’t let them wiggle off the hook by saying they read an article or book claiming that monogamy was unnatural and jealousy is a learned emotion. That may be true or not, but that isn’t saying anything about your current relationship or why your partner wants the option to be with other people.

    If you decide to go for this, then be aware of the very real possibility that you or your partner may end up with other people even if the two of you vow to stay together no matter what. Make sure you are making this choice because you want to and not because you are being made to feel guilty or close-minded for not going along. There are probably many of people who are or would be very happy polygamists, but you may not ever one of them for any number of reasons."

  16. kimberlylowriter says:

    Yikes! Good catch.

    A lot of people worldwise are not even having sex-i.e., babies, etc.

    I should have double checked before I posted that.

  17. kimberlylowriter says:

    Actually, no, my relatives were "polyamorous" in the sense that legally and socially speaking that the man was recognized as having ONE wife. The concubines were not given any legal status and socially speaking, they were not given the status as wives.

    BTW, that was a typo when I used polygamy where I meant polyamorous.

    In any event, it's true that polygamous and polyamorous are used interchangeably when they are different concepts.

    Some may feel my relatives should be called the former.

    In any event, it was a case where there were several lovers, one wife, and it appears the women wanted to be there. (They weren't forced marriages, etc.)

    It is an example, though, where this was far from happy and harmonious. They didn't all live as one happy family at all.

  18. kimberlylowriter says:

    Re: the last statement-Actually, it depends on where you are. In the West, that last statement may be true. Around the world, may be not so much.

    In many places, a person may only have one legal spouse. Therefore, they are not truly polygamous in the literal sense of the word and the situations would be polyamorists situations.

  19. Catherine says:

    Kimberly, you really expressed my feelings about this subject! I am not stuck on monogamy at all, I just can't imagine being able to handle the logistics of polyamory! When I was much younger I often had two or three men that I was seeing (pretty much my limit) and after a while, I couldn't keep up with the schedule! Even then, without children, I had too much else going on to deal with meeting the relationship needs of multiple partners. Suppose one partner wants to see you more than you want or are able to (which was often the case)? What about time for family, non-amorous friendships, meditation, music, art, exercise, cooking, reading, housekeeping, etc. etc. Sex is a wonderful, fun, exciting part of life but really, by no means the most important part. And it just seems like somehow, somewhere, someone is going to be shortchanged in polyamorous relationships.

  20. kimberlylowriter says:

    Thank you, Catherine!

    That was the point I was trying to make. I don't think polyamory is wrong or that monogamy is superior, it's just that given my life, my circumstances, the latter is a far better fit for me. I also think that given my personality and the fact that having sex with multiple partners is not appealing for me, I am better suited for monogamy.

    If people can make polyamory work for them and get the other needs you mention fulfilled than good for them. I just marvel at how someone with my life could ever find the time.

    Lastly, I am sure this will not go over well with some, but I work for a retired biologist who has extensively studied this topic, the research indicates that MOST people who start out poly tend to go to monogamous later on for exactly the reasons you cite.

  21. Swen says:

    Having tried both monogamy and non-monogamy… I'd say you're right. I thought I was a polyamorous until I realized that I was a Sex and Love addict. Poll the polygamy/ polyamorous population and I bet they'd be surprised that they fit the SLAA checklist!

  22. Sally says:

    The point about the concubines wanting that doesn't sit right. If they weren't "forced" and were outwardly proud of their "status" it is probably a result of a culture-wide misogyny that doesn't offer women the same opportunities as men, by a long shot. Saying their "choice" to become concubines was from a true place of choice seems naive. If being a concubine is the better choice, than what were their alternative choices in that society?

  23. Fritz says:

    Great work on your article and your follow up. I also could not imagine introducing the added work of added people into my life. Maybe if I was younger, before having children, and was more enchanted with the world, maybe. I do struggle with my marriage and my heart within that relationship, which is reflected in attractions and feelings for other women. However, as close as I may come to wanting a connection with another woman, I physically could not, or would not, do that to my partner. Thanks for opinion.

  24. kimberlylowriter says:

    I'm not an expert on Chinese culture. I am only relating what occurred in my family and what was told to me.

    My understanding was, these women who became concubines came from upper-class families. My relative was one of the wealthiest men in all of Hong Kong at the time. Yes, choices were limited for women back then-we are talking right around the turn of the 20th century-but it was still more of a choice than, say, if these women were in a situation like many in religious fundamental sects who were forced to become wives. It truly was seen as an honor and a boost in status to be one of his concubines.

    In any case, I mentioned that situation because I have met a few people who tended to romanticize such situations suggesting that it must have been nice to have a group of women all pitching in and raising the kids or (mostly men) saying that a guy in that situation was so lucky.

    In all honesty, it sounded like one big headache with a ton of drama.

  25. matthew mcconnell says:

    thanks for this post.

    the interest and attention polyamory has gotten over the years has been great for my personal growth, especially as i had a partner to practice with (i was monogamous with a poly inclined female), exploring jealousy, expectation and boundaries. i like that we are challenging the social and personal status quo, testing limits and making a lil noise with this particular cultural paradigm shift, as we all continue to understand and adapt our personal truths. there are beautiful layers of truth in the poly belief/practice paradigm.

    for me, it comes down to what you've listed as your first point: it takes a lot of effort (time, communication, etc) to sustain relationships of any kind and especially an intimate, committed one (and yes i know that 'intimacy' and 'commitment' are in poly relationships). there are opportunities to practice working with jealousy, resentment, communication and the like in 'friendships,' and i think there is a special power in working those finer points out with another in a monogamous relationship.

    again, thanks for writing this. i'm glad to know that there are others who, in the midst of the pendulum swing, are still okay with choosing one person, for as long as it may last. and may we all find love, in and with ourselves and others, in whatever way is healthy and effective. big hugs 🙂