Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Serial Monogamy for Beginners
sLove comes in all shapes and sizes. For some, it takes the form of a rhombus. For others, it appears in the shape of a comely goat or a total dick. But whatever its contours, we have all been conditioned over the years to believe that love must eventually assume the venerable marriage shape in order to best advertise its successful conclusion to others. And throughout the years, this notion has been brutally enforced by The New York Times’ “Vows” section.*
And yet, popular as matrimony has become in recent years, interest in the lives of attractive single people—especially single people under forty who can pass for thirty, thirty-five, max; but never, ever the sad, fat kind—has become ever more prurient and frothy. Suddenly, the notion that single life is an uninterrupted orgy of indulgent “me-time”—if you can afford the right clothes and lots of beaded throw pillows and expensive toiletries—is being just as rigorously enforced as the idea that marriage is a never-ending love story. Dozens of publications are dedicated to tracking the spotty romantic careers of our most renowned and illustrious serial monoga-
*Personally, I am a big fan of the “Vows” section, as I am always interested to learn what the bride does for a living or where the groom’s stepmother resides. I, for one, can’t get enough of the meet-cute stories and the tasteful mention of prestigious alma maters. In fairness, the paper of record might consider a section celebrating unions of a more tentative kind. A “Shacking Up” section might be nice. mists, but rarely will yet another Julia Roberts relationship meltdown inspire People magazine to run her photo with a headline that reads “Single and Hating It!” Why? Because if magazines and television shows are to be believed, being single and female is like a long, drunken day at Disneyland. And in the magic shoe kingdom, you don’t walk the least bit funny in four-inch heels.
No wonder you feel bad. You are not technically married. You are not technically single. You have been leaping from one long, sincere, “committed” relationship to another like an overstimulated squirrel monkey. Sure, you have gone on dates—they just happen to have lasted three to five years. That’s because, traditionally, you have started to worry about never finding love again within about twenty-four hours of the demise of your last relationship. Paradoxically, you have always found love again within twenty-four hours of starting to worry—a pattern you will likely repeat until undesirability sets in.
Are you a complete pudwhacker? Or are you onto something? While you may have other, perfectly good reasons to feel bad about yourself, don’t let this one in particular get you down. No matter how culturally invalidated you may feel, there is nothing wrong with you, your tepid decisions, or your ambivalent approach to love and commitment. Think of it this way: it is quite possible that you have unconsciously devised a clever way to live the life of a married person and a single person simultaneously without cheating, lying, or developing a set of discrete personalities, each with its own hobbies and dietary restrictions. Why tie the knot, when you can simply leave the rope slung casually over your throat? Why be single on a Saturday night, when you can be single, and therefore trendy, on the dotted line? If noth- ing else, the experience of barreling through a series of committed relationships has probably made you the wiser and stronger beneficiary of an impressive collection of boxer shorts. And while these boxer shorts have probably come at an emotional price much higher than $16.99, the wisdom, the memories, the laughs, the holes punched in the wall—they have doubtless passed the time.
Still, there comes a time in every serial monogamist’s life when someone—an uncle, perhaps, or a series of uncles, a mother, a few cousins, and a boss or two—asks the inevitable question: “Whatever happened to that other guy, what was his name? You know, the asshole?” Unnerving as this question can be, it’s important to remember that at least you got out—which is more than you can say for Grandma.
So instead of dwelling on the negative, let’s try a new approach and take a moment to reexamine the advantages of being a serial monogamist in today’s uncertain world.
“Ambivalent” Doesn’t Have to Mean “Alone” Half-assed relationships have gained popularity in recent years, as they present the ideal romantic choice for people who dislike themselves and others equally, and yet cannot bear the thought of being alone. You have doubtless heard members of the psychiatric profession suggest, in their “soothing” voices, that we cannot expect to be loved by others if we do not love ourselves. And yet, if we truly loved ourselves, what need would we have for others? As Deepak Chopra once said, we do not strangle our own chickens, and yet we expect occasionally to dine at Kenny Rogers Roasters.
As we now understand them, relationships allow a couple to remain in a noncommittal monogamous union for an indeterminate period of time with no clear goal in mind, while simultaneously shielding them from the twin horrors of breaking up and getting married. (See also “Aging.”)
All the Illusion of Options with None of the Scary Options Do you have trouble making decisions? Are you resistant to change? If your relationship is beginning to chafe, but you find that the thought of starting all over again triggers an even more unsightly rash, emotional paralysis may be right for you. After all, not everyone is cut out to be an intrepid love-seeker. Perhaps you are more of the shy, trepid type. Maybe you are not as open to life’s journeys as you are to life’s quick errands. Remember that, at your center, you are a luminous jewel, and therefore fundamentally legless. Stay put, but let your imagination soar. Why risk the emotional Chernobyl that is a breakup, when you can simply envision it? Why invite fresh disappointments when your nagging doubt and confusion are so cozy and familiar? Remember, as long as it remains safely in your mind, your next relationship will be perfect.
It’s Never Too Late to Start Over There is nothing like the late stage of a moribund relationship to make a person feel like a half-dead whale flopping around on a deserted beach after everyone has gone home for the winter; and there is nothing like the sheer giddiness of the early stages of a relationship to transform that whale into a radiant Pamela Anderson–style figure, jogging in slow motion toward her glorious future. Luckily, relationships are nonbinding and therefore marvelously flexible. If you find that you have accidentally committed to the wrong person, you may scrap the commitment and commit again with total impunity. Even if, during the course of your last relationship, you rarely left the house, the two of you were still technically “dating,” and therefore officially just passing through.And Who’s This Now?
Teddy and Louise have been together for a little under a year. Recently, they were invited to the wedding of one of Louise’s cousins. Before going out with Teddy, Louise spent a year with a man named Daryl, whom the family had never liked much, but were just starting to get used to. Before that there was Chuck. Everybody loved Chuck. To this day, Louise’s Noni talks about Chuck, sighing, “You had true love and you let it slip away!” Louise has never had the heart to tell her Noni that Chuck was a phone sex addict.
Anyway, Teddy and Louise arrived at the wedding to find that Teddy’s place card had not only rechristened him “Freddy,” but that they had invented a new last name for him entirely. Teddy and Louise considered correcting the mistake, but somehow never got around to it. They know what everybody’s thinking: Another year, another boyfriend. Slut.From the Trade Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid? by Carina Chocano. Copyright © 2003 by Carina Chocano. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.