Monogamy = Monotony?—Why Couples Go Rogue

Can an open relationship be the key to happiness in your relationship? Challenging societal norms on monogamy may unlock hidden desires or reveal a level a honesty you’ve never experienced with a partner.

For many of us, the urge to couple up is a strong one. It might even be programmed into our DNA. But does love mean never dating or having sex with other people?

Several years ago, I decided to challenge the idea that the only way to a loving, committed relationship was to be monogamous. My then-boyfriend and I decided to try an open relationship. We were committed to each other, referred to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend, and were both allowed to date and be physically intimate with other people. We eventually broke up (for various reasons, most of which weren’t related to our openness), but since then I’ve remained interested in rethinking relationships—and it turns out I’m not alone.

Nonmonoga-me—Current Trends

Estimates suggest there are more than half a million openly polyamorous families in the U.S., and in 2010, an estimated eight million couples were practicing some form of nonmonogamy. Even among married couples, open relationships can be successful; some studies suggest they’re common in gay marriages.

For today’s 20- and 30-somethings, these trends are meaningful. More than 40 percent of millenials think marriage is “becoming obsolete” (compared to 43 percent of Gen Xers, 35 percent of baby boomers, and 32 percent of people aged 65-plus). And almost half of millenials say they view changes in family structures positively, compared to only a quarter of elderly respondents. In other words, monogamy—though a perfectly viable choice—doesn’t work for everyone.

It certainly wasn’t working for me. Blame it on a couple unhealthy relationships in my youth: For whatever reason, in my mind “monogamy” had come to be associated with possessiveness, jealousy, and claustrophobia—not quite what one desires from everlasting love. I wanted to care about someone without feeling owned by them, and I wanted that someone to feel the same way. Add to that the fact that I’d been single for a while (after having been in a monogamous relationship for even longer) and—I’m woman enough to admit it—wasn’t ready to give up the freedom to flirt with strangers. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure what I wanted, exactly, but I knew I didn’t want to feel suffocated by a partner. So when I started dating…let’s call him ‘Bryce,’ I geared myself up for hurt feelings, got over my own awkwardness, and broached it: Have you ever thought about having an open relationship?

Open relationships tend to fall into two general categories, says Greatist Expert and sex counselor Ian Kerner: Couples might negotiate a nonmonogamous arrangement like the one I had with Bryce, in which each individual has the freedom to date and/or have sex with people outside the relationship. Or couples will choose to swing, adventuring outside their monogamous relationship as a unit (having sex with other people together, as in a three-or-more-some). But these categories are pretty fluid, and they shift depending on a given couple’s needs and boundaries.

Monogamy = Monotony?—Why Couples Go Rogue

The tricky thing about relationships is they’re all different, so there’s no “one reason” why people decide to explore alternative relationship models. Still, there are a wide range of theories about why monogamy hasn’t proved universally satisfying. Some experts say it has roots in genetics: About 80 percent of primates are polygamous, and similar estimates apply to human hunter-gatherer societies. (Still, it’s not useful to get caught up in the “is it natural” argument, says Kerner: Variation is what’s natural, more so than monogamy or nonmonogamy.)

Other research suggests different people have different needs for a satisfying relationship. In The Monogamy Gap, Eric Anderson suggests open relationships allow partners to meet their respective needs without demanding more than one partner can give. There’s also a cultural component: Fidelity stats vary widely among cultures, and evidence suggests countries with more permissive attitudes toward sex also have longer-lasting marriages. In Nordic countries, many married couples openly discuss “parallel relationships”—ranging from drawn-out affairs to holiday flings—with their partners, yet marriage remains a respected institution. Then again, sex advice columnist Dan Savage says nonmonogamy might just come down to plain old boredom.

In short, there are as many reasons to be nonmonogamous as there are nonmonogamous people—and therein lies a bit of a problem. Even if a couple agrees to be nonmonogamous, their reasons for doing so might be in conflict. In my case, I wanted to be in a nonmonogamous relationship because I wanted to challenge social assumptions about love; Bryce wanted to be in a nonmonogamous relationship because I wanted to be in one, and he wanted to be with me. Perhaps not surprisingly, this stirred up conflict between us when I actually started seeing other people. While I was fine when Bryce made out with a mutual friend, he couldn’t stomach the thought of me doing the same. This eventually led to resentment on both sides and jealousy on his—and suddenly I found myself back in a claustrophobic relationship, arguing about who belonged to whom.

Should You Put a Ring on It? — New Directions

Not surprisingly, the green-eyed monster is a common challenge for nonmonogamous partners across the board, regardless of gender or sexuality. The best way to deal? Honesty. In numerous studies, open communication is the prime driver of relationship satisfaction (this is true in any relationship), and the best coping mechanism for jealousy. For couples venturing into opendom, it’s important for partners to communicate their needs and work out an agreement in advance of any rendezvous.

In retrospect, I should have been more honest with myself, and acknowledged that (regardless of what he said) Bryce didn’t really want to be nonmonogamous; it would have spared us both some heartache. It’s easy to be attracted to nonmonogamy’s sexier side, but it actually requires incredibly high levels of trust, communication, openness, and intimacy with your primary partner—meaning that just like monogamy, open relationships can be pretty stressful, and they’re certainly not for everyone. In other words, nonmonogamy is by no means a ticket out of relationship problems, and it might actually be a source of them. It can also be thrilling, rewarding, and enlightening.

No matter what, say experts, whether a couple decides to be open or monogamous should be a matter of choice. “When there is no stigma to having an open sexual relationship,”writes Anderson, “men and women will begin to be more honest about what they want…and how they desire to achieve it.”

As for me, these days I’m a one-man kinda gal—which I learned by being open.

Curated by Erbe
Original Article


I Met My Boyfriend First But All My Friends Got Married Before Us

What I learned while waiting to get married until it felt right.

A woman at work just got engaged, and so did I. We were chatting about wedding plans, comparing rings, and eventually started talking about how we met our fiancés. She said she met hers this past November, and it was love at first sight. They were in a relationship by December and talking about marriage by February. I told her I started dating my fiancée nine years ago.

“Nine years?” She said, shocked. “That’s a really long time.”

And it is. It’s definitely not the norm to be together that long and still not be married. We were always happy, we were always in love, we just weren’t married.

And it drove me nuts.

It’s easy to give yourself a complex

Over the years I’ve seen so many friends tie the knot, and boy, was I jealous. I’d suffered through a million Facebook engagement announcements and had to drag myself to countless bridal showers.

At weddings I’d count on my fingers how many more years my boyfriend and I had been together than the bride and groom. And judge them accordingly.

At every wedding my boyfriend and I attended together (and there were a lot), I’d wonder why it wasn’t him and me up there in the fancy white dress and suit. Maybe, I thought, there was something wrong with us. Were we not as happy as I thought? Were we just compatible enough to want to be together, but not to make a big commitment?

It would have been different if we actively didn’t want to get married, or didn’t see ourselves together in the long-term. It would have been different if we weren’t right for each other.

But that wasn’t it.

We knew couples that got married with way more problems than we did. (One couple we knew got divorced within the year.) So then, I wondered, what was the holdup with us?

It’s hard to wait until the time is right

Sure, we were young. We met in high school, so by the time we’d been together three years (a reasonable time to get married) we were only twenty, and still busy with school. By the time we graduated from college, we were, well, just out of college. We’d both moved back in with our parents and were struggling to find jobs. Planning a wedding just wasn’t realistic.

It wasn’t like we hadn’t talked about it. We had, and usually decided we wanted to save money to have a bigger wedding (and honeymoon) later, or that we wanted to wait until I was done with grad school.

I knew it was reasonable to wait it out, let the right time come. But reason didn’t stop me from un-friending co-workers when they posted engagement pictures online. I mean, how dare they?

I’d spend my time at sorority sisters’ weddings perched by the bar, drinking too many flutes of champagne, unabashedly wrinkling my bridesmaid’s dress.

I Met My Boyfriend First But All My Friends Got Married Before Us

It’s easy to second guess yourself

Of course, the feminist in me struggles with this.

It’s embarrassing to look back on drunk-crying over cake, complaining that it should have been us on that cake topper, but the truth is, it was difficult for me. Even knowing my relationship was healthy and happy, I wanted what my friends had.

I felt like I was missing out on something that I deserved more than others, and it was a struggle to keep my friends.

Maybe some of the stress came from peer pressure. Everyone and their mother had been asking me when we’d be getting married since our second anniversary. And it was getting old.

Any time a good-natured friend would elbow me and say “you’re next” I’d force a smile and hope they couldn’t tell I was mentally punching them in the nose. But the more they pressed, the more my inner voice asked why we were waiting.

The question poked at my brain until eventually I realized: we simply weren’t ready.

I Met My Boyfriend First But All My Friends Got Married Before Us

The wait is hard, but worth it

Maybe that was hard to grasp when I watched my best friend try on wedding dresses, and maybe it didn’t make sense when I caught five bouquets in a row, but the truth is, it just wasn’t the right time yet.

We’re a pretty conservative couple, and it’s not our style to rush into things. We only spend the money we have, and we’re careful. We won’t even try a new restaurant before scrolling through all the reviews on Yelp. It’s not wild or whirlwind-romantic, but it’s us.

It wasn’t that we had a problem, I’d just managed to find the right guy about five years early.

And, when I think about that, it makes me feel really lucky. Now that we’re finally engaged, at 26, we’ve already spent almost a third of our lives together.

We know everything about each other, we have countless memories and thousands of pictures, which, I think, is a great start to the rest of our lives.

Loved this story? Read more about unconventional committed relationships on Love TV.