Tag Archives: Relationships

Toxic Monogamy

What is toxic monogamy?

I think “toxic monogamy” is a rather new and relatively undefined term. A Google search only really leads to one Tumblr post which has been circulating recently, and this is how I was introduced to the concept in the first place. As I attempt to introduce the term “toxic monogamy,” I would first liken it to the term “toxic masculinity.” Toxic masculinity is a better known concept defined as “the socially-constructed attitudes that describe masculine gender roles.” So, similarly, I would call toxic monogamy the socially-constructed attitudes that describe traditional monogamous relationships. The beliefs that make up both toxic masculinity and toxic monogamy are widely accepted, widely unquestioned, and have arguably negative consequences for those whose lives operate within these belief systems.

What toxic monogamy is NOT

Toxic monogamy is not the same as gender roles or gender stereotypes. The belief that within a relationship the woman is supposed to cook, clean, and raise the children while the man works and pay bills is based on societal gender roles. These carry with them their own set of negative consequences- but it’s important to note that they are separate issues and not within the definition of toxic monogamy.

Breaking down the Tumblr post

I apologize to the author of this post that I am unable to sort out exactly which Tumblr handle or author to credit. I’m sure it’s not too difficult to find, but I’m not much of a Tumblr-er so I am admittedly inept at obtaining this information. If anyone knows this or can find it, please feel free to comment below so I can add it in.

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The normalization of jealousy as an indicator of love.

Absolutely. When I read this, lyrics from the popular Nick Jonas song “Jealous” immediately come to mind. “It’s my right to get jealous.” I don’t know, something about the assertion in those lyrics is really off-putting to me. Wouldn’t you rather feel secure enough in yourself and in your relationship that you don’t ever need to feel jealous? Calling it your “right” means that not only do you expect to be jealous, but also, you’re demanding complete acceptance of your jealousy. This kind of perspective doesn’t leave room for the possibility that jealousy can be inappropriate or misguided. It means that you’re not likely to work on your own insecurities, or reach out to your partner to work towards mutual trust. That’s not a healthy philosophy.

Now, let’s be clear- we’re all imperfect, fallible human beings. Having perfect security in yourself and in your partner at all times is not easy. Jealousy is arguably a natural reaction. But the other interesting thing about jealousy in a relationship is what creates it. It stems from the idea that the person you’re with is “yours”. No others are allowed to have certain types of relationships with them. I recently saw a quote I liked on this matter:

“There is another kind of possessiveness. You do not possess any other human being, no matter how closely related that other may be. No husband owns his wife; no wife owns her husband; no parents own their children. When we think we possess people there is a tendency to run their lives for them, and out of this develop extremely inharmonious situations. Only when we realize that we do not possess them, that they must live in accordance with their own inner motivations, do we stop trying to run their lives for them, and then we discover that we are able to live in harmony with them. Anything that you strive to hold captive will hold you captive – and if you desire freedom you must give freedom.” -Peace Pilgrim

This quote rings true in every way. You’ll never be able to force a person to stay “yours” in any way, and you’ll never have the right to make them stick to any agreement they’ve made to do so. Individuals can change, and their ideas and feelings can change. Now, I’m not advocating against monogamy by saying that- but I would like to point out that the love of a person probably isn’t worth having if it isn’t given by them freely- even if it once was. So jealousy, in my opinion, holds very little place in the kind of partnership most of us truly desire.

The idea that sufficiently intense love is enough to overcome any practical incompatibilities.

I don’t know about this one. I’m not entirely sure what the author means by all of this. What are “practical incompatibilities” and what is considered “sufficiently intense love”? I’m unsure what kind of incompatibility could exist that two people with “sufficient” love couldn’t work to overcome or work to accept about each other. At first, I thought sexuality might be one (for example, a gay person being part of a heterosexual couple). But then, I wouldn’t personally define that type of relationship as having a “sufficiently intense love” in the first place. I give this one a stamp of disapproval, pending any further information or other compelling arguments.

The idea that you should meet your partner’s every need, and if you don’t, you’re either inadequate, or they’re too needy.

This is a big one. It echoes the notion that a relationship is meant to complete you, and therefore satisfy you in a way that no other accomplishment or achievement ever could. If your partner doesn’t “completely satisfy” you, you might end up thinking that they’re an inadequate partner. Or perhaps, a less satisfying relationship will make you feel “unworthy” or “incapable of receiving” the type of deep fulfillment that you think you’re supposed to get out of a loving relationship. These are all untrue and lead to all sorts of expectations that neither of you will ever be capable of living up to.

The idea that a sufficiently intense love should cause you to cease to be attracted to anyone else.

Humans are incapable of voluntarily “shutting off” attraction, and no amount of love can shut it off either. Attraction exists like appreciation for music exists. Your music selection is made up of personal likes and dislikes, developed over time, which influence the music you are drawn to. No one can come in and tell you to stop liking a genre or a band that you like. It simply won’t work.

This belief, similar to many others we’ve highlighted, is inevitably going to make you believe that your partner doesn’t love you enough and/or you don’t love your partner enough, because you will both fail at changing this.

The idea that commitment is synonymous with exclusivity.

I agree that this mentality is incorrect, because there are many types of committed relationships which are just as valid, and just as serious, and just as loving. So adding this expectation about monogamy does add to its “toxicity” as a belief system.

The idea that marriage and children are the only valid teleological justifications for being committed to a relationship.

I agree that this is toxic also. A couple can stay together for their whole lives and never marry each other. Does that mean they love each other less than those who do get married? No, the choice against marriage or against having children does not necessarily indicate that their love or commitment is less than any other couple’s love and commitment.

The idea that your insecurities are always your partner’s responsibilities to tip-toe around and never your responsibility to work on.

I’m beginning to see that while writing this list, the author started defining WAYS that a monogamous relationship could be toxic, rather than discussing monogamy itself and the toxic societal belief systems that surround it. I look forward to being able to further break this down as we continue.

The idea that your value to your partner is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy they spend on you, and it is a zero-sum competition with everything else they value in life.

This is definitely a toxic situation. People often get jealous of their partner’s hobbies and friends. A lot of people expect that a relationship should take up most of their time and energy if they “really loved each other.” This is not necessarily true. It is also not necessarily true that relationships must be the main “goal” that a person needs to seek in their life. Suppose they find their career more fulfilling than their marriage? Does that mean their marriage is a bad one, or they don’t love their spouse enough? No, it doesn’t. You can be completely in love with someone but not let it rule your identity. I would even venture to say that it shouldn’t ever rule your identity.

The idea that being of value to your partner should always make up a large chunk of how you value yourself.

I don’t think the problem lies in that people think their value to their partner should make up how valuable they feel as a person. But I do think they often end up feeling that way or are made to feel that way. (Although, perhaps I’m arguing the semantics of this sentence, and the author was getting at the same idea.) I definitely think this issue qualifies as systemic, because not only are we taught to value monogamous relationships and to strive to be in one, but we are also taught that our partners’ satisfaction is now our personal priority and responsibility. This can certainly make you feel like you’re failing when your partner cannot find contentment with their own life or circumstances. It’s harmful because true happiness is only possible within a person, and your partner is ultimately the only person capable of finding this for themselves. Similarly, your partner is incapable of providing true happiness for you, and it is not a failure on their part when you cannot do so.

Thinking about Monogamy

Backing it way up, we need to talk about where monogamy comes from. The theories differ a bit, but most of them state that the male animal stays with the female they mated with in order to ensure the survival of their offspring, and/or to make a claim on the female for reproductive purposes. Humans are not so easily explained, though we still share many of our animalistic instincts- like men’s desire to spread their seed, and women’s desires for a provider who also sticks around.

But that’s not all of the story. Ancient people were primarily polyamorous.

An article from Psychology Today says that “most ancestral men aspired to polygyny (even though most weren’t impressive enough to attract more than one wife), and some ancestral women preferred to be the co-wife of a really impressive man than the sole wife of a second-rate one. In other words, the genetically encoded psychological machinery of human mating behavior was built by, and for, a world in which striving for polygyny was often reproductively advantageous. That’s why people living in modern societies often seem inclined towards polygyny, even in cultures that have attempted to abolish it.”

The article goes on to explain that monogamy is a relatively new revelation, and possibly began as a way for societies to grow larger in the interest of military advantage. Men seek wives, so when a few “top dogs” have many wives, there are quite a few men left out, who then leave the group in search of their own wives. Limiting the amount of wives one man could have meant more men stayed, which was advantageous not necessarily for reproduction, but to have soldiers available. This is how laws came to be put in place about marriage.

So monogamy isn’t a natural state for any of us. But working in an office building for 40 hours a week isn’t a natural state for any of us either. Society progresses in ways to keep it functioning. What’s historically “natural” isn’t the main picture per se.

The importance of pointing out the evolution of monogamy is to realize that our ideas of monogamy are very socially-based, and therefore, so are the rules that come with it. As it currently exists, most of us not only expect to have a partner, but we expect everyone of a certain age to have a partner, to reproduce, and to be romantically and sexually exclusive with that partner. We consider these as synonymous with monogamy- and synonymous with normal social behavior- because that’s how things have always been presented to us.

Do YOU even want this?

The trap that a lot of people fall into is the belief that humankind is at the height of technology and knowledge. Hear me out on this: while it’s true that today, in 2017, we are more advanced and informed than ever before, we must recognize that humankind will soon look back on this time as more primitive than we believe it is- just as we do when thinking about decades and centuries past. Therefore, the assumption we are doing everything right is not only arrogant, but incredibly ignorant. The truth is, how we conduct our relationships with each other is primarily based on social norms, and we should note that social norms are among the least scientific, least informed driving points of our daily decisions… And that’s because they’re the ones we think about the least.

Imagine you were born in a different time, and into a different culture, where the rules were not the same. Would you still desire this? Would you still see it the way you do now? Likely you would not. It’s important to realize that your values are made up in the context of the influences around you. Once you start to see it this way, you free up your mind from the rules that don’t make sense, and choose the ones that fit your preferences.

It’s actually toxic

When we look around at each other through this lense, it becomes clear that we’re actually hurting ourselves, and each other, by perpetuating and acting upon some of these belief systems. I’ll let Louis CK (please forgive the bad timing for including him in this) add a little humor for us:

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Basic Bitch- Bride Edition

Are you a basic bride?

1. You’ve written “I Said Yes!” on Facebook, or even better, it was part of your engagement photoshoot. Congratulations on your originality.

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2. You have said something about being or feeling “like a princess.” Extra basic points if you wear anything that resembles a tiara.

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3. You have posted “___ days until I marry my best friend!” on social media. (Are those posts required? How is it that EVERYONE must say this?)

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4. You have a wedding board on Pinterest. Because, of course you do.

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5. “I said yes to the dress!” is another super original post or quote of yours.

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6. Prepping for your wedding includes weight loss goals.

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7. You have said “I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together!” (As though somehow, that is not already happening.)

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8. Your ring is a diamond, because you like being the same as everyone else, and mass marketing works on you.

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Psst, here’s a video for you about that btw:

Why Engagement Rings Are A Scam


Nice Guys Finish Last Because… (From A Woman’s Perspective)

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Nice Guys Finish Last. You know the phrase. I might be coming way out of left field here, but I hate this saying, and I think it’s bullshit. I honestly believe that guys who relate to this phrase use it as a shield for what’s really the problem.

I’m sure you’ve also heard the saying that girls like bad boys. I’m not going to defame that one, because some girls do- but I can tell you that I have never heard of a girl who loves a “bad boy” yet doesn’t also still wish for flowers and champagne to come home to. One who thinks that cuddling on the couch and love letters wouldn’t compliment his biker attitude and tattoos quite nicely.

Nice guys are wonderful. Nice guys are what we want. Some of us don’t need you to be nice to anyone but us (and maybe our mom), but you still need to be nice. Ladies might like “bad boys”, but ladies don’t like “mean boys”. Never heard that one, have you?

The problem is that guys who like to think they finish “last” because they’re nice need to realize: it’s not because you’re nice that she’s not into you. When you have chemistry with a girl, she’ll be into you and you’ll be into her. The niceness is just an added bonus for the lucky lady who’s actually into you. You do not “woo” women with niceness. You woo them with you.

I’ll say it again: if she’s already into you, your kind and romantic gestures will absolutely, positively help her fall for you. If she’s not into you bro, your kind and romantic gestures will just be creepy. If she doesn’t tell you that to your face, she’s passive aggressive, using you, or just plain doesn’t want to (or doesn’t know how to) hurt your feelings.

The key here is, if you’re the guy who feels like you do all the right things and never gets the girl, you’re probably jumping too soon on the romance, or you’re just altogether mis-reading the signs. How do you know she’s into you? Do you know? She could like you, she could like to talk to you, and spend time with you often, but how do you know that’s not just friendly? Nice Guy Who Finishes Last, you need to start making sure that it’s more than just friendship. Without pushing too hard for too much too soon. Coming on too strong is just as bad as not at all. There’s a happy medium, and you need help finding it!

A recent quote I found made me laugh, because I think this woman sums the idea up well:

“Women are not vending machines that you put kindness coins into until sex falls out. She’s not into you, get over it.”  -Marat Sverdlov

True Story Number One: My friend Jim* wrote me on Facebook once and asked me for advice. He said something like this:

  • Jim: Well, I’ve been feeling really down lately and it has to do with someone I think I am in love with, or know I am in love with; I try so hard with her.

  • Sarah: And why are you down?

  • Jim: Well, I try so hard with her and she sort of treats me like a friend, but we don’t really seem like it. I try to get her to understand how I feel, I want her to like me too, but it’s so hard and constantly bringing me down. I’m not sure I could let her go. What do you think, keep at it or let it go? When you love someone don’t you fight for that person at all costs?

  • Sarah: Well, you do- if that love is returned.

    You know what they say: if you love something, let it go. If it returns to you, it is truly yours to keep. Does she have the same feelings back for you? Have you asked her?

  • Jim: I don’t know and even if she didn’t, there is always hope and prayer, I gave her flowers Monday for a present-

    2 roses.

  • Sarah: That’s very nice of you.

  • Jim: Well I am nice, I just wish she could see it. I am slowly working my way up.

What was Jim’s mistake? That last quote there: “I’m working my way up.” That’s not how relationships work. Jim is possibly coming on too strong, and/or mis-reading signs because he thinks he can just keep being romantic, and that will eventually get her to like him- Jim thought that the more Kindness Coins he put into this girl, the more he was working his way up to her being interested. But we know that it doesn’t work that way. He should never be that romantic with a girl who might not see him as more than a friend. That will have the opposite effect. Remember what I said? It will seem creepy. Her feelings for him will start to become negative feelings instead of positive ones.

Some nice guys are okay at the woo-ing part and not great at the getting-her-to-stay part. I’ve seen this as well. Once she’s agreed to go on a few dates with you, or even be your girlfriend, doesn’t mean she’s totally hooked. That’s called a wife. Someone who wants to be with you forever. This is not your wife, this is a girl who likes you so far. Now, your girlfriend might legitimately want to be with you forever, but just being your girlfriend doesn’t make it so. And that’s a very important distinction for you to make.

True Story Number Two: My friend Aaron* had been seeing a girl for a couple weeks when she went on vacation for Spring Break. They weren’t very serious, and had a good time together, and Aaron was really into her. He wanted to do something special for her homecoming, which was a sweet thought. He knew her roommates, so he was able to get into their house and fix a broken sink in the bathroom nearest her room. Cool idea- everyone was happy about that. He then filled her room with hundreds of balloons, baked her a cake, and spelled out “I missed you” in M&Ms on it. Within a couple days, she told him that this gesture was a bit too much for her and that relationship ended.

What was Aaron’s mistake? She liked him, but not that much. Aaron should have taken it slow for two reasons: 1) because if she liked him enough to become his girlfriend someday, he needed to give her time and space to grow those feelings for him, and 2) the Kindness Coins can expedite the process slightly when she’s already into you, but the more into you she is, the bigger the check you can afford to write. Aaron took a loan out from the bank for these Kindness Coins, hoping that she’d go for it. She didn’t.

True Story Number Three: My friend Kyle* was having a conversation with me on Facebook about how he loved his girlfriend sooo much, and he couldn’t wait to tell her, and he wanted the moment to be perfect. It had only been a month. After he said it, she was honest (some aren’t) and said that she wasn’t quite at that point yet. Their relationship ended soon afterwards. Here was his defense in why he felt he needed to tell her his feelings:

Kyle: It’s an emotion. When I bottle my emotions they come out in other ways… for example, when talking with her on the phone before I said good bye, I would say I love you without knowing it… that happened twice, and I was like, ‘what? I never said that’.

I honestly had no idea what I said, but other people heard me say it too. I was like wtf

Sarah: Well it’s probably better as a mistake at this point

Kyle: Why

Sarah: Because that way, she won’t get weirded out

Kyle: Well then she should have seen that coming

Sarah: Not necessarily, because what you’ve said so far doesn’t mean she’ll also expect you to jump the gun

Kyle: No I like worked up to it, I didn’t just say it, Sarah

Sarah: But it didnt work the way you wanted it to…

because even if she saw it coming she wasn’t ready for it

or else she would have said it back, right?

Kyle: That is not true, sometimes people do not feel the same way

Sarah: That’s exactly my point. And you should wait for her to. Otherwise telling her could really freak her out Kyle

Kyle: Well that is not me and if that is what makes someone break up with me… they should not be with me to begin with.

Seriously… that is who and what I am. If they are not open to what they feel and think, then they should not be with me. I don’t live in regret. Fuck ’em then.

This is different altogether. This girl liked Kyle enough to be in a relationship with him. But she wasn’t ready to tell him that she loved him. Love is a serious word, and a serious feeling. There are different strains of love, as seen in the image below:

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And Kyle was right, that sometimes people don’t feel the same thing. It is possible that Kyle had some feelings of infatuation, passion, or a certain level of commitment. But his girlfriend, after one month, didn’t have enough of any of these things to constitute those feeling of “love” for him that Kyle felt he had for her.

It’s possible that Kyle’s girlfriend defined love as the center of that triangle there: Consummate Love, with intimacy, passion, and commitment. If that was the case, throwing it out there too soon might have made Kyle’s girlfriend wonder if he was taking that word seriously, and if he really meant it in the way that she defined it as. It could have been seen as careless, or perhaps, desperate.

It’s also possible that she assumed he did mean it in that way, and that seemed a little bit too much for her to take. How could he be so intimate, so passionate, so committed, on his end, without her reciprocating? That was maybe a little bit too much for her to handle, and she wanted to take a step back.

Regardless of the reasons, Kyle believed that writing a big check, much like Aaron did, was going to increase the intimacy in his relationship, and it backfired. I know it’s getting redundant at this point, but I will stress once more that if Kyle’s girlfriend had been at the same place as he was at, this could have worked. The common problems that Jim, Aaron, and Kyle had are that none of them bothered to check if the girl was at the same point as them.

The key to being a nice guy in a relationship is 1) knowing whether or not your girl reciprocates the feelings you have for her at whatever stage you are at in your relationship, and 2) knowing what romantic gestures will appropriately reflect the feelings you two share.

If you know that your girl likes you, take those steps to show her you care. If you are now in a relationship, go ahead and nurture that further. Just not too far! Eventually, this will allow a healthy, flourishing relationship that might be able to last. A relationship takes two people, and both of those people need to share a common end goal. As long as that’s true, your niceness will get you exactly where you need to be.

*Names have been changed for privacy