When You Simply Can’t Be Monogamous

This breakup has to count for something. Our relationship was beautiful but our underlying incompatibility — his preference for monogamy and my inability to do it — was recognized by both of us over a year ago. If we had decided then to kindly, peacefully end things, it would have spared us months of heartbreak, this horrible back-and-forth, this tug-of-war between different approaches to dating.

Neither of us is wrong. Neither of us “won.” We both lost here. We wanted different relationships and pretended we could be satisfied with one that didn’t suit us. 

In the aftermath, I’ve been driving around L.A. feeling lost. What an awful city to be sad in. Los Angeles is filled with dizzying glamour that demands happiness. But I’m not happy. I’m guilty and brokenhearted over a relationship that I knew had no real future.

I left him on the East Coast in our small Southern city on the bottom right tip of the country. I am thousands of miles away from him, but if you folded America over, I could drop back into our little backyard, walk into the apartment we shared, and tell him I’m sorry, I love him, and I’m ready to fix things. But it would be a wasted effort — there is nothing to fix. He wants monogamy, and I can’t do that anymore.

I thought I could be monogamous at the beginning of our relationship, and monogamy was far from our biggest risk factor. When we met, I was graduating from college soon and he had just transferred to the school and would be a student for two more years. We knew there would be a significant period of time that he’d still be in school and I’d be out of it, and we assumed we would separate then. The promise of those first romantic weeks was that this relationship was temporary. But that’s not what happened. I graduated and found a job nearby. We moved in together. We stayed together.

He was easy to love. He was understanding and sensitive and a good listener. What a valuable characteristic that is — someone who waits for you to finish speaking and hears what you have to say. That will be a requirement of men going forward.

In time, I realized that I wanted more sexual freedom — the same realization I’ve come to in every relationship — so we made compromises. We agreed to only play together with occasional thirds. We were what Dan Savage calls “monogamish.” And that was enough for me until it wasn’t. I don’t remember when it stopped being enough, but as soon as I felt dissatisfied, I started complaining. Then I was badgering, bullying, and starting fights. My job in L.A. came almost as a relief — at least it would stop the arguing.

A few months later, he called me on the phone. As soon as I answered, he said, “Alex, I want us to break up.” And so began a really rough period for me. I’m not doing well. I was looking forward to going home, running into his arms, kissing him, and telling him I’ll stay. At this moment, that feels true. But I know I would eventually get dissatisfied again, start complaining again, and we’d be back where we were. I know he made the right decision for both of us.

Someone who wants monogamy can’t build a relationship with someone who does not. I should’ve known it’d be a dealbreaker. And I think I did know. All those months ago, I think we both knew. And we ignored it, as couples do, to spare ourselves the pain of losing each other. It’s really not fair. It’s sad that you have to lose someone you love in order to get the sex and freedom you want. But sex and freedom won, and I think they will always win, and should always win. it’s time for me to own that.

How many couples have been in this position? I think many gay men find themselves in relationships like ours and either become bitter or simply resign themselves to something that feels inadequate. He wasn’t inadequate, but our rules were, and changing them amounted to changing him. And that’s something you can’t do. You can’t rewrite someone’s comfort or core needs. His core need was sexual exclusivity and I can’t give that.

Mon-monogamy defines a range of relationships — a grey area between completely monogamous and completely open (“open” defining relationships in which both partners are free to have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want, with or without the other person’s knowledge). “Open” isn’t scary to me, but many people consider open relationships too threatening. This is why most gay men I know are somewhere between the two — “monogamish” — and fall somewhere on the non-monogamous spectrum.

Technically, that’s where we were. But I wanted something closer to the “open” end, and he wanted something closer to the “monogamous” end, and we argued endlessly over the details — about when it was OK to go home with someone together, and how often, and where. We were incompatable over slightly different versions of non-monogamy. That’s all it took — that’s all it takes to not work.

I’ve been in this situation before. All my relationships to date have been monogamous —  this was just the first one in which I accepted that monogamy isn’t for me. The concept of monogamy is rooted in patriarchal religion, oppression of women, and the formation of families as “ideal” economic units. I don’t really want anything to do with all that. The doctrine of monogamy ignores basic biological needs and demands self-denial.

Being part of the LGBTQ community means being part of a culture that has always rejected traditional, heterocentric constructs and I want to enjoy that. After talking to non-monogamous couples, it’s clear that their relationshps are not without pitfalls. Jealousy is a human emotion that everyone feels. But non-monogamous relationships require good communication, and good communication is how you tackle jealousy — along with all the other problems that arise. So while non-monogamy isn’t without difficulties, it fosters the kind of free, open dialogue to overcome them.

If humans were made for monogamy, it would come naturally to us and we’d have an easier time doing it. Instead, the divorce rate is so monumental that we anticipate failure. The dialogue our culture churns out surrounding relationships — from pop songs to reality TV — is filled with angry breakups, cheating, dishonesty, and lies. We are bombarded daily with the bogeyman of the “other woman” or the “other man.” We live our love lives threatened by the possibility that the person we care about is lying to us. None of this is healthy and is not what love is meant to be like. We’re meant to be happy together. Monogamy is failing us.

I’m hurt — and he’s hurt — because we attempted a relationship that placed monogamy as the ideal, and our rules — his rules — disallowed us to stray too far from it. But monogamy is not ideal, and culture proves this. I can’t list how many breakups I’ve witnessed as a result of cheating. Some of these relationships were very beautiful and the men in them would still be happy together if they allowed for the reality that sometimes you need sex with someone else.

Instead, these men will likely repeat this sad story over and over until they realize we’re not made for sexual exclusivity. You can commit your heart to one person, but you can’t commit your body. Desire doesn’t work like that.

I still love my ex. I miss his hair on his neck and how it feels to hold him. I can’t believe I’ll never feel his body against mine again. But our relationship is over and I know it needs to be over. If you find that you simply can’t be monogamous, stop trying to do it — kindly end the monogamous relationship you’re in — and explore other possibilities. It’s the only way to move forward.

Love, Beastly

 

Above: Next time you’re in L.A., visit Faultline, the city’s most famous leather bar. 

11 Comments

  1. I LOVE this article. Very thoughtful. Much of what I read applies to me and the love of my life. Me and the love of my life broke up almost 2 years ago after being together for 20 years. It was in large part because of how we mishandled our open relationship and left each other feeling unvalued (even though the opposite was and is true). Thankfully, although we are not an official couple, we are very very close and we are a work in progress. I will take away many things from this article going forward and hopefully have the opportunity to apply them to a new and better version of our love . #insightful #empathic #manythanks

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  2. Love your work, but I have a few comments. what about monogamous animals? You can’t really invalidate something that exists in nature. I don’t prefer either or (monogamy that is) but the tone of both examples you use, said individuals validate their non monogamy by pejoritizing monogamy and stating that it’s archaic and unfulfilling (my own generalization of what is being said). My point is if you’re(not you specifically) horny, go have sex, if you’re in a relationship but want to have sex with other people then discuss it with your partner and if you don’t agree then separate or debate the pros and cons of said relationship. But to say that monogamy is a detriment or hindrance to the gay experience seems ludicrous.

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  3. Love your work, but I have a couple comments. First things is that monogamy exist in animals other than humans so it doesn’t really make sense to call it an archaic system of the patriarchy(put in my own words) as stated by your two examples. To me be monogamous or to have open relationships seems like something up to the individuals, but to pejoratize monogamous relationships as a hinderance to the gay experience sort of seems ludicrous.

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    1. I absolutely do believe that monogmous relationships are a hinderance not just to the gay experience but to the entire experience of beign human. Many animals mate for life, that’s true, but if we’re speaking about homo sapiens, our closest animal relatvies are chimps and bonobos — two of the most promiscuous and aggressively sexual animals on earth. While it might be misleaing and ill-stated to say that all of nature points to promiscuity and nonmonogamy, it is absolutely accurate to say that monogamy is not natural or ideal for our species. We aren’t dolphins or geese (two animals that popularly mate for life). Chimps gang-rape each other and so do we.

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  4. Beautiful article, so much so, I actually hurt with you. For me, it was a lack of self-confidence. In college, I was with a really nice, very handsome man, and I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t believe he would want to be with me, so I sabotaged the relationship. I’m currently in a 20 year relationship, and we recently, occasionally invite a third, and it works as long as we’re very clear with each other. I hope you find what you’re looking for…

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  5. I really lile your writing work, but :
    An open relationship might not sound all that bad in theory, and maybe you think it might not be a bad idea to spread your dating wings a little without being tied to one person. In reality, open relationships are not the real deal and not worth it, no matter how much you try to put a positive spin on them. Open relationships are like taking back a cheater over and over again.From the moment when he‘s sleeping with someone else is not your boyfriend anymore, it‘s public property.
    If you want to explore options that are out there, it hints that something’s not working. If the relationship really meant something to you, you’d want to fix it. And no, sleeping around with other people isn’t a remedy for relationship problems – and it won’t bring back the spark. Sadly, if it does work for you, then maybe there wasn’t much of a relationship there in the first place. In a healthy relationship in which both partners are committed to each other, opening the front door for other people to enter is a sure way to send the relationship out the back door

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    1. Well, I respectfully disagree. I base my views purely of scientific data, and all animals close to humans along with humans themselves are not evolved for monogamy. Our closest relatives are chimps and bonobos, both which rape and screw year-round with many partners — and male human testes are bigger than both of these close cousins’. I do not believe monogamous relationships are ideal or even natural.

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    1. We are a very evolved ape, yes. We are one teensy evolutionary leap past chimps and bonobos, and for most of the 200,000 years we’ve been on the planet, we’ve behaved with all the savagery, promiscuity, and downright rapeyness of our ape cousins. And we’ve been just as disinclined to monogamy since the advent of civilization, despite religion and agriculture’s best efforts to make us otherwise. So, yes, we are highly evolved monkeys, and our sexual, animalistic impulses are much like theirs.

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  6. I think everyone who ever journeyed from monogamy towards ethical non-monogamy will recognise a lot of wisdom and self-reflection (gained the hard way) in this blog-post.
    In just a few lines you cover personal experience, different concepts of bonding and you include a perspective regarding LGBTQ-lifestyle.
    And everythig in a calm an non-obtrusive phrasing. Thank you. You are an asset to the community.

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