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Need Wood: Negotiating Monogamy


Hey, woody!

It seems that someone moved the goalposts.  When my boyfriend and I first met we agreed to have an open relationship.  We’ve been together for over a year now, have grown closer to each other, and moved in, but he wants us to be monogamous.  I, on the other hand, don’t want to do that, and don’t think I can ever return to a monogamous state.  How do we work it out between us?

—  Concerned Lover

Dear Concerned:

Relationships are not set in stone.  They’re set in cottage cheese.  If you think boyfriends moving goalposts after a year is a surprise, wait till you’ve been together for a longer time. You’ll be wondering where your boyfriend moved the field.

“True monogamy (in nature) is rare,” said Dr. Stephen T. Emlen of Cornell University, an expert on evolutionary behavior in an interview with the New York Times.

So if it’s “unnatural” why does society see it as a moral imperative?

My own experiences leave me questioning it. I “wandered” in my last long-term relationship. Shame and guilt followed me like shadows after every encounter. Were they the consequences of violating a moral law or a holdover of antiquated thinking?

Either way, I was left with an unanswered question:  How could I so deeply and profoundly love my partner and still have sex with other guys?

The answer’s obvious if you’re observant. Human beings are capable of experiencing two contradictory feelings at the same time and one does not negate the other. Maybe true love doesn’t prevent you from wanting casual sex. And maybe casual sex doesn’t diminish profound love.

There’s not much empirical or anecdotal evidence proving that monogamy is possible or even necessary for a relationship to thrive. Ask any long-term couple the top 5 reasons why they’re still together and none, I mean NONE, will say, “Because he’s sexually faithful to me.”

If sexual commitment is so unimportant in keeping couples together, why is fidelity considered so moral?

But I digress.  You want to know how to make it work. First, know that relationships require constant re-negotiating as people change. It’s the flux and flow of life. You guys are obviously in love with each other for reasons other than sexual fidelity. What are they?

Talk about the value systems you share, what you love about each other. From there you can make rules that work for both of you. Maybe you only play when you’re out of town. Maybe you only play when Woody’s in town. Who knows? Make up the rules and stick to them.

His change of mind is rooted in emotions, in a fear of loss and abandonment. He’d be more relaxed about monogamy if he sees that nothing will threaten the relationship. The problem is, you’ve got to convince him of that. The only way to figure it out is to talk it out.

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