Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Op-Ed: Promiscuous Monogamy

By Liz Garber-Paul & illustration by Jeremy Schlangen

Monogamy is pointless in New York. With so many underdressed women and overpaid men, who can pay attention to just one? Everywhere you look, there are model-esque girls in low cut designer dresses and tall, dark, and handsome men waiting to buy a girl a drink.

On the other hand, having someone—someone to cuddle and watch movies with on a cold night, someone who will listen to you complain about that one teacher who’s out to get you—can be comforting to come home to. And there can be a weird satisfaction in bringing the same date to two work functions. Plus, it can make you appear stable.

Still, as a twenty something New Yorker, you can’t help wonder: is monogamy worth it?

One approach to this timeless question is to try to combine the best of both worlds. Last year, New York Magazine described “today’s open hipster relationship” as a serious monogamous relationship, with one exception: partners get to sleep with other people. Some have three ways, others allow individual one-night-stands, and still others participate in orgies.

The claim is that this kind of extracurricular activity makes the relationship stronger, because lovers are acknowledging their baser impulses. I can’t buy that. In the first place, doesn’t outside contact make it, by definition, not monogamy? At any rate, I know that no amount of permission would make me okay with a boyfriend having sex with someone else—no matter how many cute boys kiss me in return.

Another strategy is to be a die-hard monogamist, but change partners as quickly as possible. In other words, commit to seeing someone exclusively—constantly—for one to three weeks, then find an arbitrary excuse to break it off. Make sure, though, that you introduce them to all your friends, and gush about him or her to family and coworkers—that’s always a plus. The best sex is in the beginning, anyway.

This technique ensures that you will always have someone fun to spend your afternoon with, someone exciting to have a cup of coffee with in between classes. On the other hand, while it might be fun for a few months, it can also become exhausting—not to mention pretty dangerous—pretty quick.

I’ll admit that, over the years, I’ve alternated between both housewife and party girl. Eventually I realized there’s another solution: the long distance open relationship.

The epiphany came last year when I was faced with the problem of "saving" myself for a West Coast man. When I talked to some acquaintances about it, several nodded knowingly, assuring me that they had one in LA, one in London, and so on.

The logic was airtight: not only does this give you the perfect comeback for unwanted attention at a bar (“Why, yes, I do have a boyfriend…”), or the perfect excuse for a spring break getaway (“Hop down to Costa Rica on your G4? I guess I could skip a few classes…”), it also allows you not to get too serious with any of the other people you may be spending time with. You can go out on as many dates as you want, have romantic picnics in Union Square with whomever, and know that there’s someone to go home to—or at least call when you get there.

Ultimately, lets face it: New York is just not for monogamists. There are too many options out there to let you settle for just one. So, get a few, and if your favorite one decides to head cross-country or across the Atlantic, try to see them just enough to make you miss them—but not enough to make you miss your life.

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