Acquired Tastes, XXXVII: Monogamy
The topic of monogamy popped up recently in the comments section, after I had written a piece that included a bit about my sexual appetite slowing down and how massive amounts of anonymous cock no longer held the appeal it once did. The writer suggested that maybe I was ready for a nice monogamous relationship. The notion caught me by surprise because if there is one thing I am not cut out for, that would be monogamy and it would seem that my past posts here would bear that out. Still, I find the subject worthy of exploration. It definitely qualifies as an Acquired Taste – or is it something you’re born into? Personally, I don’t believe it’s natural (where have we heard that before?), but an agenda conventional society has been pushing for eons for its own preservation. And while it makes sense for heterosexuals due to the ever-present possibility of breeding, I can’t think of why homosexuals, and in particular gay men, have felt the need to adopt this subjective construct.
And then there’s the whole marriage thing – another reason I don’t see why gays feel the need to comply; it’s a sacrament we are not privy to. I frequently wonder if, beyond the tax, financial, and legal benefits to be derived, this is simply an attempt on the part of gay people to try to ‘pass’ and be ‘accepted’ - both of which are code words for: desperately feeling the need to fit in. Isn’t the whole point of being gay to live ‘outside the box’? Why can’t we fly in the face of convention and define our own terms? Why do we desire to be…. like them?
So, let’s now join hands, two by two, limit our options by defining our scope, and make a commitment to explore and examine the constraints, advantages, and validity of…
Scope of Activity:
Social monogamy refers to two partners living together, having sex with each other, and cooperating in acquiring basic resources such as shelter, food, and money.
Sexual monogamy refers to two partners remaining sexually exclusive with each other and having no outside sex partners.
Genetic monogamy refers to two partners only having offspring with each other.
Marital monogamy refers to marriages of only two people.
For this discussion I will limit most of my examination to sexual monogamy: those relationships between two gay men where there is a commitment made to have sex only with each other.
The Official Line:
Monogamy is a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse during their lifetime or at any one time (serial monogamy), as compared to polygamy or polyamory. In current usage, monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction. The term is also applied to the social behavior of some animals, referring to the state of having only one mate at any one time.
What are the psychological benefits of monogamy? The potential for intimacy, the potential to develop a deep bond, a reliable outlet for sexual expression; all really worthy, desirable things.
Lots of stuff has been written about this type of relationship. We are led to believe, thanks to the media and society as a whole, that this is the way things ought to be and that MONOGAMY IS IMPORTANT. Because if you can’t be in a committed, exclusive, monogamous relationship, then there is something wrong with you, you are a damaged human being, you are immature, you are… unworthy of love (okay, that last one is not true, but, hey, that message is out there).
Take your typical romantic comedy (which is ALL romantic comedies). They all turn on the same theme: that a committed, sexually exclusive relationship is not only the ‘correct’ and acceptable kind of relationship to pursue – it is the ONLY kind of relationship to be considered. We never see Jennifer Anniston contemplate the validity of her open relationship with Paul Rudd while Ryan Gosling is knocking at her door. No, that would be a serious adult drama or indie flick. My point is – as a society we really never give consideration to any other relationship model. And, as I’ve said, that makes sense for the heteros, because otherwise life would be just one big Maury Povich ‘Who’s My Baby’s Daddy?’ segment. And I will even go so far as to say that it works for lesbians because of the whole nesting instinct thing (and, yes, maybe dudes have it, too, but based on the condition of many of the apartments and homes I have been fucked in, I’m going to say ‘no’). But it makes no sense for gay men (unless moving in together and marriage is part of that package; the former having to do with financial streamlining and the latter having to do with a desire to conform to heterosexual convention).
That said, when trying to come up with the emotional benefits of having a monogamous relationship, I immediately wanted to say: security, partnership, support and reliability. Why? Because I think most of us have it locked in our brains that monogamy = marriage; in other words, that commitment to limit sexual activity to within the confines of a defined one-on-one relationship brings with it a sort of all-encompassing pact that guarantees company, companionship, and an end to loneliness.
What are the potential disadvantages of monogamy? Boredom. Unnecessary drama. Jealousy. A lack of sex. Monotony.
You like meatloaf? Imagine eating it every night for the rest of your life. It’s that, or go hungry. Welcome to your monogamous relationship.
What? Yes, my view is a bit jaded. Read on and find out why. It’s not like I’m some 19 year old homo talking about something I know nothing about. No, I’m a much, much older homo with a giant chip on his shoulder talking about something he knows nothing about.
Precautions, Misconceptions, Fallacies, and Encouraged Practices
If monogamy is something that you feel you want to pursue, here are some suggestions:
Don’t try to define a relationship as monogamous until the relationship has ample time and opportunity to develop. Trust me, relationships are not one-size-fits-all. That trick you dragged home last night may indeed be the man of your dreams, or he may just be the man of the moment. Also: trying to define a relationship based on one night of hot, sloppy sex? Not a good idea.
Be sure to let your freek flag fly early. If you are thinking that this is ‘the one’ and you want to be sexually exclusive, make sure all your sexual deviation cards are on the table. Dan Savage’s column is filled with letters from folks who are in a committed, monogamous relationship where one half has failed to disclose that what really gets them off is having their partner wear panties and a George W. Bush mask while choking them and referring to them as ‘Mr. Rove’.
Communication is key to not only a healthy monogamous relationship, but to good sex as well. Good sex is key to a healthy monogamous relationship. Unless it’s not. Does a non-sexual relationship between two a-sexuals qualify as a monogamous relationship? Hmmm.
If you are cheating on your partner? Don’t kid yourself. You are not in a monogamous relationship.
You don’t have to live together, share a bank account, or adopt a Hello Kitty baby in order to be in a monogamous relationship. You can each maintain your own condos, never need to meet each other’s parents, and still agree to only fuck each other. It sounds like a bloodless affair, but hey, Log Cabin Republicans have to get off, too.
To quote the character of Martha from Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ (My personal go-to-manual on building healthy relationships), “I tried. God knows I tried!”
I grew up convinced that monogamy was the only option, mainly because it was the only model I was aware of at the time. If you live in a town where all they sell is Pinto station wagons, guess what? You’ll be driving a Pinto station wagon. It wasn’t until many, many years later (and some would say many, many years too late) that I discovered how much fun it was to be a slut, fucking around without any need to define any of it as ‘a relationship’. While on occasion I may find myself less-than-happy, I can assure you: I am a lot happier now than I ever was in the midst of trying to maintain a monogamous relationship.
Bottom line: I love sex. Lots and lots of sex. With many people. One person is never going to be able to bring to the table everything that I desire.
I’ve had six serious relationships, all of which were monogamous (supposedly).
The first was when I was 17 going on 18. He was a 36 year old actor on tour. I was a theatre student. It lasted six months. He wanted me to move to New York. The end.
It takes me years and years to recover.
At the age of 26, I attempt Relationship #2. He’s a 24 year old art student. There are issues from the get go and the situation dissolves into a confusing mess. Years later I learn that his primary relationship during this time was actually with a bottle of Jim Beam. Which, of course, explains everything, except how could I have been so clueless?
Three years later, out of the closet, I give it a go, again. He’s short dude ten years my senior with control issues. After a year of what I can only term ‘sexual extortion’ (he puts out if I put up), I come to realize that I am not in a relationship so much as a hostage situation. I negotiate my own release and hop right into…
Relationship #3. He’s 6’6”, handsome, huge dick, sexually adventurous, sweet as the day is long, great temperament, puts up with all my drama and bullshit. He is a saint. And a recovering alcoholic who is doing really well remaining sober.
We have a lot of the same interests, my parents like him, we have a successful business together. But I’m still doing theater. I have the worst theatre experience ever. I decide I have to get out of the Twin Cities and choose to move to Iowa for a year, to work for a newspaper. I tell him we’ll rent a farm and live there. He helps me move there, but never joins me. We remain friends. A year later, after I have sold all my stuff, he drives me to the airport as I go to live in Los Angeles to be with Relationship #4. He falls off the wagon, moves to Seattle (where I visit him twice a year), contracts HIV, and his liver fails. He dies. No one bothers to let me know. In retrospect, I have come to realize – HE WAS THE ONE. If only I had been more forthcoming about my sexual needs and desires and not insisted on a monogamous relationship. If only I had not been involved in theater or at least not allowed it to dictate my life. If only I had not been so selfish, myopic, self-involved, angry, stupid, short-sighted, immature, irresponsible, etc. He was a wonderful man. And I was not.
I move to L.A. to live with a short, ten years older than me, author/guru/artist with control issues. We have nothing in common. The sex is not good. I get to travel a lot during this time period, but in the end, I come to realize that while we keep changing the scenery, the players remain the same. In a nut shell (apt), it was a play with a limited run which closed early.
#6. I… don’t…. know… what… I….. was… thinking. It works on some levels. It does not work on many levels. I should have known better. I grow up. I evolve. I come to realize who I am: which is not the bill of goods I sold the dude in order to seal the deal. Now? I feel sorry for him. I feel obligated. Obligation does not a healthy relationship make…
Score: Bullshit 6, Monogamy 0
Who do I blame? The Catholic Church, Heterosexual Society, The Media (particularly those rom-coms), My Parents, My Teachers, The Boys Scouts of America, Theatre.
Who is to blame? Well, duh. I spent a good deal of my life as a “selfish, myopic, self-involved, angry, stupid, short-sighted, immature, irresponsible”, self-hating, bitter, frightened homo. Small wonder none of that worked out, huh?
Well, give me credit for trying. And I did.
“God knows I tried!”
Monogamous relationships are not for everyone. Your experience may vary.
I would love for you to use the comment section and tell me all about your wonderful, healthy, long-term, monogamous relationship.
Share your stories, your experiences, and advice. Almost anything you have to offer (like hope for the rest of us), will be a vast improvement over the bile-soaked mess I have managed to cough up in this post.
I know it’s not all a bed of roses, but monogamy can work for two healthy adults.
I’ve seen it.
At the movies…