Most people who grow up in the United States experience similar force-fed narratives of love, sex and romance. How do all the movies go? Girl meets boy, they fall in love quickly and simply, get married, make love to make babies, and have a wonderful carefree life full of children and grandchildren. After finding true love, neither partner even has the capability of romantic or sexual attraction to an outside party, let alone the desire to act on such attraction. Other people apparently become faceless, sexless masses to the partners that “only have eyes for each other.” If you still believe this narrative and don’t want its scrutiny to become your next Santa Claus, turn back now. This week’s article dissects the myth of monogamy.
Let’s get one thing clear: I am not arguing that every person in the whole world should be polyamorous and/or non-monogamous. I am not even arguing that non-monogamy is necessarily “better” than the alternatives. I also do not think it is acceptable for anyone to “cheat” on their partner, so don’t even think about sending me an angry email because you skimmed the first paragraph of this column and got upset. The only argument I am making is against the social construct of capital–“M” Monogamy and the damage I believe it has the capacity to enact. The prevailing attitude of “monogamy, or it’s over” causes a lot of people a lot of heartache, which could be avoided if we only dared to change the conversation.
No matter how deeply you love your partner, you will never not be attracted to another human being. (This all considering, of course, that you feel sexual and/or romantic attraction in the first place, which many don’t.) The rest of the world doesn’t just disappear behind pixelated censor bars when you make a commitment to another person.
This may seem ridiculous to spell out, but you’d be surprised the amount of people who get mad at their partners for recognizing the beauty of another person. A lingering look, a flirtatious smile or an off-hand compliment can all be enough to start an argument laid on the foundations of extreme insecurities in relationships. Recognizing an outside party’s attractiveness is apparently a sign of a weak relationship, a shallow love. Imagine the stress! One person feels constantly guilty for their functioning vision, while the other struggles against feelings of inadequacy and paranoia. A romantic partnership should also be a deep friendship, including all the fun that comes with spotting a supermodel in the grocery store and communicating in raised eyebrows and elbow-jabs. Think about how much more fun that is than arguments about human nature that nobody has the capacity to change.
“Of course just looking at other people isn’t cheating,” you might be saying with an eye-roll. Let’s take it up a notch. Say you’re in a long-term committed relationship of several years. You’re getting a little antsy at this point, but you wouldn’t even think about ending things. Why would you sacrifice everything good in your life just because you crave a little variety? Preferably, you wouldn’t have to! If the choice is between destroying your life together or getting physical (whatever level of contact that might entail) with a third party, wouldn’t most choose the latter?
This is where the importance of honest communication comes in. I do not support secrecy, lies and deception in a partnership under any circumstances. You’re both adults; sit down and have a conversation that lays out exactly what you want and how you’re feeling. This entails some self-reflection first. Do you want to sleep with a random Tinder date next week and then never touch anyone else for another five years? Do you want to sleep with your best friend every day for the foreseeable future? Do you want to get drunk and get handsy with a hot body at a nightclub and go home to your partner before dawn? Is this an either/or situation for you – either you get exactly what you want, or you’re leaving? You might be surprised at the receptibility of your partner. Even if they don’t want to participate themselves, many people may be open to some level of non-monogamous compromise. If not, then you need to decide for yourself what you’re willing to sacrifice for your partner.
Here’s where things get a little tricky. What if your partner vetoes any possibility of third-party contact and you’re not willing to live within their rules? This becomes a complicated analysis of costs and benefits that are too individually specific for me to offer any insight.
It is my personal belief that actions should cause the least amount of harm to the least amount of people, however one might define “harm.” Honesty is generally the best policy, but if you have three young children and ten years of marriage under your belt, I don’t know that I’d argue for divulging that you slept with someone once three years ago, knowing that the relationship would end if you confess.
Conversely, I would also urge people to reconsider non-monogamy as a divorceable offense. Clearly, if there are other issues in the relationship involving trust or deceit, then this is a different story, but the automatic dissolution of a partnership because of non-monogamy is what I’m encouraging people to reassess.
What’s my point then, if every situation is different and decisions depend on deeply personal values? In the simplest of terms, I think it’s long past time to move beyond monogamy as the overarching ideal all relationships should strive toward. Allowing ourselves and our partners even the tiniest amount of leeway over the course of a lifetime – knowing exactly what is permissible and what is not, making our own rules for our own relationships, forgiving slip-ups and working to rebuild trust – makes relationships a lot less stressful and a lot more fun. We would all save ourselves a lot of disappointment if we realized that reality doesn’t often look like a Disney movie.
Questions? Comments? Insults? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, but remember that it won’t be anonymous.