Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Rational Monogamist


We’re not all meant to be in monogamous relationships, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find love and commitment if that is what we want. I chose to be in several non-monogamous relationships in the past and was quite happy with the arrangement. I’ve written glowingly about non-monogamy for MaleMediaMind before. Now that I’m in a monogamous relationship, I have a responsibility to explain why I, as a strong advocate for non-monogamous couples, would choose to be in a monogamous relationship. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind about non-monogamy. After having a series of rational discussions about it with my partner, monogamy seemed to be the best choice for us.

Monogamy is one of those issues that seems to get people angry on both sides. I can feel the tension when I talk about it in the hangouts and in the comment threads of articles I’ve written and posted. Those who were monogamous seemed to feel like their choices were being criticized as old fashioned and naive, while those who were non-monogamous seemed to have their relationships called into question as friendships with sex rather than real relationships complete with love and commitment. I seemed to be somewhere in the middle of any discussion, arguing that while monogamy works for the majority of people in relationships, it shouldn’t be the default position for everyone. I feel there should always be an explicit conversation about each other’s needs for sex, variety, and security. If more people did this, even those who choose monogamy, their would be more satisfaction in relationships.

For some couples, outside sexual contact can feel extremely threatening. We don’t all process our sexual thoughts and feelings in the same way. Some of us have a tight connection between sex and intimacy. For them, the thought of someone else having sex with their partner is a violation of the commitment that they made to each other no matter the intentions of furthering the relationship. Still others confuse sex and intimacy altogether, seeing them as one in the same. For them, they feel physical chemistry is an emotional connection assuming their partner would feel the same way if extra-martial activities were to occur. Even if one chooses to be monogamous, there should be a conversation as to why you want or need to be monogamous; not only to better understand each other, but also to be more satisfied in the commitment you're making to each other.

Love and Infatuation
In any  relationship, you will be attracted to other people. There will even be times when that attraction feels strong enough to threaten that relationship. At those times being non-monogamous might seem like a solution, but is it really? Even if your partner gives you the green light to have sex outside the relationship you might confuse your desires for others with a genuine connection. Love and infatuation can often seem like the same thing. Infatuation has a lot more to do with the ideal rather than the real. When you don’t know any better, you can confuse sexual feelings for love especially when you don't know someone that well. You crave their body and yet you might tell yourself that you crave more than just their touch, you want their soul.

Infatuation can feel like love for many reasons. One of which might be guilt over our sexual drive. We sometimes can’t admit when we just want the dick, so we construct an elaborate artifice to hide the shame of our desires. If you want more than just their body, it makes you more ethical to some. In reality, this line of reasoning can get us into a lot of trouble, especially when we're already in a relationship. It's a problem even when we're single and looking because we may find ourselves in a relationship with someone we don’t even know. Sexual attraction is a powerful force that should be respected, but it should also be put into perspective. Love and relationships start with attraction, but their foundation is communication and mutual understanding. Attraction only helps facilitate that exchange.

We often attribute the confusion of love and infatuation to the young. This is true, but it’s not just the young who do this. It takes experience to sort out these feelings, and some of us can learn this an a relatively young age. To the immature men of any age, the attraction to another is everything they need to know about their potential compatibility. To the person who has experienced the failure of attraction to facilitate a loving relationship, they feel the same desires, but stop themselves from acting in self-destructive ways. Their experience has placed the desire into a reasonable perspective that they can then enjoy.

Don't Pity the Experienced
Seeing the reality of a relationship isn’t always as pretty, but it doesn’t mean you have to be jaded either. The reality is more mundane for sure, but it has its charms. Having a life long companion isn’t something to be scoffed at, and yet for the young, many of the requirements that are necessary to sustain a relationship aren’t considered very deeply. Instead, they substitute sexual desire and passion for communication and compromise.

I have to admit that when I was younger I looked down on the older people who took a more rational view of love. I almost pitied them. It was like they had lost their ability to feel. And it may be true that we don’t feel as deeply as we did when we were younger. There is something to the fact that our frontal lobes are now fully inhibiting our impulses, but is it something to mourn? Maybe if we never had a chance to experience uncontrollable passion  it would be a cause for pity, but to have experienced it and moved beyond it, grown and matured because of it, is a great asset to have acquired.

Every once in a while I am reminded of those old passions, of throwing caution to the wind and have a wild love affair with a complete stranger. Thoughts are just that, thoughts, and I don’t think that finding a partner who you love and loves you back makes it any less likely to think those thoughts about other people. We often deny it, but I suspect that they are lying to others and to themselves. They may experience those thoughts and feelings completely differently than they once did, the urgency to find a relationship is gone after all, but I feel sorry for people who can't admit that they have attractions for others outside their relationship. Now that I have a man of my own, one who drives my libido crazy, who gets me on a level no one has ever gotten to know me, who is my best friend and role model, I can still admit to the existence of my attraction to other men. Not only can admit it to myself, I can also admit it to him and he doesn't feel threatened.

Communication and Monogamy
When I decided to be monogamous, it wasn’t because I stopped feeling the desire to be with other men, it was because I felt that it made for a better relationship. It was a deliberate decision born out of a series of ongoing conversations that helped us understand each other's needs and desires for intimacy, love and connection. I don’t regret it for a moment. I feel better about the times I say no to sexual advances from others because I explicitly know how and why monogamy is important to my partner. It's not a sacrifice because I genuinely want him to be happy and know that the decision to remain monogamous is in both our best interests. I choose to be monogamous, not out of an amorphous feeling of what is right or wrong, but because I know that works for us. Being secure in our monogamous relationship allows us to flirt with others, letting us know that we're still desirable to other people, while knowing each other well enough to know where to draw the line.

The boundaries that we've drawn in our relationship may or may not work for you, but it's an ongoing conversation that every couple should have. You may feel sexual attraction threatens your relationship, and if it does you're partner needs to know. I don’t mind a flirt here and there it reminds me that I made the right decision to be with the man I'm with. When I game it out in my head, I always feel good about the decision I made. But that may not work for you and there's no right or wrong way to make the rules of your relationship, so as long as they work for all those involved. When I argued in favor on non-monogamy, I always assumed that people weren’t making that decision up front, that monogamy was probably chosen for them without them having the chance to think and talk about the choices they were making. I was always advocating that people make up their own minds, rather than feeling like one choice was inherently better than another. Many choices that work for others may turn out to be mistakes for you. I hope that you're strong enough to be able to have that difficult conversation about your needs with your partner and advocate for your own needs and desires.





MALCOLM TRAVERS
Male Media Mind