“Some day my prince will come Some day we’ll meet again And away to his castle we’ll go To be happy forever I know” ~Some Day My Prince Will Come, by Frank Churchill and Lorey Morey, from the Walt Disney Movie “Snow White”.
The alure of the One True Love. The promise of the perfect Prince (or Princess). The Mythology of Monogamy.
Monogamy has many great aspects to it: a sense of security, continuity, that deep-felt knowing you develop with a partner over years of dancing thru life together. However, there’s a shadow side to it too. Monogamy has fed into the consumer society of today and has also become complicit with the Myth of The One. When that Monogamy Myth is challenged- be it through cheating, a breakup, or the opening of a relationship- an internal struggle can ensue as we attempt to reconcile the new reality with the fantasy we’ve held. That struggle can result in feelings of shame, an experience of being emotionally frozen. It might interrupt our flow of communication with our loved ones, and it can lead to unconsciously self-sabotaging actions within our relationships.
I call this struggle The Monogamy Hangover.
Even years into exploring open relationships, lingering notions and assumptions can crop up in the ways we are approaching our non-monogamous relationships. Sometimes they are internal dialogues, never spoken out loud. Or, they might appear in the ways we start to interact with our partners.
When this happens, it can be jarring. It can feel like a friction emerging from the inside of our being: the outer form of things does not match the internalised societal programming, and therefore we might act from spite, anger, or jealousy. Or, paralyzed by shame and self-judgement, we might suddenly change from being very present and forthcoming, to absent, reticent, even fearful. Our partners may be perplexed by our actions, and they may feel pushed away by the Monogamy Hangover that threatens to destabilize a relationship they were embracing.
With deeply ingrained patterns around how we relate to relating, what are the mythologies and beliefs that can lead to a Monogamy Hangover?
- Belief in The One:
- “If I’m not their ‘one’ someone else might be.”
- “Their connection with their other partner is so strong, they must be soul mates.”
- The Two Headed Monster
- “We have to do everything together.”
- “If we are doing things differently or disagree on things we can’t be together.”
- “If I want this thing, my partner will also want this thing, naturally.”
- “If my partner wants this thing, I better also want this thing.”
- Insecurity with being alone.
- “I can’t survive without you.”
- “I haven’t seen/talked to you in a few days, something must be wrong in our relationship.”
- The Relationship Escalator
- “Our emotional connection is so strong, now we are on a relationship escalator together!”
- Emotional Labor as a marker of Relationship Health
- “My partner will do Emotional Labor for me if they love me/I have to do Emotional Labor for my partner to demonstrate my love.”
- Personal Value tied to Relationship
- “Who I am as a person will be reflected by the way my partner behaves.”
- “Whatever is true now has to always be true or everything is over.”
- Expectation of Telepathy.
- “I don’t have to express what I want, my partner should know what I want.”
- “If I have to ask for something my partner isn’t already doing for me then I’m being selfish and unreasonable.”
- Sex as Primary.
- “A healthy relationship is based on lots of sex.”
- “If we aren’t having sex then something’s wrong, or the relationship isn’t worth it or isn’t working.”
- “My partner has to do things for me, that’s part of partnership”
- “I need my partner to survive, without them I feel like I’m nothing.”
- “If I admit to a mistake my partner will stop loving me.”
Recovering from the Monogamous Mythology
When we’ve grown so used to having someone else around us all the time, we go through a process of withdrawal before we can begin to find comfort in it.
The expectation that an emotionally connected relationship must mean taking the relationship escalator- and, in polyamory, the assumption of being on a relationship escalator with all poly partners- can sabotage us from experiencing what’s authentic and true for each individual relationship we experience. In the aftermath of waking up from a piece of the myth, we might try to grip tighter to the other aspects of the myth, as our minds struggle to reconcile the new sober story with the old intoxicating paradigms.
Recovering from the Monogamy Hangover means sobering up to greater self-responsibility and autonomy. It involves recognising our expectations around emotional labor (both what we do for, and what we ask of, our partners and friends), and stepping up into a radical relationship with ourselves, wherein we free ourselves from the template of socially endorsed romantic consumerism and co-dependency in relating.
This process isn’t one that can be achieved overnight. Recovery is a process. I still find myself falling into some of the patterns of my own Monogamy Hangover from time to time, and I’ve learned that that’s okay. Recognise it for what it is, and practice retraining yourself and recalibrating your expectations of relationships.
“Compassion isn’t about being nice and avoiding conflict. It means being in the conflict together. Compassion is when you see their sadness, their anger, their fear, and their pain, while speaking your truth with care (and without attacking or shaming them). Part of that is bearing witness to their discomfort and pain without trying to fix it for them. Compassion doesn’t mean coddling them or protecting them from the emotions. It means holding space for the feelings and allowing the other person to be strong enough to go on that ride with you.” ~Charlie Glickman
The founding script of the Monogamy Myth is one of “dominance”, that one person might be obligated to the other in the relationships, or that one partner can dictate desires to the other. Stepping out of this means moving into a space of compassion- not just with out partners, but with ourselves.
Moving on from the hold of the mythology means first of all recognizing that one person cannot ever be your ‘everything’, and mastering the art of self-sufficiency whilst simultaneously stretching out your social roots to explore diversity, so that you aren’t reliant on a single person to meet all your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Falling in love with one’s self in solitude, without the mirrors of loved ones reflecting back praises, frees us from feeling that our own value is tied up in our relationships only. Once we have a stronger sense of who we are, independent of our relationships, we need to learn how to communicate clearly and courageously about what we want. Granted, that can take time- but it is so very worth it to remove the guesswork from relationships.
Here’s some affirmations that could be useful when you catch yourself in a Monogamy Hangover:
- My partner’s love with someone else need not detract from the love I share with them.
- I don’t have to want all the same things my partner(s) wants, and it’s also okay if my partner doesn’t want the same things I do.
- Everyone has different styles and rhythms of communication. My partner(s) might want more communication than I do, or less. We have the ability to negotiate and creatively find comfortable middle ground.
- The Relationship Escalator is only one way to do relationships. I don’t have to default to it, and can talk with my partner(s) to customize the way we grow our connection.
- Change is the only constant. We cannot know what the future will bring, only what is true for us right now.
- Sex life is just one measure of a healthy relationship. Emotional intimacy, honesty, trust, and compassion are also good measures of healthy relationships.
- I can’t dictate to anyone what they need to do or must do, but I can ask.
- I’m not obligated to do anything for my partner(s) just to please them. My relationships will be strongest when I act from a space of authentic giving when I want to do something for my partner(s).
- I don’t have to ‘perfect’; admitting mistakes and rebuilding trust is a valuable part of relationships and intimacy.
There are some valuable and beautiful aspects of traditional monogamy. The values of trust, honesty, deep knowing of one’s partner, building security together, planning for old age, emotional transparency, commitment to value and cherish a partner through thick and thin: these are things which can be nurtured in any form of romantic relationship. Curing ourselves of the Monogamy Hangover isn’t about doing away with these aspects of relationship altogether. They can be present, if you choose to mutually invest in focusing on them in your relationships (romantic or otherwise).
The healthiest relationships exist in a state of interdependence rather than co-dependence. The Monogamy Mythology can serve as a supportive script, one everyone knows and can seem easy to follow along with, but ultimately one that ignores reality. It takes courage to step out of that and find sobriety; things aren’t as glossy and rosy as romance movies might have us believe.
Outside of the constraints of this mythology, there are the possibilities for conscious monogamy, and for healthy, drama-free, open relationships too. The valuable part of sobering up from the myth is that we free ourselves from the cage of expectation and obligation, and are liberated to experience relationships from a more authentic, nurturing, compassionate space of being- whatever relationship structures we find ourselves drawn to.