What Does it Mean to Be Monogamous?

I was reading my friend’s recent blog post (Question: Can being monogamish help you be monogamous?) and it inspired this post. Thanks Lo! 🙂

I think it is worth taking some power away from language at times, and in the case of “monogamy” and “monogamous,” it’s time to share the power. Why does the word hold so much weight and meaning and emotion? That’s obviously a long conversation that gets into religion, patriarchy, purity, virginity, etc. But why does it still have to hold that kind of weight?

We were talking with some friends recently about whether choosing to have a nonmonogamous or polyamorous relationship is actually devolving from monogamy- whether somehow we might be giving up an evolved aspiration to be monogamous. My response to that train of thought is generally: humans are rarely “monogamous,” and over the course of time that humans have been around, I don’t think our species has ever been largely monogamous. And yet the word remains and gets thrown around with so much importance.

In order to take away some of its power, I think it would be helpful to talk about monogamy in different ways. Here are some different definitions that I have read, heard of, thought of. Some of these overlap/mean the same thing:

-Monogamous: one sexual partner for life

-Socially monogamous: a couple presents as sexually/romantically/emotionally monogamous to their larger community but in practice has other partners, rules, boundaries, etc.

-Emotionally monogamous: a couple retains certain boundaries around their emotional and romantic connection, but leaves the door open for other sexual partners/encounters

-Sexually monogamous: a couple retains sexual exclusivity, although they may have leeway for developing deep emotional relationships with other people

-Serial monogamy: one sexual/romantic partner at a time

-Monogamish: a couple behaves monogamously most of the time, with exceptions given for certain behaviors/events (a once-a-year threesome, traveling out of town one night stand, etc.)

The interesting thing to me about the term “monogamish” (coined by Dan Savage) is that it offers the privileges of monogamy to couples and helps couples retain couple privilege while also allowing them to explore the expansiveness of nonmonogamy, albeit with many limitations. I don’t know how I feel about that privilege piece, from a macro perspective. It gives me a similar feeling as those who are bisexual and choose not to come out because, since they are partnered to someone of the opposite gender, don’t have to. To essentially practice nonmonogamy and yet retain the privileges of a monogamously presenting couple is troubling- when will we all realize how many of us don’t fit into the mainstream ideal of a lifelong Disney relationship? And when will nonmonogamy become more mainstream? Perhaps “monogamish” relationships are part of how nonmonogamy will enter the mainstream, though- maybe it’s just what the nonmonogamous community needs to become more respected and recognized. What do you think?

In terms of the question that my friend received on her blog- what do you think? Can practicing “a little” nonmonogamy help you stay monogamous? Is that even possible? Can you really consider yourself monogamous if you aren’t really practicing monogamy? I think this is where the term “social monogamy” is helpful, although I don’t really know 🙂

2 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to Be Monogamous?

  1. Being socially open about my perspectives is very important to me. The more people who stand up and dare to be a little different the better off we all become for that diversity. It doesn’t matter if your bi-sexual, gay, non-monogamous, atheist, or anything else considered “deviant”, stand up for what you practice, if for no other reason than to clear the air for people who might not be in a position to stand up for themselves.

  2. I like the addition that monogamous couples aren’t really actually monogamous when you look at the definition of monogamy, especially when we hold the word to such a high level of importance. I suppose in that light you could look at it similarly to virginity and the language around virginity.

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