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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:

From Wikipedia
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.

Psychological Aspects:

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.

My Experience:

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!”

My Conclusion:

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. 

It must.

I’ve seen it. 

At the movies…


Queer Heaven said...

An absolutely great post today!
I agree with mot everything you had to say. I will never be monogamous.
As far as the Gay marriage thing..
I don't understand why there is a need to be tied to one person, But I do understand wanting to have all the same legal bennies that those Str8 couples get.

The Vintage Hottie known as O!Daddie said...

There are a couple of different issues here. As far as monogamy is concerned, I always have been, without question. Just the way I'm built, so there never was a problem.

Regarding true love? After a number of disastrous and damaging relationships going as far back as my early 20s, I finally closed up shop in my 50s. Almost a decade later, when I wasn't looking for true love, it (he) found me. We are as different as night and day; we fight like cats and dogs; I've threatened to leave more than once; he pisses me off to no end, and visa-versa, but truth be told, I have never felt the overwhelming passion (physical and emotional) with anyone else on this planet besides this asshole, to whom I devote my life. I will love him with every ounce of my being until the day I die and beyond.

Why do I love him? I haven't a fking clue. All I know is that he is THE ONE.

We don't FIND love; it finds us and we need to be smart enough to recognize it when it does finally show up.

Skilled4Men said...

Great and timely post! I believe in a healthy exchange of ideas - so, I'd like to share a few thoughts here...

As you point out, monogamy is not for everyone.. Gay, straight, single, committed... True Diversity and Inclusiveness should provide ALL an opportunity to explore/discover what makes them happy -be it as a single individual or committed couple. There is no "one size fits all" scenario or script.

We each see life and sexuality through our unique/personal lens. For some, that is the freedom to experiment/explore their carnal prowess.. For others, it's the freedom to embark on a loving/committed relationship -open or closed as chosen by the respective participants.

As part of a broader collective, the the right to make individual choices should remain foremost. Equality is not about ramrodding any personal agenda -it's more about allowing everyone their own "Pursuit of Happiness" and the ability to explore/express their personal passions and ideals.

True Diversity allows for the expression -of every essence and persona imaginable!

whkattk said...

Hmmm... I agree that monogamy is something which has developed and been promoted by societies. Men, especially, are not hard-wired (well, most men, anyway) for it. Nature endowed us with a wild randiness that would assist in spreading our DNA as far and as wide as physically possible. In fact, theory has it, even the shape of our dicks supports that - the head flares to function as a scoop to remove sperm which may have been deposited by a prior attempt of procreation.
But, if Monogamy is what one desires...
As a theatre addict from waaay back, I've witnessed dozens of relationships dissolve because one spouse is driven to the stage while the other isn't and can't understand that need in any way, shape, or form. Indeed, it's how and why my first marriage ended. But, you blame theatre for instilling the idea of monogamy in your mindset. I'm simply curious as to why - chalk my ignorance up to my own addiction to the craft...

Will said...

I think you omit one very important aspect of the monogamy question: we're gay men, we're not like straights, we make our own "rules" if, indeed, there even are rules. Gay men have been getting together for decades, centuries, millennia. In societies where it could mean imprisonment or death, they were just the two bachelors who were roommates or some other subterfuge, but they got together and made a go of it. Gay men mating for a long time or for life isn't new.

I came out in the early 80s and started to get my feet wet in the gay world at the scariest possible time, but earned my spurs and made it through safely. I loved the variety, the adventures, the threeways and moreways. Like The Vintage Hottie I found THE man unexpectedly a bit late in life -- I was 52. He was a little older and quite wise -- when we admitted to "forever" and were discussing the relationship to come, he said, "we're gay men; sex happens." Eventually when it became possible we married.

Nobody's gone berserk here but we ogle men together and sometimes invite them over to share with each other; he has a couple of personal favorites he sees, and I have guys I see when I travel to theater and opera performances around the northeast. Nobody's "cheating" because the openness of our lives eliminates the word from our experience. And 16 years later, we're still crazy about each other -- and not sexually frustrated in any way.

I look on the the gay liberation movement like any liberation movement -- its intention is to free us to live our lives as we wish, not to have to march in lockstep with anyone else's idea of how we should live. And to say that marriage among gays presumes monogamy, have you seen the latest statistics on the percent of straight marriages that are monogamous? That horse galloped out of the barn decades ago.

Upton King said...

Hi Will,

I appreciate you writing. I love your story. You are in a healthy open relationship (non-mongamous). Congrats! I'm not sure I get your point or what exactly I omitted. Let me know. Very happy for you. Take care. - Uptonking from wonderland burlesque

Will said...

Thanks, Upton--
I guess what I meant about "omitted" is that so many gay activists immediately condemned gay marriage as "the end of gay" because now we were all going to settle down, be domestic and completely faithful, we were all going to lose our edge, etc, etc. Whereas I saw it as an opportunity define relationships ourselves within the legal protections marriage would bring but without any preconceptions whatsoever. In general, I find that gay men are pretty highly creative in their lives and when faced with challenges. I didn't see that as ending just because we could get married.

Stan said...

I don't believe monogamy is natural for us humans. I finally found in partner #3 someone who shared and thought the same way I did. We had no jealousy towards one another and that's something most guys can't get over. Threeways were fun for us too and I think it made our relationship stronger. But it's not for everyone.

mistress maddie said...

WOW! What a greatly written post. And I'm so with you on this. I think monogamy is not for everyone. Just last sunday I did a post on the subject myself. I was at brunch when it came up. I have had only two serious relationships. The first, It felt forced and ended badly. I felt like a caged minx most days. My partner at the time, I feel was trying to live the "white picket fence straight life"! So NOT FOR ME! The second was great, lasted for 10 years and were still friends and split for going different directions. We were pretty exclusive but did enjoy letting others watch us have sex, till we had the osscasional threesome. Then one day we met a guy who we had threesomes with. Feelings developed on all sides, and it became a traid for a year and a half. We would stay with each other on weekends, holidays, sleep three together, pretty much did everything together, and the sex was hot as hell, all taking turns fucking each other. That ended too, as he decided he finally needed to find his own boyfriend, not have two. But he is still a good friend, even still have sex together when he visits me. but a traid is another story. But my friends , some of them get on me all the time about settling down again, since it's been two years since my split. I'm currently seeing three guys, loosely, like dinner and sex, sometimes the occassional massage ;), or online hook up, like you I enjoy too much dick! My friends are worst then Jewish parents getting on me about settling. Not for me is all I tell them. And the worst couple doing it have no room to talk, as they picked me up one night for a threesome!!!!! It was only once, how quickly they forget. I have taken up enough space now, but thank you for the post, enjoyed reading it.

Dan said...

Hi Will,

As someone who's been in a wonderful 20 year monogamous relationship, I can tell you that that is the only way for ME!

I respect the fact that we all take different paths in life and I think that is a positive thing.

My only issue here is with non-monogamous people ridiculing monogamy and calling it unnatural. As far as I'm concerned that is no different than the bigotry we get from the religious right.

Upton King said...

Hi, Dan... I think people have a right to their opinions and if something feels unnatural to them, they can share that, too. So, be careful with that 'b' word. And,if you read the post with an attention t detail, I pretty much point out the irony of calling something 'unnatural'. I'm happy for people who have found something that works for them. I'm happy for all the different types of relationships that people create (kudos to mistress maddie!). So - and this goes to all the people who have been commenting that feel my post 'attacks' monogamy - nothing could be further from the truth - this was an examination of monogamy. I was interested in hearing what people thought. I was very upfront with my own personal struggles with monogamy and the chip I have on my shoulder. No need to get upset. Your experience is just as valid as mine. I do my best to try and consider all sides of any topic I choose for the Acquired Tastes series. And I think I do a pretty good job of presenting a balanced picture (save for that entry on rimming - which I plan on revisiting soon). We're a rainbow, right? I think it's important that we keep an open mind and realize that while someone's experience does not mirror our own, their experience is just a valid as ours. Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it. I love a good debate. - Uptonking from Wonderland Burlesque

Dan said...

My comment was not about your post which was very well thought out. My issue is with gay men's attitude that can be very disrespectful at times and when I was younger brought up many of my insecurities.