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Monogamy Is Dead! Long Live Monogamy!

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Let's Get Gay-Married

2012 is the year of the gay destination wedding. But given what I do, I can't help but think that more and more of these amazing "I do"s started off as two syllables on a mobile dating app. Each day, millions of gay men log on to gay dating apps looking to connect with someone for one night or for life. What happens when you find that "special" guy and decide to build a committed life together? How do you successfully transition from gay-single to gay-married, especially after years, if not decades, of living in a single, often promiscuous mindset?

Gay or straight, for many people, "commitment" automatically means "monogamy." I believe we are here to be in relationships with one another. For some of us, there is a tremendous reward from having a fulfilling, monogamous relationship with one person; connecting on a sexual level and having sex become something that binds us and makes our union stronger for the rest of our lives together.

Amazing. Sign me up.

The problem is that I don't know a lot of couples like that, gay or straight. Do you? Some, sure, but it's an "I-could-count-them-on-one-hand" sort of thing.

Relationships Are Hard, and Monogamy Is Harder

Monogamy is not in the cards for everyone, even for those who like the idea of monogamy because it aligns with their value system. For most gay men I know, monogamy is a struggle. It used to be harder to play on the side. You had to go to a public place, like a bar, make an effort, and be out in public. But now it can be as easy as logging on and getting off. Temptation and opportunity are everywhere. We live in a world where "straying" is as easy as turning on your phone.

There are more complex issues at work here. Technology is not only making it easier to stray but forcing us to reexamine some of our values regarding fidelity and commitment. Being gay means we are not tethered to traditional relationship models, and we have a unique opportunity to redefine what it means to be committed.

What We Can Do

The first thing we have to do is talk about how hard it is to combine, or maybe even to separate, monogamy and sex -- and not just with the guys we're hooking up with on the side! Then we have to take a realistic, honest look at how the struggle to be monogamous might help or hurt our ability to stay in committed, healthy, productive relationships. We need to ask ourselves and the guys with whom we're considering monogamy the following questions:

  1. "What do we think monogamy will give us, individually and as a couple?"

    Monogamy is not, in and of itself, good or bad. There are real benefits to monogamy, but only when both individuals make the choice out of their own needs, not out of ideas. Discuss whether the choice for monogamy can help you and your partner build a more stable and healthy life together. In other words, really understand the way that foreclosing other options creates new paths toward security, longevity, and intimacy.
  2. "What do we think monogamy might take away from us, individually and as a couple?"

    What are the potential losses from choosing monogamy? Some people feel resentful of their partner and their relationship because they don't have any outlets. Others find it a burden to be the only source of sexual satisfaction for a partner. There are lots of costs to choosing monogamy. Let's be honest about that, with ourselves and with our partners.
  3. "How long do we want our monogamy contract to last before it comes up for renewal?"

    It can be amazingly helpful to think of monogamy as if it were a cellphone contract with a renewal date a year or two in the future. At the end of the contract period you have an opportunity to sit down and review your plan. What's important is not what package you choose but that space and freedom is created to evaluate the current contract to see if it is serving or harming the relationship.

Scary stuff, I know. Yet if we honestly discuss our dreams for monogamy and our concerns about it, at the start of a relationship and at regular intervals, we might have a better chance of coming to an agreement together that's based on shared values, a shared philosophy, and shared needs. We might also open a dialogue to be non-monogamous but committed, or to revisit monogamy down the line, to make sure we still hold the same beliefs.

Discussions about sex are amazingly complex. For many gay men and women, our sexuality is a source of strength, power, and freedom. But it is also burdened with issues of identity, promiscuity, health, and insecurity. Most gay men I know have grown up with a degree of shame surrounding who they are and whom they love.

In other words, each one of us brings a unique and sometimes troubled history to our committed relationships. What we need from any relationship in order to be whole and content is not only about the dynamic between us and our partners but also about our individual experiences with love and affirmation.

Ultimately, having honest and authentic conversations about desire, commitment, and monogamy allow for healthier relationships. It isn't easy, and it requires a different way of talking about these issues. But what better time than now, with the discussion of marriage so prominent, to redefine the very paradigms that help us become one with each other?