The following advice is aimed at adults who have been dating for a good decade already. In my opinion, you should do whatever you want with dating in your 20s, within the bounds of treating people with feelings like you would want yourself to be treated, of course.
The proverb all’s fair in love and war is never literally true, but is whimsically true when you’re dating in high school and becomes less true the older you get and the more you should expect of yourself and others. When you are young, too much about your core self is malleable, and that’s how it should be. Other than those occasional high school sweethearts who got lucky and have been together ever since, dating in your 20s should be viewed as an experiment to find out what you want out of a partner, and what you are prepared to offer yourself.
However, at a certain point, you need to get your romantic shit together.
In a sense, every romantic relationship you will ever have goes through a “high school” stage in the beginning, during which you’re just getting to know each other and it’s OK to find some unforgivable deal-breaker, and break up with caring, but without much else owed to the other person. This ends after a couple of months. The longer things go on, the more you will “owe” the other person. If you’ve just ghosted someone you’ve been seeing regularly for six months, unless you did it because you fear for your personal safety or something, you’re not a kind person.
“Actively learning what I wanted out of a relationship taught me how to be monogamous for the right reasons.”
I was poly for about four years, and have been in a monogamous relationship for over two years. Being poly was a wonderful thing, and taught me a great deal about what I wanted and what I didn’t. It started after being burned out on a decade of serial monogamy. Being poly taught me that all those years, I was essentially monogamous for the wrong reasons. Because polyamory is less accepted by society, friends and family, people tend to enter into relationships with whoever they went on a few dates with merely because they’d like to continue seeing them. This is not enough of a reason.
Actively learning what I wanted out of a relationship taught me how to be monogamous for the right reasons. When I was poly, I used to joke that “it takes three or four men to make one good boyfriend these days” and I was right. I knew I was ready to give it up when I found someone who felt like three or four men put together. He was enough, and then some. But I’m not talking about heightened passion or otherworldly attraction. I’m talking about the more rational process of someone possessing 90 percent of the traits I had always wanted in one person, and didn’t really think I’d ever find.
I’m writing this today because over the past few months several of my friends have gone through painful breakups. They had been together anywhere between six months and five years, yet all of them had lovers who said to them some dreaded version of “I love you, but I am not in love with you anymore,” “there’s no spark anymore,” etc.
“True monogamists are not afraid of the lack of spark or butterflies; that wonderful but ultimately transient and even shallow feeling of being in a state of love.”
Here’s the thing: ADULTS know that the in-love part fades, then ebbs and flows with work, attention and active caring over the years. It may take months to fade, or it may take years. But it is the obvious eventual side effect of the very familiarity you seek. True monogamists are not afraid of the lack of spark or butterflies; that wonderful but ultimately transient and even shallow feeling of being in a state of love. I say shallow because everyone eventually has had that feeling — and strongly — for a person they know they have no business dating. Chemistry doesn’t give a fuck if you’re deeply attracted to a Republican who would make you incredibly miserable. Once you’ve had an experience like that, you don’t put a lot of stock in what your blood thinks is a good idea.
True monogamists are there for the benefit of adding a partner; a family member to your day to day life that a sister or a mom or a pet can’t possibly provide. That goal is ultimately antithetical to romance by nature; a fact that successful monogamists use as a starting point; they do not hide from it, nor do they leave it alone and hope it will spark itself from time to time without any work.
People who are dumped because the other person “just wasn’t feeling it” after a couple years have a right to be angry and a right to feel betrayed. If you are that person who has ended a long-term relationship over not feeling the magic, then you owe it to yourself and others to become a polyamorist. You’re either a spark-chaser or a long-burner. There is no in-between. If you are trying to be a monogamist, yet insist on expressing that desire to “be in love” through serial monogamy, then you are not being honest with yourself or your needs, and are disrespecting the needs of people you care for.
Polyamorists have the EQ to know that being a spark-chaser is nothing to be ashamed of; that it’s natural for human beings to desire others throughout their lifetime. They’re right, and they have the courage to admit they want that. Monogamists understand the same thing, they’ve just made a conscious decision to overpower it for the sake of something they have built with another.
“Polyamorists have the EQ to know that being a spark-chaser is nothing to be ashamed of; that it’s natural for human beings to desire others throughout their lifetime.”
Yet for some crazy reason, it’s still seen as more moral to be a guy who has a new girlfriend every few years, than to be the open, honest, Ethical Slut. American culture is dead wrong about this. If you are thirty or over and always looking for the person who will satisfy every need while making you feel like you are in love, you need to stop being in relationships. Period. Relationships quite simply don’t provide that. There is also no evolutionary purpose to the in love feeling lasting longer than it takes to produce offspring. Sorry, but nature is far from romantic. Nature doesn’t give a fuck about making you feel endless butterflies for the same person over decades.
Monogamists have the EQ to know that the “spark” is replaced by other things that are more valuable to them; a sense of family with the other person, a deep sense of belonging, a partner who is there for you when you get sick. This is why polyamorists often have a dedicated “primary” who serves that role, while their other lovers serve as adventure, romance, and variety. That doesn’t mean that monogamists shouldn’t stay on their toes in a relationship and try, whenever possible, to spark things up. They should, and they do. They are comfortable doing so because they are rooted in where the relationship is and have the emotional depth to roll with the tide, to endure the plateaus, and to always seek the best in the other person.
If your idea of looking for The One is going from relationship to relationship, you are denying who you are, hurting others, and wasting people’s time. Are you interested in always being in and out of love? Admit that poly is best for you. If you want a family, companionship, and history with the other person, and most importantly — accept the effort and antiglamour that comes with it — you should be in a relationship and should not try to make things work with those who don’t see the same way.
Certainly, there are other reasons to end a relationship that are perfectly valid. But if you’re ending it because you’re not feeling it anymore, you never felt the desire for monogamy as it actually exists in the first place. Figure out who you are, what you want, and be that. The only people who can have both are those few who are very, very good at polyamory.
A version of this piece originally appeared on Medium.