Although it might feel like the world has changed completely since our parents were our age, some things remain the same. Like, for example, the way a lot of people value monogamy in relationships. According to most studies, despite all of their avocado toast eating and crushing student debt, millennials actually still believe in True Love. Well, sort of. As much as our culture still values that traditional long-term couple life, there are actually so many ways in which monogamy is totally different than it was even 50 years ago.
Part of the change is because we have collectively been questioning monogamy more, which is such a good thing. For what feels like forever, monogamy has been the default relationship structure for people, and it’s about time we started to question whether it’s the best thing for us humans. Terri Conley, the head of the University of Michigan’s Stigmatized Sexualities Lab had this to say about monogamy to Man Repeller, “It’s not even that we think about [monogamy] being right. We just see it as the only way.” Conley pointed out that monogamy might be so ingrained into culture that even people like her, who research monogamy and pick it apart, might not even be aware of their own biases when it comes to judging people who aren’t monogamous, like our friends who are brave enough to share their less conventional open or polyamorous relationship statuses.
1We accept that “monogamy” doesn’t mean “forever.”
One of the greater things the women’s movement achieved was making divorce legal and normal. Sometimes marriages don’t work out — fights you just can’t get over, someone keeps cheating and screwing the whole monogamous thing up, or you simply fall out of love. For whatever reason(s), people split up, and it’s usually not the end of the world. That wasn’t the case 50 years ago, when divorced women were stigmatized and people stayed in unhappy, monogamous relationships just to avoid having to break it to their parents and neighbors that they were calling it quits. There’s still stigma that comes along with divorce, but it’s lessened, at least.
This is a dramatic change, according to the Pew Research Center, which found that “forever” really works out to about 18 years, the median duration of a marriage. And one in twenty Americans report that they have been married more than three times, which means there are just about 4 million men and 4.5 million women who have been capable of being monogamous. Just, in shifts.
2And being monogamous definitely doesn’t mean you’re married.
In addition to there being just a little less stigma about divorcing, more people than ever are deciding to never officially tie the knot at all. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t choosing life partners and creating a life together, often within a monogamous relationship. A 2017 study from the Pew Research partner finds that the number of married adults has gone down, but the number of adults living with a partner has gone up. This means that, unlike in 1968, you’re not a total hippie for shacking up with the love of your life without ever throwing a wedding. This number is especially high among people over 50 years old. If it’s true that you get wiser as you get older, maybe they’re onto something.
Along with co-habitating partners, the number of single people is also going up, with just over half of all Americans reporting that they’re the head of household and are unpartnered, eschewing monogamy altogether.
3Monogamy is an option, not a must.
It’s true that some people just don’t *get* non-monogamous couples, but among the sex positive, a “monogamish” couple, as relationship expert Dan Savage puts it, is definitely an option on the menu. According to some sociologists, humans were never meant to be monogamous anyway. Savage believes that more people are starting to understand that there are other ways to be in a satisfying, fulfilling, and healthy relationship without imposing monogamy on it. Savage put it like this in the New York Times:
Floating the idea of polyamory or just an opening of your relationship has never been easier.
4Monogamy depends on the partner.
These days, we know that we’re not all merely one thing. Sexual orientation and gender identity are fluid, and so might be your relationship style. With one partner, we might be totally monogamous, even marry and have kids. Later, it’s possible to find yourself drawn to being in a polyamorous or open relationship. It all depends on how you feel and who you’re with. That wasn’t true 50 years ago, in 1968, when people were just starting to figure this stuff out and live it IRL. Maybe we’ve come a little farther than we think sometimes.