This is My Mating Call!
defining love and relationships.
I was wondering what were your thoughts on monogamy. I've been with someone for 8 months and he doesn't feel like he can be exclusive with me, although he's not seeing anyone else currently. Sex and love are separate things, for him. We have a deep emotional connection, love each other, and have gone through quite a lot together. Yet when I asked him to at least let me know if he ever does anything with anyone else, he feels like I'm actually not entitled to ask that, his sex life is his, but he agreed to it. Do you think being exclusive=being in a relationship? I wonder if having such different views of love is an irreparable issue between us
When I was 20 I met a guy. My friends all over the nation are booing me they have heard this story many times. If you have read my work before you might not know it but you have heard this one too because I write about it a lot. Anyway, let’s get back to the story.
When I was 20 I met a guy. I was 6 months single which had felt like a decently long stretch of time at that age. I downloaded a dating app, the logical thing to do for any twenty-something in this position, and such the world opened for me. On a Tuesday in October when summer was bleeding into fall, we met at my apartment for the first time. I thought it would be something casual, but I was entirely wrong. We immediately made ourselves vulnerable with each other, sharing stories of ways our lives had changed, our gnawing insecurities, everything you’d never tell someone the first time you met. After about two hours of talking there was a rapport between us I had never felt before. He was much different than my last boyfriend which, at that time, was what I was hoping for. He never interrupted me, he disagreed with me without belittling me, he was attentive when I spoke, he made me feel smart and seen which was really all I had ever wanted. Then he said he was not looking for a relationship. I rejoiced, neither was I. We were together for a little over a year and a half. Although during our first meeting our interests were aligned I was not immune to time, which always changes everything. To put it simply the longer we were together the more different our interest in commitment became.
This question, though disguised as one, is really two. The first being, is monogamy the only means of a relationship? Second, do I think your varying definitions of love will allow your relationship to prosper? Before I give either of my answers I think it’s important to acknowledge the bias I have. This relationship I am about to speak of was difficult, cruel, and often exhausting. While at times it was also enlightening, uplifting, and profound. My answers on this subject are skewed as always but perhaps more than normal because of this.
When we think of relationships it’s easy to jump immediately to monogamy. At times the idea of obligations, boundaries, and even social contract seems to create a sense of morale with which there is a kind of protection and security we can rely on. We know that when we decide to become exclusive with someone we might grow to feel we can share things we might not have before. There’s an idea of commitment even to the embarrassing or sad difficult stories we have to tell. The idea of monogamy often fought against, I believe, is the idea we place on what this all means. The desire to be outside something socially rigid and somewhat decided is a natural consequence of putting one name to an entire spectrum of ideas.
Of course, life is up for our interpretation. We are allowed to decide in even the smallest detail what things mean to us, even institutes such as these. A relationship, in any capacity, bridges two lives together. It is a connection and a place of meeting and understanding. We get to decide where we build this bridge, where it starts, where it meets, and where it ends. Sometimes this happens more easily without our needing to say anything. We understand which friends we can go to in crisis and which friends we go to bars with. When I think of relationships, the word itself, the idea of exclusivity is not what comes to mind because relationships do not exist purely in the context of romance. And even when they do there are infinite ways two people can function together which fulfill this need for romance and love. To define it singularly would suggest that everyone is the same, comes from the same places, and has the same story, when indeed we know this to be false.
The same man I was seeing once told me we were in a relationship. I understood what he meant because part of closing the gap was the language we formed in talking about each other. We were not a couple but to know him was to be in a relationship with him by some means. We had a deep connection, we cared about each other. We defined our relationship as a promise we were going to do the best we could to be good to one another even if we weren’t technically obliged to be. We got angry with each other and we apologized. We problem-solved our relationship as we went. We slept at each other’s apartments. We met up regularly. We shared glasses of water. All of this qualified and was our own doing and defining. He was not my boyfriend. No, relationships do not start and end with monogamy.
As my ideas changed. As I was single longer and getting older and finding that our emotional connection was strong a piece of me desired exclusivity. We’d go through periods where we’d admit that we were not seeing anyone else. Then we’d go through periods where he was seeing people but I wasn’t. I have a heart which naturally leans towards monogamy. To even have a crush on someone gives my heart a singular line of sight. It didn’t bother me when he did but I did more enjoy our time when I knew it was just us. In an attempt to reconcile his feelings on relationships and love, his feeling being: relationships were not for him and he had never been in love, I found myself compromising my own ideas in order to fit him in my life better. There was a clear power dynamic between us which leaned towards him more than me and for that reason, I began to question my own ideals. He denied me plenty of things. He didn’t take me out on dates. He never met my friends. I never met his. I told myself I could be fun and think outside the box. I let our relationship be something untraditional even though it was obvious I was living it traditionally. I was devoted even when I was asked not to be. It felt better to sacrifice myself than to have no one at all.
This is not to say that your particular relationship exists in the same capacity. I myself have seen open relationships or various forms of non-monogamy work well and empower couples. One thing I noted to be a great start is you know so much about the boundaries of your partner’s feelings of where you stood. I know, however, I don’t have all the facts. I am assuming so much only because, as I said, I have been somewhere kinda similar. My questions lie with you. Are you also going to be seeing other people? Do you have the same freedoms? How did it feel that this person decided you were not entitled to something you believed you had a right to know? All of these are important factors because while I know nonmonogamy can exist, everyone who I have seen it work well for was on precisely the same page about everything else.
Really I think my weariness comes from the fact that you both see love differently. Even in relationships where you are exclusive, having different ideas about this foundational force can prove to be difficult. We start to resent people because we don’t get what they mean. It’s like speaking two different languages with the same root. There’s a sense of some understanding but so much is clearly missed. When this is the case it’s important to decide what you need to feel loved and to communicate to each other these aspects and make a conscious choice to deliver these to each other. Otherwise, the relationship itself can be fulfilling for a while but eventually, it is difficult to ignore the fact that though we have something we want, it doesn’t give us what we need. Desire is hard in this way, it’s hard to feed it, but something I have learned is that our own desires are equally as important as the people we are with. We cannot sacrifice one for the other.
You could easily argue both sides, you could find someone who hates monogamy who could dip the bias the other way. You could find someone who has experienced the joy of monogamy and nonmonogamy who could balance the scales. I suppose though (to set all circumstances aside and to look at love as the force that it is, to look at the themes of desire and connection, what it takes, what is irreparable) I would say don’t look at your partner right now, look at you. What are the things you need to feel love and devoted to even if you are in a relationship that is not exclusive? Make a list of what you want, mark the things you can’t live without. Sit down and truly define for yourself what it means to be loved and decide if this person and relationship can give you what you long for because you deserve at least that. We talked enough about defining things and I know how your partner feels but I would love to know how you feel and what relationships and love mean to you. It takes a kind of bravery to do this, but I know you have it in you. I remember the first time I ever defined what it meant to say I love you. It was to the very man who could not commit to me the day we broke up. I told him it meant I cared for him deeply, but knew our relationship would never work.
The harsh truth is you can go through so much with someone and connect with them deeply but they can still not be right for you. This is not a failure. This is proof that connection is something you make, it isn’t born or assigned at random. To lose someone who isn’t right for you is not so much a loss at all, but a moment of realization where you are stepping into the world and deciding you can exist as you are and deserve to be met with what you need. Or else, love is a force that when collaborated on can decide that though you might not have pictured this lifestyle for yourself, it is one which opens you, fulfills you, and makes you happy in a way you didn’t expect.
On the day we broke up we were sitting on a patio. It was the last Thursday of August, so to say the last Thursday of summer. We said a lot of things to each other out of kindness and care with the idea that by saying how we felt and what we meant we’d provide the means to move on from this place. There was an obligation to send us on our way with the right supplies I suppose. Toward the end of our conversation, he said, “you know, you just weren’t the girl for me.” Sometimes it’s that simple. Our lives are incompatible, our ideas, and that doesn’t change the beautiful fact that despite everything we tried very hard to be good. Even if we were sometimes very bad. This relationship was not a failure, but a beginning. I learned so much of what it meant to love someone. When I left there I want to say I was sad but it took a little while to fully set in. Instead, I felt a kind of happiness that comes when you are suddenly allowed to get what you had been so long denied. To announce a kind of mating call: Here is what love means to me! And to wait in the silence to see who calls back.
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