In our grandparents’ day—that is, two generations or about eighty years ago—monogamy was pretty black and white. A guy and a gal would meet, start to date, become engaged and get married. Dating a lot, especially for a woman, put a question mark on a person’s moral character.
In those days, it was never a question of “if” this couple would become partnered for the rest of their lives (happy or not); rather, it was more a question of “when”. Plus, it was scandalous if the couple chose to get a divorce.
Cities and attitudes grew and, by the 1950s, the trend of dating started. Smokey Robinson said it best when he sang, “My momma told me you better shop around.” Parents and teenagers came to understand that it was healthy to date, test the relationship waters and have a couple of broken hearts before settling down. Yet the single most important thing was to find a mate before turning twenty.
Then came the Baby Boomers and their rebellious free-love movement of the 1970s. Although anonymous sex certainly was not for everyone, there were enough people jumping on the sex-drugs-and-rock’n’roll bandwagon to make it more acceptable. Monogamy in the 1970s came to mean, “I’m going to have a whole lot of fun, and then I will settle down with one person for the rest of my life.”
But “the rest of my life” seemed to scare a lot of this group and there grew a different sensibility with monogamy. Living together became the popular monogamous option of, “I do not know if I can commit to you, but let’s give it a go and see how it turns out.” Or, if the couple did decide to get married and it ended up unhappy, divorce became the alternative to staying in a loveless marriage like that of their parents.
By the 1980s, this trend ended up creating what is called serial monogamy. Serial monogamy is when a person is in an exclusive monogamous relationship for a period of time, decides the relationship is not for them, ends the relationship and looks for a new relationship. In effect, it is relationship-jumping. What makes it acceptable is there is no overlap (like adultery) but a distinct start and finish to the relationship.
In my opinion serial monogamy has created a nation of very picky people. It has created a nation of disposable dating in that if a potential partner does not make the grade, there is always someone better around the corner.
This new millennium is seeing more and more monogamous couples want to try open relationships.
An open relationship is based on two people having a primary relationship and still able to seek sexual variety outside of that relationship.
Open relationships are still very underground and lowly regarded because they do not follow the rules of serial monogamy. Those rules being it is okay to date and have multiple sex partners, but only if there is a definite break between relationships.
And as a side note: I am still struck by how society views cheating on partner's more acceptable than trying to work out an open relationship. Ironic?
Even though open relationships are underground, they are prolific. The most common question I am asked by forty-something couples is around “swinging”. Their motivation to ask is mostly out of curiosity and titillation. When I probe as to why they are interested, their response is they do not want to get a divorce but are not happy with their present sex life.
To give a sense of how this open relationship trend is picking up momentum, in bigger centers like Vancouver or Seattle, the number is in the tens of thousands.
The question now is what is the happy medium? Obviously there are pros and cons to both monogamy, serial monogamy and open relationships.