Is serial monogamy really that bad?
Elder millennials collectively swooned earlier this week as Bennifer made their relationship IG official, and photos surfaced of them apparently recreating a scene from the “Jenny From the Block” music video from when they dated in the early aughts. Seeing this relic of simpler times spent watching TRL after school, it’s hard not reflect upon J.Lo’s timeline of iconic relationships with not only Ben Affleck, but Diddy, Marc Anthony, and A-Rod (who she announced her split from in April), among others. Amidst the unabashed celebrating of her sense of romantic adventure, the Internet is quick to point out that she never stays single for long.
But should she? I get that in order to really learn about ourselves and our relationships, it's kind of important to be single for some part of adulthood. But as a pretty well-adjusted person who’s also spent much of her life booed-up, I wonder if this dating pattern really deserves as much criticism as it gets. Is serial monogamy really that bad?
Many of us are familiar with the straightforward definition of a serial monogamist — someone who goes from one serious relationship to the next, explains Tess Brigham, a psychotherapist and certified coach in San Francisco. But the nuances differ for everyone. While some serial monogamists feel like they need another relationship lined up before leaving their current one, she notes, others take time after ending a serious relationship to date around but, say, won’t sleep with anyone until they’re committed because they get too emotionally attached to have casual sex. For them, serial monogamy might just be easier.
“If she’s happy and content, if it works for her, then at the end of the day, it works for her,” Brigham says of J.Lo’s serial monogamy. Let’s face it: None of us mere mortals who are speculating on her dating history is in these relationships with her, and only she knows how she feels. That said, “if she was my client, I might say, ‘Slow down a little bit,” Brigham notes.
The thing is, J.Lo’s boundless beauty, talent, and fame makes it easy for her to be a serial monogamist, Brigham says. As soon as she breaks it off with someone, there’s probably already a line of men wrapped around the block (sorry), waiting for her.
The problem with entering one relationship not long after exiting another is that it doesn’t leave much time for self-reflection, Brigham says. Solitude, on the other hand, allows you to explore what feels right and switch up your approach to relationships. “I would ask [J.Lo] what would it be like to challenge yourself to say, ‘I’m going to be single for three months?’” Brigham says. What would she do for those three months? How would she spend her time?
Taking a breather also allows you to learn more about what you want and don’t want in a relationship so you can enter ones that better support you in the future, Brigham tells me. “My concern for [J.Lo] would be, are you ever stopping and really reflecting and figuring out, what am I going to do differently at this time?” Brigham says. “How am I going to be different? How is my relationship going to be different?” Everyone figures this out at their own pace, she notes. For some, it might take years, and for others, less.
Taking a breather also allows you to learn more about what you want and don’t want in a relationship so you can enter ones that better support you in the future.
However long it takes you, spending time with yourself basically allows you to do the deep inner work needed for you to feel fulfilled as an individual, Brigham says — that is, to ask yourself the tough questions about what makes you happy and whether you’re secure in who you are. It’s clichéd, but true: How can you expect to be happy with someone else if you’re not happy with yourself?
But while living the single life between relationships might be “healthy” in the long run, Brigham believes you can be “healthy” as a serial monogamist, too. “Even if you’re kind of going from relationship to relationship, if you are doing the work in between to figure out why this didn’t work and what am I going to do differently,” then it’s possible, she says. Again, all we see are the (stunning) photos of J.Lo in magazines and on social media. For all we know, she and A-Rod might’ve been living separate lives for longer than we think, Brigham says, and she’s been engaging in this inner work the entire time.
If you’re a serial monogamist like J.Lo, and you can sense your family and friends’ disapproval as you boo up — even if you truly believe that you’re ready to do so — remember that ultimately, you know your situation best. In the same way that we fill in the blanks about J.Lo’s life with our own beliefs and experiences, as Brigham points out, other people will do the same with yours. “Only you live your life, so you have to do it how it works for you,” she says. “You live with the outcome. You live with the feelings. You live with all of it.”