Confessions of an ex-serial monogamist

serial monogamy
Illustrator: Jo Yeh

I’ve been single for the past four years.

For some people, that’s a really long time to be single. Unfathomable, even. I know firsthand, because I used to be one of those people.

For most of my life, I was a ‘serial monogamist,’ or someone who is continually in a serious or long-term relationship. Hardcore serial monogamists don’t let any time at all pass in between relationships, and although I’ve personally never had any relationships overlap, I did always seem to be in one. In fact, I don’t think there was any point in my life where I was single for longer than a month, tops.

At 29 years old, I’ve probably only been single collectively for maybe four-and-a-half years of my entire adult (and teenaged) life.

My tendencies toward serial monogamy started at a young age. I had my first “serious” (and I use that term as loosely as possible) boyfriend at age 14. From there, it was pretty much a whirlwind of one long-term relationship after another for the next decade or so.

Based on my past, one might think that I must be highly codependent, but surprisingly, I’m the exact opposite. I’m an incredibly independent person who craves personal time and space. My relationships were never really about that. Truthfully, they were mostly out of convenience. But another truth was that my independence routinely became a big source of problems with my partners.

This brings me to the most important thing that I’ve learned in the time since I’ve been single: There is no relationship on planet Earth that is worth giving up your independence.

I spent so many years fighting with various exes about doing the things I wanted to do. While I don’t consider myself to have a ‘type,’ the unfortunate common denominator between the people I’ve dated is that the independence that initially drew them to me ultimately became the thing that intimidated them and mutated into a source of control. In the end, the relationships became completely soul-sucking.

This isn’t just a “me” problem—I see this happen with a lot of people. Because society has so strangely stigmatized singleness (and especially single women), people often settle for toxic relationships and serial monogamy…because it must be better than being alone, right?

Wrong. Relationships should never be soul-sucking. I feel like I’m on the other side of the veil now, watching many of my friends and peers make the same mistake I made: Jumping from person to person just to avoid being alone at all costs. A gymnastics routine of escapism (because, duh, how can you deal with your own shit when you’re too busy dealing with relationship shit)? You don’t have to look deeply at yourself when you’re too busy being deeply involved with someone else.

Dr. Danielle Forshee, a certified licensed psychologist and clinical social worker, likens serial monogamy to the same feelings people experience while taking certain drugs. “Being addicted to love means you’re addicted to the attachment and comfort of a person, and addicted to the dopamine high that comes along with the relationship,” Forshee told the Daily Mail.

Love and affection interact with the same areas of our brains as a lot of drugs do. The dopamine that you get from feeling affection from someone you love does the same thing to your brain as, for example, opiates. For many people, being in a relationship is literally an addiction.

As Forshee puts it, “It’s important to sit with whatever emotional distress you’re experiencing so you can learn to tolerate and to understand your internal experiences. If we can force ourselves to not do those things—reach out to an ex or find someone new—and sit with it for five more minutes, you’re going to make yourself stronger.”

I’ve learned a lot about myself, my relationships, and honestly, life as a whole during these past four years. More than I ever learned about any of those things while I was in a relationship. Things I would have never learned if I continued to go from relationship to relationship instead of taking some time to be with myself.

In fact, the relationship with myself has now taken center stage. The freedom, the calm, the chaos, and everything in between. It’s mine and mine alone to choose. It’s the most liberated I have ever felt in my life. In these last four years, I have finally—after being on this Earth for almost 30 years—figured out who I am as a person. All it took was a commitment to take the time and sit with myself. It’s been a scary, beautiful thing.

Serial monogamy is a habit I hope more people can break. Believe me, I know being alone can be scary. But once you get past the discomfort that comes with the initial aloneness, you will become comfortable being alone. I promise. And when you do, you will find an inner peace that you cannot find anywhere else, and once you harness it, will never leave you.

And if and when you do find yourself in another relationship (because we aren’t trying to demonize relationships, here) that peace will still be there. Spending some time with yourself and obtaining that peace will assure you that, if it doesn’t work out, you can easily settle back into the routine of You.

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