Is monogamy realistic? (No)

CNN has a nice article today that touches briefly on poly. I think overall it’s a very good article, although I’m disappointed with the conclusion. They quote a lot of people saying some brilliant things.

[…] is it still reasonable to expect people to pair up and stay monogamous until death do them part?

“It’s realistic that some people can mate for life in the same sense that some people can play the Beethoven violin concerto or other people can ice-skate beautifully or learn a new language,” said psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton.

Most people think that anybody ought to be able to carry off a relationship. I think that’s bull. Statistics will back me up on this, too. Having relationships is an art, and most people are not artists. How many people are still with their first spouse, much less their first love, or first relationship? Last I heard, the divorce rate was still near 50%, and not all of the surviving marriages are happy ones, either. If we want to talk about true monogamy, how many people actually marry their first boyfriend/girlfriend? Pairing up into lifelong monogamy is a well-perpetuated myth.

“We found the expectation that one person should be our everything seemed unrealistic given our day and age. … It’s oddly pressuring to set up that scenario,” said Mark, who lives in Springfield, Missouri, and is in a polyamorous relationship.

I think it’s unrealistic in most days and ages, if not all. But the only important thing is that it’s unrealistic for us, now. Your stereotypical monogamous couple gets their needs met by their spouse and their same-sex friends. But sometimes a spouse won’t meet a particular exclusive need (such as, by frequent example, sex) that the friends can’t fulfill. Is it better to stay in an exclusive relationship and be unhappy than to have an open relationship and find fulfillment?

“People describe polyamory as ‘poly-agony’ because of all the work you have to do to maintain things,”

I recently heard somebody say (on Twitter) that “polyamory isn’t having your cake and eating it too, polyamory is having to manage the whole damned bakery”. The more relationships you maintain, the more work you have to do, and the less time and energy you have for yourself. That’s possibly the biggest knock against poly. Love is limitless, but time is not.

“It’s just not normal to look over and see your wife with another man. I know a lot of people would have a real problem with that. I really don’t.”

See, I just don’t get that. I love my wife. All 3 of my mates, actually. I want them to be happy. Don’t you want your wife to be happy? If you truly want somebody to be happy, why should it matter who is making them happy? Insisting that somebody get all their happiness from you isn’t love, it’s selfish. It’s damned near abusive.

French author Jacques Attali in recent years wrote, “Monogamy, which is really no more than a useful social convention, will not survive. It has rarely been honored in practice; soon, it will vanish even as an ideal.”

I have a dream…

“Americans are too surprised by infidelity when it happens. I think we go into marriage with perhaps unrealistically high expectations about human nature,” said Pamela Druckerman, author of “Lust in Translation.”

Perhaps? Definitely. Most people go into marriage with unrealistic expectations. I know I did.

“[Americans] think if an affair happens, it’s the end of the story, the fairy tale has been completely shattered, the person isn’t the person we thought they were. The knee-jerk reaction is you have to get a divorce,” Druckerman said.

I have to somewhat disagree here. I think this stems from betrayal more than anything. A vow has been broken, and that hurts, and the trust is gone. When there is no trust, how can a relationship survive? Now that vow probably should never be made in the first place, and that’s another issue. Statistics show that most people have extramarital affairs. If you vow to be sexually exclusive, the odds are against your relationship surviving.

“There are a lot of reasons why sexual monogamy is in people’s interests,” Lipton said.

“Because whether it’s raising children or avoiding emotional chaos and drama, like what David Letterman is facing, or whether it’s building an estate and avoiding conflict about estate planning, there are lots of reasons that two people who cooperate are better off than one person alone or one person who is a cheat.”

And here we have the conclusion that goes astray. Despite talking about open relationships and polyamory, the conclusion merely pits successful monogamists versus cheaters and singles. If two people who cooperate are better off than one, wouldn’t three people who cooperate be better yet? Four? Five? At which point does adding another committed person to the relationship make things worse? That number might exist, but I think we’re a long way off from finding it. It’s difficult enough to find compatible people. The larger your family gets, the harder the compatibility test becomes… assuming a group marriage scenario. But there are many other arrangements, and the math just gets astoundingly confusing. But at no point is a multi-partner relationship inherently worse than a two-partner relationship.


~ by polywolf on 2009/10/28.

2 Responses to “Is monogamy realistic? (No)”

  1. Great post!

    I recently heard somebody say (on Twitter) that “polyamory isn’t having your cake and eating it too, polyamory is having to manage the whole damned bakery”………. I totally love this 🙂

  2. Excellent response. It was that last part that also raised my ire a bit. Poly is NOT cheating, so why do they use that comparison to end the article?


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