What Does It Mean To Be Monogamous?

Monogamy, courtesy of Unsplash.com
photo courtesy of Unsplash.com
Is Monogamy Dead?

Just the other night, I was sitting outside on my front porch in the dark. It was 2 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep. So I snuck out to sin with my trusty cigarette. It took me a minute to realize that my neighbors were fighting outside, and very loudly. As much as I try not to be a nosey person, there are some things we just can’t help but hear.

They are a normal family by most accounts, but all couples have their problems. I distinctly heard the woman say that she had never felt so alone in all her life. I do not believe I heard much else beyond that statement. I became lost in thought about what she had said, and my mind wandered to all of the lonely places I had been in my own life.

I remember the feeling of loneliness being a prevalent part of my first marriage. In ways, it has started to become part of my current marriage. This does not seem to be an abnormal feeling for many couples in a committed relationship. 

The problems in my first marriage, as I’ve written about before, could be attributed to many things. When I sat and thought about what my neighbor had said I wondered if the root problem was not, more specifically, the loneliness I felt so often in that marriage.

My first husband was gone a lot for work, but I had plenty to keep me busy while he was gone. Strangely enough, I felt the loneliness more when he was home sleeping next to me. I felt it more as we stood in the kitchen together, the space between us filled with all of the things we could not say to one another. The dread I felt in being so reserved for all of the things we could not discuss was palpable.

I hate to admit this, but I always knew when he was seeing someone else. The feelings were overwhelming, and armed with the feeling, the detective in me was always able to get absolute proof. I collected evidence through his messenger accounts, or emails, or texts he had on his phone. The guy was never one to delete things, and he rarely thought to change a password. To be fair, I am generally not the snooping type, but I cannot help but investigate when things seem off kilter.

Instead of doing what most would assume was the norm, I would simply ask him if he had anything he needed to tell me. On occasion I would outright ask him if he was having an affair. He always denied my requests for openness and honesty, and I continued on in life, lonely. I neither grilled him relentlessly with the evidence I had, nor did I completely stay silent about it.  The only issue I truly had was his dishonesty about what he was doing. I wanted him to give that honesty willingly, and not because I tied him to a chair and tortured him like a stark raving lunatic for it.

For me, sex wasn’t so much the priority as forming a connection with another human being, and in doing so, honesty and openness was required. I believed that all things could be handled and maneuvered with honesty. He was young and didn’t understand unconditional love. I was young and was not cognizant of the truth that not everybody understood what unconditional love looked like.

In the end, the dishonesty is what finally ended our marriage. It was not the infidelity. This is something I have not often discussed with many people. This is mostly due to the fact that the few times I have expressed this to anyone, the reaction was not only total disbelief, but one of judgment, an unwelcome trespasser in my life.

The loneliness I felt through all of that was not due to his need to have sex with other women. It was because he was afraid to be honest with me about what he needed in life. In that way, he had disrespected the promise I had made to him to be committed to us, and the promise he had made to me to do the same. My belief was that if we could not be honest with each other, what was the point of being married at all?

Is it cheating if both parties in the union of marriage consent?

I’m sure we could all ask ourselves how many times we have wondered what life outside of our marriage would be like. This would be a more complicated process if we were to have to discuss the truth with someone outside of our own minds. There is a shame that comes with admitting that we lust for other people, things, better sex, etc. The pornography epidemic is likely glaring proof of this lust. Yet, in the privacy of our own thoughts, we are allowed to privately entertain them.

Sex is still a taboo topic in America. Couples have difficulty discussing intimacy issues in their own bedrooms, and all the while, each could be harboring a desire for something more. There is this belief that marriage has a set of rules carved in stone, and each who declares their love and commitment to one another must abide by them. Otherwise, they are destroying the sanctity of marriage.

Gay relationship
photo courtesy of unsplash.com
Until recently, our archaic ideas about love and marriage kept same-sex couples from marrying. Yet, it could be obvious to the outside viewer that some of these couples shared a love and commitment as deep and abiding as any straight couple might possess. What did gay or straight have to do with love anyway? It was this pervasive idea that marriage was only truly marriage if it was between a man and woman that kept the gay community trapped outside of the walls of the union of marriage. It was an idea that kept them on the outside looking in.

There have been so many rules assigned to what marriage is supposed to be. These stringent stipulations often seem to be a point of contention in an otherwise functioning commitment. Adherence to all of the rules seem to cause us all stress to some degree. The most obvious of these rules being that you cannot have sex with anyone else when you are married. This is cheating, after all. Is it cheating if both parties in the union of marriage consent?

I believe we are being dishonest with ourselves when we cling so tightly to monogamy. I  often wonder if our ideas of what love, sex, and marriage are supposed to look like has not been the murder weapon used to destroy the sacred bonds of human connection. This may sound “hippy dippy”, but it is a growing conversation. Open marriages are becoming more and more prevalent, and slowly, they are becoming more talked about.

The undeniable fact is that when we have been involved in a long-term relationship, the mystery and the fun can dwindle. The routine of everyday life can wear on us. Sex dries up and disappears for some couples, and at the very least, becomes a disconnected chore for those who are still fighting to hold on to the idea of monogamy. If monogamy is such an important part of marriage, why are so many people cheating and why is infidelity a cause for so many divorces? It seems the sanctity of marriage is being destroyed by the very ideas so many preach as being the benefits of the union.

Is monogamy actually about sex, or is it simply about being committed to a marriage with one person?


I do not believe that monogamy is dead, but by one definition of the term, I have already fucked up any chance of being considered monogamous. I have accomplished this through marriage, divorce, and re-marriage. I’m quite the harlot these days, and I would argue against that point if it were not the truth, by definition.

dictionary.com defines monogamy as:
1) Marriage with only one person at a time.
2)…the practice of having only one mate.
3) the practice of only marrying once during life.

There are various takes on this definition, and some that include sex itself and only one partner. However, I agree more with monogamy being defined as marriage to only one person at a time. Logically, it could be assumed that it is possible to be monogamous in a marriage, fully committed to that union, while also having sex outside of that marriage.

The obvious question for those in opposition to open marriage is, why get married at all if you want to have sex with someone else? It is a valid question, but I do not believe it is a valid argument. Marriage is not a cure all for human desires, and it also does not seal your desire to only one person for the rest of your days. Some could argue that this is true, but marriage means choosing that person over and over again. Indeed, but what does sleeping with someone else have to do with choosing your lifelong partner? How did these two ideas become mutually exclusive?

I realized along the way that the insecurities so deeply embedded in my relationship with my first husband stemmed more from him than from me. Just as he wanted the freedom to sleep with other people, I had wanted the same. I did not engage in anything outside of our marriage because I held one key belief in my desire to explore that he did not share. Out of respect for our marriage, I felt that those feelings and actions would have to be completely exposed and in the open.

In reading news articles and blog posts about open marriage over the last several years, I have started to speculate about the appeal of open marriage. To the casual observer it might seem as though the choice to have an open marriage is exclusively about sex. However, I have had to consider that maybe the appeal is the kind of honesty a marriage must contain in order to have an open marriage at all. This is the most emphasized rule between couples to ensure a successful and happy open marriage.

There may be something to this open marriage thing.

While I know that it is not possible for everyone, it does work for many who lead the “Open Marriage” lifestyle. These couples have not left their primary relationships, and most people engaged in this kind of commitment say it has renewed or strengthened it. It seems to be an understanding that there is deep love there, but life requires something more sometimes. Rather, these participating couples have opened their bedrooms to sexual relationships outside of the primary relationship. In that arrangement, they have also made the conscious choice to be honest and open in ways so many of us are not in our monogamous marriages.

Call it crazy, call it a hippie mentality, but I often wonder if humans are meant to be monogamous where sex is concerned. When I listen to, or read the reasons people have given for their feelings of loneliness in marriage, it rarely has to do with loathing the marriage itself. Or even the person they are married to. It is a lack of connection that causes the loneliness, and maybe it stems from all of the things we feel we cannot say to the person we are married to.

Perhaps choosing open marriage leads to a dialogue about what it is to be human, and what it means to love. Love and sexuality are hardly the same thing. So, why is open marriage destructive to love if both parties have accepted the open marriage in full understanding of their love? It would make more sense to believe that the lies some people tell, and the secrets some people keep in monogamous marriages would be the more destructive force.

Many couples in open marriages have said that opening the marriage renewed the sexual energy in their primary relationship.  It did not stifle it, but revived the sexual chemistry between two people. People involved with cheating partners have said the dishonesty and deceit all but destroyed the sexual chemistry in the relationship, if not the relationship itself. It stands to reason that the honesty required in open marriage breathes new life into the relationship. It is possible that it has less to do with the open sexuality, and more to do with openness in general.

Is it possible to have a happy marriage while openly having sex with someone other than our partner? There are plenty of couples out there that would eagerly say, “yes, it is.” To these couples, the argument that sexual intimacy outside of marriage destroys the marriage is preposterous. To say that would be to ascertain that the success of any marriage is strictly related to the success of the sexual intimacy in the relationship, and successfully married people know better.

There are many things required in marriage to keep it working. Minimizing a successful marriage to nothing more than success in the bedroom is likely a mistake. Attributing the destruction of a marriage to something as trivial as outside sex is presumptive. Often, marriages riddled with affairs ended for the root issues brought to light through the affairs, and not the affairs themselves. Open marriage is not the same as infidelity in my book. Those couples are likely having way more open and honest conversations than the rest of us are.

Monogamy is not dead, but is the expectation that marriage should be only one person for everything for the rest of our lives what leads us to lie to our partners? I wonder if this belief is what leads so many of us to infidelity. It makes me wonder if it is worth it to explore this idea of what marriage truly is, and the importance of being completely honest.

If a relationship were to start in complete honesty, would it arrive at the crossroads of needing openness sexually? This is an experiment I am conducting in my current marriage. I figure that I got it all wrong the first time around, and adjustments needed to be made. I have practiced this honesty from day one. Complete honesty comes with its own challenges, but I can say that the loneliness I have felt at times in this newer relationship has been short lived and fleeting thus far. Maybe it is because I have chosen honesty at all costs.

It is possible that marriage is not a prescribed set of ideas that we all must adhere to. Maybe it is simply a commitment to love unconditionally, and do life with one person. The rules and structure are at the sole discretion of the two people involved in the marriage. Perhaps pure and uncorrupted honesty is what it truly means to be monogamous.





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