We talk about the nature of relationships, of men, how love comes in different forms. Passion, she says, you can feel “for the worst man you ever met. But that has nothing to do with a deeper partnership. In such a one, passion stays, but more important is confidence, respect, knowing a man is not just loyal in a sex way, but that they will be there for you. That is more important than just fidelity.”‘
– taken from a 2010 Sunday Times article, quoting Monica Bellucci
I am monogamous. I have never cheated and I’ve never really even been tempted, but I don’t believe in monogamy. I know that sounds like a ridiculous paradox but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it seems to make sense to me.
I think this view is based on the fact that I’m not monogamous because of a moral choice. It isn’t really much of a choice at all. Once my attention is caught, other people just don’t make my stomach jump or get my heart racing in the same way anymore. Oh, I still love to look at the beautiful people around me and dream about what could happen, but the wondering is never strong enough to make me actually act. When I have a crush, I don’t recognise would-be suitors trying to catch my attention or notice flirtatious advances. I become a bit oblivious, and this subconscious blinkering persists even if I know that the object of my affection doesn’t feel the same way or deserve my attention. The blinding effect of a crush can last for years sometimes. When it’s unrequited, it feels a bit stupid and I’m really not certain if this makes my commitment to monogamy a virtue or a fault!
Because I am a big fan of unrequited loves and unacknowledged crushes, whether purposefully or not, I would fall for men who were inaccessible somehow – bosses, housemates, friends – and use this inaccessibility as an excuse to avoid acting on my feelings. I was content wallowing in the ‘what-if’ and amusing myself with imagined possibilities, because they are just so much fun. My fantasies have always been driven by entire stories, from chance meetings to first kisses and whatever I could imagine beyond, but these imaginings are never supposed to be real. Once ‘what-if’ starts straying into ‘could-be’ and might feasibly become a reality, I’m in danger. Then the excitement of possibility becomes a cold tendril of fear and anticipation becomes disappointment when it’s nothing like I imagined it would be.
I only once really gave in to believing the ‘could-be’ and this was the turning point that solidified my opinions on monogamy. I was in love with a man who already had a girlfriend and, no surprise, he broke my heart. I always knew that she existed but it didn’t seem change anything. Despite my misgivings, he managed to win me over. He still sought me out, still called me up. He led me to believe that he didn’t care for his girlfriend, that he didn’t love her, and I fell for the cliche. He would lie to her to spend time with me. He would come to me with his problems, and not her. He would place his head in my lap and let me play with his hair. He even drunkenly told me that he loved me.
But he never touched me. He made me feel loved, but we never even kissed. Describing this now as the person I am today, it looks hopelessly naive and I am ashamed by how I was taken in. Particularly as, while he wasn’t sleeping with me, I believed the ‘could-be’ and wasn’t looking for anyone else. He, on the other hand, could and does claim that he never cheated on his girlfriend. There was no sexual contact, no physical connection, no wrong doing in his eyes. I don’t know why I couldn’t see what was really happening, but I think it was because his words and actions suggested love, not lust. He didn’t want a casual fling. He let me believe that we were more important than that. This wasn’t sex, he didn’t want my body. He made me feel like he wanted me, that I made him happy, that we were worth it, and I was completely blindsided.
Afterwards, I tried to work out why I felt so betrayed and hurt, and I think a lot of it was shame that I had fallen so far that he was able to hurt me at all when I should have known better, and this was compounded by a dreadful anguish that maybe I had made the whole thing up. In the traditional sense of the word, he hadn’t cheated on me and didn’t owe me anything, but I felt like I had been deceived in a way that hurt much more than if he’d just lied, fucked around and left. It confirmed my nebulous opinions on the differences between non-monogamy and cheating, and how it is the deception that causes most of the pain. Despite our lack of defined relationship, my crush deceived me by letting me believe in possibilities that he had no intention of delivering, just as he definitely cheated on his girlfriend by lavishing his affection on other women, even if he kept his hands to himself.
So I find myself now in a strange position. My dedication to monogamy hasn’t changed – I’m still a one-man woman, almost whether I like it or not, but when the man that I’m falling for tells me that he can’t offer me the same assurances in return, I am unfazed. Instead, I am relieved by his honesty. It was quite refreshing. Anyway, monogamy suddenly felt like an incredible pressure. At a time when I was not yet certain exactly what he meant to me, agreeing to be everything for him seemed overwhelming. Knowing that he is fucking other people didn’t and doesn’t change how he makes me feel. It doesn’t change how happy he makes me, or how much I trust him, or how much fun I have with him.
Even more unexpectedly, I have found it liberating. I’m sure I’m not alone in having a crazy girl hiding in my subconscious who is constantly looking for drama where there is none, but I have been able to silence her by simply accepting that I’m not crazy and he may well be fucking that other girl, but that’s OK. It has made any possibility of irrational freaking out just…evaporate. I can only describe it by saying that it’s like there’s much less fear of loss because he can have what he wants and yet he still wants me. That is just so much hotter than wondering if he feels tied to me by a previous agreement and might stray if he could get away with it. I didn’t know it could be like this. I didn’t know *I* could be like this. I thought I would be jealous of having to share. I thought I would feel in competition, but I don’t. It’s really weird…
When I’ve talked about this with a few friends, they don’t understand. They look skeptical and imply that I’m justifying an untenable situation to avoid confrontation. One friend whose opinion I value broke my heart by saying outright that she is devastated that my self-esteem is so low that I would think this is all I deserve. She feels that entering a relationship knowing that I will be ‘cheated on’ is foolish and, in claiming that I’m happy about it, I am deceiving myself. I know they’re only looking out for me but their opinions are much harder to deal with than his position on monogamy as they make me feel bad about myself, which is exactly the opposite of how he makes me feel.
What I don’t think they realise is that my views on non-monogamy were not born out of my interactions with him, as they have feared, and I am not compromising myself for his sake. I cut out and kept the quote at the top of this post way back in 2010 because Monica Bellucci’s acceptance of Vincent Cassel’s supposed infidelity fascinated me. It highlighted the difference between passion and love, and reminded me of the quote from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being about how there are infinite women to sleep with but only one to sleep next to. I’ve also had fantasies for years of boyfriends who take long business trips, fuck a randomer and call to tell me all the details, to describe what they’ve done, but then come home to me.
I’ve also thought about my friends’ comments about self-esteem. Does it show low self-esteem that I don’t believe that I could be enough on my own? It might, but my self-esteem is currently so high that I’m starting to feel that I deserve a fall! 2015 has been freaking awesome so far. My job is fulfilling and exciting, my family is healthy and happy, and my involvement in Sinful Sunday and my marathon training, among other things, have given me an almost narcissistically strong body image. Do I feel so good about myself because of him, because he wants me? Or am I only able be with him, to share him, because I have confidence in myself? He may want or need more, but I can’t see this as a slight against me or a sign of inadequacy on my part. It doesn’t diminish what I do offer and who I am, and it seems arrogant to think I can do and be everything anyway. If I’m honest, I already think I’m kind of amazing in my own way and being with him only makes me feel better about myself.
So where does that leave me?
There is no doubt that monogamy remains the accepted cultural and social normality, and any variation from it seemingly needs to be justified. My saying that I don’t care about sexual fidelity, at least not in the way my friends do, is still controversial, but it makes sense to me right now.
Monogamy is easy for me, it’s neither a sacrifice or much of a statement of commitment. Sex with a new person fills me with anxiety and feelings of inadequacy so I don’t need or want new for the sake of being new. Yes, I am endlessly curious, but I can indulge in the ‘what-if’ without needing to go further. Besides, I know myself – I need confidence to explore, and I can’t get that from a random fuck. I appreciate that I am unusual in not needing the same kind of commitment in return but, for me, sexual fidelity doesn’t equal honesty, just as non-monogamy doesn’t equal disrespect. Fidelity is not loyalty or security, and that is all I want.
I am aware that I tend to look at life through rose-tinted spectacles but I hope that I have enough insight to see this clearly and rationally. I don’t know if I will always feel this way. I don’t know if I’ll always be happy to share, whether that means the good or bad times. I don’t know if I will need more. Equally, I don’t know if one day I’ll pass the crush blindness expiry date and want something new myself, and how that might change my outlook. I don’t know if I’m just becoming too cynical and shouldn’t expect monogamy to fail, but I do and I know I’d prefer honesty and mutual agreement.
I remain in awe of anyone who can make a monogamous relationship work, particularly over many years. It’s an extraordinary commitment and one that I cannot help but admire. Of course I’d prefer to be enough on my own. Everyone wants to be special, to be The One, but I am willing and happy to compromise as I don’t need sole possession to feel valued. It is the deception involved in cheating that hurts, so why not avoid the lies and make an agreement that works? I don’t want to be offered exclusivity just because that’s convention if it’s not an achievable promise.
I just want to feel good about myself, to feel needed, to be special, even if that is amongst others. I don’t want to be lied to or deceived and I don’t want to be led to believe or hope for pipe-dreams. I really do think that this is achievable without requiring the constraints of monogamy and that, by accepting that, I’m opening myself up to some pretty exciting possibilities.