not if you're with the right person

A couple people wrote blog posts, some emailed, and one commented that my “Is He a Cheater” assertion that “monogamy is hard” is wrong if (a) you’re with the right person and/or (b) you’re “oriented” toward monogamy.

I’m not even going to touch the “monogamy orientation” idea right now – suffice it to say that there is no such thing as “monogamy orientation,” except perhaps in such a loose conceptualization of either of those two words that no English-speaking human could disagree. Like, sometimes you’re only in love with one person; then monogamy is pretty easy. For some people.

For now, let’s just think about “the right person.” “The right person” implies that a single individual will, at all times and without exception, create an emotional environment in which no one else seems more appealing, or in which you are never tempted to retaliation, “seeing if you can get away with it,” or being beguiled by someone’s crush on you, or in which you feel so sexually satisfied that the idea of sex with someone else fills you eternally with blank indifference or active repugnance.

At its worst, the “not if you’re with the right person” argument can be turned into blaming your partner for your violation of their trust. “If you were more attentive…” or “If we had sex more often…” or, god forbid, “If you were more attractive…” are scofflaw excuses that attempt to make someone else responsible for something that you would otherwise have to feel ashamed of: the betrayal of trust with a person whom, in theory, you love and respect.

It is never your partner’s fault that you broke their trust. And it is never your fault that your partner broke your trust. Everyone always has a choice.

So when does monogamy become hard, even with “the right person”?

In any healthy relationship, there will be phases of close intimacy and communion and others of emotional distance. And if your need for intimacy at any given time happens to coincide with a phase of emotional distance in the relationships… then monogamy is not easy.

And in any relationship there may be people with insecure attachment styles, avoidant or anxious or disorganized, who try to manage distance by keeping their options open (avoidant) or never being able to say no, in case someone goes away, even if that someone is not your partner (anxious).

And in any relationship, there is the risk of getting trapped in a cycle of “zero-sum” thinking and conflict escalation that predicts relationship doom, making it easy to feel that other options are both available and appealing.

I think “not if you’re with the right person” is claimed by people who feel they are, or have been, with the right person. It’s a kind of “It’s easy for ME,” claim, without malice or judgment, just a calm, not to say smug, sense of, “Why would anyone need to look elsewhere if they’re in a good relationship?”

Good relationships have rough patches, and good relationships are simply fundamentally DIFFERENT from NEW relationships; they meet different needs. One does not necessarily preclude the other.

Monogamy is hard. It’s a choice, every day, every moment. It’s not the rightness of your partner but your own evolving sense of the role of your relationship in your life.

I’m not a monogamy advocate. It works for some people, not for others. But whether or not it works is not predicted by being with “the right person,” as though there’s a magical person who can eliminate your motivation for extra-dyadic sexual connection.

Just, ya know, for the record.