Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thoughts on monogamy...

Why is it that monogamy often gets a bad rap? There are so many stories and movies about people cheating on one another because they can't handle commitment.  Some people criticize monogamous relationships for not being 'progressive' enough, because monogamy is an institution that was built upon oppression, power, and control.  Now, I understand this particular critique - I used to feel that way myself (specifically regarding marriage).  But what changed my mind on this topic had more to do with making a commitment, not just to a person, but to a certain type of life that I wanted to have.  Getting married isn't just about having the same political rights as heterosexuals.  It's more about entering an equal partnership with another person and making a formal, public statement to those close to you that you are going to work hard to make each other happy and do what is best for each other.

Think about it - we judge relationships all the time.  Your best friend starts dating someone new.  There's this awkward period where all the friends are assessing that new person - trying to determine if this person will be good to your friend.  A relationship ends.  What's the first thing that is usually said? "They weren't good for you."  We care about relationships and we care about the people in them.  Many of us have had relationships where we just can't get enough of that person. What makes this feeling last? What makes it end? There are a lot of reasons that can answer these questions...

Lately, a few things have happened that have got me thinking a lot about relationships and monogamy - specifically regarding queer relationships.

  1. A conversation among queer friends at a birthday party
  2. Watching "The Science of Sex Appeal" on Netflix
  3. Struggling to actually want to watch "The Kids Are Alright"
  4. Talking a lot with my partner about our own relationship
1.  I mostly listened to the conversation at the birthday party - but here's the gist of what happened.  Some of the guys there were gossiping about these two guys who were engaged recently broke off their engagement because one of them cheated.  A comment by an older queer guy was really what took me by surprise.  He basically said, "Oh, they're young.  Once both of them get a little older, they'll learn to work through this sort of thing and not be so quick to end a relationship."  This then turned into a conversation about the difference between men and women (gays and lesbians, respectively).  Basically, men can't control their hormones and will fuck around.  Women like to settle down and nest, and would naturally be more hurt if their partner cheated.

2.  This movie piqued my interest because I like documentaries, and I like the Discovery Channel (minus the fact they gave Sarah Palin her own show), and I am curious about sex and it's appeal.  Well, I should have known that this would be a disappointment.  The entire film focused strictly on heterosexual couples and had a very strong evolutionary focus (clarification - I do believe in evolution!), but had nothing to say regarding queer couples or what attracts one woman to another, etc.  Silly me for thinking it actually would.  It was still interesting, and I may have learned something - mostly that heterosexually inclined women are more attracted to 'masculine' smelling men when they are ovulating, but are really turned off and even down right disgusted by the scent of a 'masculine' man.  Men want to have sex with many women - and will even think an 'ugly' woman is doable if they can smell an ovulating vagina. Women are more picky when it comes to what attracts them to a man.  Oh, and love and monogamy can be scientifically calculated through MRI's and such.

3. I haven't seen this movie - and I'm not sure if I ever will.  But everyone who has seen it has said that it was really good (despite the femme mom cheats on her butch partner when she sleeps with the sperm donor for the couple's two children).  Why can't their be a movie where two people (regardless of sexuality - but ESPECIALLY if it is a queer relationship!) doing what it takes to make it work for the long haul and not succumbing to lust or boredom? Don't get me wrong - I don't think everyone that enters a long term, committed relationship ends up with a happily ever after scenario.  Lovers get sick, they die, they cheat on you, they end the relationship for other reasons.  Not everyone really gets a happy ending.  BUT - there are some relationships that last the test of time and actually work and the couple does have a happy ending...or happier.

4.  My current relationship is the most stable, secure, honest, happy, (insert every positive adjective here) relationship I have ever been in.  This isn't because my previous relationships were necessarily bad because of bad people or anything.  Rather, I think that I am just a different person because of those relationships and have a better understanding of who I am and of what I'm looking for in a relationship.  I am not interested in a non-monogamous relationship.  I dabbled in that sort of thing briefly and it was probably one of the worst things I could have ever done - for me and my relationship.  I don't like hurting or hurting people I care about, and everyone was hurt by this feeble attempt to be 'progressive'. Being non-monogamous can make you lose trust in your partner. It can make you feel insecure.  It made me feel both of those things and at the end of the day, it made me question not just my relationship or my partner, but who I was as a person.

Could non-monogamy work for other people? Maybe...but I'm not convinced. I don't think people in non-monogamous relationships are truly happy. I don't think that people in monogamous relationships are necessarily truly happy either.  A relationship is a good one when there is equality and mutual respect between the two (or more) people.

I think the real question is: Can you create equality and harmony in the relationships you enter into? What do you think?


Kho said...

I feel like I have been hearing a lot about this recently too. Mainly in the context, that queer relationships cannot be focused on one specific person as that makes them no longer queer.

My own thoughts on the issue for now, based on my experiences and what I have witnessed: I have never seen a polyamorous relationship that actually seems ethically practiced (such as described in the book, The Ethical Slut.) In fact, I have seen it used often as a way for people to be not emotionally attached to people and just sleep around. (I know this used to be my reason for wanting such a relationship).

But I know there are people that do relationships this way, but I would like to see, hear, be informed about a person/group of people that are being ethically responsible to one another, still forming deep emotional attachments/intimacies to one another, and form meaningful relationships with more than one person. I'm not saying it isn't out there or cannot be done, but I am still waiting to bear witness to it.

jayess said...

you know what, kho? i've found them. i know a couple who have been in an open/polyamorous relationship for 3+ years, and it works for them. they have a deep and meaningful relationship and they are ethically responsible to each other. if one of them wants to start dating someone new, they both talk through it and come to a consensus together about whether or not it will work for their relationship. so i'm just saying i've seen it work. they trust each other deeply and i believe them when the say they are truly happy together. i know another couple who are in an open marriage with two children, and it works for them as well. they are committed to each other, to the relationship, and to their family. they trust each other and are very open with their communication, and i'd say they also have a deeply intimate relationship.

that said, i'm pretty sure, at least at this point in my life, that open or poly relationships are not for me.

what frustrates me the most about it is that it's supposedly not queer to want to be in a monogamous relationship. for some reason, the queer community still tends to set up hierarchies wherever we go, even as we're trying to run from them.... whether we're lesbian or gay couples who distance ourselves from polyamory because it's 'not our issue' or polyamorous people who look down on anyone who settles for the 'homonormative lifestyle', we all think we've figured out how to do it right and everyone else must be wrong.

well, those are my two cents. take 'em or leave 'em.

Kho said...

Jayess, I am so glad you posted a comment about this! I am very glad to know about polyamorous relationships that are performed ethically and that work.

"what frustrates me the most about it is that it's supposedly not queer to want to be in a monogamous relationship. for some reason, the queer community still tends to set up hierarchies wherever we go, even as we're trying to run from them.... " I could not agree more!

What bothers me are the judgements made by poly folk who make it seem like monogamists aren't queer enough, and monogamists who judge poly people (I know I am guilty of this and I am trying to reflexively work through my biases). I don't like the idea of separating the "real" queers from the "fakers."

I do have a a deep desire for the potential for queer communities to relate through their differences, but this takes deep commitment to one another to do the emotional labor (and I use this metaphor because it is WORK) to build coalitions that are not based on same-ness, that do not negate our multiple and conflicting identities, and that recognize our various ways for building and maintaining relationships (wow-run-on sentence!!)

Like you, I do not think poly relationships are for me, I tried again, this year post-breakup, and I find that I am not really comfortable in that space. It isn't even a jealousy issue, it is more my own selfish need for attention, but I really do respect people that can do it.

.:m-e-g-g-o:. said...

I'm glad this post was popular :D