Diary of a Serial Monogamist
What is a serial monogamist? A single man or woman who enters one love relationship at a time in a committed fashion for a limited period of time. Serial monogamists do not cheat on their lovers. Their commitment problem does not appear in that form. Their commitment issue emerges in relation to how long they will remain in each love relationship. To illustrate this type of commitment problem, I will describe to you the mind of a heterosexual male serial monogamist who went into a series of committed one to three year relationships with very similar women over approximately fifteen years from ages 21 to 36. For purposes of illustration let’s call our subject Mr. X.
Each of Mr. X’s relationships during this period went through the expected stages from meeting, to honeymoon, to escalating conflicts, to resisting long-term commitment, to a breakup phase of the relationship, with short periods of being alone between each relationship. The progression of the relationship was always the same with each woman wanting more at the end. The meeting and honeymoon phrases were usually very exciting and promising. Each time a degree of love was experienced which varied in each relationship, sometimes more and sometimes less.
Escalating conflicts occurred around issues related to formalizing some kind of engagement. Arguments leading to short separations were usually followed by periods of repair and a return to conflict. This pattern of conflict, breakup, and repair occurred at least several times during this period of the relationship. For Mr. X the experience was always the same, an initial period of excitement including high sexual attraction which over time began to feel suffocating and limiting.
Neither person in any of the relationships cheated as far as Mr. X knows. The struggle that ensued around the issue of long-term engagement and commitment continued unabated until the end of each relationship. Most of the women Mr. X found fell in love with him and were willing to commit to an engagement and eventual marriage. Their only problem, which they all shared in common, was an inability to discern Mr. X’s limited ability to commit beyond one to three years at the beginning of the relationship.
This would have saved them a considerable amount of unhappiness and effort. No doubt this pattern of serial monogamy would have continued for many more years until such time as the pain and effort involved would have dissuaded Mr. X from further involvement at a later age. In other words, he would have become a bitter old lonely man who couldn’t figure women out enough to make a relationship work.
What brought Mr. X’s serial monogamy to an end was his experience in psychoanalysis with a progressive Manhattan psychoanalyst, Dr. Y. Mr. X began to experience more difficulty managing the periods of being alone between relationships so he began a course of treatment hoping to strengthen his ability to continue his love-life pattern of serial monogamy as before. Instead with Dr. Y’s creative help he began to understand the reasons why he was stuck in this endless series of limited relationships.
Mr. X realized that he had not yet separated emotionally from his mother who still had a dominating influence in his emotional life. Their relationship was characterized by Mr. X taking care of his mother’s emotional problems ranging from depression to hysterical over-reactions. Mr. X had been in this ‘parentified’ role (‘parentified’=child is parent to the parent) in relation to his mother from a very young age.
He came to understand his father’s compliance as a work-a-holic who maintained a certain distance from his wife’s emotional storms preferring that his son occupy the care-taking role of his wife in the family. What Mr. X did not understand until his analysis with Dr. Y was how this long-term unresolved dependency with his mother negatively affected his love-life as an adult man.
Over the course of treatment Mr. X began to realize that he had ‘unconsciously’ found needy women like his mother to participate in his love-life pattern of serial monogamy. The result was a repetitive experience of attraction, dependency, and separation that both replicated his experience with his mother and was limited by the absence of separation in that parent-child relationship.
Mr. X experienced a ‘suffocating feeling’ when he tried to leave home and his mother attempted to guilt him into staying with her with her depressive illness and hysterical over-reactions. The guilt feelings he experienced compelled him to re-create the emotional conditions of this unresolved separation experience now in serial monogamy.
Mr. X began to realize how he was attracted to needy women he would attempt to ‘fix’ (like with his mother), feel frustrated when he could not, start to distance himself from his lover’s ‘needs,’ leading to a painful breakup and disappointment. Over and over again this serial pattern occurred as if somewhere in his heart he was hoping for a different and better outcome.
Then there was that fated session with Dr. Y when Mr. X realized that his mother was a ‘narcissistic person’ he could not ‘fix’ (narcissism=due to the absence of love in life he/she is focused exclusively on getting love from others). With the help of Dr. Y, he grieved the loss of love in his early life with his mother and began to give up his psychological agenda to fix her into being a more loving mother. Once the grieving abated, he felt relief.
He learned to keep at bay the guilty feelings that came when he began focusing on his own needs and his own love-life. After a period of being on his own and learning how to take better care of himself, he found a woman of substance who was able to both give and receive love. After a short engagement of eighteen months they got married and started a family. Mr. X has been married for eighteen years and counting.
Comments. Welcome. Dr. Tom Jordan