Personally, I'm shocked that the TV show "The Bachelor" and its sister show "The Bachelorette" are still going strong! The shows' longevity speaks to how focused we are, as a society, on the dating portion of romance. As a culture, we have turned the search for love into a competition, a game, entertainment... when what we really need are stories and examples of what happens after two people find each other.
We need to watch people who can show us what it takes to be in love for the long term, how they wrap their minds around commitment and how they are able to grow and thrive within successful monogamy -- way beyond the ring or the rose. Fortunately, I know some people who are doing that, and here are a few foundational pieces they have in place:
1. Choose it. You can't do monogamy for your parents or your friends or your partner. You have to decide this is what you want, for you. Identify your own reasons for wanting to be monogamous. Maybe for you it is a religious or spiritual choice; maybe you value loyalty; maybe you see commitment as a path to personal growth; maybe you want to see what can happen if you focus your romantic energy on one person. Whatever your reasons, to be successful at long-term monogamy, it is crucial to take responsibility for your choice and to let go of any resentments about other people "making" you do it. Monogamy is not the only choice. If you choose it, do it because you want to.
2. Choose your partner carefully. This may seem obvious, but I see people again and again who say "I want to be in a committed relationship now, and the person I'm with feels like a decent match, so why not?" Well, because this is a hard setup for long-term monogamy.
If you want to feel inspired to stay committed, you need to find a person who inspires you, shares your sense of humor and adventure, and turns your body, mind and heart on in a variety of ways -- the person who you want to leave the party with again and again. This may take time and several false starts. If you start out comparing your partner to others and wishing your partner could be different in this way or that, you may eventually find yourself just wishing for a different partner altogether.
3. Understand your own sexual desire. We live in a world of attractive people and no matter how appealing your partner is, you will still notice the other people out there. The romantic saying, "I only have eyes for you" is not realistic. Our culture makes sure you see and encourages you to be seen.
Committing to monogamy requires you to be honest with yourself about this and to be prepared to shift the desire stirred up in the world back to your partner. You must learn how to respond to your own desires in ways that feel ethical to you and this can only be learned by acknowledging that desire and attraction for others will not go away even when you find the one person you want to commit to.
4. Have the confidence to be yourself and ask for what you want. Long-term commitment will be difficult if you go into it trying to shape yourself into the person you think your partner wants. A fun part of early dating can be trying out new things, being introduced to your partner's new world. But it is one thing to go to MMA fights a few times and another to pretend that you will be happy doing this every weekend for the next five years.
If you feel you are subtly dismissing the things you want and slowly letting your life or yourself be reshaped into your partner's idea of the ideal, be cautious. You want to be sure your partner is committing to you -- the self you want to be, not the self you can be if you have to. And you want to be sure you are committing to a life you can happily embrace, not one with creeping resentment.
We may not have a lot of TV shows about it but long-term relationships are hardly boring. They ask a lot of the people involved. So, whether you are searching for a partner or have found someone but are wondering how to keep it going into the future, I invite you to think about these traits. You can develop them and they will help to have a strong foundation for the evolving adventure that is love between two people.
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