Less than a decade ago, this question itself would have sounded nuts. But today’s overwhelming onslaught of arguments in favor of nontraditional partnerships, polyamory, and casual sex makes me think I’m the crazy one for not wanting anyone but my damn partner.
I was raised incredibly liberally. (After all, I did just use the term “partner.”)
My mother came of age in the 60s and hit college at the dawn of the women’s rights movement and the sexual revolution. As such, I think she felt it imperative to make sure her daughter was comfortable in her own sexuality as well as properly informed. But maybe telling me what my dad’s cum tasted like at age seven or eight, along with numerous conversations about whether I was masturbating yet, went a liiiiitle too far in terms of instilling empowerment.
Assuming I should get down and dirty ASAP, I lost my virginity at 13 to a senior boy who also happened to be my “peer leader” (my high school’s version of a student teacher who, wait for it, educates freshman about how to put a condom on a banana, and other “life skills.”). One year later, I was off screwing several other dudes who were moderately older than me, culminating in an insanely complex tryst before I graduated high school with a guy who happened to be my guitar teacher. Gross.
The theme throughout all of these encounters was that I usually initiated them, despite the fact that they generally left me feeling horrendous, disembodied, and extremely depressed. Where on earth was my self-esteem in all of this? That’s a great question. Precisely what I’m working towards figuring out, like, right now, in therapy.
Cut to YEARS later -- I mean, over a decade of really horrible decisions -- where I finally grow a pair and start dating people I LIKE. I learned some self-respect, found a man who I took it SLOW with, and realized “Hey, wow, here’s someone who’s worth committing to.”
Up until this point I’d been monogamous in only one of my previous relationships and had no plan to commit to anyone. I assumed this just wasn’t something people did anymore -- and also: that I’d be a sucker to expect someone else would ever want to be monogamous with me.
Ingrained ideas and assumptions die slowly. And it’s taken me almost a year to completely overwrite my incredibly off-kilter M.O. with a much more secure and healthy (see also: honest) approach to attachment, relationships, and that terrifying phenomenon we call LOVE.
I’m thrilled to say I’ve arrived and it’s just as terrifyingly vulnerable as I thought it would be. However, it’s incredibly rewarding, meaningful, invigorating, and blah blah blah other people have written extensively lovelier verses that I can write about the power of a mutually enjoyable committed connection.
So can I rest easy now? Is everything fine? No, not at all.
Yes, my relationship status is stable and I’m definitely in it for the long haul. Yet I’m constantly inundated with questions about “Soooo are you guys exclusive?” “What TYPE of relationship are you in?”
What TYPE? YES I’m exclusive. WHY IS THIS NOT THE DEFAULT ASSUMPTION? Why do you assume that I’m OPEN or DTF or whatever the hell new acronym you’re going to create to accommodate something that doesn’t involve just being with one freaking person at a time? Do I need a ring on my finger to get the message across? A sign on my forehead that says “taken” “not interested” or “I have a boyfriend, end of conversation”?
I feel like my interest in being in a monogamous relationship isn’t only new and alien to me, it’s apparently totally contrary to what most people around me seem to believe is normal. (Granted, I did go to a college that encouraged hyper-individuality and boundary-stretching in terms of sexuality etc., so many of my current friends still endorse that philosophy. Plus, I live in New York City.)
I feel like a freak for not participating in the plethora of alternative lifestyles currently out there (all of which I totally respect and say, "Hey, if that’s your thing, go for it”). Maybe this is why I dream of moving to a small town where I can just lead a quieter life, raise kids, and have a simple job. Unlike some wild sexual scenario, this, of all things, is my super secret much coveted fantasy. Oops, now it’s out of the bag.
Now that I’ve found someone with whom I really do want to be exclusive, I just want to enjoy it, without expending so much effort parrying other people’s default assumptions that my relationship is somehow “open” or not as serious as I really want to take it.
I totally respect everyone else’s decisions and I strongly believe in the freedom of choice. Be with as many people as you want, world, I have no judgments about your preferences, predilections, or even what the psychiatric world might call perversions. Do what you want! But please, PLEASE, show me the same respect. Don’t demonize me for enjoying what used to be the status quo, when it clearly provides me the comfort, the boundaries, and the security I never knew growing up.