Am I Wrong to Expect Monogamy In the Early Phases of Online Dating?


I live in a small retirement community with few men my age (54,) so online dating gives me access to a much broader field. It also means a much longer introductory phase, and an awkwardly pressured scenario – if on meeting we are not attracted. I can deal with that, I think. But in the course of the protracted conversation, when the tone becomes increasingly intimate and anticipatory, I have to repeatedly face the unexpected revelation that the man I am “involved” with is involved, literally, with someone else, typically, an old girlfriend who is now a sex partner and good friend.

Though I have said expressly in my profile that I prefer a single focus and want to be told if someone has other people in their lives (so I can figure out how to deal with it,) I keep having to find out well into the hot pursuit phase. Is this just too much to ask? Should I just get over hoping for monogamy so early in the game? I just feel the other people involved would be hurt if they knew the exchanges their lover is having with me, even if it’s just over the phone, and making plans to meet. Hopelessly mired in tradition?


Dear Michelle,

Great letter. One I feel I must have answered before, but can’t really remember.

To put a fine point on it: yes, you’re hopelessly mired in tradition. But that’s not a flaw on your part. It’s a blind spot shared with pretty much every single person who is dating online. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

The most pervasive trait that I see in online dating is mind-numbing hypocrisy.

Are you “wrong” for wishing for a simpler, more direct approach to communication? Not at all. Are you fighting a losing battle with technology and human nature? Absolutely.

“I may have lied about my height by an inch…how dare she lie about her weight?”

“I’ve been dating on JDate on and off for six years…look at that loser – he’s been using JDate the entire time I’ve been on here and still hasn’t found someone.”

“I lowered my age to be seen by more people…but what’s with these guys who take off ten years and don’t tell you until the first date?”

“I’ve sent out ten emails and eight men were so rude that they didn’t reply at all; I’ve also got ten emails from interested men, but only two of them are really worth a reply.”

“Men are only looking for hot, young women…but I’ve only got the 20 most attractive men on my favorites list.”

And, of course, your dilemma.

Now, you may be the exception to the rule – for all I know, you communicate with only one man at a time and wouldn’t even consider writing an email to a new man if you were already in correspondence with another.

But that would seem to negate the entire nature of online dating – you have access to volumes of single people who also have access to volumes of single people. So are you “wrong” for wishing for a simpler, more direct approach to communication? Not at all. Are you fighting a losing battle with technology and human nature? Absolutely.

And this happens all the time. We want the world to be a certain way and get really frustrated when it flies in the face of our expectations.

“It’s not fair that men have to be the aggressors while women have to just sift through their email!”

“It’s not fair that 50 year old men can date 40 year old women, but 40 year old men don’t want 50 year old women!”

Yeah, and?

So, Michelle, in order to be successful in online dating, you have to understand the rules of the game. Here are the rules you’re currently breaking:

In order to be successful in online dating, you have to understand the rules of the game.

1)             You say in your profile that you’re looking for a single focus and want to be told so you can deal with it.   That’s not how it works. If you actually say that, you’re only indicating that you’re tone-deaf to how you’re coming across. It’s like walking into a swingers’ party and wondering aloud why everyone has no values. Or a guy writing in his profile that he wants a young, thin, woman with big boobs and a hunger for cooking and oral sex. Is he wrong for wanting it? No. Just for saying it out loud.

2)             You’re finding out that he’s dating other people when you’re dating. Once again, I understand why you WANT to know, but you have to understand that if you pull this insta-relationship stuff with men who are exploring 3 or 4 options on right now, you’re gonna get the short end of the stick. Dating is a process. What I tell my clients all the time is that they want to read the last page of the book, just to see that it has a happy ending. But you have to read the entire book. That’s the dating process. If you try to pry information out of a guy – how many people he’s slept with, how much money he makes, whether he’s ready for a serious relationship or kids – he’s going to feel pressured and interrogated. This isn’t the feeling you want to evoke on a first date.

3)             You’re worrying about the other women these men are dating and are trying to protect them from heartbreak. I could spend a lot of time worrying about the suffering in Namibia or North Korea or Detroit, but I’ve got my own stuff to keep me busy. Until you really get that the very nature of online dating means that thousands of men are browsing thousands of women – and that pretty much every one is trying to trade up for the youngest, cutest, funniest, coolest woman on the website – you’re gonna put yourself through a lot of unnecessary heartbreak.

If you’re a baseball player, you may be an All-Star – but you pretty much know you’re never going to hit better than .350. 65% -75% of the time, you’re gonna get out. That’s the way the game is played. So instead of trying to rewrite the rules to online dating, how about you start playing by the existing rules?

Instead of trying to rewrite the rules to online dating, how about you start playing by the existing rules?

Everyone writes to everyone.

Nobody is monogamous until his profile’s down.

No relationship is real until he’s your boyfriend.

Before that, it’s just hope and potential.

If you embrace the above, I predict a much greater sense of peace at the revolving door of men facing you.

Remember, all it takes is one…

This is why I developed Finding the One Online. If you’ve ever struggled with the online dating process — and wondered why men do what they do online — I’ve answered all of your questions and more.

Warmest wishes,


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  1. 21

    The comparison to test driving a car or walking through a house. Interesting that’s what we now reduce others to. Very interesting.

  2. 22
    Curly Girl

    Who says that women aren’t biologically “programmed” for casual sex? I don’t believe that statement can be supported with research. But there is a lot of neuro-biological and anthropological research to the contrary, actually. One of the anthropological theories advanced to explain the development of monogamy in humans (which is not a truth for all human groupings) is so that males would know that they are in fact raising offspring that are their own and not the result of some casual liaison with another male. Wouldn’t be a problem if women were hard-wired for monogamy. You can read about this in the book “Why Is Sex Fun?” by Jared…forget the last name. Won a Pulitzer for “Guns, Germs, and Steel”–also an amazing book. Warning: You won’t like the sex book if your idea is that males are cavemen looking to spread their seed and females are dependent creatures looking to snare a male to impregnate them and be taken care of. It’s all much more complicated than that.

  3. 23

    Response to Cilla: Your local public health department undoubtedly offers anonymous, free testing for HIV and STDs. Avail yourself of their services. You’re paying for them with your tax dollars. Also, if you are tested anonymously, you get the added bonus of not having your coming in to get tested plus your labs being reported to your health insurance company, which in turn will report them to the Medical Information Bureau. That information stays on file forever, and if you ever go to get private health coverage (e.g., not through an employer), it may affect your rates or how much coverage you are eligible for.

    That said: personally, once I “wised up” about dating, I never became intimate with a man who hadn’t told me he wanted to be monogamous, exclusive, said he loved me and was also willing to swap lab reports. That cuts way down on the number of tests needed. I only had to go through it three times, and the third time was a charm (i.e., my husband). Having higher standards leads to less hassle, not more.

  4. 24

    JB: Having written a book on HIV/STDs, I know from my research that you are correct. Very few people will actually abstain from unprotected sex before they make sure their health (and lives) are not at risk. Human beings do all sorts of risky things. I just ate a flame-grilled cheeseburger for lunch. Carcinogens, hormones in the beef, saturated fats… totally irresponsible. Also totally delicious. Trust me, I get it.

    However, I am not “delusional” in suggesting that it’s responsible practice in this day and age to get tested for potentially terminal diseases if one is launching into a monogamous relationship with someone and expects to have unprotected sex with that person. I feel I would be irresponsible if I didn’t at least bring the concept to the table. Especially with an older person like Michelle who is going to tend to be more conservative in their approach to begin with… and who is considering entering into relationships with men who have “friends with bennies” on the side.

  5. 25
    Curly Girl

    Thanks for the pep talk, BTTW!! I cannot tell you what an affirming, eye-opening, liberating experience it was when a guy I was seeing used a condom all the time, each and every time, did not ask, just did it. It was one of the most mature things I have ever experienced in a casual dating environment. Because very often (OK, in my experience, “usually” or “always”) casual daters are rarely concerned about health risks–they’re more worried about pregnancy and lay a big trip on the woman about that. As if STDs don’t exist or that it won’t happen to them, and birth control is just about preventing pregnancy and therefore is the woman’s responsibility. This irresponsible mentality–nay, this truly DELUSIONAL mentality–often goes hand in hand with a guy just looking for n.s.a. sex. Not sure why–you’d think that the more n.s.a. it is the more concerned the guy would be about any and all unforeseen consequences. Doesn’t seem to be the case, though. It’s like they think “Well, I’m not committed, so nothing will happen.” Not logical.

    Guys would get a lot more n.s.a. sex if they used condoms (so nobody gets hurt) and made sure that the woman had a good time (i.e., worked on understanding female physiology a little bit, recognizing that it doesn’t work the same as male physiology). The stories I could tell.

  6. 26

    @ BeenThruTheWars

    First of all, I’m not recommending unprotected sex. My comment made it clear that my encounters were protected. The risk stratification for STDs changes radically depending on whether or not the patient is having protected or unprotected sex. That risk stratification also dictates infectious disease protocols for lab tests, whether administered by a public health department or a private physician. Not all public health departments will provide unlimited, free STD testing when no risk for those diseases is present (especially if on intake it is discovered that the patient has private insurance). Precisely because they do use our tax dollars, they need to be judicious about ordering unnecessary testing.

    Also, if you are launching a monogamous, unprotected physical relationship with someone you claim to love, don’t you think you should be at a level of trust where a verbal agreement about one’s sexual health is sufficient? If you need paperwork to prove your cleanliness, are you really ready for that type of relationship? If you don’t trust his word about STDs, can you really trust anything else he says? Do you demand proof of his monogamy by demanding a documented log of his time? After all, lab reports are only as good as the monogamy they are based on. If he cheats on you, all those clean lab results go out the window, but you may not know it unless he’s caught. How often do you demand a re-test, to prove he hasn’t been sleeping around? Many, many, many men will claim to be monogamous, will say they love you, etc., even in marriage, but they are lying (not saying your husband, just men in general). I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but my point is that sometimes there are just no guarantees.

    To follow your line of thinking, one should be tested for every possible “terminal” disease, not just STDs. That means every time I touch a door handle in a public rest room (guaranteed to be covered with E. coli), I need a test, because I could *possibly* have exposed myself to a bacterial infection. Every time I ride in a cab, I should be tested for MRSA, since it could be cultured from virtually every public taxi. Statistically, the increase in mortality from MRSA in the US is climbing faster than the increase in mortality from AIDS.

    And what about kissing? Certain STDs (HPV, HBV, herpes, and syphilis) can be spread through kissing. Are you advocating getting tested after every partner with whom you open mouth kiss, even if you do not engage in sex?

  7. 27

    Cilla is correct and Been thru the wars you know this…….any test result is theoretically and factually a “snapshot of exactly 1 moment in time that becomes meaningless if someone kisses or touches someone sexually 10 minutes after the test. All we’re saying as we’ve gotten way off topic is that most people aren’t going to run to the doctor every time they start to have sex with someone. Safer sex,common sense and a little judgement go a long way. Everything in life has an infinite possiblities of outcomes. Everything is about probabilities and odds. Anything is possible but is it probable?

  8. 28

    Wow, maybe I am sheltered but I have not once had unprotected sex outside of a long term, committed relationship. I don’t have casual sex on a regular basis, but it has come up (npi!) every now and then. There is no way that I would take such a big risk and not use a condom though. I’m already paranoid that a condom isn’t sufficient, since many STDs can still be transmitted regardless.

    As for the original question, I learned the hard way not to assume any level of commitment or exclusivity until it’s discussed and mutually agreed upon.

  9. 29

    Re: LK #28

    “I learned the hard way not to assume any level of commitment or exclusivity until it’s discussed and mutually agreed upon.”

    Yes. Alot of us have learned that lesson the hard way.

    And have come to believe it’s best to have ” a discussion” about it BEFORE the removal of clothing.

  10. 30

    “Dating is one thing, but having an ongoing sexual relationship while you’re meeting new people?”

    “there is nothing wrong with that as long as commitments are not violated.”

    Yes, but we’re talking about a man’s availability for, and interest in, a serious relationship, which is what Michelle ultimately would like to have. It sounds like she is simply having phone conversations with men before actually meeting them due to distance, so she really is not “involved” (quotation marks hers) with them yet. Even so, I might wonder how available a man who’s still involved with an ex really was. I’d wonder if a guy was trying to keep things casual and non-committal by telling me. If the other relationship isn’t serious, why tell a woman you haven’t even met yet about it?

  11. 31

    I’m with Michael (#20). There’s nothing wrong with a little FWB action while you’re looking for someone with whom you want something a little more. As long as both of you understand it is what it is (and yeah, I understand both people mayn’t be on the same page).

  12. 32

    Yeah Joe you’re right except most women(especially over 50 I’ve found) aren’t really up for FWB/anything “casual”. For most it’s ALL or nothing. I just had to tell a woman after 5 dates that I didn’t see it ever being anything serious and she said “then I can’t invest any more time into this”. I told her I understand,I’m just being honest.

  13. 33

    I’m not sure it’s wise to expect monogamy right very early in the dating phase; what the op misses is that she should be seeing more than one gentleman at a time, at least until she and a man are ready to be exclusive. Dating around – not sleeping around – helps a woman retain her objectivity.

  14. 34

    Curylygirl, is there any literature/CD’s/lectures, you recommend on female physiology?

  15. 35
    sexy Filipina girl

    In the world of online dating, you cannot really expect monogamy from that certain person. Online dating world are full of lies and pretensions. Expecting monogamy in the early phases of online dating is sort of absurd because what’s the use of being a member of online dating sites that has hundreds of thousands interesting singles that could be your potential mate when you only focus to one preference? Online dating allows plethora of chances for you to meet different people from different walks of life. And when you know that the other half is already committed and is having sexual encounters with someone, then the better way to deal this kind of situation is find another man that has no strings attached because what goes around comes around. Meet people and enjoy life but be responsible with your actions!

  16. 36

    I have never had un-protected sex during the first phase of any of my relationships. I cinsider it when Im in a LTR. However I had un-protected sex with my current boyfriend the very first day we had sex because I was stupid and in love and got carried away. Anyhoo this is the first time he is out of the country on business for over 3mths and even though i want to trust him and believe him when he says that he is not having sex with any other woman, i just dont belive any man is built to stay away from sex for the long because men dont think like us. Men cna be so in love with their woman and still consider having   quickie to fulfill their urges.
    Well he comes back in a few weeks and I am contemplating buying some condoms. How do I tell him that i want him to start using condoms until we get married. Will he be offended? What if he truly was not having sex with other women? I will rather do this than tell him I will like to not have sex again until we get married, will he lose interest in me for taking way the pleasure of sleeping with me raw and changing my mind all of a sudden?

  17. 37
    Karl R

    Foxx said: (#36)
    “even though i want to trust him and believe him when he says that he is not having sex with any other woman, i just dont belive any man is built to stay away from sex for the long because men dont think like us.”

    If you feel that all men (or just your boyfriend)  are incapable of integrity, you shouldn’t get married.

    I’m a man. Here’s what I believe:
    1. If I cheat, I will hurt my girlfriend, destroy her trust in me, and destroy our relationship.
    2. Even if my girlfriend doesn’t know I cheated, I will know, and that will damage or destroy our relationship.
    3. There’s a big difference between fleetingly considering a quickie and going through with it.
    4. I may not be “built to stay away from sex” for 3 months, but I’ve abstained for 3 months before, and I can do it again.

    Foxx said: (#36)
    “Will he be offended? What if he truly was not having sex with other women?”

    If my girlfriend implied that I’d cheated on her, I would be extremely offended.

    I can’t find the words to explain how offensive I would find this accusation.

    Foxx said: (#36)
    “How do I tell him that i want him to start using condoms until we get married.”

    Tell him that the doctor put you on a medication that interferes with your birth control, and you need to use a condom for birth control.

    Just out of curiosity, if you  believe that  he’ll cheat on you now, what makes you believe that he would stop after getting married?

    And if you tell him that your medication is interfering with your birth control, you might want to consider the irony of the situation. Regardless of whether he is trustworthy, by lying to him, you will be proving that you aren’t trustworthy.

  18. 38

    Wow #37, great post to my question.
    It’s just little vibes I’m picking up on that makes me think he is cheating but a part of me wanna let him off the hook if he did cheat because we just dated 2 mths long distance before he travelled. Even though we say we are commited , it’s too early for him to be that into me to wanna withhold temptation.

    I don’t believe he is a serial cheater. I’m not hoping to wait until marriage for him to stop cheating. Im hoping to give the relationship more time to see if my irrational thoughts is as a result of us being apart for that long. If i catch him during this time, there will be no marraige.

    I will rather be safe and careful while trying to sort this out in a couple of months. Yes it will be a lie but the lie harms or hurts no one.

  19. 39

    Since these comments have veered towards discussion of STDs, I think it is really important to note that condoms do not protect people from one of the most common STDs, which is HPV.   HPVs are by far the most common STDs and lead to one of the more common cancers in women:   cervical cancer.   If that disease doesn’t kill a woman, it can still affect her fertility and ability to carry a pregnancy to term.
    I was in a relationship with a man who was (unbeknownst to me) seeing plenty of women at the same time, but felt like he wasn’t doing anything wrong because he always wore condoms.   What he ended up doing is infecting myself and at least one other person with a cancer causing HPV strain.    I was “lucky” in that I “only” got a precancerous legion that I had surgically removed and have been okay now for ten years.   Not everyone I know has been that lucky with HPV.
    If you think about human anatomy, there is a lot of genital contact that occurs even with a condom on.   In fact, the larger a man is, the more contact there likely is.
    I think one would be wise to take BeenThroughWars advice and always get tested before and after partners — including for HPV and Hepatitis if warranted.

    1. 39.1

      Last I checked, there is no reliable test for HPV in males.

  20. 40

    For the life of me, I cannot understand why people worry about these things or get emotionally involved enough in the early stages of dating to the point that they *care* whether someone is seeing or communicating with someone else.
    In the early stages, it is all fun and it doesn’t mean anything until you start to see tangible signs from the guy that he is properly interested in you and committing himself to you.   And this will happen without any questioning or prodding on your part.

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