On Serial Monogamy, and Why It Ain’t For Me

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to be a serial monogamist.

I mean, I enjoy my independence. But I also enjoy having a boyfriend. You know, intimacy: it’s pretty fun.

But I haven’t not gone from one relationship to the next out of any sort of moral, practical objection. By choice, in other words. It simply hasn’t worked out that way.

(For the record, I did in fact meet a bassist named Marty within a week of breaking up with J–who also, incidentally, was a bassist: he took me to Blue Ribbon in Park Slope and told me I had him at steak tartare days before vanishing into the gray cobblestone landscape of Brooklyn Heights. That sucked.)

This admission does not mean that I’ve witheld judgment toward those who do engage in that illicit practice of serial monogamy. (Just that word, “serial”–as though dating a lot of people were somehow akin to killing them.)

“Ugh,” I scoff, as I watch one acquaintance or another hop straight from one person’s arms into those of the next. “God forbid they should be alone for five minutes. Everyone needs to be alone. It’s so important.”

But frankly, having been alone for the better part of my (now late) 20s, it’s not feeling so important any more. I think I’ve done my time.

So why, then, do I find myself–three weeks out of one relationship and one, lovely but clearly too intense week into the next–in a state of more-or-less panicked terror?

Surely, there are other, more concrete reasons that one shouldn’t immediately enter into a relationship quick on the heels of another. But what are they?

It’s not an easy question to objectively ponder within close proximity to a beautiful person who likes to take you to to dinner and tell you how gorgeous you look in very little clothing.

For a minute, I let that get to me: I thought I was doing fine. When I talked to M one night last week, and he inquired how I felt about this new thing coming so soon after my breakup with D, I told him I didn’t feel anything about it.

“It’s fine,” I assured him. “I can have emotional experiences toward two people at once. Have I mentioned how attractive he is?”

To some extent, that’s true: we all carry around different emotions, often simultaneously, toward different people and things in our lives. Just because you aren’t done loving one person doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of growing fond of someone else.

But emotions come in different quantities. And right now, I feel a lot of them: strongly. At times, they seem to swell up in my stomach and throat as though they’re going to come leaking out–in the form of coffee or seltzer or a frantic, screaming fit.

I remember spending the night with Marty, the bassist I met after J, only hours after I’d left Minnesota and him for good. I couldn’t sleep at all: there was a new Strokes album that had recently come out and I’d been listening to compulsively, and the whole night I lay there staring at the brown, unfamiliar ceiling as the record played in my head on repeat. I was so overwhelmed with emotion I could hardly move, or think.

I was feeling so much, I could hardly feel a thing.

And that, I guess, is the danger of moving too fast from one thing to another. It takes time to mourn someone: it takes time for the intensity of sadness and grief to wane, for there to be room for those new feelings of excitement and lust.

Perhaps other people are better equipped to handle all of this than I am. We all deal with things differently: emotions, perhaps, above all else. I could tell you that I won’t judge them for it, but you’d know I’d be lying.


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5 responses to “On Serial Monogamy, and Why It Ain’t For Me

  1. I’ve never really tried (or had the chance to try) serial monogamy. I have tried dating multiple people at the same time and, from what you describe, the emotional tangle for me is the same. I can’t divide my focus. Granted, my discomfort at trying to was so great that I didn’t attempt multi-dating for long, but there you go. (Or there it went.)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Andrew. I feel the same way about dating multiple people at once. It’s too much. In Taos, by the way, and wishing you were here!

  3. Em

    I feel like people who pretend they can handle the “tangle” of love confusion are lying to themselves or are not in touch with their emotions. They are afraid of being alone. We all seem afraid of it to a certain extent, even though we all need that time to really know ourselves. I have felt something strong for two people at once, and my feelings for the other person definitely seeped into my time with both of them. It may have actually ruined my chances with both people, because I was eventually unable to be myself with either person, and kept trying to ignore my feelings for one of them to make it easier.

    My ex, who I had ironically gotten together with about 2 days after “getting over” someone else, got on a dating site right after I told him I was glad we had broken it off (about a month after our breakup), but he still tries to contact me and still has feelings for me. He is still angry with me. I am still angry with him, and I refuse to get into another relationship right now. I feel bad for his new person, because I think he moved into something quickly with her to avoid fully feeling his pain. That pain does not go away UNTIL you feel it. Sometimes you just need to wallow, to sit with it in the dark for a little while, and then it will eventually go away. But you can’t just will it to be over. It takes time (a lesson I keep learning the hard way).

  4. ep

    I’ve never been a serial monogamist either. And also, not for any reason but that it just didn’t seem to work out that way. And while there are good reasons, mentioned by you and just above, not to enter into the tangle of emotions that is the inevitable result of jumping from one relationship into another, I also think that sometimes the tangle teaches you something you wouldn’t otherwise have learned. And further, breaking out of patterns, whatever they are, is usually a good thing. If you’ve gotten comfortable with a relationship, a break up, an extended mourning period in which you question all relationships and your own ability to be in one or to find the right person, or whatever, then maybe you need something that you’re a little uncomfortable with, a new set of emotions and questions to work through, rather than the same old set. Can’t wait to hear more about this.

    • Thanks EP. for your insightful-as-always response! I agree that it makes sense to change up your patterns…and I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, so thanks 🙂 I don’t know which end is up at this moment, however, so anything, everything and nothing sounds good! I’ll be back to earth soon!

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