Mothers are our mentors, our endless supply of love and encouragement, and our seemingly all-knowing source of life advice. The values our mothers instill in us influence our every decision, even after they’re no longer around to guide us.

For as long as I can remember, my mom had never been wrong. Every prediction of a friend I couldn’t trust, a career path that couldn’t fulfill me, or a love who wouldn’t last, was proven true. In time, I came to accept her opinions as fact, acknowledging that her extra time on Earth had given her a better understanding of it. One piece of her advice impacted me far more than the rest, however, and it was this: “You’re single 'til you’re married.”

This means, in her interpretation, that marriage is a commitment. Dating, on the other hand, is an experimental process. Restricting yourself to one partner is foolish, she suggests, if they likely won’t become your lifetime companion. And this mantra is more than just a mindset. It’s a means of approaching “committed” relationships. Even if you’re in one, you should keep looking.

In her youth, my mother always maintained two boyfriends at a time. She boasted this to myself, my sisters, and my father (her husband of 30 years) throughout our entire upbringing. When we came of dating age, she not only condoned unfaithfulness — she encouraged it.

And as I always did, I followed her judgment. My late teens and early twenties were never short of romantic interests, and I explored each of them. My love life became one extensive relationship, their endings and beginnings overlapping when I inevitably decided my new pursuit was more promising than the last.

Of course, I’m far from the only opportunistic philanderer. For years, infidelity has been rising among 20-somethings, who it seems can’t commit to one person because we’re always searching for someone more compatible. Unsurprisingly, a recent experiment of this phenomenon found that even in long-term relationships, if we’re exposed to people who possess higher intelligence, attractiveness, health, or financial responsibility than our current partner, we’re far less likely to remain loyal.

However, it seems the intrinsic desire to upgrade partners pertains to women more than men. Studies show that men may cheat more often than women, but they’ll often do so with someone less attractive or desirable than their current companion. Ladies in relationships, however, tend to cheat more selectively. When women are unfaithful, they’ll rarely fool around with fellas who are “socially subordinate” to their current partners. Essentially, women are more likely to cheat up, while men are more likely to cheat around.

Beyond gender, there are countless other qualities that determine someone’s likelihood of infidelity. Our age, our job, our sex drive, our impulsivity, and our unique relationship circumstances play a role in predicting loyalty. Perhaps more indicative than these lifestyle or personality traits, evidently, is our outlook on romance and relationships.

I was brought up believing that the relationships of my youth should be selfish, unrestrained, and treated as the temporary arrangements they truly are. I heeded my mother’s guidance, and screwed around on nearly every significant other that expected monogamy, but never marriage. And while I’ve had my doubts about this piece of advice more than any other, I believe my mother was warranted in offering it. I suppose that she wanted to share the authentic lessons of her lifetime, even if those truths were ugly and unethical.

Without a doubt, my mother’s mantra that “you’re single ‘til you’re married” necessitates a natural expiration date. At some point, if we’re ever going to find a partner willing to commit to a lifetime of filing taxes together, shopping for furniture, and pooping with the bathroom door open, we’ll have to devotedly date them first, and prove that we want to remain faithful for as long as we live.

Ultimately, as my mom has taught me, only a few rare relationships are meant to last forever. Our marriage constitutes one of those. Our mother makes another.

[originally published May 13, 2018]