Monogamy, Mythology, and a Smidgeon of Economics.
“We believe it’s okay to have sex with anybody you love, and we believe in loving everybody.”
– D. Eaton & J. Hardy, The Ethical Slut
Still no sexy posts, you guys. Believe it or not, even when my visible sex organs are being constantly stimulated, I insist on writing about what goes on in the one in my head. Shame on me for thinking! Jack Hutson would be so disappointed.
I ruminate a lot on the monogamy myth. It actually leans heavily on another myth, which is the myth of the “incomplete person,” and it also leans on (American) economics. (I live here, so I can’t address international situations.) Keep in mind that once I start talking about the economy, I might be missing something, because I don’t study economics by any means – these are just economic “necessities” that I have seen influence relationships.
Let’s break the title down. If I lose you, just smile and nod like you normally do when you read my posts and I start to wax verbose. If I don’t lose you, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I’m sure that if you’re part of a community with a significant poly population (certain areas in the queer community and the BDSM community, for example), you’ve probably heard people say that monogamy is a myth. You can find some poly people who are assholes (not to imply that all polyamorous folk are jerks) on Fetlife who will march around touting the superiority of polyamory. “We’re just more ‘evolved’!” “We’re TOTALLY beyond jealousy!”
That isn’t the myth I’m talking about. Being monogamous doesn’t make you less evolved. That’s just stupid shit that some poly people say. What they don’t address (and may not acknowledge) is the fact that poly relationships actually may involve jealousy, and to get past that, you have to communicate. In fact, you probably have to communicate even better than monogamous people. (That doesn’t mean that poly people DO communicate better than the monogamous. Just that it’s of more importance, because the more people you involve, the bigger the shitstorm gets when you fuck it all up.)
When I think about the monogamy myth, I think about the idea that you’re supposed to be together. With one person. Forever. Here’s where it ties in with the myth of the “incomplete person.” It’s actually kind of a Möbius strip, if you think about it. Both ideas are on a continual plane. You can’t flip the ring and say, “Here’s the monogamy myth and on the other side is the incomplete person myth.” They’re not separate ideas, really.
The incomplete person myth… where to start? You see it all the time, right?
- “I’m searching for my soul mate.”
- “This person is my other half.”
- “You can’t be truly happy until you’re in love.”
- “They’ll complete you.”
Shut the fuck up, Dr. Phil.
Seriously. I don’t necessarily disagree with the concept of having “soul mates,” but, having multiple myself (unquestionably two, currently: my hetero life partner and a very dear friend/former romantic interest), I’m certainly not buying into the idea that my partner(s) will complete me, and I’m UNQUESTIONABLY not buying into the idea that each person has one soul mate in their entire lifetime… and that they have to marry that person ASAP. That’s crap. I am a whole person and I don’t need someone to complete me. I want another whole person to be my partner and walk beside me, rather than to live nestled in my hollowed-out carcass.
A thousand people are spouting out some fragmented form of that aphorism that you “can’t love somebody until you love yourself.” Yeah, I’ll buy into that. A lack of self-esteem from one partner can be a huge drain on the other. But so can the feeling that you’re going to be alone forever if you don’t have a partner… yet we don’t say, “You can’t be in a happy relationship until you can be happy alone.” That’s really what we should be saying. The idea that you NEED someone (your soul mate, duh) to fill your life and complete your existence? That’s a piss-poor way to look at things, don’t you think? And this idea that we are incomplete, that our lives are sad and lonely because we’re single and that there’s one puzzle piece to fit us? That just turns into the myth that a monogamous relationship is right for everyone. If one person is needed to “complete” us, then we’re obviously going to lock that fucker down for the long-haul. We don’t need anyone else, and we have a model for this long haul. Ohhh, do we have a model for it.
The monogamous relationship (which you enter into because you’re terrified of being incomplete) doesn’t have to be the nuclear family anymore. I mean, sure, you can be June Cleaver and squeeze out as many tiny little cockblocks as you want, but you can also be the newly-married couple that doesn’t plan on having children. But god forbid that you break the real, serious-business, fabled tenants of monogamy.
- God forbid that you do anything sexual without your partner… so just forget about masturbating.
- God forbid that your partner watch porn. Aren’t you enough for them?
As a note, the above two myths are pretty closely interlinked. I see a lot of, “My partner shouldn’t get off to anything but me, with me.” That is the most damaging attitude I have ever seen that we have woven into our view of how monogamous relationships work. And it’s ALWAYS found among the most insecure people I’ve ever met, and it only feeds their insecurity. Am I telling you to change it, if these descriptions ring true of your relationships? No – I can’t really do that. But I can suggest that you take a good look at yourself and figure out why it really bothers you… and what you can do to improve on a personal level, rather than just restricting your partner’s behavior and being miserable if they don’t comply. I’ve been that person, and not because I was in a monogamous relationship, or had a problem with porn or masturbation… but because I felt unloved because my partner never put in the effort to have sex with me (or the sex I wanted to try having), and because these partners were also dishonest with me about their activities and needs… and at the time, I made the mistake of failing to communicate my own expectations clearly until I reached the boiling point.
- God forbid that your partner look at someone else and find them attractive. You should be the only one they have eyes on, right?
- God forbid that you don’t live together (eventually, if not now).
- God forbid that you don’t sleep in the same bed.
- God forbid that you do things (and I’m talking about hobbies, here) without one another.
In fact, if you tell someone you live with your partner and aren’t sharing a bed every night, they’ll go, “Whoa, what did they do wrong?” Because we expect happy monogamous couples to follow the standard model that Hollywood sets in the 21st century – we sleep in the same bed, we do everything together, we only have eyes for one another. We write non-standard wedding vows on the backs of menus where we had our first date. We’ll eventually fall in love with you again if we get amnesia. (Oh, sorry for those last two bits; I watched The Vow a few weeks ago because I was experiencing a random case of brain damage.)
We never consider that some people need a certain amount of space, and just because it defies the expectation of domestic partnership (the expectation that you’ll just share a bed for the rest of your life, for example) doesn’t mean that their relationship is any less valid. My dear friend Elle M. would be happy having her own apartment or condo beside the person with whom she might decide to become “involved for the long haul,” if ever that were to happen. I need a little bit less space than that, but I definitely need a room to myself for work, play, and decompression, even if I’m dating someone that I can “recharge” around.
I’m an introvert. Recharge and decompression can done at the same time, but are both totally different concepts in my life. Recharge is just holing up (with or without my partner) without being required to deal with the things that drain me (such as the rest of the fucking world). But decompression is different. Even if I can be totally devoid of self-consciousness around a partner, decompression really allows me to be well and truly alone and enjoy the perks of that. My partner may never dream of judging me, and ideally, I can be vulnerable around them, but sometimes I don’t want to have to be. Trying on a new harness, or desperately attempting to get my latest butt plug into my ass without dropping it? That’s really something I’d just rather do on my own. I need time to decompress beyond the amount of time I spend reading on the toilet.
So here’s where my rant has brought us: We grow up watching romantic comedies and teen shows and children’s movies that clearly display two people who were “meant to be” hooking up and magically completing the other person. They get hitched, move in together, do everything together, and sleep together every night, and they live happily ever after.
So what happens to real people?
We go to those extremes, and most of us hardly realize that we’re chasing a pipe dream. We promote a codependent concept of love, which is inevitably poisonous, and it’s not solely limited to monogamous relationships. Because we expect our other half to complete us, we just figure they’re going to know what we want without having to ask… then we get pissed and passive aggressive when they don’t pick up on our venomous, overly-subtle hints. It’s confusing when the person we’re supposed to complete is suddenly angry and we have no idea what to do about it. And because we’ve been rushing to make sure we shackle “the one,” by the time we realize that something here isn’t working out, we’ve been married for five years and have entangled our lives so deeply that trying to wriggle out of the knot is like trying to untie a fine piece of thread.
The thing is that our emotional assumptions aren’t the only reason that we entertain these relationships… our economy encourages us to! And better still – it encourages economical codependence, not just emotional!
It’s hard to get by when you’re single. Theoretically, you’ve got to deal with car payments, insurance payments, student loans, credit card payments, utilities, and your rent or mortgage payment. You have to buy groceries, work on your retirement fund, and feed your
200 20 3 cats. You’re already dealing with the stressful fact that you’re 30 and your soul mate hasn’t shown up for some godawful reason! (Get used to being late to the party. Once you get hitched and pop out your 2.6 kids and a dog, you will never be on time for anything ever again.) You’re working to pay for a bunch of stuff that basically ensures that you can stay alive in order to work more and reproduce with someone else to create more workers. (Apparently Marx is the devil on my shoulder when I’m writing blog posts at 4 AM.)
Take alllllll that debt up there and look at your personal finances. Chances are that your yearly income doesn’t comfortably cover all of those things. But hey, when you find your one true soul mate, you’ll get married and they can help you pay off all that shit!
Except they have it too. The car, insurance, loans, credit cards… the only thing you two, collectively, will save money on by combining your lives is rent, assuming that DO opt to live together and that you DON’T move into a bigger place when you decide to co-habitate. People who want to maintain separate financial lives do not (and will not, if my prediction is correct) have it easy in the future. Elle M. is going to be feeling a lot of pressure to move in with Mr.
Gerard Butler Elle M. if they decide to live in adjacent condominiums instead of cramming into one space. Entering into some legally-binding shit and turning your bank accounts into one joint account seems, on the surface, like a pretty good way to slowly but surely chisel away at the monetary burden on your shoulders. But really, ultimately, everyone is suffering in this economy. Millions of couples are still struggling… and their relationships are struggling… and things aren’t getting much better.
The goal of this post is not to argue that monogamy is inefficient, that polyamory is better, or that you shouldn’t get married. I very firmly believe in chasing your happiness in whatever manner you desire. Shack up with one! two! ten! people if it makes you happy. Raise a child in a family of two people, or a family comprised of 15. If, somehow, you are one of two human beings on the planet who can blossom by doing LITERALLY EVERYTHING together (with the exception of bowel movements, unless you can do those too), then more power to you.
But if you’re like me, then maybe things haven’t gone the way you’ve planned in the past.
Maybe your relationships have suffered because of economic strain.
Maybe your relationships have suffered because of codependency.
Maybe your relationships have suffered because you’re only in them ’cause you’re afraid of flying solo.
Maybe your relationships have suffered because you need to share your love, life, and body with more than one person at a time.
Maybe your relationships have suffered because of unrealistic expectations that have kept all involved in totally separate chapters of the same book.
If you’re like me, I can’t really tell you what to do to fix it. I can’t tell you to go poly, or to denounce marriage (hell, I consider marriage pretty regularly), or to let the mob take care of your debt problem. I can’t tell you to shove your offspring back into your uterus until you can afford it… which will probably be never, unless you’re well-off.
The goal of this post was mostly just to think about how you got to this point.
Sucks, doesn’t it?