When I first decided to marry Olivier, my major concern was monogamy. Not that I wouldn’t be able to remain faithful, but that I’m signing up to only fuck one person for the rest of my life. This isn’t to suggest that Olivier is lacking in that area at all, because the sex is amazing, but I wonder if 10, 15 or 20 years down the road I might get bored, and want to bang someone else. It wouldn’t be because I’ve stopped loving Olivier, but because sometimes you want some spice in your rice. I’m a big fan of Cholula, as evidenced by that last sentence.
Last week a friend of mine emailed me to tell me that she and her husband had decided to have an open relationship. They’ve been married for six years now, have a daughter, but like many married couples, their sex life just isn’t what it used to be.
After much discussion, they both realized that their feelings on monogamy were the same, and that maybe an open relationship would be the way to go.
The problem is that society has decided that a healthy relationship is one that is monogamous, and there is no room to budge. If you can’t commit to one person, as it has been prescribed to us, you’re not looked upon kindly. Even in 2013, 30 some years after the sexual revolution, people who are in polyamorous relationships or open marriages, are looked upon as being heathens! The type of people not fit for society! Keep them away from babies! They’re a dirty lot! That shit’s contagious!
But once we strip societal norms from the equation, and focus on the fact that we are animals, we’re able to look at it from a biological standpoint, as opposed to one that you see on the cover of Good Housekeeping. As Meghan Laslocky explains on CNN:
Marrying for love is a relatively new concept. Beginning with Enlightenment — the cultural movement of the 18th and 19th centuries — when the pursuit of happiness became a legitimate human pursuit, marrying for love slowly but surely became an aspiration in the Western world.
But for most of human history, marriage was primarily a socioeconomic transaction. Spending the rest of your life with someone was more about the protection of property and the sharing of labor than it was about romance.
The evidence shows that monogamy is a rarity among mammals. Only 3% to 5% of all the mammal species on Earth “practice any form of monogamy.” In fact, no mammal species has been proven to be truly monogamous.
If this is the case, then why do we keep trying to trick ourselves into believing monogamy is the only option? I’m not condoning cheating in any way, but I am suggesting an openness when it comes to our relationships. I think allowing space and other experiences just might be a healthy way to go about having an even healthier relationship.
After talking to my friend who’s now in that open marriage, I went to our very own Sam. Sam, like a lot of people I know, strongly feels that monogamy isn’t natural for her. Although she understands how others may believe it’s right for them (I attribute this to society’s expectations), it’s just not, well, Sam:
Monogamy is natural in the sense that people like to be special and many people inherently link trust to exclusivity. I think it actually makes a lot of sense for most of the folks I know. For me, it doesn’t feel natural, but I think someday I will probably be in a monogamous relationship again.
I don’t like the idea of defining my relationship or how much I care for a person based on what I opt out of, including other people. But I would only ever have a non-monogamous relationship with somebody who was really, truly into the idea as well. And I would absolutely want to set guidelines for it. I’m fully aware most people aren’t into the idea, though, so I tend to have monogamous relationships regardless.
So, what’s the overall appeal of an open relationship, as opposed to a closed, er, monogamous one?
It’s the freedom of it as well as the open amount of honesty. I also think people I’m in relationships with banging other people is hot, so there’s that aspect. The only way it wouldn’t be appealing for me is if they lied about it, and that is why open relationships are so different than cheating.
If by and large, monogamy is biologically not natural, then why do we continue to try to convince ourselves that it is? Why do we force ourselves to remain in one-person relationships when we’re programmed for otherwise?
As Sam points out, maybe it is all about being special to someone. Perhaps, it’s a selfishness on our part to keep what we think is ours under lock key. If we’re able to look outside of what we’ve always been taught and go with what biology has in mind for us, we might actually have relationships that work. Or, because we’re human beings and everything is far more complicated for us then say, a bird, we’re just asking for disaster if we let our animal side take the reins.