Why is Monogamy the Default?

I don’t have an end game when dating.

I enjoy it and like meeting new people and learning different perspectives. I’m open to different dynamics and connections. Often times, however, I question what I’m looking for when I go on dates. I don’t see myself abiding to the institution of marriage. Similarly, I don’t have a desire to have children. I’ve found comfort in my independence. I’m financially stable with a full-time job. I masturbate regularly. I have a plethora of hobbies and an active social life that fill up my calendar. I have endless amounts of love and support from my family and friends. There’s not much a romantic partner could give me that I already don’t have. So when the guy I’m dating asks me, “what are you looking for?”

I often say, “nothing at all.”

Kevin told me, “I’m not looking for anything serious,” after we hooked up the first night we met. It was nothing of real concern to me. I was seeing multiple guys at the time — fucking some, dating some, talking with some. All different dynamics, but all equally valuable to me. All deserving of my respect and kindness. It was comforting to know they were all humans looking for connection. Just like me. I gave each and every one of them my honesty. I made my intentions clear and was receptive to their thoughts and feelings. I genuinely cared about their health and happiness. 

One night after a few drinks and a night in my bed, Kevin admitted to liking me. I had to confess I was into him, too. We were always on the same wavelength, he made me laugh, and the sex was great. It felt easy and light-hearted. Our mutual emotions were an added benefit, but it was clear from the beginning that neither of us were looking for a serious romantic relationship.

When Kevin and I decided to only see each other, I thought it was out of convenience. Dating multiple people, while fun and insightful, was exhausting. I was tired of coordinating my schedule, spreading my attention, and constantly managing my sex health (condoms and clinic visits are expensive). I wasn’t opposed to investing my energy into one person. After all, I liked Kevin. I enjoyed his company and the way he touched me. That was enough for me. 

Our monogamy lasted less than two weeks. He drunk dialed me one night in distress, claiming he liked me but wasn’t “ready for a relationship.”

I was confused. I didn’t think we were in a “relationship.” I didn’t see him as my “boyfriend.” I didn’t think about our future together. I just liked spending time with him. Here and now.

I told him this over and over again. For me, being monogamous only meant we were loyal to each other. Choosing to be exclusive was more an action of logistics rather than love. I had only known him for a couple of months and felt we were still trying to figure out what was between us. I cared about him. I wanted to hear about his day. I wanted to add ease and relief to his work week. I wanted to include him in my fun and loving friend group. It’s in my nature to give anyone I care about those things; it didn’t mean anything more than that. I had done this with a handful of other guys I was non-exclusively seeing. Being kind and nurturing automatically meant something real and serious to him.

Kevin is not the first guy to mistake my openness for romance. A majority of my dating life has been this way. When I’m into someone, I want to give them my affection and attention. And it comes effortlessly to me because I want them to be happy and appreciated. I’m not thinking long-term about what it means to give someone my intimacy because I’m not looking for a partner. But it is consistently misinterpreted that way.

As a heterosexual woman in our heternormative society, it is expected of me to want a long-term monogamous relationship. I don’t. I like intimacy. I like connection. I’m willing to invest in people without the expectation of an outcome because I just enjoy spending time with them. And I’m accepting of the end when our time together reaches its limit. I recognize that people’s paths divide most of the time. That’s life. 

I don’t believe I’m an anomaly. As our culture becomes more socially aware and strives for gender equality, women are allowed to want more than a husband and a family in life. Our culture claims to welcome women to deprioritize motherhood and marriage, but there’s still a disconnect in our dating culture.

Women are allowed to want more than a husband and a family in life.

Stepping out of that gender expectation is confusing to the guys I date. Even when I tell them I’m not looking for a long-term serious relationship, they still assume my actions are leaning towards one. I’m left with frustration because expectations and assumptions are made about relationships before they organically form. 

In a way, I get it. As much as humans crave love, we’re more afraid of getting hurt than being open to others. Sometimes we want to categorize people to protect ourselves. These roles are so deeply embedded in our head. We’re so used to these gender scripts that we hold them to be true. It takes work to unlearn and most people aren’t willing to take the time to do it.

But I won’t minimize my heart to fit into the social norm. I won’t make myself smaller to get people to understand me. Caring is the foundation in all of my connections. It makes me vulnerable and takes energy, but it’s worth it because it leads me to authentic and genuine people.

I won’t reserve that for monogamous relationships. 

 

Photos (in order of appearance) by Nikki Burnett, Dariana Portes, and Alyse Mazyck

 

Meet Your Match

This article originally appeared in print in Pull Out, a magazine exploring the relationship between sex and technology. Order a copy here

 

Dating in the 21st century no longer means going out to social events — it means making a profile on an online dating app.

Gone are the days when meeting strangers online was taboo, today it’s a given: Tinder, OKCupid, Grindr, Christian Mingle, Bumble… the list goes on and on. Thousands of suitors, depending on your distance settings, await at your fingertips.

I finally downloaded Tinder as a result of a breakup — typical, I know. Convinced that I was simply looking for something new and exciting, whether that was an ephemeral hook-up or an unforeseen relationship, the world of dating apps seemed filled with endless possibilities. An unlimited number of men streamed directly to my phone, and all I had to do was swipe.

My broken heart received confidence boosts every time I got a match. It was invigorating to know how many guys were interested in me, from only five previously Instagram-ed photos and a sentence long bio, which read, “Tell me your favorite Justin Bieber song.” The confidence I built from Tinder left me eager to try any free dating app that I would fit on my iPhone’s storage. For a brief time, I thought it was possible for me to use these apps to fulfill the romantic void in my post breakup life.

The apps facilitated the initial sorting by filtering guys within my preferred distance and age ranges. Then, if there was mutual interest, the floor was opened for conversation. Swiping was effortless — the hard part was forming a connection based on the superficial, visual content that brought us together. The number of viable candidates decreased significantly as I attempted to form a rapport with these mysterious people on the other side of my phone. The digital banter felt exhausting and artificial. Then the number dropped even lower when it came to guys I actually wanted to meet.

Two.

After spending eight months sending messages to strangers on various apps, this was the total number of guys I met. And it only took one to two dates to realize that the faint connection we formed online was not present when in person. For instance, 25-year-old John* and his lingering obsession with his college party life left me cringing, and Mark* ghosted me after the second date when I awkwardly slipped out of the car because I was not comfortable enough to kiss him.

“Is it me?” I desperately asked my therapist one day when I was questioning why I was still alone after spending so much time swiping left and right.

I was frequently getting asked out on dates, yet often declined because I would look for, and inevitably find reasons that snuffed any initial interest. No one seemed to be worth the time and effort to endure an awkward first date. I began to realize that I was using dating apps to fill the pain from the dissolution of my last relationship. Looking online for the attention and validation I was no longer receiving from my ex-boyfriend. The truth was that my breakup left me feeling alone and terrified. As eager as I was to move on, I found myself discouraged when my attempts to make new connections did not come as easily as my last relationship.

Knowing that I had thousands of men at my fingertips was now making me lonelier than I was at the beginning of my online dating saga. The moment of excitement when matching with someone dulled when I realized there was nothing substantial between us.  

In my opinion, I think loneliness is the key reason why dating apps are successful. We are all trying to find some sort of connection through these clicks and swipes, whether it’s casual sex, platonic friendships, or intimate relationships. Dating apps provide the illusion that you can meet your match through algorithms and preference settings. If this were true, then why is my generation having less sex than the generations before us?

A study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that millennials are having less sex than young adults were in the 1960s. Additionally, CDC research indicates a decline in sexually experienced teens today compared to teens in 1988. 

Although sex has different meanings for different people, it is still a physical action that creates a bond between two people. My guess is that my generation’s drop in sexual activity comes from, in part, our struggle to make connections past the digital space.

Dating apps, and a social media as a whole, attempt to imitate authentic conversation. They are ubiquitous and succeed in bringing some people together, however, apps will never truly mimic IRL relations. You cannot replicate the chemistry felt face-to-face, and while it is not impossible, it’s extremely difficult to create a genuine connection over the screens of our smartphones. And even if you think you do, that connection can dissipate when it moves from the digital to physical realm.

I wonder if we all stand to lose something by basing intimacy off of online interactions. We no longer evaluate significant others solely through actions and words, but now have a digital archive of dating profiles, posts, and tweets to analyze a human being. I’m skeptical if online dating actually makes it easier to find someone when it opens a whole new world of content to criticize.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Perhaps loneliness makes me more closed off and tentative to open up to new people, especially to strangers. Maybe I haven’t had any success with dating apps because I, like many of my generation, am hesitant to move into the physical space. Maybe one day I will be charmed by someone’s five previously Instagram-ed photos and sentence long bio. Maybe I will anticipate a deep and true connection from his online presence. Maybe I will be brave enough to move past the digital wall and meet him face-to-face. And maybe the connection will be just as alive — maybe even more so — than it was behind the screen of my phone.

 

*Names were changed for privacy purposes.

Gif via Giphy, and photos by Sofia Amburgey.

 

 

Cum First

I spent my adolescent years believing my sexuality was something to be given and taken. Having sex for the first time meant giving away my virginity. Participating in sex meant satisfying my male partner’s pleasure. I saw my body as innately sexual and tainted, made only to appease the masculine gaze. Quickly, I internalized this belief that I was only a pawn for men’s sexual desires; hyper-sexualized, yet stripped of my own sexuality. My understanding of sexuality was limited to a rigid binary: masculine sexuality was uncontrollable, desirable and powerful, while feminine sexuality was non-existent.

I began having sex when I was 16 years old. I had been taught that being pure and untouched made be a better woman, so my virginity was sacred to me. I justified losing my virginity by claiming that I was in love with my high school boyfriend. I believed I was going to marry him (stupid). In the early stages of my sex life, I didn’t understand the hype around sex. It felt uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. I constantly wished for my partner to cum so we could stop. I felt too ashamed to try new things and explore my sexuality. I accepted anticlimactic sex because I believed it didn’t matter what I thought or felt— sex was for men and I was just a tool designed to help them achieve climax.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when my beliefs began to change. As I grew older, I slowly started to open up to my sexuality. Maybe this change was the result of puberty, maybe it was education, or maybe it was just experience. It took time, but I slowly unlearned the slut-shaming and male-dominating ideologies surrounding sex that I had been carrying with me for so long. I started to recognize my sexuality as a vital part of my identity. It is not something determined by social norms and barriers; it is something free-flowing and natural. It is something controlled by me and only me. It is something I deserve to claim freely and openly.

As I grew into my sex life, I became curious about the mysteries of female orgasms. Most of the time, my pleasure was secondary in sex. My orgasms were not an expectation, but only a bonus. I could tell that everyone, not just my sexual partners, was intimidated by vaginas— my health teachers were uncomfortable teaching about the female reproductive system, my female friends knew just as little about their own bodies as I did, and my male partners were convinced female orgasms were more difficult to reach. Everyone blamed anatomy.

I’ll be the first to tell you that anatomy is not at fault. The female body is just as capable of orgasms as the male body. Because we are taught that masculinity is inherently sexual, we start to believe those who don’t identify as this gender are less deserving of pleasure. When sex is viewed as a masculine trait, it becomes one-sided.

I fear that all too often women settle for unpleasant and unsatisfying sex because of the weight of social expectation. Women can be sexually active and simultaneously detached from their sexuality— too afraid to explore, too ashamed to feel. I’m a firm believer that we can learn so much about ourselves through sex. Sex has led me to meet strangers, new friends, and intimate partners. I have watched my friends grow in immense ways when they embrace their sexuality. There is so much to learn from knowing your body and connecting with another person through physical intimacy. And life becomes so much less confusing when you understand yourself, want you want, and what you deserve.

As women, not only do we need to unlearn the shame of sex, but we also need to internalize the belief that we are equally deserving sexual beings. Sex is natural, and it should be fun and pleasurable for all parties. Always make sure your partner sees you as their equal, and always make sure that you cum first. You deserve it.

 

Bread Bowls And Break-Ups

He broke up with me while we sat inside of our college campus Panera Bread.

The location was ironically a staple in our relationship. The place, where a month ago, we enjoyed breakfast sandwiches and smoothies while laughing about our drunken night together. The place, where a few weeks ago, he bought soup and tea for me when I was sick. We sat across one another at a table, while he tried to explain to me why he didn’t want to continue our relationship. The place, where I watched our relationship blossom, now the gravestone for what was between us.

I took him home on the last night of my senior year fall semester. We kissed at a mutual friend’s house party after a night of flirting and drinking. We held hands while walking back to my apartment in the frigid December air. The impending doom of graduation made me hold tightly to the fleeting familiar lifestyle surrounding me: college hook-up culture. College is the only appropriate time for casual hook-ups, or so the media tells me. I felt the incoming pressure to be serious about relationships and dating when I entered “the real world.” The post-graduate world seemed prescribed to my uncertain, naive undergrad self. Graduation was only a pit-stop on the road to success. Success, not only being categorized by career, also meant marriage and family. Anything less implied failure and unworthiness. Not being good enough.

With limited days of socially-acceptable singularity, I wasn’t looking to form a deep relationship during my senior year of college. After our one-night-stand, we exchanged friendly snapchats over our winter break during the months of December and January. Social media tends to be the outlet my generation uses for flirting. It was a casual way to stay relevant in each others lives and it landed him back in my bed the first night of the spring semester. My intentions were only to hook up but I couldn’t help connecting with him over our late night pillow talk. I found comfort in our easy-going connectivity, which helped me block out his underclassman status and the knowledge of my diminishing undergrad days. Soon enough, he was coming over almost every single night. He started staying longer in the mornings and asking to see me throughout the day. He began texting me at random hours with well-wishes. He started walking me to class and kissing me goodbye when we separated. We told our friends about one another and agreed not to see other people. He even told his mom about me. It wasn’t until the end of March, when our peers started to label us, that we finally acknowledged we were “in a relationship.”

Our official relationship began with agreement. There were no grand gestures. We never went on romantic dates. We never changed our Facebook statuses to publicly claim one another and define our relationship. We never expressed “I love you” to one another. We definitely weren’t perfect for each other, with arguments and disagreements here and there. Yet it all felt natural. It never felt like we had to prove anything to other people. What was between us was solely between us. We found ourselves in a relationship without all of those distinct public actions that tend to pave the pathway for one. His presence brought me happiness. He didn’t offer chivalry or romance; the things I often looked for in relationships. On top of common interests, he was reliable, understanding, and attentive. He was everything I needed during that small period of time. It felt right, even though we both knew our days were numbered.

By the end of April, I was still unsure of what was to come of our casual yet intense relationship. Classes were ending and finals were approaching, and then graduation would quickly follow. I was choosing to move moment by moment, day by day. On the other hand, I could tell he was starting to get overwhelmed by the shift in his demeanor: he stopped texting me frequently and sleeping over as often. Consciously or not, he was creating distance. When he asked to meet at Panera Bread, I was already prepared for the worst. 

Although I saw our break-up coming, it did not make it any less painful when he told me he didn’t want to stay with me past graduation. I stared blankly at my chicken Caesar salad, while word after word poured from his mouth trying to form some sort of explanation.“I understand,” I finally expressed to both his and my own surprise. An expiration date had lingered in the back of my mind through the entirety of our relationship. I was understanding of our break-up because I knew, just as well as he did, that we weren’t meant to move past graduation.

My friends came over expecting to console me, but were surprised to find me dry-eyed and level-headed. I was devastated and hurting, but not in a distraught and uncontrollable way. “Guys are just scared of commitment. Sometimes, it just takes a little convincing,” one of my friends suggested. But it felt like persuading him would take away everything we had between us. Our relationship felt effortless up until this point. Convincing him to stay would’ve felt antithesis to the foundation of our relationship.

We didn’t have a clean break after our Panera Bread break-up. There was anger and bitterness on both ends. But I think it came out of confusion that we had to divide onto separate paths. Nothing dramatic happened between us. I’d like to think neither of us lost appreciation for one another. There were no lies or deceit. The reality was we both saw the defined finish line. I was about to enter a whole new world, while he was going to remain in our small liberal arts college. Although together we were happy and cared about each other, we did not see eye-to eye on many things needed to sustain a long-term relationship. What we did see eye-to-eye on was choosing to temporarily turn a blind eye to all of the red flags. The red flags could not be hidden any longer after graduation. We both knew this. He was the one who was brave enough to admit it.

There’s no denying I had nights where I laid awake, wondering why we couldn’t continue our relationship. But each night ended in the same conclusion—we couldn’t fit in each other’s lives anymore. Every time I would think of our blissful and uncomplicated past, I would remind myself of the implications and energy that would have existed in our future. How could I force someone to exert energy when they are so full of uncertainty? The best feeling was knowing our relationship was progressing from our independent yet coinciding desires.

We stopped talking after graduation, but I still see him from time to time on my social media newsfeed and timeline. It is a strange feeling to have a front row seat to the window of the life of a person who has fallen estranged. He seems different now. I am different now. Seeing his face always causes a quick moment of pain; a reminder of what was once alive between us. But I still manage to find happiness for him whenever he posts about his life. Whether it be about family, friends, school, or even the new girl he has been seeing. How can I resent someone who used to bring me so much happiness? It would be self-centered of me to wish him misery in my absence.

I only considered myself to be “in love” twice in my life previous to this relationship. At the time of my relationship during my final semester in college, I never claimed I was “in love.” I just thought I was happy. I knew love was a magical and indescribable feeling, yet from my previous experiences it seemed as though it came alongside with strenuous labor. Love meant giving your all and never giving up. Love didn’t seem easy to me. It seemed irrational and consuming. No one ever asks for a boring, unmoving love.

Now, months after our break-up, I think the acceptance of the end constitutes as the most real romantic love I have experienced. Because to me, convincing someone to stay is an act of selfishness. Letting someone go and letting them be happy in your absence is true love. As we grow apart and in different ways, our relationship remains dear and untainted to me because we chose to acknowledge the finish line. Our relationship was ephemeral, but not illusive. Because of that, I will always love him for the person he was when our timing was right, even if that person and relationship does not exist anymore.

Generation Of Validation

Numbers are taught in early years of elementary school to be the most accurate, objective measurement of essentially anything. Rulers measure length, graduated cylinders test volume, scales calculate weight. Numbers are concrete facts. It is easy to believe numbers are the purest way to measure anything– even human beings.

Every community has a set of standards and expectations for people, typically defined by identity. Social norms and cues can regulate these standards. People who follow expectations are often praised and accepted, while people who do not fulfill social standards can be instilled with shame. I have always felt social pressures to change who I am throughout my life, but never saw the benefit of conforming to other people’s expectations. But when I went away to college, I witnessed immediate gratification.

College culture gives easy access to external validation. Class appraises through grades. Organizations, especially Greek life, create exclusivity and therefore the feeling of privilege once accepted. Clubs boost up resumes along with leadership titles. On a non-academic level, having plans to go out at night meant popularity; which everyone would be aware of through social media. Binge drinking, especially on a school night, signified having it all together. How could one have the time to blackout if they were not getting by in school? Participating in hook-up culture meant one was attractive enough to participate in the realm of casual sex. Attendance at the gym exemplified caring about health (even if one took 7 shots of $10 vodka the night prior).

I quickly craved doing it all, not because I wanted to, but because of the reward, I would receive by doing those things. I was always taught that doing well in school, participating in extracurricular activities, being accepted by peers, and being physically fit would make me a well-rounded person. Now, I had an explicit method to prove to everyone, and myself, that I was the genuine, hard-working, dedicated person I always believed I was. The grades I got in class, the number of activities I was involved with, my social life, the number of guys I slept with, my weight— they all became measurements of my worth and happiness.

I was able to hold it all together at first. I made the dean’s list. I joined a sorority. I took part in clubs and organizations where I held titles and positions. I would drink 3-5 times a week while averaging about 150 likes per Instagram post when I would go out. I was single but seeing multiple guys, while playing the persona as the detached cool girl. I trained and ran a half marathon.I did everything I believed would make me a well-rounded, successful, happy person.

It felt fulfilling in the moment. I was proud of everything: my work, my involvement, my social life. But in the dead of sober nights, I felt my accomplishments stripped from me. Nothingness started to culture inside of me. Who was I? What was I worth if I wasn’t being measured by external things? At first, I thought this meant I wasn’t trying hard enough, so I pushed myself to escape the emptiness. Pressuring myself then developed into unhealthy habits: staying in the library until the 2am closing, volunteering to do more than I had time for, running the extra mile even when my body was aching, taking the extra shot, sleeping with guys I was disinterested in, calculating calories so I could maintain a deficit of 1,200 per day (including alcoholic calories). It all caught up to me in waves of anxiety and depression.

We wonder why mental health is an epidemic on college campuses, but don’t see the toxic culture that is in place. College culture teaches students to be exceptional humans through external validation. Classes are about getting good grades, not learning. Greek life is focused on reputation. Binge drinking and fitness are an ongoing conflicting battle. Social media allows for 24/7 validation and is used to portray acceptance and happiness. Party culture and hooking up becomes a numbers game.

An involved college community can be positive and powerful. But somewhere along the way, It starts to become personal. We are taught that our successes on campus make us better people, thus more happy and worthy people. We start evaluating people based on the surface. We start to believe that people are only as good as the recognition they receive.

The problem with external validation is that it never adds up. It is passing. It is never enough. The desire to be validated becomes stronger and stronger until we start to do things because of the immediate gratification we receive in return instead of doing them because we want to. It becomes mindless and robotic.

I don’t think the need for validation is exclusive in college culture. I think it is only a taste of reality; a preview of how the rest of society is structured. Numbers accurately measure concepts and objects. The one thing numbers cannot precisely measure are human beings. The complexity of humans cannot be compared and contrasted. Lived experiences cannot be calculated. Humans grow and evolve in too many ways to be classified in a single, linear path. Why do we insist that the things outside of ourselves make us better people?
External validation convinced me that my most vulnerable self-was dark and ugly. That I was nothing without everything around me. For a while, I feared the person I was when I was stripped of my achievements. But now, in the middle of the night, when there is no one around or nothing is going on, I reflect on the person I am. Seeing myself with nothing- as nothing- has made me realize there is so much more to me than what is sitting on the surface.