Nick Levine recently wrote in Vice Magazine What Is ‘Radical Monogamy’? Reflexive monogamy is an assumption we make that we’ll find our one true person (usually of the opposite sex) to fall in love with and when we marry them, we will automatically stay monogamous. Sex educator Robyn Ochs Radical describes monogamy, on the other hand, as a choice, when one asks themselves, “what kind of relationship do I want?” and the choice is monogamy, versus just falling into it when they choose to commit.
Radical monogamy is ‘choosing’ to be monogamous when there is pressure from the outside world to cheat or to be open. There has been a backlash in the media around this concept. Many people are saying, “But isn’t that just monogamy?”
Looking back over my own history of working with couples and individuals struggling with their relationship commitments, I can definitively say that asking about the kind of relationship you want before you commit is a radical idea. But committing to monogamy when you’re married isn’t a revolution, it’s aligning with your values and choosing what has traditionally been laid out as sexual fidelity and the implicit assumptions that have gone along with marriage for centuries.
However, if we look closer, and at the evolving ideas of marriage, isn’t it revolutionary in some ways that any of us can commit to a relationship and create our own idea of monogamy? More people than ever before are creating an agreement that works for them. Whether this is traditional or flexible or consensually non-monogamous, it’s still marriage, and it is still a commitment and for sure it is still an expression of their love.
In my book, Open Monogamy, I look at how couples can structure their own personal style of commitment, how they can create their relationship of love, and to love and form what works for them. The radical part of this type of monogamy is not that they choose each other and commit to one another; rather they choose to love in a way that works for them, outside of the traditional forms of monogamy that they others might prefer.
Our background, our culture, our religions, and our media encourage conformity. From early childhood through adulthood, we are pushed to accept a relationship model that includes a heteronormative type of love, and what is normalized in western society becomes an idealized version of love. As a result, anyone outside those social constructs, those in the liminal undefined spaces, may struggle to honor their own desires, as well as their partners’ desires, while at the same time wanting to live in integrity, and they might not know how to keep commitments that don’t align with their values. These conflicts can lead to infidelity and even divorce when couples don’t know how to examine their own individual needs.
Even with Radical Monogamy, we need to honor all ideas about relationships and know that they grow from narratives; old stories we’re told throughout our lives that may or may not be as simple as we believe.
And I ask you to examine for yourself: what kind of relationship do you really want? Without falling into old implicit assumptions about monogamy, can you choose what works for you?
Can you consider an open monogamy agreement, one that is honest and transparent? We are all somewhere on the monogamy spectrum, perhaps at very different places, but if we are committed to honesty and integrity, we can live our lives in loving relationships.
Radical monogamy invites a conversation about needs and boundaries. Open monogamy goes a step further and invites all of us to have a deeper conversation that honors our commitments while exploring the depths and endless potential of our capacity for love.