Monogamy is a tradition and expectation we hold dear, often without ever considering why. Of course, taking a long, historical view, one can see where it would be advantageous to peasant farmers and the like, the main component of our cultural heritage for the past 10,000 years or so. To such a one, sharing the resource of a husband or wife would damage the household’s well-being. To be cuckolded or to be left for the younger, hotter peasant down the dirt path would be the ultimate insult to one’s legacy. And these attitudes and norms have carried on to today, the days of women’s lib and family planning, changing gender norms and longer lives.
We still hold relationships to the test of monogamy—the desire to be sexually and romantically involved with only one person. We equate love with desire; we are taught that wanting other sexual or romantic connections is a symptom of a problem within the primary relationship. “Cheating” is up there with violence as a reason one could leave a relationship with no questions asked. But who is being cheated?
My lady-lover put it like this, “The problem I have with monogamy is that it treats love like a scarce resource. I want all of your love and if you give any to someone else, there won’t be enough left for me.”
My ex-husband put it like this, “Why were you looking at him? You should only want me, fucking slut.”
My ex-husband, when I would get home from work or choir practice or grocery shopping, would stick a finger or two in my vagina to check for the wet proof that I had been aroused by someone other than him.
My views on monogamy have evolved in the few years since I left him 2,300 miles away.
I was raised in a strictly Catholic environment, taught that sex was a gift from God not to be tampered with but to be contained within a (heterosexual) marriage of bodies and souls. I was taught before I had experienced sex or romantic love that they were one and the same. Sex begets love, love begets sex. I was told that the experience of intercourse would be so profoundly moving and soul-crushingly beautiful that it would cause love, sustain love, and that misused it could break love.
When I was a virgin, that idea terrified me so much that I chose to have sex for the first time with a complete stranger. I don’t remember his name. He didn’t speak English very well. I would never see him again, could never see him again if I wanted to. It was the closest thing so sex in a vacuum as sex can be. It was painful and underwhelming. I remember feeling disappointment mixed with relief.
Sex quickly shifted in my 17 year old mind from love’s partner to a tool I could use as a temporary respite from the loneliness I felt. I used my newfound powers to beguile and trick men and women into liking me. It made me feel good, even though I never liked them back quite as much. I had never felt romantic love but I did feel a need to be coupled like everyone else.
I never thought about sex outside of the two boxes it occupied in my mind. Type A Fucking was for within monogamous relationships, used to maintain the connection when conversation was boring and stale. It was something I didn’t necessarily enjoy but something I “owed” my partner. Type A Fucking was fine for a little while, then dull, then duller. Type B Fucking was with stranger or near-strangers. Type B Fucking was one-night-stands, mostly when I was single but also when Type A Fucking went from dull to duller. It made me feel attractive and powerful that I could have anyone I wanted, naked, writhing around. Then sometimes it would be left at that and sometimes it would turn to Type A Fucking and the whole cycle would begin again.
Monogamy was never something I wanted to promise, nor something I felt the need to ask for. But I was such a weakly defined individual, the norm so strongly defined, and those who lived outside of it just as strongly defined in the negative. I pretended that it was okay. And so for several blasé 3-7 month relationships and one horrendous two year relationship, I muddled through unsatisfactory sex, cheating occasionally and ending things when the lies seemed too egregious to keep up. I am a great liar and it doesn’t bother me to have secrets but being on such separate wavelengths with a partner is one giant crack in the foundation of any relationship.
My approach to relationships since leaving my ex-husband has changed substantially. I’ve confronted my skepticism towards monogamy, my various hang-ups and squeamishnesses. And with a few fits and starts, I’ve gotten to know my own mind (and vagina!). Monogamy is not for me. It doesn’t make sense to me. I will always be sexually and romantically attracted to new people and I know there is nothing immoral about that.
I fell hard in love last winter, into the sweetest, most natural love you can imagine. Our sex is neither Type A nor Type B but a brand-new type that feels like endlessly repeating Russian nesting dolls: him inside of me inside of him inside of me inside of him. But still, though I want this beautiful love to last my whole life, I don’t feel a possessive impulse. I don’t feel threatened. What we have is untouchable and expansive. It’s warm it brings me joy to welcome others into it.
Sometimes I wonder if we didn’t all grow up seeing monogamy as the norm and even the “good,” how many of us would still gravitate towards it. Love is not a scarce resource, it’s one that grows and multiplies with use. No one would assume that we can love only one friend or one child but as soon as sex is involved, those doors close. We aren’t peasants anymore. We have birth control, we have the ability to communicate interpersonally on a higher level. We have access to essentially all information through the internet. Let’s at least ask the question why.