Are Life Partners the New Marriage?

On non-monogamy, commitment, and freedom.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash

I’ve seen more people than ever stating that they’re looking for a “non-monogamous” relationship. In dating app bios, general conversation, and on actual dates, I’m amazed at how many men I’ve encountered over the past year who specify this. They say that they’re fine with long-term just not exclusive relationships. And though I appreciate the honesty, it’s not the norm to which we’ve grown accustomed, so it seems odd.

What’s happening? Is this the new normal?

Even megastars Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith recently let it be known that they don’t consider themselves married anymore, but life partners. For them, this means that they’ve committed to supporting one another until the end of their days and neither will have to want for anything as long as the other is alive. The couple didn’t say explicitly that they’re nonexclusive, and even denounced the idea of an open marriage — but they made it clear that romantic fidelity is not the basis of their union.

I suppose our perspective depends on where we place the greatest emphasis. There are many more heartbreaks and betrayals that can be inflicted upon us by a partner than cheating. But traditionally, monogamy has been a foundation of committed relationships, and especially marriage.

Certainly, many additional factors go into the declining marriage rate and increasing cohabitation rate in the United States than wanting to sleep with other people. However, the idea of non-monogamy, and more importantly, the recent boldness in pursuing it must be an element. Expressing a desire to have multiple sex partners used to be frowned upon and reduced to being nasty or a whore. It still carries a negative connotation with some, but the perception overall has softened.

To some, non-monogamy is about freedom and autonomy.

One guy explained to me that he’s no longer interested in exclusivity because he feels it creates, for him, unrealistic demands and expectations. He sees being forthcoming with himself and others about his wants as integrous.

Younger generations seem less interested in avowing to one person for eternity. In fact, speaking of the Smiths, Will and Jada’s daughter Willow said that she views this as ownership — which to her is unappealing.

“Monogamy, I feel — this is just personally, just for me — I feel actually inhibits you from learning those skills of evolving past those feelings of insecurity,” Willow said.

The youngest Smith views monogamy as “too restricting,” but is careful to point out that it’s not because she’s constantly seeking new sexual experiences. She craves emotional connection but doesn’t want the anxiety and jealousy that often come with viewing someone as “your person.”

Willow isn’t alone. Research suggests that more people than ever in the United States are or have been engaged in consensually non-monogamous relationships.

Elisabeth A. Sheff, Ph.D., said:

While it seems highly unlikely that CNM will replace serial monogamy any time soon, it certainly has taken a place alongside singleness, monogamy, and cheating in the menu of possible relationship options.

My life experience and exploration support this theory.

Perhaps we’re actually trying to be better partners by declaring intent upfront instead of attempting to meet a relationship ideal with which we struggle or don’t wish to live up to. I’d much rather someone say from the beginning that they’re not interested in monogamy and allow me to make an informed decision when the alternative is deception.

So, I don’t have an issue with this evolving trend of men I’ve witnessed specifying a desire for non-monogamy. The concept doesn’t interest me but to each his/her own. I respect the transparency.

I’m in favor of consenting adults doing what makes them happy. Also, “life partner” is a fitting term for those who simply don’t wish to, or can’t marry. It isn’t synonymous with non-monogamy. Yet, I wonder if the idea is replacing the institution of marriage.

Love remains the #1 reason people decide to wed.

There are several logical reasons many may decide not to tie the knot. Among them are a reluctance to enter a legally-binding union and concerns over finances. Others just consider it an outdated, obsolete tradition.

Opting out of marriage doesn’t mean that there is no commitment. Just as we all know that husbands and wives commit adultery all the time. These are only titles. It’s up to us to give them meaning. The growing popularity of non-monogamy and life-partnerships just speaks to our changing relationship landscape. I don’t know that “change” in this case is synonymous with erosion, however.

Some associate a desire for non-monogamy with a lack of self-control or values. Some equate marriage with love, and if a partner doesn’t want this, think it means they don’t care for them enough. But I can’t say that monogamy or marriage is inherently better than the opposite. I’ve just noticed a shift — in the way that we present ourselves to dating prospects and the comfort with embracing concepts that the majority may consider unsavory.

In essence, perhaps the process has become more authentic.

Author of a critically-acclaimed book on women and dating. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1687069786

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