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‘I love my fiance but worry about being with one person for the rest of my life’

Dear Roe: Am I being arrogant thinking I am above marriage?

Dear Roe,

I am getting married next year. I love my fiance but worry at the thought of tying myself to one person for the rest of my life; of only having sex and being romantic with one person. We fit together and he knows me better than anyone. I am very happy with him but, at times, I worry that we want different things. I have this idea of myself as independent and free and not conforming to society's standards of happiness and yet I know I wouldn't be happy without him in my life. Am I being arrogant thinking I am above marriage, when some women would kill to be in my shoes? I love him more than anyone but worry I won't be able to stay monogamous. I worry that I am headed for disaster and will end up having an affair. There doesn't seem to be a happy medium.

I’ll get on to the happy medium in a moment, but firstly, there is a happy way to alleviate some of your stress and shame and belief that your fears are yours and yours alone: talk to your fiance.

Chances are, he also has some concerns about being with one person for the rest of his life, no matter how much he loves you. Marriage, with the prospect (not guarantee) of spending your life with someone, is a huge commitment and a leap of faith. And – in spite of your assertion that you’re an incredibly independent, original free-thinker – your pre-wedding doubts that monogamy will be difficult are pretty standard.


And accurate. Monogamy is difficult. It’s work, and sacrifice. The myth that once you find someone to marry you will always be fulfilled by your partner and no one else will ever appear attractive to you is untrue and unfair. It shames people who – naturally and understandably – see the appeal of other people, and who have to actively work on their relationship to maintain a strong emotional and sexual connection with their partner.

We should celebrate the work. We should see it for what it is – a conscious, ongoing decision to be there for each other, to keep your relationship healthy and empowering; to evolve as your relationship evolves.

Talk to your partner about your fears, and also ask questions. Ask him how he envisions that work, when one or both of you inevitably have moments of doubt. Talk in detail about what it is about marriage as an institution that he feels will strengthen your relationship, and what aspects of marriage concern you.

Because it is fair to have some concerns. Marriage has, historically, been a problematic and misogynistic enterprise that was primarily preoccupied with property, wealth and producing children that would either become heirs or workers – because much of our beliefs about the necessity of heterosexuality, gender roles and reproduction is inextricably linked to economics.

(Monogamy, incidentally, has not historically played a huge role in marriage, as men having mistresses or concubines was socially acceptable and overlooked in many cultures.)

Even generationally, our definition of what romantic love and partnerships look like has transformed hugely

But in Ireland, like many countries, this understanding of marriage is changing; slowly, and belatedly, but it is. Look at the legalisation of contraception, divorce and marriage equality, along with upcoming legislation around abortion and the referendum on article 41.2.1 of the Constitution which refers to a woman's role in the home: all of these things are transforming what marriage means for individuals, by dismantling the patriarchal controls that have limited its definition and purpose. Even generationally, our definition of what romantic love and partnerships look like has transformed hugely, along with cultural attitudes of happiness, individuality and self-fulfilment.

So while I completely understand your reservations around marriage as an institution, and respect anyone’s decision to not get married, I also think you’re overlooking how marriage has transformed, even over the past two decades – and your ability to make other, more personal transformations that work for you.

Many people have non-monogamous marriages – including those who claim they do, but cheat

You asked for a happy medium. The happy medium of being married but not being monogamous is, simply, having a non-monogamous marriage. I find it interesting that you consider yourself an independent thinker who is “above marriage” – and yet you apparently buy into the traditional interpretation of marriage so deeply that you haven’t considered how you could individualise it for your relationship.

Many people have non-monogamous marriages – including those who claim they do, but cheat. But you and your fiance could be consensually non-monogamous. You could have sex with other people together or you could have permission to have one night stands, or to be allowed kiss other people. This could be a permanent feature of your relationship, or a temporary one.

"Monogamish" is a term popularised by columnist Dan Savage, to describe relationships that are largely monogamous, but allow for some agreed-upon flexibility. This acknowledges that non-monogamy and commitment are not mutually exclusive, while allowing couples to approach non-monogamy in ways that suit them.

This could be a conversation worth having with your fiance, even hypothetically so that you have a clearer idea of your views of marriage, monogamy and how to sustain both. You may decide to try non-monogamy in some guise. You might realise that simply allowing for the possibility, even without acting on it, alleviates the pressure you are feeling. You might decide that non-monogamy is not for you, but come up with strategies to deal with challenging times.

Sexual exclusivity doesn’t have to be the gold standard for relationships. Some people value honesty and sexual freedom more, so they’re consensually non-monogamous. Some people value forgiveness more, which is why they stay with partners who have cheated. You may value other things. That’s fine. But you do need to talk to your fiance about what you value, separately and together, and how you envision respecting these values.

Start talking. And remember that this is your marriage, no one else’s. You get to define it, and make your own rules – together.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at