Is it normal to maintain multiple casual relationships year after year?
January 19, 2009 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for opinions on my lifestyle of multiple casual relationships.. Is it healthy to be inherently against a committed relationship because you enjoy the company of new people quite frequently?

A brief overview of my lifestyle:

I'm 26 years old. I have had three committed relationships in the past; the latest of which ended because I was not prepared for the type of commitment she was looking for. OK, it happens.

Now, for the past two years or so I have fallen into a pattern of meeting people, spending time getting to know them, becoming intimate, and then moving on. It has always been cordial. In other words, these said new people know it is casual and hearts have been spared. There are never any secrets. These relationships usually take place concurrently.

These relationships usually sort of fade out but I always remain friendly with just about everyone I come across. They are virtually carefree; I've never been in a fight of jealousy or anger with any of my friends.

I have no trouble meeting women; I'm decent enough looking and personable. I always have plenty to talk about so the majority of my dates turn out fantastic.

I am extremely happy. I'm independent, I have a good job, and I take good care of myself.

I'm curious to hear if this sort of a thing is healthy. I know it's not entirely normal - I'm basically obsessed with meeting new people of different backgrounds. I like to hear everyone's story. The idea of settling down with someone and losing the privilege to live as I see fit just plain sucks (Come on, you can't continue meeting too many new people when you settle down - jealousy, envy, anger are like gravity here)

The gray area I'm looking for opinions on is with respect to intimacy - Is it unhealthy to continue on this way? Shouldn't I be looking to settle down with someone? Why do I lose interest so quickly? Is this lifestyle the key to my current happiness? Was I constructed without the love bone?

I'm not looking for the magic bullet answer here, I'm more interested in an involved discussion or personal anecdotes. Thanks for reading.
posted by Macallister Vagabond to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
What's right for you is what's right for you. If what you are doing is making you happy, then...it's what you should be doing, and who gives a toss what other people may think you should be doing?

You're happy with how you're doing things now, you're being ethical about it (you're telling people upfront what your scene is, which is good) -- why try to be something different if it's not what's making you happy now?

You may change later, but that will be later. And you may not change later, and that's fine too.

don't sweat it. You're in touch with what is and isn't what you personally need right now and you're being open with others about it, and that's the best thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:51 AM on January 19, 2009


My friend is the same way and she's one of the happiest and mentally sound people I know.
posted by HolyWood at 8:52 AM on January 19, 2009


i think it's fine. when i was aged 20-24 i felt the same way, i'd had two long term rels and then found a community of people who were all not into monogamy and i was really excited about connecting with lots of people and having fun.

it sounds like you're doing it the right way, i.e. being upfront wiht your lovers. monogamy can be so over rated.

having said that, at the end of my 20s i was exhausted by all of that and met the perfect dude and got married at 28. no regrets. though i would hate to have got married without having "slutted around plenty" in my early 20s. you might find that you want something "calmer" down the track or you might just not be into monogamy at all! and thats okay, as long as you are honest, which it sounds like you are.

good for you.
posted by beccyjoe at 8:53 AM on January 19, 2009


I think this sounds much happier and healthier than trying to convince yourself that you should be in a monogamous relationship when you don't really want one. It sounds like you're honest with your partners. Great!

If and when a relationship comes along, you'll know it. Until then, don't force it because it's what everyone else wants (or says that want). There are societal benefits to being pair-bonded, but happiness is much more important than that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:56 AM on January 19, 2009


@HolyWood

See, I think the people I associate with are similar. That's why it works. I'm happy, they're happy, there's no concern about the "elephant in the room" type of concerns that invade a traditional relationship.

This leads my friends to believe that I'm somehow "Anti-relationship"; that's not true at all, I have a lot of friends who lead great relationships. It's just not where I'm headed right now.
posted by Macallister Vagabond at 8:57 AM on January 19, 2009


Is it unhealthy to continue on this way?

It seems quite healthy to me. Being stuck in a long, bitter, unhappy relationship that makes you feel miserable is certainly a lot less healthy.

Shouldn't I be looking to settle down with someone?

Only if you want to. If you don't, then don't bother.

Why do I lose interest so quickly?

I have no idea. Maybe you're looking for someone to fill a hole inside? Or maybe you're scared of intimacy? Or maybe it's something else entirely. Who knows? You do. Deep down inside, the answer is there.

Is this lifestyle the key to my current happiness?

It could well be one of them. If you didn't have this lifestyle, would you be this happy? There's your answer.

Was I constructed without the love bone?

Define "love". You might be falling in love with all of these different women. You might be confusing newness with love. You might have no actual idea of what love is. You might just be looking for distractions from the loneliness inside, and everyone you meet is just another pill, another fix to prevent you from seeing the seething mass of turmoil and anguish you carry in your breast. Only you know why you keep looking for new people.

In short, you're fine. Nobody is being hurt, and people are apparently enjoying themselves. Which is about as much as you can ask for out of life, really.
posted by Solomon at 8:58 AM on January 19, 2009


I have enjoyed the responses so far, thanks everyone.

I'm thinking about this more (work on MLK day = SLOW) and I think another problem I have with my life is that the women I meet always tell me what I want to hear. We sit down, have some wine, and I blast off into the benefits of maintaining independence and the idea sounds so appealing that they want in on it. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or ultimately a bad thing for THEM.

I have just seen a lot of people very close to me (and by a lot, I mean everyone I know) settle for something that ultimately makes them unhappy and all I ever hear about are the regrets they've had. I fear that the most.
posted by Macallister Vagabond at 9:05 AM on January 19, 2009


I'm thinking about this more (work on MLK day = SLOW) and I think another problem I have with my life is that the women I meet always tell me what I want to hear. We sit down, have some wine, and I blast off into the benefits of maintaining independence and the idea sounds so appealing that they want in on it. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or ultimately a bad thing for THEM.

That isn't a problem with YOUR life, though. At least, not directly. You know what you want -- forcing yourself to do something different just to make someone else happy isn't going to work. You're up-front about what you want -- it's up to the people you meet to either accept or reject that.

THEY'RE the ones who are telling themselves they can either "change you" or that they want something that they don't want deep down. What they tell themselves is not YOUR problem -- YOU'RE doing everything right. The only direct problem you have in this instance is not being able to be a mind-reader and tell ahead of time how they're ultimately going to be reacting to the fling, or not being able to be clairvoyant and see into the future -- and there ain't nobody who can do that, sorry.

I can tell you feel bad for them, but it looks like you've been doing everything to warn them up front about "look, this is the deal here, what you get is what you see," and THEY'RE the ones who are misreading things. You are not responsible for that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on January 19, 2009


We sit down, have some wine, and I blast off into the benefits of maintaining independence and the idea sounds so appealing that they want in on it. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or ultimately a bad thing for THEM.

Meh. If they're into it, they're into it. If you tell a woman, right off the bat, that you aren't looking for a monogamous and/or long-term relationship, she'll either be all, "YAY!" or she'll tell you you're barking up the wrong tree. We're not such terribly helpless creatures, you know. :)

Seriously, though. Why would it be good for you but bad for the woman you're dating? As long as you're honest, you'll find tons of women in their twenties who want the same thing you do.
posted by brina at 9:41 AM on January 19, 2009


I don't think there's anything wrong with serial monogamy or short term relationships. But it sounds as though, at least in part, you're pursuing this lifestyle out of fear:

(Come on, you can't continue meeting too many new people when you settle down - jealousy, envy, anger are like gravity here)

This simply isn't true. While there are some people who experience a degree of jealousy in their relationships that prevents them or their partners from making lots of new friends, that doesn't mean that it has to be the case in your relationships. In fact, anyone who was a good match for you, personality-wise, would love and accept the part of your personality that leads you to seek new and interesting people; a good partner for you might even share that urge and bring even more cool new people into your life.

I can't tell whether "meet" is, for you, a synonym for "have sex with," but even that doesn't have to be a deal-breaker. Many people have successful polyamorous relationships or relationships in which sex with new partners isn't considered cheating.

You need to figure out whether you're living your life this way because you actually don't want a long-term partner (which is fine) or because you're afraid that gaining a long-term partner would mean losing other things that are important to you. If the latter, I think you should look at why you believe that, why you believe you can't find a partner whose desires for your relationship are similar to your own.
posted by decathecting at 9:45 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've said it before, but Mr. F's biggest desire in a relationship for most of his 20s and 30s was for the woman involved to leave him the hell alone most of the time, not live with him, etc. etc., and his longest-running relationship lasted about a year and a half. I don't think there's anything wrong with that as long as you comport yourself decently, practice safe sex, and stay aboveboard with your partners about what you want.

Consider, too, that these women who go to dinner with you presumably find you interesting and want to come off as generally aligned with your ideas-- or are already on that page themselves. You may not be selling them a Permanent Lifestyle Adjustment over a glass of wine after all.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:49 AM on January 19, 2009


"I am extremely happy. I'm independent, I have a good job, and I take good care of myself. "

So what's the problem here? Yeah, I'm Ms. Monogamy, but if everyone's informed, everyone's OK, and you're happy and healthy - and getting tested regularly - then I don't see why you need to be concerned.

"Normal" has no universal baseline.
posted by medea42 at 9:51 AM on January 19, 2009




I appreciate your thoughtful contribution.

In my experience this has not been the case. Certainly there are instances where relationship partners can manage a wealth of external friendships, but it is increasingly rare.

For example, if I have a GF and she doesn't like camping, chances are she's not going to like that I am going camping with Girl B for three days. I agree that in rare cases she would be OK with it (after all, it's all about Trust), but more often than not she'll just say she's OK with it until jealousy/mistrust/second-guessing eventually rears its head.

I don't think I am afraid of losing things by entering a relationship; i just think that carrying on without one relieves me of a lot of egregious stress. It's really that simple.

posted by Macallister Vagabond at 10:04 AM on January 19, 2009


The gray area I'm looking for opinions on is with respect to intimacy - Is it unhealthy to continue on this way? Shouldn't I be looking to settle down with someone? Why do I lose interest so quickly? Is this lifestyle the key to my current happiness? Was I constructed without the love bone?

This is normal for a lot of people. It certainly was for me. I didn't feel that I lacked intimacy in my life -- my best friend and I are very close, I had other close friends, I genuinely liked the people with whom I was involved. I had pretty much figured that this was the way I was. The only long-term planning I did was to make the assumption that I would be a single parent by choice, should I decide to have a child.

And then when I was 28 I met someone that I liked better than everyone else. I still love meeting new people and love the excitement of a brand-new friendship, I'm just not having sex with my new friends.
posted by desuetude at 10:16 AM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I also like the novelty of meeting new people. In relationships, I refer to the early period as honeymoon time. I don't know the new person that well and fill in the blanks with projections. After a time, the relationship involves more compromise: some sacrifice of "me" for the sake of "we."

Feel free to find someone as free-spirited as you are; a friend of mine in his '60s lives much the way you do now. Note, however, that the pool of single people shrinks as we age. If you later decide to enter a more traditional relationship, you'll find fewer people available
posted by doncoyote at 10:31 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


["I have to be miserable in my monogamy so you should, too."]


Sounds like you feel guilty because you read a lot of these relationship questions where 99% of the answers suggest "cheating" makes you the devil and being "committed to one person" = sainthood.

Live your life. You are no less a loving person than the cheat police you read here. In fact, you are the one who is normal. Despite all of the social pressure, it's not natural to be with just one person all of the time.
posted by Zambrano at 10:41 AM on January 19, 2009


Look. People CAN be monogamous and happy. People CAN be polyamorous and happy. People CAN never have a long-term relationship and also be happy. A part of growing up is all about getting to know yourself, and what suits. And, more to the point, what does it matter? Do what you want to do - and if you don't want to be judged for it stop judging other people for their (different) choices.

If you really want different perspectives go hang out with happy long-term couples to balance your data set. A tip: the happy ones don't tend to bang on about it to everyone within earshot. If you're not that bothered just do your thang, as long as you're not being a tool about it who cares what other people think?

And Zambrano -

Sounds like you feel guilty because you read a lot of these relationship questions where 99% of the answers suggest "cheating" makes you the devil and being "committed to one person" = sainthood.

- it has very little to do with being committed to one person as it does to being committed to integrity and honesty. Something you are equally able to do within a r/ship as without.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:38 AM on January 19, 2009


This is really simple. Yes, it's normal...until you meet someone you don't want to break up with.

That's monogamy in a nutshell. One day you'll possibly meet someone that you don't want to leave.
posted by filmgeek at 11:59 AM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


As everyone has said, sure, it's fine, as long as your partners know and accept the situation, which you say they do. Two points:

1) There's an inherent tradeoff. Your ability to experience all those different people means you can't experience what a long-term relationship is like. I had a bunch of relationships during my 20s and thoroughly enjoyed it, but being married is so much better that I've never once been tempted by the thought of returning to the old lifestyle. (It depends, of course, on the nature of your marriage, but the same is true of short-term relationships.)

2) You say:

I'm basically obsessed with meeting new people of different backgrounds. I like to hear everyone's story.

But that doesn't have anything to do with having a long-term relationship, unless by "meeting" and "hearing" you really mean "sleeping with." Sure, there are some people who are so jealous they basically don't want you to hang out with anyone else; don't marry one of them.
posted by languagehat at 12:06 PM on January 19, 2009


To clarify, my intentions are not always sexual but far more often than not the relationships wind up intimate.

@filmgeek. I guess I've just met so many people that I figured I would have find one of them by now. That's basically the reason for me starting the discussion. Just curiosity, thats all.
posted by Macallister Vagabond at 12:11 PM on January 19, 2009


Just as one completely anecdotal data point, my father-in-law, who is one of the most gregarious, outgoing people I know (i.e. still meets lots of new people), didn't get married and "settle down" until he was 40 years old, so by that metric, you have plenty of time. There is no single timeline for when long-term relationships are "supposed" to happen, how long they last, or if you even have them. Just continue being honest with the people you meet, and whatever happens, happens.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:56 PM on January 19, 2009


Well there's something you should be aware of: though multiple casual relationships does indeed have certain advantages over committed monogamy, the reverse is also true. Yeah, you generally can't sleep with anyone you like in a committed relationship, and yeah, you do give up some ability to meet and be intimate with new people. But casual relationships don't even offer the possibility of growing old with someone, nor having children, nor the kind of implicit, unquestioned support that committed relationships do. How does it go? For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for as long as we both shall live? I'm not saying that you'll have all of those things if you "settle down"; marriage is no picnic, and marriage relationships are no less broken than other kinds of relationships. But when you get married you commit to stand by someone whether or not you want to, and they commit to do the same thing for you, and you can't get that any other way.

Maybe you're okay with that. Some people do just fine on their own or bouncing from relationship to relationship. Others just aren't cut out for marriage. But there are advantages to monogamy, and you should be aware of that before you decide to run the other way.
posted by valkyryn at 1:13 PM on January 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't bother actively trying to avoid monogamy. That's kind of stupid. I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with moving from one relationship to the next, assuming you aren't leaving a trail of broken hearts behind you -- that's probably bad karma. So if you are happy with your current situation good for you. Some people never figure out what they like, and are never happy.

Personally I think the intimacy that comes with a proper relationship trumps any of the things you mention in this thread, but that's me.
posted by chunking express at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2009


Someday you will die, old and alone, but you will have many memories to console yourself with.
posted by RussHy at 1:32 PM on January 19, 2009


Someday you will die, old and alone, but you will have many memories to console yourself with.

Er, no. In some sense, we all die alone (and hopefully old). And, not being in an uber-committed, highly exclusive relationship doesn't not imply being alone.
posted by zeek321 at 2:54 PM on January 19, 2009


Geez, you're only 26. If you're happy, don't worry about it. Just keep an open mind about expectations in case you meet someone you really like.

You might also enjoy reading about Optimal Stopping problems, either exact or approximate (abstract, pointer to full pdf document). According to the last link, you should evaluate at least 9 candidates seriously before choosing the "next better" one. So having a series of short term relationships, at your age, is just part of discovering what it is you really value in a relationship.
posted by Araucaria at 3:26 PM on January 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


If it works for you and those you boink, good for you! Don't worry about it! If you change your mind, then you do later on. Right now, you're fine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:55 PM on January 19, 2009


I mean this. It happens to some people sooner and some...not so much.

I could give you all the anecdotal stuff - my brother was living with someone when he was 19, and she got into a horrible accident - he realized he didn't want to be without her. Bingo. My dad didn't really meet someone for himself till he was in his 50s. He was a mess before that.

Enjoy life. Be open to the possibility, but don't force it on yourself. You'll be dating someone, and you'll have a moment of realization; that you like your life (and yourself) better around them. Maybe it'll be something small. Maybe huge. Maybe wonderful or terrible. I can't say.

Then you have a much bigger problem - not fucking that up. Not subverting your own happiness in a level of self destructive behavior or repeating your own behavior because you've been doing it for years.

I'm not advocating monogamy (after all, 50%+ of marriages don't work out - and I'm sure it would have been that way for hundreds of years if it was 'easier' to get a divorce.) I am advocating learning to listen to yourself; that, even for a short time (a year? 2? 5?) monogamous relationships might work for you. But that short time is a large percentage of your life at age 26...and feels like you're shutting down so many possibilities.
posted by filmgeek at 9:38 PM on January 19, 2009


I am [was] a serial monogamist. I couldn't have more than a single relationship going at a time, but I'd back them up right against each other. Is that healthy? Many people would say I'm not getting enough alone time, that I never had enough time to find myself.

But I think I have. And I enjoyed (most) of it. And now I'm engaged to the one girl that makes me never want to date a single person ever again.

So is that healthy? Healthy and normal are relative. There are general, broad bits of advice that AskMeFi loves to dole out in relationship questions, but in all honesty, if it works for you, roll with it.
posted by SNWidget at 5:16 AM on January 21, 2009


« Older I want to lose another 40 pounds before I have a...   |   Help me find good mortgage information Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.