How Do You Define Serial Monogamy?
The definition of serial monogamy in popular culture is the practice of having one mate at a time for a limited period of time, rather than having one partner over a lifetime as previous generations did. With the threat of sexually transmitted disease and the advent of practical birth control measures, serial monogamy feels like a safe alternative to dating multiple partners. The disadvantage, on the other hand, could be settling in with a less than ideal partner for the sake of convenience.
My Views on Serial Monogamy Then and Now
I recently ran across a never-published article that I wrote a few years ago, in the midst of my frustration over finding a good man. I was single and faithfully following dating advice, leaving (almost) no stone unturned, whether it was Match, eHarmony, and even a paid matchmaking service that I thought would yield results. What strikes me in reading the article now (other than the undercurrent of anger) is that I was manifesting a “scarcity” mindset about dating and the availability of good men. What this means is pretty obvious: I thought there were too few of them to go around, that all the good ones were taken, and this was my answer as to why I thought so many men were “off the market.”
Here is the article I wrote in August 2011, word for word:
Why Serial Monogamy is Ruining our Social Lives (and Chances for Lasting Love)
The more I know about dating, the more I dislike the notion of serial monogamy. But… monogamy is good, isn’t it? Certainly it is, under certain circumstances. But, what are we losing with this trend of instant relationships?
I am a single (read divorced and looking) woman who came of age during the era of Free Love, and a young adult during the Sexual Revolution (remember singles bars?), so I am no puritan. It seems to me that sexual liberation has come full-circle in many cases, however—how many couples do you know who are ensconced in what I like to refer to as “little marriages” right now? They believe in one partner at a time, which is admirable, but that partner is often settled upon with a very short interval between the first meeting and the U-Haul truck.
Has anyone considered the downside of serial monogamy, however? I will venture to do that on this page. So..what does serial monogamy provide us, and what are the repercussions?
Firstly, monogamy provides safety, and stability: you know who you will be dating Friday night, and you know where he or she has been lately so there’s not as much fear of catching some strange disease.
However, I believe that, in our haste to become monogamous, we choose quickly rather than wisely when settling on a mate. If it takes (as I believe) somewhere between 3 to 6 months to let down one’s guard and begin showing our true self, what happens when we find we are with a person who we do not like very much, e.g. he has annoying habits like picking his teeth, or she does not comprehend how she has any stake in the division of labor around the house? Well, this is where a decision must be made: does one stay on and live with these “quirks” and hope they’ll go away or get better, or does one move on and get involved with someone else?
This is tough—mostly we stay on because of the fear of jumping back into the dating pool, starting all over again and putting our hearts on the line once more, possibly finding no one even remotely interesting. After all, bird in the hand and all that…
But, what are the effects of serial monogamy on a wider scale? I believe there are several:
- The effect on single people looking for a mate: a large number of men and women who would have been available for dating are now siphoned off to short-term monogamous relationships (referred to in the personals as “LTRs”) and are, for all intents and purposes, off the market. Since there is then a perceived shortage of eligible people to date, we may tend to seize every opportunity as if it’s our last—leading us to settle down right away with anyone.
- The effect on our emotions: in getting involved with a person too soon, we “put our hearts out there.” After a few so-called LTRs, often we become delusioned when it doesn’t work out after we’ve dared to share our body and soul with the person we mistakenly thought was “the one.” We may close ourselves off just a little more each time, becoming less and less vulnerable to love the next time around.
- Serial monogamy is a trap—we may be missing out on that person who is just perfect for us, but we won’t know because we did not allow ourselves to date and meet many different people. If he or she is out there, we won’t know because we’re already “committed” to someone.
- Serial monogamy is not marriage. It may lead to marriage in some cases, but mostly it’s just an extended test drive. (Remember the old saying about not buying the milk if you can get it for free?) If you are in an LTR and hoping for it to magically turn into a permanent situation (with or without the ring and the dress), you may be disappointed; that’s all I’m saying.
- Since it is NOT marriage, serial monogamy doesn’t have the implied boundaries that marriage does. Either partner can always rationalize spending time with friends of the opposite sex as long as they doesn’t cross the “sleeping with” line—and this can very easily lead to an outside emotional attachment or an affair, which could destroy the relationship if the offender is caught (or confesses, in hopes that the offended party will either forgive the transgression, or initiate a breakup which would allow the offender to pursue another relationship).
What is the alternative to serial monogamy then?
Why Date at All?
All this dating advice aside, one of the best things I ever did for myself is JUST GIVE UP DATING for a while. This helped me to move beyond the need to have a man in my life at all times and just be comfortable with myself. The last year before I met my husband, I finally decided to quit trying so hard to meet someone. I found myself to be pretty good company and learned a lot in that time.
Sex 3.0: A Sexual Revolution Manual by Mr. J.J. RobertsHave Him at Hello: Confessions from 1,000 Guys About What Makes Them Fall in Love . . . Or Never Call BackI Can’t Believe I’m Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating
Getting Past a Scarcity Mentality in Dating
I don’t regret going through this stage because my post-divorce dating experiences made me who I am today, and I learned valuable lessons there. I subsequently came to realize that there are plenty of good men around, and just because I chose to be very selective and wait for the right one, didn’t mean there was a shortage. Whether or not a lot of men are “tied up” in LTRs (as I assert in my article), there are still a whole lot of unattached good men who are just waiting for you to notice them.
However, I do still believe in the concept of “Circular Dating,” because it can be invaluable for a woman who tends to “put all her eggs in one basket,” especially when obsessing over an ex who shows no interest in getting back together. In that case, it’s helpful to learn to date for dating’s sake and spend time with a variety of people, whether they are long-term material or not.
Other times, you may meet someone who you already know is the right person for you, and you don’t want to spend another minute with anyone else! Circular dating is a helpful tool you can use in specific instances but may not fit your situation. For me, it did help me get over a breakup and adjust my thinking about that person.
For the record, I am now in a happy relationship with a man who I reconnected with only a few short months after this article.