A friend and I were talking about monogamy recently.
She said, “Humans are not meant to be with one person. Look at the animal kingdom. Animals are polygamous. Monogamy is a myth, a social construct. In history, it’s been a way of controlling both wealth and women. Besides, if we were meant to be monogamous then why do you think so many people cheat and so many marriages end in divorce?”
I said that I had read quite a bit about this, and the term usually applied to humans is that we are “serial monogamists” … meaning that humans tend to develop bonds with one person at a time, but they aren’t necessarily with the same person forever. Also, I know that there are at least a dozen animals that are monogamous and mate for life. She was still very resistant to the idea of monogamy. She told me to look it up, certain that I would find proof that would back-up her ideas.
And I did look it up. I searched “monogamy” on google and found pages upon pages which tried to debunk the myth of monogamy in favor of a polyamorous lifestyle. There were few pages which celebrated monogamy and tried to counter the image of monogamists as old-fashioned, selfish control freaks. However, this is the internet. Most of what came up were blogs and personal websites, “pop” science, and opinion based articles.
Nevertheless, I was a little surprised at the results. A fellow erotica writer had remarked in the past that “monogamy seems to be the new taboo.” Now I understand what she meant. There does seem to be a push towards polygamy over monogamy in popular culture. I did more research and I came across a lot of different perspectives. My conclusion is that neither monogamy nor polygamy is really the issue here. The issue here is really about relationships, in general.
Whether you are in a relationship with one person or in a relationship with several people, it seems that the most important and necessary ingredients to making any relationship work is communication and trust.
I have often felt that people who identify as poly are perhaps more evolved in balancing the intricacies of a relationship – because they are able to do so with several people at the same time. A poly relationship demands openness. A poly relationship demands communication and trust. Everyone involved needs to be open and honest with each other for it to work.
Now, I am talking about an ideal poly relationship. Considering some of the sites I have come across, I’ve seen that polygamous people can have as much difficulties as monogamous couples. Some people engage in a poly lifestyle because they are afraid of commitment. Some people feel that in monogamous relationships, partners cheat all the time, so at least in a poly relationship the “cheating” is done openly. Others choose a poly lifestyle to feel sexually free and liberated from the demands of a “relationship.”
The fact is that a poly lifestyle is not a “free for all.” A poly relationship is still a relationship – just with more than one person. There is still a commitment – just with more than one person. Jealousy can still happen. Cheating can still happen. Betrayals can still happen. Because all the same relationship rules still apply – whether you are with one person or several people. Relationships are built on communication and trust.
I identify as a monogamist. That is because I have my own issues with relationships, and I feel that it would be too difficult for me to maintain the intensity of a love/sex relationship with more than one person at a time. I feel that there is something to be said about the potential for freedom in a monogamous relationship, because many people seem to feel that being in a monogamous relationship is a limitation and a constriction which is all about power and control.
It is true that monogamists do have boundaries inherently built into the dynamic. A relationship of two people automatically excludes others from entering. We have also seen that time and time again people cheat in these relationships, they cross the boundaries, they misuse their power, and they feel a right to control another person based on the relationship dynamic. These are reasons why a lot of people reject the idea of monogamy.
I can’t deny that these things happen. What I am saying is that these things happen in poly relationships too. Because these issues are part of *relationship dynamics* … Relationships are always intertwined with issues of power and control. Relationships are always based on communication and trust. These are issues that we all work on when we are in a relationship with anyone, not just our lovers.
I think that the question in the monogamy vs. polygamy debate is not which type of relationship is better or more suited to human nature … I think the question we are really seeking to answer is what exactly constitutes a good relationship.
We enter into relationships with others to learn more about ourselves, what we want, what we need. We work out our own issues about power and control and trust and communication through our relationships. We are meant to help each other learn. We are meant to teach each other. How these relationships manifest in our lives is dependent on our own levels of self-awareness.
When my daughter started dating, the most important lesson I tried to teach her is to be kind – because a relationship with another person is first and foremost a learning experience. We are all learning. We all make mistakes. That is how we grow. Relationships teach you things about yourself. Lessons we need to learn will repeat themselves as issues in our relationships. This is where self-awareness comes in. When we resolve an issue that has challenged us, it changes us. It changes our perspective and our ideas. It increases our understanding of who we are, what we need, what we want, and how we function in our relationships.
Monogamy and Polyamory are both types of relationships. These types offer us templates in which to explore our relationships. In the past, we had a strict model for relationships: male/female monogamy. Thanks to LBGT and Poly advocacy, people are more aware than ever that this is not the only template. At 15, my daughter is open to having relationships with both males and females. She has friends who are gay, straight, bi, and transgender identified. She has friends who are just exploring, dating females, males, and not interested in having a serious relationship with anyone. One of her friends was born female, identifies as male, and has had a monogamous relationship with a female for the past year.
No matter what template we use, it is the *relationship* that is essential. Each person is an individual and each relationship we have with another person is different. It is possible for two people in a monogamous relationship to have more freedom than several people in a poly relationship. It is possible for a person in a monogamous relationship to cheat and betray the other. These templates exist but that is really all they are – a broad outline that defines boundaries. What those boundaries are, and how these relationships play out, all depends on the people involved. The fact is, we define our relationships as necessitated by who we are. And who we are is a work in progress, always changing.
As Alia Maiter said, “Ultimately, through my journeys in both polyamory and monogamy, I see the benefits of both. Both can challenge us, inspire us, and help us grow. However, both can become means of escapism, a way to ignore healing both the triggers and the challenges deeply imbedded in our persona. The key to engaging these different relationship styles is first and foremost to know oneself, honor and respect oneself, and consciously move forward without allowing fear to guide us.”
Click here to read more of Alia’s excellent essay on this topic … Also, if you are interested in delving deeper into relationship issues and self-awareness, I highly suggest checking out http://www.truthaboutdeception.com. Click here to start reading about how our attachment styles influence our behavior in close relationships.