Q: Would you write something nice about monogamy? I never hear anybody in the gay community say anything positive about it. My partner and I have been monogamous for a little over three years. Once in a while we still like to hang out at the bar where we met. Sometimes when we’re there, if I tell anyone we’re monogamous, they roll their eyes skeptically or say things like “Well, that won’t last.” Just six months after we met some of my friends were saying things like, “Well, I guess by now the sex is winding down.” Actually, it’s still great, but some people just don’t want to hear that. Some guys think I’m lying when I say we only have sex with each other. They say that gay men can’t be exclusive with their partners, so eventually we’re going to have to start lying to each other or accept reality and have an open relationship. We’re both surprised that we’re getting this kind of reaction. I’m willing to live and let live, and I don’t give other people unsolicited opinions about how to do their relationships. I know that monogamy isn’t for everyone, but it works for me. In fact, it’s the only way I can be in a relationship.
A: I’d be happy to say something nice about monogamy. The debate in our community over open versus monogamous relationships is a hot button issue that seems very difficult to discuss calmly, without making global assertions about how “everyone” is or ought to be, and without ad hominem attacks on those with different points of views. So, for instance, we hear that gay men in open relationships are sexually addicted, immature people who are afraid of commitment or real intimacy; and we hear that guys who prefer monogamy are lying; or that they’re insecure and possessive, and are mindlessly trying to ape heterosexual norms.
We of all people, ought to be the ones who understand best that there is more than one way to skin the cat, sexually speaking. Over the past twenty-five years of counseling gay men and gay couples, I’ve seen every kind of open relationship “work” for some people, and I’ve also seen couples live quite happily together for up to twenty years or more in monogamy. This isn’t a question of what way is “right” or who’s “better.” It’s always about finding the way of life that works best for you. I’ve seen many men suffer terribly in open relationships in order to stay with a partner, when they’re just not temperamentally suited for that kind of arrangement; and I’ve watched others struggle against feeling suffocated and straitjacketed in monogamous commitments because they believe that’s what they “ought” to do.
I don’t agree with the assertion that monogamy is not a viable option for any gay men. I know that some do argue that no gay man can be monogamous and that anyone who tries to live up to this impossible ideal inevitably becomes a liar. This assertion can’t be falsified, since anyone who claims to be monogamous can be told either “you’re lying” or “it won’t last.” This is a special instance of “confirmation bias” — once we’re strongly committed to a point of view, it’s very difficult to see any evidence which contradicts it.
Is monogamy “boring”? Well, for some people, yes. But there are couples who have been monogamous for many years, and have weathered crises and achieved a depth of connection that is anything but boring. Men who prefer monogamy but have also been in open relationships consistently tell me that, in their experience, their monogamous relationships have a deeper level of intimacy. One man told me, “It’s all about commitment. Since we’re just focused on each other, when we have problems we can’t distract ourselves with outside involvements. We have to hang in there and work on it.” Knowing that he has a partnership in which both have “forsaken all others” and are committed to hanging in there through good times and bad makes his relationship a refuge of safety, love and comfort in the midst of the uncertainties of life. For him, that is something very nice about monogamy.