No offense, but being in a monogamous relationship can be kind of embarrassing. In a time when various forms of non-traditional and non-monogamous relationship styles are increasingly gaining visibility and acceptance, being monogamous can feel like still being on Facebook. It’s definitely still very popular, but it is also deeply uncool and maybe kind of harmful to society.
As conversations about non-monogamy enter the mainstream, open relationships, polyamory and other non-monogamous relationship styles are often presented as a modern, progressive alternative to the dated, patriarchal and failure-prone norm that is monogamy. Non-monogamy is thought to be for those evolved and forward-thinking enough to reject an outdated structure rooted in religious, heteronormative mores — sometimes to the extent that non-monogamy is seen as something of an antidote to the ills and pitfalls associated with traditional monogamous relationships, such as divorce, infidelity and stagnation.
But just as we now know that the monogamous norm to which Western couples have had little choice but to conform for the past several centuries or so isn’t for everyone, non-monogamy isn’t for everyone, either. For some people, monogamy truly is the best option — and there’s nothing wrong with that. As sex and relationships scientist Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., has put it, “Monogamy isn’t the problem. Undiscussed monogamy-by-default is.”
Enter: radical monogamy — monogamy for the progressive, open-minded free-thinker who has done the work, evaluated their options and determined monogamy is in fact the best path for them. The term “radical monogamy” has been floating around certain corners of the internet for at least a few years now, but reached new levels of mainstream recognition when Vice ran an explainer earlier this month.
Naturally, the headline received some inevitable clowning on Twitter. After all, there’s obviously nothing “radical” or transgressive about monogamy, a long-dominant social norm rooted in hetero-patriarchal structures. Still, the concept does offer a more modern, progressive approach to monogamy, a way of looking at a seemingly outdated relationship style through a more evolved, enlighted lens.
Robyn Ochs, a Boston-based educator and prominent radical monogamy advocate, told Vice the concept differentiates between monogamy as a conscious, informed choice, and what she calls “reflexive monogamy,” or blind acceptance of monogamy as the default relationship style.
Basically, so-called “radical monogamy” is monogamy that is actively chosen rather than defaulted to. It’s a relationship style consciously and consensually chosen because a couple has mutually decided it is the best option for them, not because religion or society says so. Radical monogamy also rejects the notion that monogamy is morally, romantically or otherwise superior to non-monogamous relationship styles or practices. Whether monogamous or non-monogamous, there are no relationship styles that are inherently better or worse than any others; all are equally valid options that can and should be chosen on a personal basis.
Some people just truly want monogamy, and there shouldn’t be anything shameful or retrograde about entering or seeking a monogamous relationship. For some people, it really is the right choice. The key, however, is that it is a choice, and one made freely and with intentionality.
But how do you know if your monogamy is truly radical? As sex columnist Zachary Zane told Vice, what makes radical monogamy “radical” isn’t really the conclusion as much as the process of self-interrogation. Even if you’re pretty sure monogamy is definitely the right fit for you because it’s all you’ve ever known and all you’ve ever wanted to know, it may still be worth examining those beliefs and figuring out why, exactly, you want monogamy. There’s not necessarily any right or wrong answer, but simply asking yourself these questions can open up the door to reaffirming and “radicalizing” your choice to be monogamous, or it may find you considering other options outside of monogamy. Either way, a little self-interrogation never hurt anybody.
Ultimately, there really isn’t anything particularly radical about radical monogamy — or, at least, there shouldn’t be. In an ideal world, all relationship styles and monogamy agreements would be ones that are actively and consciously chosen, rather than societal norms that are simply defaulted to. If radical monogamy is monogamy that is chosen by informed, consenting and open-minded individuals, then ideally all monogamy should be radical — and thus not really very radical at all. Hopefully we, as a society, will someday reach a point at which “radical” monogamy is the norm. In the meantime, please remember that done right, monogamy isn’t inherently regressive or embarrassing. Being on Facebook definitely is though.