I got the nudge to ask my facebook community about serial monogamy, and boy am I glad I did.
Next week I'm hosting a 15 minute panel discussion called "What's to Love about Serial Monogamy?" and I thought I had ideas about this phenomenon--but then I read all your responses.
Serial monogamy is the phenomenon where you date one person at a time. You break up with the one to date the next one, with varying times between partners.
NOW--this phenomenon is absolutely surrounded with suffering.
1. There's scorn toward serial monogamists and their romantic fantasy that "This one is the one! For sure!" This type of serial monogamist is often super attached to a type of relationship (cohabitation, marriage and parenthood) and may find those agreements about trajectory to be more important than the traits of their partner or the feeling tone of the relationship. This dynamic is also the source of/sourced-in the idea that the fewer sexual partners you have, the better. It makes relationships VERY high-stakes, with people hesitant to enter them and instantly demanding commitment once they do.
2. And yet, despite garnering scorn in certain contexts, it's a way of enforcing norms that is so, well... normal, that it flies under most people's radar. The assumption is that good people are only dating one person at a time. If they're dating multiple people they might be cheating, but they're certainly devaluing their "primary" relationship by playing outside the relationship. If one relationship ends after a new one has begun, there's tones of abandonment or betrayal, the idea that the new relationship had something to do with ending the old one. This is partially that same ole' slut-shaming and partially projection/rescuing. People imagine that they wouldn't want to have a partner who was sleeping with someone other than them, and then project that onto others. People project the idea that good relationships do not end, and assume that there is a victim in the wake of every split. This is a form of toxic monogamy culture, and it's a way that non-mono relationships and non-mono people can be painted as "the bad guy," despite upholding ethical agreements.
3. Speaking of "the bad guy," serial monogamy makes it very convenient to point to a bad guy. This relationship would have worked if "the bad guy" didn't walk away, didn't cheat, tried harder. Serial monogamy often happens in the belief structure that following the rules is what makes a relationship last. That monogamous performance, sexual exclusivity, IS relationship, so anyone who maintains monogamy is maintaining relationship, and anyone who doesn't is destroying relationship. There's a degree of transactional entitlement in this too--that if we are "doing relationship right" then we are entitled to relationship with others.
4. Serial monogamous expectations/beliefs, i.e. the expectation that you should only date one person at a time, or the belief that how many people you're involved with is a sign of virtue/villainy, or that when you're in the right relationship you only desire that person--keep some of us in pits of shame, asking "what is wrong with me?"
People who feel desire outside their partnership but want to remain with their partner may think they're being unfair or wishy washy or they may question their real desire--"do I really want to be with this person if I'm having feelings for others? Feelings they should have a monopoly on creating within me?"
5. Serial monogamy is one of the ways that we train ourselves and each other to shame, ignore, and subvert our own desires. Which, ironically, makes the true monogamy we're aiming at* all but inaccessible. Think about it this way--if desire for others is completely off-limits, how do you know whether you're following the rules, avoiding something you fear, or you truly only desire to be with your partner? Some might say there is no difference, but folks like me wonder and worry over this.
(*I say the true monogamy we're aiming at is that our partner is the only object of our sexual desire--because it often hurts a monogamous person's feelings to hear that their partner desires someone other than them, even if they haven't acted on the desire, and a monogamous person often feels shame and doubt when they feel desire for someone other than their partner.)
So... what's to LOVE about serial monogamy? I think I have my work cut out for me here.
If you're wondering how we can cram life-changing insights into 15 short minutes, check out some of my prior Solvvs. This conversation is part of the "What's to Love?" series, and there have been some rich conversations so far.
I'm loving you,