Shocking title, isn’t it? Maybe.
Especially for those of you who may know me well enough to remark that I am an incurable romantic who shivers in the flesh reading Pablo Neruda and falls in love as though a cloud had fallen and whisked me off deep in the night, to hold the moon and bask in its luminous glow.
Perhaps even more shocking than that, however, is the fact that although I have never officially been in an open relationship, I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility for me down the road.
So, then, why this topic? Moreover, why express such enthusiasm for something you’ve never tried before and consequently risk upsetting the apple cart that holds the food that is the sustenance for emotional security? Well, the answer to those two questions is anything but simple, and in fact, have many layers to them. Some of the core reasons remain buried underneath layers I call experience.
I’ll say this much, for now: I am not confident that monogamy has ever satiated or felt inspiring enough to me to make me want to commit to it as an ongoing lifestyle. And considering that I was at one time married, that is arguably saying a lot.
Before I dive more deeply into my experience and perspective, let’s take a blander and more historical look at monogamy, itself:
A scientist in the United States has utilized a mathematical model to hypothesize how monogamy came to be while considering the behaviors of our primates. According to the article, “primate groups are generally structured in dominance-driven hierarchies, with mating privileges restricted to the few highest-ranking males. It would not have been a smooth transition for early humans to develop pair-bonding within larger groups.”
It then went on to explain that: “the process began when lower-ranked males started using the alternative strategy of provisioning to woo potential suitors. It developed further by the evolution of female choice and high fidelity.”
Last but not least, there is still some debate among scientists as to whether or not monogamy is an evolutionarily successful mating strategy beyond, for instance, allowing fathers to bond with their offspring.
Another article that I read stated that monogamy, while beneficial due to increasing the chances of raising offspring, is actually rare in mammals. It said “less than 10 percent of mammal species are monogamous, compared with 90 percent of bird species. Even in primates, where it is more common, only about a quarter of species are monogamous. Our early ancestors weren’t monogamous and the practice probably didn’t take off until Homo erectus emerged, around 1. 9 million years ago.”
So, there you have it: history and research confirm that monogamy is little more than a mere convenience. It is also, in essence and by default, a social construct.
Coupled with adaptation, we are also a species capable of forming strong emotional attachments to others because we have a complex brain and due to that fact alone house a range of multifaceted needs. We are by virtue of design programmed to bond with others. Moreover, our society both encourages and rewards monogamy and its corresponding behaviors on a micro and macro level.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us might admit that as rock-solid as those attachments may be, there nevertheless remains a part of us or otherwise comes a time when we begin to yearn for more or for something or someone different, depending perhaps on how long we’ve been with the same person. So, in this day and age, monogamy truly is little more than a choice or agreement we’ve made with someone else.
In my opinion, expecting one person to fulfill all of our emotional, intellectual, social, and even physical needs is fruitless. Human beings, by our very nature, are wanting and imperfect. No one, therefore, holds the key to all of our needs and desires. In addition, one must ask him or herself whether or not it is even fair to place so much expectation and responsibility on one partner alone.
In my current relationship, whenever my partner discloses to me that she feels insecure about herself or some facet of her life situation, I often reply to her with the following statement: “It would be profoundly arrogant and hypocritical of me to expect so-called perfection when I myself am certainly not perfect.” In other words, why point fingers at someone else when two or three of them could quite easily, at any moment’s notice, be pointing back at me?
This, in fact, has probably been one of the most judicious responses I’ve ever given a lover and is also the basis for my philosophy on forgiveness. I forgive other people easily. Forgiveness, for the most part, comes quite naturally to me. I try to live by the adage: “to understand all is to forgive all.” I’m proud of that.
Anyway, who am I to place unnecessary or heavy demands on someone else? Who am I to expect any one person who is just as much of a work-in-progress as I am to meet my every need? Furthermore, our wants and needs often change as much as we do. How could one person ever possibly meet us eye-to-eye at each and every turn of page?
Even when I have felt happy with any one person, there was nevertheless a question that sometimes percolated. That question was, Could I be just as happy if not happier with someone else?
The answer, of course, is always both yes and no. On the one hand, I am and have always been well aware of the many ways that my current and past partners have positively contributed to the experience of my life. But, on the other hand, I’ve also been just as conscious of all the ways in which they fell short.
Moreover, in my late teens and early 20s, I cheated on some partners. I was the last woman that my first girlfriend dated before she met and married a man. Admittedly, I broke her heart. I was 18 or 19 years old and was just coming out of the closet. After four years of agony over questioning my sexual attractions and hiding them from other people, I went to college like a poor and starving person who had just won the lottery and a free trip to Vegas, which included a stay at a resort with an all-you-can-eat buffet.
I was not ready to commit to any one person too seriously at that time. I was too busy talking with other women in the LGBTQ+ community—which seemed like an exciting and exotic playground to me due to having been repressed for so long—and subsequently exploring my identity.
To my own credit, however, I told her that I had been unfaithful to her, which required ample integrity and basic respect for her intelligence and decision to leave. Shortly after my next relationship—one that I was also hesitant to unduly commit to—I vowed to never be unfaithful to anyone again. Finally, after six-and-a-half years of commitment to the woman I eventually married, I came to realize that monogamy is, in fact, on a broader spectrum and is therefore highly subjective.
Although few of us would want to admit to it, I’m fairly certain that many of us have likely felt some degree of limerence for, or fleeting moments of electric synergy with, a person who was not our partner. At some point in time, many of us may also question whether or not we made the right choice, even if that questioning is not followed by or resolved with a specific action or decision to end the relationship itself.
We also sometimes fail to account for the unconscious underlying reason as to why we all too often do not abandon other connections in favor of spending all of our time and energy on a romantic partner, even though it otherwise seems so obvious. We do not drop our platonic relationships, not only because we value the people in question, but also because our partner cannot satisfy nor successfully fulfill our every core need.
I once read a quote by the famous Virginia Woolf. She said, beautifully, “I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.”
What could be truer than this statement? With each person who graces our life, even for a season, we are on some level reinvented. Each person meets us in places we possibly never even knew existed. Each person strums on a different cord. One person may appeal to our intellectual curiosity and engage us in deep and fascinating conversation—perhaps that our partner could only hope to rival. Our partner in question, while not exactly the most skilled conversationalist, may satiate a need in us to feel emotionally safe and unequivocally cared for. Still, neither of those people might be able to turn our heads the way the grocery clerk can, igniting the fire from within.
Does this make us fickle? No, not necessarily. In my view, it actually makes us more honest with ourselves regarding the inextricable nature of desire. Also, you can love each of those people with all your heart for different reasons and on a different point along the grand spectrum of attraction.
In my younger years, I used to want the entire package in one person. I can recall, in my early 20s, writing long love letters to some hypothetical lover and drawing a list of at least 20 to 30 qualities I wanted my “special person” to possess. In hindsight, I now see that I was searching for a near-idyllic romance that is somewhat unattainable. I even used to sign off on my love letters with the phrase until death do me part. At the time, I was hoping to find a love to end all my searching and wandering. A love that would unfold lavishly into an endless summer to melt away the winters in my heart. I was, in effect, sorely unrealistic.
The undeniable fact of the matter is that when we kneel at the altar of monogamy or utter the words “I do,” we not only sign away our capacity to remain open to a wider range of possibilities that might actually make us happier, including LAT (Living Apart Together), but we also commit to the sharing of all kinds of burdens that, with time, could potentially erode the very love we hope to cement.
Let’s face it: when you’re arguing over who will pick up the kids, who will clean, or who will pay the bills each month, how romantic can things remain? And the truth is that’s life. As soon as you move in with a lover, you become not only bed partners but also roommates and business partners. Romance, from then on, is on a tight rope.
As for myself, almost every woman I’ve ever loved still holds a place in my heart, no matter how bitterly things may have ended. Time itself does not change that. I see myself as a collage of all the love I’ve given and received. It’s also exciting to me to think that that collage could only expand and become evermore vibrant, with more people adding their colors and broadening my palette.
When I love, I love both deeply and sincerely, with every last fiber of my being. My love is like an ocean. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean I can put all my desires into one container.
If I am monogamous, it’s because I choose to be and if I do choose it as a lifestyle, it isn’t because it is intrinsic to who I am. Nor does it account for the range of unexpected events that allude to other possibilities. Life as we know it is unpredictable. People also change.
Bottom line: if monogamy works for you, great. But like many other things, you’ve made a choice. You’re not the sum of your behaviors.