Falling into monogamy

We want to be free and easy but still we lapse into typical patterns

Published October 2, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Hi Cary,

I'm seeing a wonderful divorced man who isn't interested in being married ever again. That's music to my ears, because I'm not interested in the institution of marriage either. So what's the problem? Both of us have just realized how seriously we are behaving with one another. We each know that we are definitely not ready to settle down and even the idea of doing so fills us with nauseating fear. Yet ... we are behaving with each other as though we already have "resigned" ourselves to one another. What's happening here? Any perspectives are greatly appreciated.


Dear S,

This is a great question. Just to recap: I hear you saying that you wish to avoid automatic relationship behavior. You want to think through what you're doing with this man and what it means, and so does he. Nonetheless, you find yourselves acting in certain automatic ways that feel limiting and not true to your ideals. You want to escape the trap of acting unconsciously according to some unacknowledged pattern or conditioning.

It makes sense that you would want this. So I encourage you to keep communicating about such things when they happen.

It's going to be hard at times to know exactly what you're doing and why, because our "automatic" behavior comes from long conditioning, and from deep-seated desires and beliefs. You're probably going to have some conflicts about what one of you believes is overly limiting, stifling togetherness and routine and what the other of you feels is just normal life. But I would encourage you to keep talking about this stuff and try to have a sense of humor about it and some humility.

Remember that we all have certain behaviors that we can't fully see or control, and we all have a dark side that under stress will come out, and we all make mistakes, and we all long for things we don't think we should long for and we all wish we were cooler and more self-sufficient and we're all a little insecure and we all want people to like us and we all wish life would be easier than it is and we all get into relationships that don't give us everything we want.

In writing this column, I look for clues to people's personalities. Sometimes those clues will appear in the letter itself, in the form of punctuation preferences. At Salon, we put apostrophes in contractions and capitalize proper nouns. We do this because this is a professionally edited site.

So I would like to mention, for the sake of readers who did not see your original letter, that you used no apostrophes with your contractions and you did not capitalize words such as "I."

Now, it might mean nothing, but I'm guessing that you may have an exaggerated dislike of convention; you may really dislike being told what to do and being expected to conform. You may have a greater interest in forging a relationship free of rules and routine than I realize, or even than you yourself realize.

If so, more power to you. I would only suggest, for your sake, that you be aware of just how strong your desire is in this area, and be aware of the corresponding, yet diametrically opposed, power of convention. Convention operates whether you want it to or not; it is pervasive and often unconscious. Other people operate according to convention with no regard for how it might be affecting you. So if you are going to fight convention, you are going to have to fight it all the time, and there will be times when you don't have the energy to fight it. So you will need to be flexible and have a good sense of humor, and pick your battles.

Good luck! To thine own self be true!

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Divorce Marriage Relationships Since You Asked