On Monogamy, and Love

The term “serial monogamist” has always bothered me.

I mean, I use it–like everyone else–to describe people who go immediately from one relationship into another.

But I’m not sure what differentiates those people from those of us who go spans of time out of relationships. I often think I’d like to be a serial monogamist, if only I could find people I’d like to be serially monogamous with.

But then, as came up over beers last night with S and A (I realized, by the way, that an odd preponderance of my male friends have names that start with D; this is another one, who I’ll call A instead for differentiation’s sake), there are people who really are not interested in, or perhaps capable of, monogamy.

Each of them described someone they know who is frequently in relationships, but who is always cheating.I don’t think I have any friends who fall into this category. I’m fairly sure, though, that the person I once, for five minutes, was an “other woman” with, does. I think he really cared (and, I’m pretty sure, cares) for his girlfriend. But he simply couldn’t help himself from indulging his wandering eyes. And hands. And various other things that one should not indulge when one is committed. But did (and does) he truly love her?

I’m not sure.

For a long time I assumed that I was the kind of person who was too loyal, too emotional, too sensitive to ever cheat. You know, above that. Basically, I thought I was a decent person.

I do, still, think I’m a decent person. But I now understand the way that physical and emotional distance can manifest in a relationship, and how it can make infidelities much easier than we’d all like to think they should be.

I once asked my therapist in Washington–a woman who changed my life in just six months about as much as anyone has–whether she thought humans were built to be monogamous.

Her answer was immediate. “No,” she said. “Monogamy is incredibly difficult. Collectively, we’ve decided that it’s preferable to the alternative. But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally.”

I think she nailed it, as she often did.

This understanding would seem to make one dubious of the notion that you don’t cheat on someone you love, as I have sometimes been. But thinking as I am now about the nature of love–that it is a decision, an act of will, and not a feeling–the idea makes sense. If you choose to love someone romantically, you choose to be committed to them: to put their interests above your own.

Which is not an easy thing to do, certainly. But it would also certainly seem to preclude being unfaithful.

I tend to shy away from ideological and absolute declarations about love. Or anything else, for that matter. We are human, after all. We screw up. Even when we want to love someone as much as we possibly can.

But aspiring to something isn’t the same thing as doing it.

I’m not sure I aspire to serial monogamy. But I do aspire to monogamy of some sort–preferably the sort that doesn’t involve cheating.

I know it isn’t easy, but hey–a girl, like anyone else, can try.


Filed under Love Life

3 responses to “On Monogamy, and Love

  1. Rick Raab-Faber

    “We are human, after all. We screw up”

    That’s the hardest part of life (and love) isn’t it, Elizabeth? Especially for those of us raised on the ethic of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Screwing up — having that other person see you as less than perfect — sucks. The trick is in somehow learning that just because you screwed up, doesn’t always mean it’s over.

    Infidelity, though…. That’s some kind of mystic line that, once crossed, is hard to come back over. Maybe monogamy IS just something we’ve agreed on, but it has certainly become embedded in our consciousness.

    • Thanks for the comment, Rick. I don’t mean to diminish the value of monogamy – I’m certainly all for it. But I think you’re right: we do screw up, and while it’s difficult to get past, maybe sometimes it’s possible, and worth it.

  2. E

    Thanks for all your posts! I was just talking about this subject recently as well. These discussions are important- I think that readers identify with what you write about, and the subjects you so openly ponder. Everyone is interested in human relationships. Love your blog.

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