Why the Word “Monogamy” is Sacred (and Far Too Often Ill-Defined)
by Shellie Renee



April 5, 2019


9 Minute Read


Why the Word “Monogamy” is Sacred (and Far Too Often Ill-Defined)

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Anyone who knows me (even casually) knows that, through much trial and error, something I’m not a big fan of is boyfriend/girlfriend relationships (dating, yes; the titles, no). Since I’m currently in my mid-40s (where does the time go?!), my running statement for why I don’t have a boyfriend is “I’m too old for a ‘boy’ anything”; however, it goes deeper than that. I’ve had boyfriends before, yet now that I am a marriage life coach, I see how far too often I treated them like they were husbands minus the ring and paperwork. And oh, for so many reasons, that’s simply not healthy.

Why do I say that? Well, for one thing, going into a relationship in that kind of head and heart space causes us to put our all into it, as if we actually took vows before God and our loved ones — when we didn’t. As a result, it sometimes leads to irreparable harm to our minds, bodies, and spirits. In other words, acting married when we’re not can cause us to become so jaded or desensitize us so much that when marriage does finally come along, we don’t treat it as being much different than a serious dating relationship. When we’re dating and things aren’t working out, no problem — break up. When we’re married and things also aren’t working out, no problem — get a divorce. Ugh. Trust me, even if a breakup feels like a divorce, the ramifications are very very different.

Although I have a billion and one other reasons why boyfriend/girlfriend dynamics give me pause, there’s just one more that I want to share today — it’s because the dynamic typically makes us use words that don’t apply to the situation.

Take the word “monogamous,” for example. Have mercy! How many times have you heard someone define their dating relationship as being “monogamous”? For me, it’s like hearing fingernails on the chalkboard. One reason is because, as a writer, I’m kind of a stickler for word definitions. Another is because it’s misused so much, I feel that people have lost sight of just how sacred (worthy of reverence, secured against violation, in honor of) the word actually is. I mean, if you take the original definition into account, not only are no dating couples monogamous, a lot of married people technically aren’t either.

Monogamy: marriage with only one person at a time; the practice of marrying only once during life.

Deep, right? So where did the abuse of the word come from? I’m thinking that some of it has to do with the fact that the zoology definition of the word is “the practice of having only one mate.” Here’s the thing about that — I don’t care how popular calling a woman a b*tch (a female dog) is, I won’t ever co-sign onto that either (personally, I’m not even big on being called a “female” but that’s another article for another time). Anyway, I’m not an animal so no, the animal definition of monogamous doesn’t apply to me; the human being one does and that directly references marriage. Only married people can be monogamous. Period.

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OK, and what about the people who say that marriage is “just a piece of paper”? Please spare me. The deed to your house isn’t “just a piece of paper” and neither is the title to your car. Paperwork signifies something. If you don’t want the paperwork, then certain other titles and expectations within the relationship also should not apply.

Listen, I know that my feelings about boyfriend/girlfriend relationships fall into the exception and not the rule category. Probably until the end of time, lots of women are going to refer to their boyfriend as “my husband” and lots of men are going to refer to their girlfriend as “wifey.” Folks are going to ride the line as close to marriage as possible without being legally liable to/for anything. To me, that’s not a good thing. Not at all.

So, am I saying that couples who are in love and aren’t dating yet shouldn’t get any kind of props? That their relationship should not be treated as something more than a new or casual situation? Of course not. I’m just pleading the case that a different word — and approach — should be used.

Word-wise, rather than the use of the word “monogamous,” I think “exclusive” is more appropriate. It means “not admitting of something else” and “shutting out all others from a part or share.” It still lets other people know that the two of you are only seeing one another without disrespecting the true definition of monogamy.

If you’ve never taken out the time to think about what monogamy means, what I’m presenting to you may seem like semantics or like I am splitting hairs. I totally get that, but please ponder something else for just a moment. A very wise man once said that words are powerful — they are effective, they hold a very strong influence, they produce physical effects and they hold their own special level of authority. Keeping all of this in mind, if there are certain words that we used in their proper context, if we gave them the respect and honor of their true definitions, isn’t it possible that it would have a domino effect?

Case in point. If only people who were actually married to one another used to word “monogamous” to describe their union, couldn’t that 1) encourage them to remain committed to their spouse until death and 2) make us respect what is required in order to enter into and maintain true monogamy? After all, when you’re dating someone, you didn’t promise them that you would never date anyone else for the rest of your life. But when you’re married? Well, have you checked out traditional wedding/marriage vows lately?

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“Will you have this woman/man to be your wife/husband, to live together in holy marriage? Will you love her/him, comfort her/him, honor, and keep her/him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her/him as long as you both shall live?”

“In the name of God, I, ______, take you, ______, to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.”

Until we are parted by death. People who are dating don’t sign up for this; people who are married do. And anyone who is willing to take that kind of awesome responsibility on? They deserve to have their very own word to define their very special relationship, don’t you think? Pardon the pun, but I do.