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Stigmatizing Tradition: Why is Monogamy So Hard?

A closer look at societal norms, polyamory, and where you fit in.

Stigmatizing Tradition: Why is Monogamy So Hard?

Times change and dialogue evolves. Divorce, gay marriage, and interracial relationships were once taboo, and we’ve luckily garnered enough common sense to recognize that we should be free to love who we want to love and how we want to love them, until it’s no longer within our best interest.

The shape of relationships has shifted as well. Many women are opting out of motherhood, getting married later in life or not at all, exploring the fluidity within their sexuality, and even dipping a toe in non-monogamous practices.

The common social rhetoric tends to shame anything outside of a “traditional monogamous relationship," though it’s crucial to explore what options are available to you in order to make well-informed decisions that are honest to who you are. Forfeiting your needs and boundaries only to maintain the status quo can lead to a life lived with resentment—one you won’t reflect back on fondly.

Why is Monogamy So Hard?

Not only have we evolved far beyond our prehistoric ancestors who only knew how to conceptualize procreation and keep the bloodline alive, but we’re lapped some of our more recent relatives, too, in terms of open-mindedness and exploration. Our reach far extends beyond the limits of our hometown, and it’s much less common to marry the first person you kissed (and stay together for the rest of your lives).

Our tolerance has shifted, for better or worse, with the induction of social media, which tempts us with what feels like infinite options, near and far. On a daily basis, we’re suddenly able to consume every kind of human out there, which can make the idea of monogamy feel stifling.

Why are we meant to be monogamous if monogamy is so hard? 

Well, because we’re not. For humans, monogamy is not biologically ordained. In fact, with the divorce rate exceeding 50%, many people would very likely agree that humans have a biological impulse to be non-monogamous.

Monogamy was socially instilled in us as an incentive for people to get married and have offspring, once seen as a lucrative business deal amongst families of high wealth. When observed in the wild, it’s actually very rare in mammals-–less than 10% of mammal species are monogamous. 

Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle, shares that “Monogamy is invented for order and investment, but not necessarily because it's 'natural.'" Lifelong relationships can and do work for many people, but it isn’t necessarily our organic disposition.

Is it Healthy to be Polyamorous?

Polyamory is a non-monogamous relationship style where partners can mutually agree to have multiple sexual or romantic relationships. Often confused with polygamy, this concept has gained more and more traction in recent years.

Jennifer C. Martin, a writer in a polyamorous marriage with two children and two in-house partners, has been able to demonstrate to her children the boundlessness love can be, all the while maintaining a healthy home. Actively destigmatizing the practice, she’s had to undo a lot of shame coming from a conservative Christian background, sharing “When I came out as polyamorous, it was not well-received from my family at all.” Straying from the Evangelical Church and leaning into Progressive Christianity, she’s been able to make the dynamic work for everyone involved, maintain a spiritual connection, and have her needs actively fulfilled.

With that in mind, polyamorous relationships can be just as, if not more, happy and healthy as any other monogamous or non-monogamous relationship; however, because they involve multiple people, they can sometimes call for more honesty, communication, and care. The extra effort is most certainly worth it if it’s the relationship style you need, but you don’t have to go as extreme if you’re simply wanting to dip your toe into non-monogamy. Within your own relationship, you can both explore simple terms and conditions that open the relationship up while still protecting your sacred connection. There’s no one-size-fits-all all, nor no wrong way to do it.

Ultimately, we are complex creatures with a wide variety of desires and interests, and it’s impossible to think that one person could somehow meet them all. You must source some of that fulfillment from your relationship with yourself, nature, family, close friends, hobbies, and in some cases, other lovers. Polyamory provides a safe and structured space to practice sourcing love through multiple streams.

So, is Monogamy Possible?

Let’s land here: you’re not wrong for wanting monogamy. Geese form lifelong couples and virtually never mate with anyone except their partner. Red foxes are also monogamous, sharing their parental and hunting duties equally and remaining a unit until death.

Partnership always calls for compromise, but no matter what, there is a lover out there perfectly tailored to you, someone with aligned needs who won’t feel confined nor ostracized to meet your expectations. As long as you’re in a dynamic that makes you feel safe, passionate, and loved, and aren’t pressuring anyone else to do a dance that isn’t their own, live life on your own terms and by your own rules.

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