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Old 06-02-2012, 03:46 AM
MeeraReed MeeraReed is offline
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Default Serial Monogamy

I'm confused about what people mean when they say "serial monogamy."

I first heard the term in the context of therapy/advice columns, referring to a fairly common phenomenon: people whose only dating style is to have long-term, monogamous relationships. When one relationship ends, the "serial monogamist" starts another right away (sometimes leaving the first relationship for another, but not always). Maybe the relationships last about two years each and end just at the verge of marriage.

Sometimes people who do this for many years feel that it is making them unhappy. Often they realize they never got to know who they are when not in a relationship. If someone recognizes that this is their pattern, the advice they are given is to consider being single for longer, to learn to enjoy being single/alone, and/or to try dating more casually while "in between" relationships rather than rushing to commit.

However, lately I've been hearing people use the phrase "serial monogamy" to refer to a totally different thing: having a series of short-term relationships, for example, a pattern of dating someone for 2-3 months then dropping them to date someone else.

Some people (perhaps lots of people) do indeed do this, but I don't think that's what the term "serial monogamy" was coined to mean.

The first kind of serial monogamy is for people who genuinely like being monogamous & committed, at least for a while, and hate being alone; but the second use of the term seems to be for people who are not interested in monogamy but simply don't like their lovers to overlap, or who can't handle emotional commitment but only date one person at a time.

I'm not sure why it bothers me that the term is used for two wildly different dating habits, but it does bother me.

Also, both definitions of "serial monogamy" have negative connotations, right? Do you think that's fair? I'm sure almost everyone has been a serial monogamist at some point in their life.

And, for a related topic: in what ways could polyamory be related to either type of serial monogamy?

I could see either "type" of serial monogamists discovering polyamory and feeling that it might work better than the way they've been doing things.
Single, straight, female, solo, non-monogamous.
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Old 06-02-2012, 10:56 AM
Tonberry Tonberry is offline
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Technically, serial monogamy is what most monogamous people do: being monogamous to one person at a time, but not one person their whole life. If you look at biology, they call monogamous the species that mate for life (only one parter) and serial monogamous those that pair up, but whose pairs can change along their lives.

But with what is called "serial monogamy" with other species being pretty much the norm for humans, and people calling it simply "monogamy", the term serial monogamy has been kind of re-purposed to meaning someone who has a quicker succession of partners. A way to have several partners without having them at the same time, if you will.
Depending on who you ask, "quick succession" could mean every few months, or it could mean every few years. There is really no rule.

The fact is that these people are serial monogamists, since they have several monogamous relationships over their lifetime. But it has been used a lot for people who are sometimes considered to refuse commitment, or not want to settle down, or whatever.

In truth, it doesn't really matter why people have the partners they have, provided they are honest about it. As a result, I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of "serial monogamist" ever being used as an insult.
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Old 06-02-2012, 11:08 AM
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drtalon drtalon is offline
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When people say 'serial monogamy' I think they mean this.

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Old 06-02-2012, 11:52 AM
Klayton Klayton is offline
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I think the factor that makes a person's behaviour into "serial monogamy" rather than "what most monogamous people do" is the lack of a gap between relationships. So someone who spent very little time being single in between a series of monogamous relationships would probably be looked on as a "serial monogamist" whereas someone who spent a few months to a few years being single in between relationships would probably be looked as "normal".

I do get the sense that it's used in a negative fashion, though I don't see anything terribly negative about it. I've often (sadly) encountered the perception that if you start a relationship very soon after a previous relationship ends there's something not quite right about you. Whether that's an inability to settle down or a unacceptable desire for a relationship in your life. It's all rather judgemental, I feel.
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Old 06-02-2012, 06:52 PM
opalescent opalescent is offline
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You know I expected better from Depp.
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Old 06-02-2012, 07:03 PM
Tonberry Tonberry is offline
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It disappoints me a little bit, but it's the kind of things I would say, too. That or "if you hesitate between two people you love, go with neither, because if you were truly in love there would be no hesitation between two people, so obviously you don't actually love either".

It's the kind of things that are drilled into us from the get go, and with the majority of people actually working that way, I can understand why he would think and say that.
It's sad, but it's not unexpected. Only more knowledge and visibility of polyamory will change things like this.
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Old 06-03-2012, 12:39 PM
feelyunicorn feelyunicorn is offline
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Originally Posted by opalescent View Post
You know I expected better from Depp.
lol! Me too, but not really.

Originally Posted by MeeraReed View Post
However, lately I've been hearing people use the phrase "serial monogamy" to refer to a totally different thing: having a series of short-term relationships, for example, a pattern of dating someone for 2-3 months then dropping them to date someone else.
I have never linked serial monogamy to the length of a relationship, only to boundaries. Doing so would give the nod to the length=depth of feeling equation, a view that I`m very much qualmish about.
Independent, sex-positive, bi-curious, private, atheist, elitist, athletic dude.

Last edited by feelyunicorn; 06-03-2012 at 11:40 PM.
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Old 06-05-2012, 02:19 AM
Jericka Jericka is offline
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I never attached any negative connotation to the term "serial monogamy."

I just thought that that was what I did before I discovered polyamory was an option. Really. I had to have a discovery moment:"OH! I could totally do that, and I think it would be better!"

For me, serial monogamy means instead of having one pair bond for life, like my sister in law who married my brother just out of high school and looks to not be interested in ever pairing off again, I tended to have one monogamous relationship at a time, and would pair up again after that relationship ended. So, there wasn't any connection in my mind with how long or serious the relationship was, it was serial monogamy because whether I dated a guy for 6 months or married him, I only had one pair type relationship at a time.

I happen to like poly better, now, but, I really was unaware of it as an option for me for waaaaayy too long.
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Old 06-05-2012, 02:35 PM
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kdt26417 kdt26417 is offline
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What I always heard was that essentially monogamy was divided into two subgroups:
  • having only one partner ever, for life;
  • having more than one partner in one lifetime, but only one partner at a time.
Anything falling under the second category could technically be called serial monogamy. It seems safe to say that most monogamists are "serial monogamists," but not all.

The main negative usage I've heard is when some monogamous person trash talks polyamory, and some polyamorist reacts by pointing out that most monogamists are "serial monogamists" (that is, they do have more than one partner over the course of one lifetime).

I prefer not to get involved in that kind of argument. If some monogamous person wants to look down on polyamory, that's their choice, and arguing with them isn't likely to change their mind. Worse, the "serial monogamy argument" is just switching the shoe to the other foot, so that now polyamorists are looking down on monogamy. That's not a good solution to the argument, IMO.

A classic example of serial monogamy (especially the negative kind) would be someone who married and divorced many times. But from my understanding, anything that involves more than one partner over one lifetime (but still always one partner at a time) could technically be classified as serial monogamy.

Since the word is often used in a negative or argumentative context, I usually just don't use the word. But the above paragraphs tell something about what definitions I've heard for it.
Love means never having to say, "Put down that meat cleaver!"
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Old 06-05-2012, 02:50 PM
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polychronopolous polychronopolous is offline
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I don't think "serial monogamy" applies in short term relationships. Short term relationships are short term because they fail to develop into a viable, compatible relationship. It doesn't take years, or even one year to know someone is not right for you. This is usually obvious early on. So as far as serial monogamy applying to short term relationships, I don't agree.
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