Bi and Monogamous: Is It Worth What I’m Giving Up?
I’m currently a senior in college, going through the existential crisis that results from approaching the real world. Luckily, I have a great, reliable and overall stable boyfriend who can anchor my crazy for the time being. We’ve been together for a whopping 2 years (which is like 20 in college time). The problem is though: what if he’s not enough?
I’m bisexual, and I fear that I’m missing out. I’m not one of those people who has issues with monogamy in general – I think it’s dumb to break up just because you’re afraid you’ll be together forever. And I know it’s not about having sex with a ton of people. I could never sleep with a man other than my boyfriend. However, I’m scared to lose that aspect of myself. A relationship with a woman is just completely, completely different. And it makes me feel like a different person.
My boyfriend knows that I feel this way, and he seems okay with it. He’s not interested in polyamory, which I completely understand. Despite how much we talk about it, I can’t seem to reconcile the thought that I won’t be with a woman. Yet I don’t want to break up. Do you have any advice for me?
PS I love your column! I think you’re a great gal.
You’re in a unique situation here because your bisexuality, and your past experiences with women, are preventing you from sustaining the classic fiction of long-term relationships: the white lie that your partner satisfies all of your sexual and romantic desires. Almost all relationships between people who call themselves heterosexual or homosexual seem to arrive at that fiction; and it makes sense, because it’s very reassuring to both people involved. To some extent we’re aware that it’s a fiction, that’s why so many of my straight and gay friends say they don’t mind if their partners enjoy porn but don’t want to see their search histories, downloads, et cetera. I suspect that for many people, it’s natural to want to be everything to someone, both romantically and sexually, even if that’s not actually possible; and when their partners understand that, a certain mutually-sustained fiction becomes the solution.
But the reality is that almost everyone harbors desires that no single person can fulfill; I’d go so far as to contend that most people hold even desires which are mutually exclusive. Your case is more explicit — being in a monogamous relationship with a man excludes the possibility of being in one with a woman — but in the broad sense your dilemma applies, in degrees, to everyone I know. Being with someone who comes from another culture can be eye-opening and endlessly fascinating, but it also means giving up a certain capacity to relate to one another. Being with someone with adorable Old New York mannerisms means giving up that sexy French accent. Being with someone you can rely on removes the thrill of uncertainty.
We deal with each of those choices in different ways. Most often, we get around the issue by means of inspiration — someone who shows you the beauty of stability makes you see the desire for uncertainty as unsustainable; being with someone you can relate to diminishes your attraction to the exotic. Or the opposite: a bad experience shows you that certain desires aren’t worth the price you have to pay to satisfy them. In other words, the key isn’t to find someone who meets every single one of your desires, but someone who inspires you to desire different things. Not radically different, necessarily; not untrue to yourself; but slightly different, at least insofar as they’re possible within a single person. That kind of inspiration is what love is about, to my mind.
What I’m about to tell you might sound extreme, but I think it’s logically sound. You’re in a relationship with a man who wants monogamy. You say you don’t have a problem with monogamy yourself, but you don’t make clear whether you have a preference for it; but most people in the dating pool do tend to prefer monogamy. In other words, if you were to leave your boyfriend to be with a woman, you’d be very likely to have the same problem. And in the long-term, if you want to have a single partner, you’re going to have to choose a man or a woman, unless you think you could find someone who physically or emotionally embodies both the masculine and feminine traits you find attractive — in which case, I think you should hold out for that person.
Either way, what you have to figure out now is how much your current boyfriend inspires you. It sounds like he’s only willing to do this if you’re exclusive with each other, and if you’re “serious,” i.e. planning a future together. Does the prospect of being with him in the long-term inspire you to put those other dreams — being with a woman, being single again — behind you? Think about it this way: when you think about this relationship “working out,” does it sound like a beginning to you, or an end? How grave are the doubts you’re experiencing? Because if the best-case scenario still doesn’t seem worthwhile in the long term, then something’s missing. But if these sacrifices seem small next to the happiness you believe you two could have together, then do your damnedest to make it work. Even if you fail, you’ll know you tried; and if you don’t, it’ll be worth it.
We both know I can’t answer those questions for you; the best I can do is frame them as clearly as I can. In other words, this is where I leave you. Best of luck!
PS you sound like a great gal/guy too!
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