Why I Choose to Be a Reluctant Monogamist in An Age of Right Swipes

Love and Sex

Why I Choose to Be a Reluctant Monogamist in An Age of Right Swipes

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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n the simpler days of 2012, when the most sexually promiscuous mainstream phenomenon was 50 Shades of Grey, Tinder exploded into our collective consciousness like a particularly graphic dick pic. Suddenly, everyone was swiping left and right as casually as the BJP would soon begin promising acche din. But somehow, I could only partake in this brave new dating landscape vicariously, thumbing through my friends’ accounts with a feeling I didn’t yet have the language to describe: FOMO.

You see, being in an exclusive relationship meant I had to recuse myself from the carousel of thirst dating had become. “So what?”, you say, reminding me that in this Huxleyan age of 2018, Tinder is seen as a relic, practically the spinster Victorian aunt of millennial romance. But at the beginning of the decade, we didn’t have “polyamory” and “open relationships” in the mainstream.  

Technology has changed the face of modern dating even more than we change our own with Snapchat’s puppy filter. Today, millennials spend an average of ten hours a week swiping, looking for everything from a one-night stand to their one and only Tinderella. Any millennial will tell you, often tearfully, that dating is a minefield where you need an advanced degree in Text Message Interpretation, with a minor in Gender Politics of the Shirtless Selfie, just to get by.

But in the early days, when I was finally single and ready to mingle, I excitedly logged on to Tinder, thinking I would find a modern, no-strings-attached fairytale that was perfect for a commitment-phobe like me. Spinning the roulette wheel on dating apps provides the same thrill of anticipation as playing a slot-machine, and I swiped like a woman who fears neither man nor carpal tunnel.

A couple of months later at a nondescript bar, face-to-face with yet another nondescript guy, sipping lukewarm beer while he regaled me with tales of errant construction machinery, that thrill had died completely. The thought of going home with this Mr Vanilla and zoning out through 15 minutes, tops, of his most valiant attentions, was thoroughly unappealing. As I checked my phone for the millionth time, hoping that the clock would move a little faster, I got a text. At last, I felt the excitement return – after this date from the depths of dull was over, I had plans with a guy I actually liked.

Suddenly, it hit me: Why was I wasting my time with Mr Vanilla at all? Why did I have a date the following day with a guy who was basically a tall, dark version of this one, who I was only meeting again because our text message rapport was good at best? I would no doubt be waiting for the night to end before it was half over, stuck with a guy I’d never have looked at twice if I’d met him in person. Why bother, when I could instead be binging Breaking Bad with someone who made me laugh? Like an elderly Gen-Xer, I was dragged, by sheer force of logic, into the unbearably quaint state of serial monogamy.

As I feed off my friends’ dating stories, listening intently to popcorn-worthy nightmares of kissing frog after fuckboy frog, it’s hard to argue that they feel empowered, free, or confident. Instead, their common complaints remind me why I always end up giving into old-school ideas of lasting love.

For a generation that grew up on 500 Days of Summer-esque romances that don’t last long but can change you forever, monogamy has become as outdated as hair scrunchies and tamagotchis. How are you supposed to experience all that life has to offer if you’re stuck with one person, the story goes. It turns out that – just like online shopping – the picture of playing the field is a lot more appealing than the sad, ill-fitting tangibility of mediocre sex with someone you can just about tolerate.

And yet for many young women, this is their romantic reality. In Vanity Fair’s oft-quoted “Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse”, psychologist David Buss’s comment on the pitfalls of a rapidly changing approach to dating stands out: “Online dating apps are truly evolutionarily novel environments. But we come to those environments with the same evolved psychologies,” he says. Women, the essay points out, may be further along in terms of evolving away from sexist attitudes about sex, but they still feel pressure to meet expectations of sexual liberation with men who, by and large, couldn’t care less.

As I feed off my friends’ dating stories, listening intently to popcorn-worthy nightmares of kissing frog after fuckboy frog, it’s hard to argue that they feel empowered, free, or confident. Instead, their common complaints remind me why I always end up giving into old-school ideas of lasting love.

For most of them, a good date means meeting someone who adheres to a basic minimum standard of human decency. A young cousin once gushed to me about a dude who was, in her words, “not fun or particularly attractive”, but who, wonder of wonders, looked her directly in the eye when she spoke and never tried to grope her. Naturally, this led to a hook-up that lasted for several months.

Psychology Today says, “Having too many options reduces the likelihood that any decision will be made at all. Choice overload also reduces our certainty that any specific choice we make is the correct one.” Perhaps in grappling with our unyielding anxiety over settling down, we often decide to just… settle.

When I look back at my own optimistic forays into the dating pool, I recall them with a shudder. Between uninspiring small talk, unsatisfying sex, and spectacular failures of chemistry, where was the promised land upon which to gloriously sow my wild oats? If monogamy is supposed to be a burden, why does it still make an inevitable kind of sense?

Maybe millennials aren’t really as post-monogamous as we’d like to think. We are simply running scared from what makes us happy, and then wondering why we aren’t. I still have hope for a future in which lack of commitment doesn’t mean lack of respect, where my visions of frolicking through veritable meadows of soulmates du jour can finally come to fruition. But until then, I’m forced to admit that, at heart, I’m just another boring, old-fashioned, serial monogamist.

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