Imagine living in a parallel universe where everything was exactly the same as the universe we live in except that the socially accepted norm for marriage was homosexuality. Imagine that heterosexual marriage was frowned upon, and that the current civil rights movement involved trying to achieve marriage equality not for homosexuals but for heterosexuals. If you are among the very few who have homosexual tendencies, you might feel comfortable living in such a universe. If you are like the majority of people, though, you’d find that being a straight person living in a gay world would be very uncomfortable.
One could argue that heterosexuality is “normal” and that homosexuality is “abnormal,” since fewer than 10% of people are strictly homosexual and only about one third of people admit to being not exclusively heterosexual. One could argue that society’s preference for heterosexual marriage and its disdain or fear of homosexual marriage merely reflect the natural proclivities of the majority of the population. Equal rights aside, that seems like a perfectly reasonable and perfectly defensible position. The problem comes, however, when we apply the same reasoning to society’s preference for monogamy.
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.
A lot can happen in a year. Some years seem to pass without much changing. Other years, you’d never guess at the beginning of it that your life would be completely different 365 days later. For me, this past year has been of the latter variety.
Today is the 365th day I’ve been keeping this blog. I started it because I felt like I needed a safe place to work out my thoughts and my confusion. I was just coming to the realization that the church I had believed in my entire life was not true. I was beginning to question almost everything that I thought I once knew. In the past 365 days, I’ve figured out quite a few things, changed my life in several fundamental ways, and confronted new questions that I’m still struggling to figure out. I thought I’d take a moment today to highlight a few of those things.
This morning I had an epiphany. I realized why so many members of Girlfriend’s family and in-laws have been treating her the way they have. Their worldview doesn’t allow them to understand polyamory. In their eyes, her choices aren’t about living according to her new values that come from her new understanding of the world. They see it as her simply not being strong enough to live righteously. She is yielding to temptation. If only she had the strength to live up to the truth, she wouldn’t be doing any of this.
In their mind, she isn’t choosing to be polyamorous. She is violating sacred covenants she made with god in his holy temple. And then she has the gall to flaunt it in front of everybody? For shame! “If you’re going to commit adultery, at least have the decency to hide it and feel ashamed, the way we did when we had our affairs.” Amen.
There was a span of time just prior to my separation from my wife where I wasn’t writing on this blog even though my life was progressing at what felt at the time like incredible speed. It seemed something was happening almost every day that shaped my outlook on life. I was searching for meaning after leaving Mormonism. I was struggling with the concept of god and of the absolutist morality that came as a result of belief. I was questioning the purpose behind marriage. I was reevaluating long-held assumptions about the balance between the needs of society and of the individual. Most of those stories haven’t been told on this blog yet.
As I got back into blogging after my separation, I told myself that I’d pick up from where I was and only go back to some of the other stories as the need arose. Otherwise, I would have been too overwhelmed to begin writing again. I recently went back and related my discovery of polyamory and the reasons that I believed it was a more rational approach to relationships than monogamy. But I never detailed my transition into polyamory. Today that story needs to be told because it provides information that will help put in context the bomb that has been placed in front of me.
I’m not sure how common it is for people to take a good hard look at monogamy and decide that they want it. My guess is that monogamy is so well ingrained into our culture that it’s almost invisible. Sure, we spend a lot of time thinking of whom we’ll marry. Some of us spend a lot of time even deciding if we’ll marry. But how many of us think about or decide between monogamy and polyamory? I mean, really think about it.
In my discussions with people, I hear a lot of arguments against polyamory and in favor of monogamy. Yet I’m not sure that they aren’t just knee-jerk reactions to something that is utterly foreign to them. “I mean, polyamory? Come on. You can’t seriously be considering that. Everyone knows….” And then I am presented with something that, to me, at least, usually doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Am I not considering the full consequences of my decisions? Or is it just hard for people to reject something that has become simply a backdrop in our culture, the fabric upon which the other choices of our life are made?
How does one make a transition from one lifestyle to another? Especially from a lifestyle that is socially acceptable to one that is not? I have recently come to the conclusion that polyamory is a more workable approach to life than monogamy. One of the things that appeals to me about polyamory is the idea that you can live your life honestly. In a purportedly monogamous lifestyle, many people still have relationships with other people outside of their marriage, but in cases where those relationships exceed the expectations of the marriage, deception becomes a central feature of the relationship. Some people have affairs. Even in cases where a physical affair isn’t undertaken, many couples engage in what have become known as emotional affairs. In my mind, though, deception plays at least as large a role as infidelity in causing damage to the relationship.
So the idea of being able to be completely honest and open about relationships is extremely appealing to me. Instead of hiding that a certain person is an important part of my life, I want to be able to acknowledge that part of my life. Girlfriend is important to me. I love her. I want other people in my life to know what a positive influence she is. I want to share my happiness with others. Yet I have been discovering that instead of people finding joy in my ability to be honest, the only way that they can relate to what is going on in my life is to equate it to cheating.