“She’s great, but I can’t help but worry sometimes that I’m missing out on something. Like, is this it? How do I know?”
They had girlfriends—wonderful girlfriends, girlfriends they were deeply in love with and committed to, often for multiple years; girlfriends some of them are likely to marry one day.
I suspect they came to me with their doubts because of my sexual experience. I was the playboy—the slightly irresponsible friend who was perhaps a little too adventurous—who represented that “something” they couldn’t shake from the back of their minds.
And because of my experiences, because I had lived and seen the other side of those urges, perhaps they looked to me to allay their doubts and insecurities, to reassure them and tell them what they felt was justified (or unjustified), to say, “Yes, you should get out and experience more.” Or say, “No, are you crazy?”
They wanted to resolve the emotional paradox many young citizens of singledom face: the simultaneous need for comfort/stability as well as for newness/excitement.
Unfortunately, I was not of much help: I’d break it to them that girlfriend or not, the paradox doesn’t go away. Being single doesn’t fix your twitch for adventure; it just replaces it with periodic loneliness. A relationship doesn’t cure your loneliness, but replaces it with all of the necessary tedium and petty frustration that comes with getting so close to someone it can hurt.
I always felt a bit stupid answering these kinds of questions. Partly because it’s so personal a question—no matter how well I know a guy, I can never jump into his skin and understand exactly what he’s feeling.
But on top of that, I’ve never really been a monogamy superstar myself.
My first serious girlfriend of three-plus years was riddled with dysfunction and we broke up and got back as often as the weather changed. My second serious relationship of two years was quasi-monogamous at best, and by no means normal.
So what the hell do I know? I’ve never gotten it right, so how am I suppose to know what to say to these guys?
Stay with her, I would inevitably say. See where it goes. It’s not like single people are suddenly going to disappear. You can always be single later. But what you have now, that’s what’s rare.
For the last six years, I have been what most people would consider exceedingly promiscuous. According to statistics, I am in the 99th percentile in terms of lifetime sexual partners – a fact that will surely horrify my mother when she reads it (sorry mom).
According to some, a man who is promiscuous is permanently ruined for long-term fidelity. He’s been emotionally traumatized and ruined for commitment and intimacy; he secretly hates women; or he’s just conditioned himself to be too selfish to ever make the necessary compromises.
Meanwhile, the old pick up and man-o-sphere wisdom questions whether monogamy should even exist at all. At worst, they see it as a fool’s game where a man is merely taken advantage of and used for his resources. Others cite tenuous science or half-baked evolutionary psychological theories to support the idea that since monkeys fuck each other with reckless abandon, so should we.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t know to what degree monogamy is “natural” – how much of it is evolved in us biologically and how much of it has been socially constructed.
But that’s not really the point I’m here to make.
The point is that I think few people, including the people who make these sorts of extreme claims, have ever done a monogamous relationship “correctly.”
Show me someone who pontificates about monogamy, and I’ll show you someone who has probably failed at it miserably.
And I’m no exception. I’ve worried in the past whether I was “ruined” for a permanent commitment or not. My track record is pretty piss-poor.
I want kids and a family one day (not soon, but one day). And at some point, that requires creating a foundation with a loving relationship with one woman.
Yet as I got older and the body count continued to rise, I became a bit worried – maybe I’m just not wired to settle down; maybe my issues with intimacy and my constant need for excitement and new experience are too engrained in me.
This past year, for the first time in my life, I’ve entered into a monogamous relationship without that internal knee-jerk terror and the drama and blame that comes along with it.
I made life hell for my first two girlfriends before I would commit to them. But falling into this one has been relatively peaceful and dare I say joyful.
So as I venture back into commitment and calm my oats, I want to do it right this time: two high self-esteem, self aware people; open communication, no cheating or philandering, no over-dramatic break-ups, manipulation or proxy wars of passive aggression.
Just the mutual growth and pursuit of both partners’ happiness. And the minute that growth or happiness becomes unfeasible, a mutual acknowledgement that it will be over.
I want to do it right this time, for the first time. Even if it doesn’t work out, even if it fails spectacularly, I can look back and say: “I did that relationship the right way.”
And hopefully then, I’ll feel like I’m able to speak on it with some sort of pride and authority.
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