It’s no coincidence that American culture playfully uses the term “serial” as an adjective before “monogamist” for someone who’s in a seemingly endless string of relationships with very little single time in between. Our first association with the word “serial” used an adjective – “serial killer” – isn’t exactly a positive one, and, correspondingly, lots of people don’t exactly have great associations with serial monogamists.
Yet, at the same time, “serial monogamist” isn’t the worst thing a person could get called; we often use it to talk about someone who is seriously looking for a stable, long-term relationship to be in for the rest of their lives, but just doesn’t seem to be having any luck yet.
So with these confusing, competing thoughts about what “serial monogamists” are and the way American culture thinks about them, how can you figure out (1) if you are one, and (2) whether that’s a good, bad, or neutral thing??
First things first: what actually is a serial monogamist?
On the most basic level, a serial monogamist is, as Urban Dictionary puts it, “one who spends as little time as possible being single, moving from the end of one relationship to the beginning of a new relationship as quickly as possible.” So a serial monogamist is someone who values being faithful to their partner, but who is rarely single for long.
From this point forward, though, defining this type of person gets a little trickier. There’s actually more than one way to be a serial monogamist, and more than one possible reason for being one.
Possibility #1: The “Fearful of Commitment” Serial Monogamist
This way of being a serial monogamist is the most negative of the three options. This kind of person doesn’t just happen to be unlucky in love while they struggle to find “the one” that they’ll stay with long term. They’re actually deeply afraid of commitment and prefer moving from one relationship to the next in an endless series.
Relationship author Jeb Kinnison thinks of most serial monogamists as this type of person. Describing a typical serial monogamist, Kinnison writes, “Family and friends and society at large have told him he should try to achieve permanent partnership with someone respectable, and in pursuit of that goal he will break and leave behind any relationship that doesn’t seem to be heading in that direction.” In other words, Kinnison imagines most serial monogamists as people who might want a “forever” relationship but are afraid of committing to someone who doesn’t seem perfect. They don’t want to work through problems and differences in relationships, preferring instead to dump a partner that doesn’t match their ideal and search for someone new. Some people may even be afraid that they themselves are going to mess up relationships and so they leave them, chronically and repeatedly, for that reason.
Possibility #2: The “Accepted It, Happy With It” Serial Monogamist
Unlike Possibility #1, experts like Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeev would define most serial monogamists as people who aren’t really looking for “the one” that they’ll be with forever. In his Psychology Today article, he writes:
In this increasingly popular romantic pattern, people still believe in some moderate form of ideal love, but give up their basic pretense that it should last forever. The beloved is still regarded to be unique, but in many cases he is not so for the rest of our life.
In other words, some serial monogamists could be people who are interested in exclusive, long-term relationships, but who aren’t really persuaded that such relationships can or should last a lifetime. For instance, maybe you’ve known or heard of someone who was married for 10 years, then dated the same partner for 12 years, then was married again for 23 more years, and felt that they truly loved each partner and don’t regret any of those relationships. This is Dr. Ben-Zeev’s idea of what a serial monogamist usually is like.
Possibility #3: The “Genuinely Not Trying to Be A…” Serial Monogamist
Lastly, there’s the possibility that not all people who go quickly from one relationship to the next are deliberately trying to date in this pattern. They might not think it’s for the best, as in possibility #2, and they might also genuinely not have a fear of commitment, as in possibility #3. They simply happened to meet new partners very quickly after separating from old partners several times in a row. While this might sound unlikely, psychologists like Dr. Mari Kovanen stress that human experience is so different and vast, that we shouldn’t rule out this possibility when we see someone engaged in behavior that looks unhealthy from the outside.
So, the question is: Is it bad to be a serial monogamist? Does it depend what type you are? What’s the deal?
If you take Dr. Kovanen’s line of thinking, then there is no one universal answer to this question. She says, “…everyone’s different, and one can’t really make a global statement about whether it’s healthy or not – it depends on whether it’s causing distress and hurt.”
To help you determine if serial monogamy is hurting you or is just a part of your life that you can practice happily and healthily, consider the following questions:
- Does being single feel unbearably boring, sad, or lonely for me?
- Do my partners always seem to fall short of an ideal partner I have in my head?
- Am I always waiting for a feeling of “love” like what I see in movies that I never quite seem to feel?
- Have I ever waited to end a relationship that I knew wasn’t working until I had another prospective partner lined up?
- Do I ever make rationalizations or excuses for a partner’s or prospective partner’s serious flaws?
- Do I always feel confused when I get out of a relationship, like I can’t figure out what went wrong, and never experience resolution of that feeling?
If you answered “yes” to many of these questions, then your serial monogamy might indeed be a problem, a crutch that’s keeping you from truly knowing yourself and addressing your own issues.
But if you didn’t, then maybe your serial monogamy is just what works for you, or even a temporary pattern that’s happened to you basically by coincidence, without you consciously wanting it or seeking it out. If you’re capable of evaluating your own relationships with honesty, then you’re the best person to decide whether serial monogamy is hurting you.
If you could use some outside perspective on your dating patterns, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about how working with one of our therapists can help you improve your life.