Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Monogamy within Non-Monogamy

I find it surprising that, of all lifestyles, non-monogamy has the most internal conflict over deciding what monogamy is. It would seem straightforward to the outside observer, and even I have moments where I feel that non-monogamy is sexual hedonacy. In many ways I feel like David Finch did in the documentary When Two Won't Do (Elson, et al., 2002), when he was at the swinger convention, like a puritan in the land of sexual escapades. I get that kind of feeling from some poly people as well, mostly feeling like 'fresh meat', as if my value is determined by my ability to be sexual, and little else.
It's why reading McDonald's (2010) observations on the swinger community struck a nerve with me. McDonald describes swingers as seeing themselves as monogamous, couples who meet other couples to play, in environments designed to enhance a sexual experience that's light and casual, with no intimacy or connection, with the goal to, effectively, use each other as sexual playthings for the excitement of their regular partner.
It's a strange way of doing things to me, when I see human connection as being of nearly unlimited potential. Practical demands are finite: time, food, money, energy, etc., not the human capacity to love. Yet, even (and in some cases especially) in polyamory we set rules with each other and/or ourselves to limit how much we connect with others, as if we should be limiting ourselves. It's effectively monogamizing non-monogamy.
Being on the other end of those decisions is hard, especially when I get mixed messages. It's why I'm careful about contacting anyone who broadcasts on their profile about their partner. Message they write: "Oh I love my sweetie so much, he's my everything!" Message I hear: "IT doesn't matter how awesome/important/compatible/depthful/wonderful you are, I will ignore that because I'm still stuck on mono-normative patterns."
So then what's the point of Monogamy in today's world, in any sense, be it physical or emotional? To hyperbolize it, being someone's 'plaything' is hardly my idea of a good time. I can't understand how anyone can really desire to be, effectively, used for another's sexual gratification. I'm not going to ever be a swinger, so I'm not worried about it there, it's the poly people who sell themselves as poly (in the Ritchie, 2010, sense, see post 3), but don't ever meet up to that standard. It feels like Monogamy exists as a saftey net, for people who are still living from a mono-normative perspective to feel secure in their relationships. This strikes me as a complete illusion. Looking at the divorce rates nation-wide, which are still in the 50% range (CDC FastStats, 2010) it's clear to me that modern concepts on monogamy aren't working, monogamy is NOT the way to be secure, it just creates the emotional illusion of security. McDonald points to all the various methods that swingers use to trivialize their experiences swinging, with the purpose behind it being to retain the sense of security in the relationship they have with their partner.
Why maintain the illusion? Are illusions of security really so important?
I should note that I'm not objecting to the swinger community here. With swingers I know what I'm getting, it's when people take poly to mean swinging on some level. From a polyamorous person's perspective it's extremely frustrating.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Marriage and divorce [Data file]. Retrieved from on April 13, 2011.
Elson, R. (Producer), Finch, D. (Producer/Director), Gelbart, A. (Producer), Marovitch, M. (Producer/Director). (2002). When two won't do [Motion picture]. Canada: Picture This Productions Inc.
McDonald, D. (2010). Swinging: Pushing the boundaries of monogamy?. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 70-81). New York, NY: Routledge.
Ritchie, A. (2010). Discursive constructions of polyamory in mono-normative media culture. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 46-51). New York, NY: Routledge.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post. This is what I meant about needing other words too. Though I do mention my relationship with Andy in my profile, it's because he's the only person I'm with right now and is a huge part of my life. I don't want to have different degrees of relationships. I don't want to get into a 'short term relationship' (what does that even mean?). I get into a relationship hoping that whichever person and I can be together for a long time. It seems a bit 'serious' to say life-partner but that's another stigma, that's what I want. I also look for that in friends.

    People who aren't looking for that? I agree, nothing against them. It's just not me.