Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More to Love: Some thoughts on non-monogamy

Imagine this:  You have a partner whom you’ve been with for some time and to whom you are quite devoted.  One evening you go to a party by yourself and meet someone who is attractive, smart, funny and interesting.  You talk and flirt all night (some of you are already uncomfortable) and you go back to their place to bring the night to its obvious conclusion.  The next day, your partner asks you how your night was and you tell them exactly what happened.  Now imagine this:  Your partner is happy for you, asks for all the details and delights in them.  There are no tears, no one curses at anyone, no shoes are thrown.  There are people for whom such a scenario is common-place.
            Why do we get possessive over the people we love?  Why do we insist that love is a finite thing that needs to be rationed out carefully?  Why do we expect our partners, who most likely slept with people before they met us to be satisfied with only us for the rest of their lives, or until they can’t help themselves and they “cheat on us”?  Why do we expect that of ourselves?  When did we come to believe that the intertwining of sex and love is natural law rather than the social construct it really is?
            Chances are you’ve got more than one friend, right?  You’ve got the friend you like to go out drinking with, the friend you like to make dinner with, the friend who you tell your most intimate secrets to, secrets you may not even tell your lover.  We understand that some people can give us things that others can’t and when it comes to friends, we find that to be perfectly reasonable.  And yet, we expect our partners to be everything we need; friend, confidant, advisor, care-taker, entertainer, listener, lover, collaborator, co-conspirator and on and on.  Not only is this expectation unrealistic, it’s unhealthy and often times destructive.  It’s why affairs are so common-place (and so alluring).  Your affair expects nothing but sex and fun, which is why most people who leave their partners for their affairs find the resulting relationship to be unsustainable.  You leave your partner for someone shiny and exciting, but the shininess wears off quickly once real life sets in.  Now it’s no longer an affair, but instead a plain old relationship, complete with all the pit-falls and so the eye begins to wander again, on and on until you’re left with no one to change your diaper or remind you where you left your dentures. 
            Anyone who’s been in a relationship that’s lasted longer than a couple years (maximum) knows that at some point the sex dries up.  Oh sure, you still have it, and occasionally go through bouts of having it frequently, but it’s just not that same as it was in the beginning.  Maybe you’re not tongue wrestling as much as you used to, or you now need lube where before you didn’t, or you even have regularly scheduled “sex nights” (shudder).  But you’ve traded the screwing on the kitchen table for “companionship”, which is ultimately more “fulfilling” and “meaningful” and gag me with spoon.  Then, God forbid, you meet someone interesting with whom you could have crazy weasel sex like you did in the good old days, but you can’t because you’re in a committed relationship and putting your genitals onto or into someone else would be the ultimate betrayal.  So, you go home, make a cup of tea and play Scrabble. 
For those who practice consensual non-monogamy, there is no need to leave a partner you love just because you’ve met someone else who interests you.  Not only does this free you up to have a little more fun, but it makes for somewhat more realistic expectations of those we love as well as those we just want to screw.  Which is not to say it isn’t difficult and people don’t get jealous, but I’ve only got 1700 words, here, folks.
Sex is certainly a very intimate act, but the only reason we treat it with the reverence that we do is because of shame.  We covered up the parts of our bodies we were ashamed of and created a myth of sanctity around them.  Why should a vagina be any more or less precious than a right foot?  An elbow should be considered just as sacred as a nipple.  Why can’t a great friendship include sex?  Sex only ruins friendships if you treat it like a sacred act. 
Sex is like conversation.  It’s going to be different every time and with each different partner.  You may have one partner who’s really good at oral and another who is better at something else.  You may like anal sex but your partner doesn’t want to go anywhere near your back door.  If you practice consensual non-monogamy you can find a second (or third or fourth) partner who loves nothing more than anal sex. Kind of like avoiding politics with a friend on the opposite side of the political fence.  When people ask, “but, what if you say the wrong name during sex?” I wonder what they’re doing during sex that they don’t know who they’re having it with.  Sure, you can be deep in the throes of passion and “forget where you are”, but come on.  And anyway, what if you did blurt out the wrong name?  Why is that more offensive than calling a friend by the wrong name over dinner?
We are monogamous not because it is natural, but because for whatever reason, it serves society for people to find one mate and make a family.  We are monogamous because we’re told that that’s the only way to be.  Just as we’ve been told that men love women and women love men.  Because men loving men and women loving women is a threat to the species.  How will we propagate with all this wasteful seed-spilling?  Never mind the fact that according to the World Bank, the world’s population is expanding by 200,000 per day and we can’t seem to care for the 6.5 billion people we’ve already made.
Opponents of same-sex marriage like to say “What’s next?  Polygamy?”  We are scared of the Mormons (some of us are angry at them, but that’s another story) because their lifestyle is different from our own.  The media regularly show us the evils of the Mormon compounds.  Recently, we self-righteously marched into a compound in Texas and took some 400 Mormon children away because we decided they weren’t being raised right, until we realized that we’d been misinformed (by a prank phone caller) and we returned the children with much less media coverage than was given to the initial raid.  But we left them with an unmistakable message, “we know what’s best for your children and we’re watching you.”  Hitler’s Third Reich did similar things with people they didn’t like before deciding it would be easier to just throw them in ovens.
The real anti-polygamy movement began just after Utah had granted women the right to vote in the mid 1800s.  Until then, the United States had largely ignored the Mormons as strange, yet harmless cult members or oddities.  Once the women of Utah were given the vote, however, “normal” people from across the country (read, Washington, D.C.) started likening polygamy to slavery.  Old white men in politics got up to do what they seem to love so much to do; talk about the under-privileged in an effort to seem compassionate. No one bothered, however to ask Mormon wives how they felt.  To this day, when a Mormon wife is paraded out in the media we laugh at her funny clothes and shake our heads in pity because she’s obviously been brain washed into believing that she is happy in her polygamous marriage.  That is, when they’re not parading an ex-Mormon wife who’s written a book about the horrors of the Mormon lifestyle, which we much prefer.
I’m not advocating that we adopt a polygamous lifestyle.  I do see the inherent sexism in a system that only allows for multiple wives and not multiple husbands. Though, from a strictly evolutionary point of view, multiple female partners make more sense than multiple male partners (in heterosexual pairings) as a man can make endless babies while a woman can only make a couple (or 8) in any 9 month period.  But what about the sexism inherent in heterosexual marriage wherein a woman is passed from the ownership of her father to the ownership of her husband? 
I think it’s been established, despite the on-going efforts of the Catholic Church and other religious zealots, that people don’t get married or have sex just to make babies; that in fact some of us continue to get married and/or have sex (and lots of it) after we’ve already decided that we don’t want children at all.  Obviously the target market for Cialis is not trying to get it up to impregnate their 60-year-old wives.
We have sex because it’s fun.  Because it feels good.  We have sex as a way to connect; to show someone we care for them.  We have sex to relieve stress.  We have sex to apologize.  We have sex to piss other people off.  We have sex to rebel.  We have sex because we work really hard and God damn it, we deserve a good time.
Monogamy originally meant one partner for life.  But people started living longer and we changed the definition to better suit our reality.  We now take monogamy to mean one partner at a time.  But considering how many people cheat on their spouses (some reports put it at more than 50% of all married people, and that’s only counting the people who admit to it), perhaps it’s time to once again re-think definitions.  What if we had frank discussions like adults about our wants and needs and stopped treating other people like possessions?  What if we acknowledged that we’re all having sex (or nearly all) and that we (gasp) actually like it and stop treating it like some sacred act reserved only for a specific kind of relationship?  Imagine how many relationships would be saved if we treated our partners like partners instead of like objects we’re trying to hold on to.  Imagine all the experiences we’d get to have if we stopped saying “no” just because we’re told we should say no.  Imagine how many fewer country songs we’d have to endure.