Monogamy: Myths & Misconceptions
Many people never think to question or examine the idea of monogamy closely, simply accepting it as the "normal" way relationships are meant to be carried out. But conversations about what monogamy means are becoming more common as mainstream interest in consensual nonmonogamy grows.
It turns out that many widely held beliefs about monogamy are simply untrue or unrealistic. By learning about the myths and misconceptions around monogamy, you can make more informed decisions and form more realistic expectations about your relationships.
Myth: Monogamy is the only valid relationship option.
Reality: Many people practice ethical nonmonogamy or choose to be single, and their choice is just as valid as monogamy.
This myth relates to the concept of "compulsory monogamy," or the social mandate that everyone should seek a monogamous relationship, and that doing so is the path to fulfillment. Compulsory monogamy perpetuates the idea that monogamy is the "default" choice and any variation from this path is somehow deviant. These beliefs permeate many layers of our society, from how laws and institutions are structured, to the beliefs held by so many religious leaders, to the messages we receive from media and pop culture. These ideas are so ingrained that people who choose other relationship structures may face discrimination.
However, plenty of people feel monogamy is not the right choice for them. Some people may choose to be ethically nonmonogamous and engage in relationships with multiple partners, while others may identify as happily single.
Monogamy is simply not everyone's relationship ideal.
Myth: Monogamy has only one structure.
Reality: Monogamy is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It's a choose-your-own adventure!
You may have absorbed the idea over your lifetime that your ultimate goal should be to marry your true love, buy a house together, raise children and remain married until death. This set of predefined relationship benchmarks is referred to as the “relationship escalator.” Relationships that don't follow this script may be seen as unhealthy, uncommitted or otherwise undesirable.
Many people may find it difficult to wrap their head around other ways of structuring monogamy. They may feel pressure from friends, family or partners to stay on the escalator even when it doesn't feel right. By being aware of the relationship escalator, you can determine whether it is truly what you want, or if you were just taught that it was the only option.
Stepping off the relationship escalator allows you to make intentional choices about every aspect of a relationship. Despite any norms you've been led to accept, a successful and fulfilling monogamous relationship does not have to include marriage, child-rearing, cohabitation, sex or guaranteed longevity.
Instead of treating these elements as default parts of a successful relationship, you can choose to “opt in” to the parts that work for you. Maybe this looks like getting married, living together and having children. But maybe not.
Myth: A monogamous partner will fulfill all my needs.
Reality: It is unlikely that a single person can fulfill you in every way. Media and pop culture tell us over and over again the fairytale story of finding one true love who completes us. However, the chances of finding this “perfect” partner are slim, because nobody is perfect. Putting so many expectations on a single relationship can lead to disappointment when expectations are not met, and places excessive pressure on your partner to fulfill every need.
In reality, it is normal and healthy for needs to be met outside a primary romantic relationship. You may find fulfillment in relationships with friends and family, hobbies, your career or other personal goals. Waiting for a relationship that “completes” you may mean waiting for something that may never actually become reality.
Making monogamy work for you
Closely examining commonly held beliefs about monogamy can allow you to be more intentional about your relationships. You may be perfectly fine with monogamy that follows the relationship escalator—and that's great. However, if you are someone who has tried to fit in the monogamy box unsuccessfully before, realizing there are other options for relationships can be a revelation.
Even if you've been told otherwise your entire life, how you structure your relationships is entirely your choice. In a society that tells us so much about how relationships “should” be, creating relationships by actively choosing what's right for you can be an incredibly rewarding and empowering act.