Resources or support for lifelong monogamist without partner
May 11, 2024 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm reaching out to find support and possibly connect with others who identify with lifelong monogamy after their relationship has ended. I was deeply committed to my first and only partner for 20 years, and despite their departure and another two decades passing, I cannot envision forming a similar bond with someone else. I am not seeking advice to change this aspect of myself but hope to find resources and understanding for this kind of emotional and romantic orientation.

I married my high school sweetheart and we were together almost 20 years. It was both my first and only serious relationship, which ended when my partner chose to leave, devastating me utterly.

Despite this, and having maintained no contact since then, the bond remains a deep and permanent part of who I am. The idea of replicating that bond with someone else is as unthinkable as changing my sexual orientation. It's like a key that broke off in a lock and rusted over—the ability to form a new pair-bond has been sealed off. I can accept this, but it's hard to do so when people treat me like a freak for it.

It has been 20 years since my spouse left. People told me I would get over it when enough time had passed. I don't think that's going to happen, and I'm OK with that.

Yes, I have had therapy. That's not what this question is about.

While the pain has softened over time, my ability or desire to form another romantic or sexual relationship hasn't returned. Instead, I've continued to lead a fulfilling life with friends and family but remain uninterested in new romantic relationships. This often leads to misunderstandings, with people telling me to "get over it" without realizing how deep and permanent these feelings are. They see me as emotionally damaged or pitiful rather than understanding the unique nature of my situation.

Again, yes, I have had therapy. But I am not seeking a cure, just a community.

Therefore, I'm seeking terminology that might describe my experience, along with support groups, books, or resources that recognize this outlook. It's important for me to find understanding and validation from others who share a similar perspective or can offer resources that respect it.

Thank you for your time and any guidance you can provide.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Widows and widowers. I think divorced people often want a do-over, but widows and widowers are much more likely to have a positive perception of their ex-spouse and to not want to "move on."
posted by stockpuppet at 8:38 PM on May 11 [9 favorites]

People have many different types of close relationships over their lifetime - friends, siblings, lovers, spouses, artistic collaborators, intellectual soulmates. All of those relationships can fulfill particular needs, but lack the fundamental intimacy that a romantic and possibly sexual partner can give you. If you want to eschew romantic relationships for the rest of your life (and maybe sexual relationships, though romance and sex don't have to be linked), that's fine. However, cutting yourself off from that kind of intimacy is certainly rare and is going to be mystifying to most people. You aren't obligated to explain yourself to people and maybe what you need are scripts to politely cut people off when they bring up the topic if you don't want to discuss it.

You might look into various spiritual communities that have monks or nuns or other people who forgo romantic attachments. Maybe you would find what you're looking for there.
posted by brookeb at 9:40 PM on May 11

I've known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —
posted by clew at 9:58 PM on May 11 [3 favorites]

If you want to eschew romantic relationships for the rest of your life (and maybe sexual relationships, though romance and sex don't have to be linked), that's fine. However, cutting yourself off from that kind of intimacy is certainly rare and is going to be mystifying to most people.

Would asexual/aromantic groups maybe work?
posted by The otter lady at 10:05 PM on May 11 [2 favorites]

Maybe read about Betty White? She famously did not remarry.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:14 AM on May 12

This is me, too and I too have spent thousands of dollars and decades in therapy and it doesn’t help. I don’t think there’s a word for this exactly, but I do think it relates to Attachment Theory, which holds that the bond between adults in romantic relationships is similar to that between a mother and an infant, and that a secure bond with an attachment person is needed for individuals to feel safe and thrive in the world. The book Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson does a good job explaining, although it’s for couples therapy.

I really wish there was a word for this. Other people simply can. not. get it, and the responses are often really nasty and blame-y.

@brookeb—This is what I mean by not getting it. It’s not a choice, or someone “cutting themselves off from that kind of intimacy.” We don’t have control over not wanting to be with another person, and not experiencing attraction. It’s more like a sexual orientation, not voluntary at all. I don’t understand the concept of “move on” in this context because I don’t understand what actual ACTION that is that I could control.

Finally, while I think this experience is unusual, I believe it’s more common than you think. People don’t talk about it because we end up getting bullied and shamed. People do not want to hear about permanent wounds like this.
posted by Violet Hour at 1:19 AM on May 12 [29 favorites]

If you’re looking for a support group, cluster with menopausal women at an art class or pickle ball. Especially if you are a straight cis woman, you need not explain yourself. Many many women over 45 wouldn’t consider repartnering, has nothing to do with their previous partner, straight cis partnerships are bad for women. If anyone asks, say “fuck the patriarchy” and make it political. Your interlocutor will shut up.

I notice that you took pains not to gender yourself and your partner. I’m providing gendered advice anyway as this is the most likely context for the question.
posted by shock muppet at 1:25 AM on May 12 [7 favorites]

I'd be wary of gendered advice here, as if the poster is a man that must make him feel even more of a freak, as if it's impossible for men to create love bonds. (Also the vagina doesn't magically seal in your 40s!)

I wonder if reframing the responses would help: Other people think you're attractive and kind, and want to know why you're not attracting similar prospects. It's none of their business but they mean it as a compliment.
posted by kingdead at 5:40 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]

I get a lot of what you're saying here and in some respects I feel the same way. I was widowed three+ years ago and I have had minimal interest in finding a new partner since (and when I am interested, a lot of that seems like just missing my partner).

I'm a bit different from you in that I was a single adult mostly uninterested in a romantic relationship until I met my husband (at age 35). So for me, I can remember what it felt like to be reasonably certain that I would never connect with a partner and also what it meant to meet someone I did connect with while I had those feelings. So I haven't ruled out a future partnership as strongly as you have, and I don't know if I'll stay single for the next 20 years/the rest of my life.

Nowadays my unpartneredness is more palatable to others because "still reeling from the tragic death of her soulmate" is something people think they get. Before I got together with my husband I definitely got a lot of "what's wrong with mskyle?" attitude from some family and acquaintances, so I don't think it's just about your motivations, some of it is just that a lot of people are really uncomfortable with other people being single (especially if the single person is content with it).

It seems like "lifelong monogamy" is a useful framing for *you*, but it doesn't seem like it's getting you the results you want from other people. Maybe it's better to just remind people you're not actively seeking a relationship without getting into the "why" - not everyone in your life is going to understand everything about you, and that's OK.

If you can make more single-not-looking friends, I'd recommend it, whether they're widowed, divorced, ace, or whatever. There are actually lots of us out there!
posted by mskyle at 6:13 AM on May 12 [5 favorites]

There's a podcast called Solo: The Single Person's Guide to a Remarkable Life. Warning: I'm not certain if it leans a certain way or not because I haven't listened to enough episodes.

If you're on reddit, you might like Single and Happy. The subreddit has suggestions for books, websites, podcasts and more.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 6:56 AM on May 12 [3 favorites]

I don’t have a great answer for supports, but in the Catholic community there are a lot of ppl who are divorced but can’t remarry, and I know for sure some of them feel the way you do as well as holding beliefs that prevent it (I know two.)you would find them in communities like art classes, running groups, and solo travel.

I mostly wanted to say that I don’t think you are alone, and there is nothing wrong with you.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:02 AM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I understand what you're saying. It seems fine if you don't want another romantic relationship, and I'm bummed people are arguing with you. Being single is valid.
posted by slidell at 7:11 AM on May 12 [4 favorites]

Aromantic communities would be welcoming to you. Many aromantic people have had one or two romantic attachments in their life but they no longer experience romantic attraction; these people sometimes consider themselves greyromantics in that they are or were capable of forming romantic attachment to some person at some point, but they do not currently experience romantic attraction the way that general society (that is, everyone arguing with you) does.
posted by brook horse at 7:25 AM on May 12 [10 favorites]

So I think one of the things that is very difficult for people to understand, but that I firmly believe, is that people experience romantic and sexual attraction in a couple of different ways that are fundamentally different between each human. We are coming to understand all the time that there are different ways of being. Demisexuality, for example, is a new thing we now understand, where people are unable to form romantic or sexual bonds unless they have a particular kind of spark and appreciation of the other person as a person.

I think that what we will eventually discover, as time passes and talking about it becomes more okay, that some people do in fact pair-bond. It doesn't mean that they can't form romantic attraction to others, but it means that once they've met The Person for them, they no longer possess the ability to bond with others in as deep a way.

Right now, we tend to pooh-pooh that behavior in part because it became a stereotype that people felt they had to live up to: but it doesn't mean that it doesn't still exist for some people - often those people just feel like they can't speak about it or act accordingly. I considered posting this under a sock, but I'm going to put it out there: I am one of those people. I had a number of romantic attachments, then I met the person who is my One Person. We broke up over a decade ago for Reasons unrelated to falling out of love, and I felt much the way that you did: uninterested in finding anyone else. Unfortunately, I succumbed to pressure and thought there must be something wrong with me, and tried to create what were ultimately two very unfulfilling relationships afterwards. There were problems with both relationships, but fundamentally the ultimately problem was I was just in love with someone else. What I will also say is that no matter what gender you are, this is a thing that happens - my then-ex, a cis man, also felt deeply wounded by the circumstance, and also wound up having a number of relationships that ultimately were emotionally unfulfilling because he was still in love with me.

The real problem is that the advice of one type of person is not just wrong but actively harmful for the other type. Advice from the kind of person who can move on is that you just need to and then things will be better - this is true for them, but maybe not for you. If you gave those people the advice "just mourn your person", it wouldn't work for them either, and would be harmful to them, because those people *do* just need to move on.

In terms of books that recognize this outlook, I would actually look to more old-fashioned books from around the 1700s-1800s, which tended to recognize this type of behavior more than modernity does. I can't think of any offhand but if you'll memail me who you are, I'll try to figure out a list as I go back and reread my favorites, and send you some. I am also available to talk about this from my own perspective.
posted by corb at 12:08 PM on May 12 [11 favorites]

I just want to validate that if you don't want to be in a relationship, you don't have to be, no matter the circumstances for you being single (divorce, break up, widowed, never having been in a relationship etc.).

You might find some camaraderie in the "Community of Single People" Facebook group. Lots of people enjoying their single lives, like you. There is some snark towards couples, but the most recent posts are pretty good. You may find people in your situation, but you'll probably find more people relating to being treated like a freak.

That said - you've been single for 20 years and people are still giving you grief for it? Are these new people you're talking to or people who've known you a long time? If the former, ignore their comments, because they don't know you. If the latter, I'd ask them what's up with the judginess.
posted by foxjacket at 12:51 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

We spend twenty years or so, give or take, with our parents, most of us. It's not coincidence that good or bad, parental relationships define a lot of who we are. Part of that -- not all of that, but part of it -- is just about a crapton of time in close proximity.

You were with your partner for twenty years, likely more; I daresay you dated for a while before marrying. That's a quarter of a fairly health-fortunate lifetime! I can't fathom how anyone would think that's something anybody just "gets over." I see nothing in your question to suggest you're inappropriately obsessed. It's just that a great whackload of your lifetime had your partner in it! And based on your question, you wanted more time!

So yeah, anybody giving you static over it is being a giant jerk.

For what it's worth, I came out as asexual shortly after my twenty-year marriage ended. I haven't had the same experience of being treated like a freak for it... but that's a societal thing; nobody in youth- and thinness- and appearance-obsessed America thinks a fat homely cis middle-aged broad like me is (worth) having sex (with) anyway. But for snowflake reasons I won't go into (not relevant to your situation), it felt worthwhile to me to claim asexuality rather than have others simply assume I was gagging for it but not getting any.

It's at least possible, depending on your circle of acquaintance, that claiming an ace and/or aro identity (perhaps demisexual/demiromantic?) would make people leave you in peace, since that's what you seem to want. Labels aren't forever; if you choose one that ends up not feeling right you can simply unchoose it.

I wish you well.
posted by humbug at 1:43 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

A term you could use to google or search out groups of like-minded people or resources would be "intentionally single."

I realize this is not exactly the situation you are describing, but it seems there are many similarities - particularly in dealing with various practical matters - and you might find some helpful resources and like-minded people among such groups.
posted by flug at 11:47 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

I completely understand you. I am in a similar position. I don't idealize my previous relationship. It lasted 21 years, and ended 16 years ago, and I have never had an urge to have another relationship (possibly due to trust issues? I've never really analyzed it!).

Unlike you, nobody I know seems to find this unusual, and I've never had anyone saying to me anything like "get over it". So it may be more common than you would think.
posted by Samarium at 4:40 AM on May 13

I am not seeking advice to change this aspect of myself but hope to find resources and understanding for this kind of emotional and romantic orientation.

From an "understanding" point of view, you might have to tolerate some "change" discussion. This is a real, current, and active topic of research in social/relational attachment. THere are a lot of resources out there that seek to explain the psychological basis of attachment, not specifically to change anything but simply to help people understand that they may have an understanding that is out of sync with current understanding of (for example) what is or isn't very changeable obout personality, whether the magnitude of possible change is flexible (i.e. more fixed for some than for others, capable of significant change for some and less significant change for others), and so on. You've probably been exposed to a lot of this already, either via pop culture (in books like Attached) or in therapy. I imagine that, in therapy, a part of your conversation has been finding clarity on the fact that it doesn't matter how pathologized some feature may seem if you don't experience it as a burden that causes you suffering. From that point, then, I think there recommendations you might benefit from most are pointing you to either a deeper understanding of the possible roots of this kind of feeling and/or the ways of socializing that take this understanding as a given. There are some interesting and useful recommendations already here.

So, for what it's worth, I'll say that I was in your shoes myself after a long relationship (the ending of which is recorded in my ask history). To my surprise, I did find comfort in these deeply psychological explorations of what we mean when we refer to these feelings, and what it means to talk about persistence of feelings in organic machines like us even when we are perhaps burdened by those feelings when they cannot be resolved. Oddly enough, I then got into a relationship with someone else that has drawn to a close in the last year, and I find myself again wondering about these things. There's less trauma this time around, in part because I've been reading and thinking and talking about this so much. I feel curious about it more than startled by it. I also feel described by these feelings more than I feel defined by them. In my conversations with a therapist who I am fascinated by, we talk a lot about the evolutionary function of attachment. I mean that in a broad way, to say that a social species probably always has internal mechanisms that maintain a sense of social connection even when the object of that connection is absent for five minutes, five days, five weeks, five month, five years, or forever. These scales all imply different outcomes in the real world, so in some sense we can expect individuals in this species to variously exhibit/experience different levels of persistence of feelings of connection over different time frames. Some people struggle to connect at all. Others, perhaps like you and I, seem to experience these attachments longer than most. In all cases, there seems to be some capacity for our species' brains to build and internalize to some degree a kind of introject that represents the person or relationship in question. It's pretty common that people come to therapy because there is some internal tension (often quasi-consciously) from the difference between this purely internal, personal introject and the real person, the real relationship. That's to say that a partner (the external interaction) can be kind of checked out of the relationship, but the introject (the internal reference point) feels like the hopeful rationale for how the relationship or its meaning exists personally. And, again, it's been observed that this "skill" as it were--an ability to receive nourishing attachment from this internal source when it is absent externally--is perhaps a survival skill that's deployed when attachment needs are impectly met during our early development. This resonates with me: I was a closeted kid who knew I was gay, and knew to be quiet about it, from so early an age that it still astonishes me. I probably spent a lot of time taking feelings and needs for connection into my head, and as an adult I seem to be... let's say very good at making do with a one-sided relationship. Resource-wise, if any of this is compelling to you then I'd be happy to send you some useful researchers/references to explore. But no pressure if this is going down a more clinical/research path than you'd imagined! It's all deeply fascinating, and humans are wonderfully, tremendously, astonishingly variable. You keep doing you.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:58 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]

Going to echo the advice to look around for resources for people exploring asexuality and/or aromanticism.
posted by Suedeltica at 2:35 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]

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