Not Your Grandma’s Marriage: Monogamy as a Practice

by Marie-Elizabeth Mali  Dec 20, 2015
Not Your Grandma’s Marriage: Monogamy as a Practice

For the last three years I've questioned where the ideal relationship falls for me between monogamy and non-monogamy. After my divorce, I chose to examine my conditioning and excavate my desires in order to have a prayer at creating more sustainable relationships. As wonderful as my marriage was, I wasn't fully nourished in it and didn’t have the skill to communicate with him exactly what I wanted, so he ultimately couldn’t succeed.

When I began to practice OM, my deep hunger started to get fed. I no longer needed to look to a relationship to fill me up. Instead, I learned to engage with others from "full” and ask clearly for what I wanted. I chose to explore non-monogamy and enjoyed freedom and transparency in my relationships as well as an appreciation for the work it takes to stay clear.

Fast-forward a year and a half: I begin to go deeper with one of my lovers as we choose different aspects of relationship to research each week. We start with daily sex, something I’m not sure I can sustain. Can I feel desire for the same person every day for a week? Can I want sex on a day I’m tired, busy, or over-full? Turns out, I can! We move on to a week of saying the thing we'd normally hide. I share my vulnerability, like how the closer we get, the more afraid I feel that he'll disappear. He shares things he’s afraid might be tough for me to handle, like how hard it is for him to get over his last girlfriend.

As he meets my vulnerability with kindness, and I meet his revelations with openness and non-reactivity, a space opens up for us come out more. By the time we research traveling for a week to take a course, and having control over each other’s make-outs with other people, a lot of trust has opened up between us. After the course, he suggests we research living together for a week. We have lived together ever since.

Before we went deeper, I thought monogamy might never be right for me again. Esther Perel captures the issues well in her book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic:

“Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.”

Fast-forward to last week: I want us to be monogamous - not just for a week - and am terrified to ask for that. I think I know how he feels about it because of things he has said in the past. But once I gather the courage to ask, his yes is immediate and clear.

When we go 24 hours without having sex a couple of days after our decision, I see my fear that monogamy will kill our desire. After we have sex that day and it feels as turned-on as ever, I admit that I’ve experienced a decline in desire in every monogamous relationship over time. I ask if he's had the same experience. He hasn't. It turns out this is a fear of mine based on the past and on knowing my desire is wired to want novelty, so my work is to stay conscious and communicative in this spot as we go forward.

I've never been a practitioner of OM and monogamous until now. With OM, I tune into my body every day, open up places I might hold fear or resentment, and allow orgasm to flow through me. From here I can turn toward my partner, ask for what I want, and say what needs to be said with clarity and power. I can keep my own flame of desire well-fanned. My partner, with the sensitivity he's built up as a stroker, can communicate his desires,as well as feel and respond to me with skill and precision. We choose to be monogamous not as a given, but as a practice we do with the same dedication as all our other practices. In this way, monogamy becomes another vehicle for wake-up rather than a bed where desire goes to die.

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