and they twain shall be one flesh
I stumbled upon a great post this morning about the social imprint of monogamy and the unachievable ideal prevalent in society of finding your “one and only” when you marry. The post in question was titled How I Know My Wife Married the “Wrong” Person. It is clever and insightful about the ways in which many of us enter marriage without really understanding it, and about how marriage can never meet up with the fantasies we entertain about it in our minds.
Unfortunately, in trying to explain where we go from there, the author fails to continue to use the critical thinking that got him that far in the discussion. Or, perhaps more accurately and more fairly, in listing some alternatives to the problem of what to do when we find ourselves in a marriage that doesn’t meet our admittedly unrealistic expectations, he is either blind to or conveniently dismissive altogether of one of the most practical solutions to this problem: that of polyamory.
He argues–rather correctly in my opinion–that it is impossible to find, in one other individual, someone who will meet all of our needs emotionally, intellectually, physically, etc. And then, even if somehow we could find such an individual, what is the chance that we in turn would be able to reciprocate in all of those areas in exactly the way that he or she would desire? In short, the myth of the perfect soul-mate is a beautiful if sadly unrealistic expectation.
He then proposes four potential solutions to the problem of not being married to the “right” person. Predictably, the first three are obviously flawed and easily dismissed. (1. Serial monogamy, with one failure after another. 2. Serial cohabitation, again with one failure after another. 3. Make your heart a stone and never be vulnerable.) And the fourth and final solution? Conveniently, it matches his religious indoctrination: commit yourself fully to your spouse, to hard work and long-suffering until death. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually address the problem. It just asks that you accept that your dream of a soul-mate is a myth. And that you allow some mystic power of Jesus to somehow make it bearable that your mate isn’t perfect for you and never will be.
And it’s hard to blame him completely. He is boldly Christian. He can’t consider the possibility that the words in the Bible may not be the express will of his god. And the message is one that Christians are only too willing to embrace. Yes, we must be martyrs, just like our savior. We must commit to god’s ideal and never waver. We must be strong and forgiving and charitable. All great and wonderful things. But it doesn’t erase the fact that your spouse will not meet all of your needs and that you will not meet all the needs of your spouse.
But what if there were an alternative? What if you could take (and give) the things that worked well between you and your spouse? And what if you could find other people to help fulfill other parts of your life? What if you could open yourself to the idea that you are an individual and have individual needs? That you have an individual journey through life and that even if others might be able to walk along with you for part of that journey, that their own journey is unique to them? That just as you would not want them to prevent you from taking the path that works best for you, that you would not want to hold them back from their own path to happiness?
What if you could open yourself to the possibility of allowing your relationships to exist on their own terms, free of external constraints? What if you could enjoy the stability of what your spouse gives you, of your home and children, and seek fulfillment in other areas from other people without fear of judgment and recrimination from your spouse? What if you could take freely what you need from people who had something they freely wanted to give you? What if you could give freely to people something they needed and could freely accept from you?
In short, what if polyamory were a possibility?
I know that the initial reaction that people generally have when they hear about polyamory is to immediately reject it. This is especially true of religious people who feel that their god has sanctioned monogamy and frowns upon any other relationship model. But how much, really, is our fear of polyamory subject to the same cultural and societal norms that have given us the misconceptions about finding a soul-mate that are commonly discussed and debunked by articles like the above, while those same articles remain blissfully ignorant that there may be a better way?
We are able, sometimes, to challenge the cultural status quo when that status quo goes against our religious indoctrination. But when our religion and our society coincide? When they both reinforce the idea of monogamy as the only path to happiness? That’s a tougher wall to break through.