Recently my husband and I went on a double date. We met my friend Kate and her husband Bear, at a German Beer Hall. I hadn’t met Bear, and I always find meeting a friend’s partner interesting. Kate seemed to come to life in Bear’s presence. He is upbeat but sensible, she is witty and wildly imaginative. She is small and brunette, he is big and blond. They are a physical yin and yang. And even though there was plenty of room on the bench, they sat close, Kate in the nook of his arm.
Maybe it was the crowded hall or the oversized stein of beer, but I suddenly felt warm watching Kate pluck pommes frites from Bear’s plate. They are proof that monogamy is a valid option, and one that can be mindfully chosen with integrity.
I fully endorse monogamy, but my husband, Edmund, and I are not monogamous. And among the polyamorous, non-monogamous set, monogamy isn’t often talked about as a valid option. Maybe it’s because most people just fall into monogamy as a relationship default. But monogamy can be chosen, and in the beer hall, I remembered the days when Edmund and I chose it.
When we were first dating, we slept in a small twin bed. No matter which way one of us turned, there was the other’s body: face-to-face, head-to-chest, butt-to-butt (the latter of which is apparently called “zen style,” the more tasteful way to describe it).
One weekend morning, I woke up to a surprise: a new queen size bed had been delivered with fresh bedding and pillows.
“You know I ordered that bed for you,” Edmund likes to remind me.
This was when we were getting serious. We were becoming exclusive. He wanted to nurture our bond and he did so by making space for us to fall in love, a private space.
In those early days, I couldn’t have imagined fitting another person into our life. There wasn’t time for it. It seemed like days were lost in our new bed. Every moment was spent staring at each other, or when apart on the phone, saying “I love you” before we hung up (which is great until you accidentally say it to the boss, then you spend all non-boyfriend phone calls, half listening, half mentally reminding yourself don’t say “I love you”!) The eye-gazing adds up. It takes time to get to know another person, and by being monogamous we had a lot of time to devote to one and other, to understand how we fit together, to understand what kind of relationship would work for us.
When I asked Kate why she and Bear chose monogamy (this was big choice for her as well) here’s what she said:
“When you’re secure, you have all of this time. Time to get to know your partner really well. Time to get really, really good at having sex with them. Time to think about plenty of other stuff. When I was single, I was always looking. Like, a tenth of my brain would be looking for a potential partner while the rest of it was doing something else.”
In mine and Edmund’s relationship, building a foundation with monogamy made me secure. Being monogamous at first was a way to get a handle on jealousy, it was showing each other that we were committed. It was understanding how we both handled jealousy. It was building trust, so that later, we could shake the foundation up a little and still be okay. I don’t think being non-monogamous from the start would have worked, for us.
I understood when Kate said about Bear: “Love is an opening. But it closed an important door. Abruptly, for the first time in my life, I had no need to think about boys. It was simply gone. And the funny thing is, I didn’t even notice it happening.”
I felt this way for a long time, I just had no interest in anyone else. And being this way, I experienced another upside of monogamy, when this was the reality of mine and Edmund’s, our relationship was so easily accepted by society. People commented with “awwws” on our Facebook photos together. No one questioned the nature of our relationship. I never had to justify our love. Things were simpler.
In discussions of monogamy and non-monogamy, the advice often dispensed is that we shouldn’t enter into monogamous relationships if we don’t want them and that both partners should agree ahead of time on what is okay upon entering. It all sounds very rational. But, as in mine and Edmund’s case, it’s never that easy. Relationship dynamics can change. Monogamy can be fluid.
“You know, I don’t really consider us non-mongamous” my husband, said, when I told him what I was writing, “Yet, I don’t consider us monogamous either, both just sound so serious.”
I nodded. He said it better than I could. It feels weird that these two words sound so opposite, when they don’t feel that way in our relationship.
What makes our relationship complete is an open door between he and I, and a window, sometimes open sometimes closed, to others. It’s our yin and yang.
Staring back across the table, from under the nook of Bear’s arm, Kate said, “You two just make sense.”