In the wake of one deeply sad breakup, I've been mulling rather intensely over a certain concern (and if I'm honest, I have quietly been doing so for quite a long time beforehand as well) and at this point, I feel fairly confident in expressing one deeply personal and comprehensive argument in opposition to monogamy. I wish to discuss this not because I believe I can glean any egotistical satisfaction from broadcasting these opinions as a freshly-single human. I want to discuss it because I think it is a topic that is stifled by so much panic and abject mendacity to our internal lives that we should be more forthright about its implications and the deep, persistent unhappiness that can result from failing to confront it as a social construct. Because that's what it is ultimately, it is a social construct and our religious, unswerving devotion to it, I now believe, is at the very least a tad bizarre and at most, an insidious force that curbs both our fulfilment and opportunity for life experience. Let's talk about sex, baby.
At this point in my life I speak from the experience of having been in two wonderful long-term monogamous relationships interspersed with periods of being, ya know, a reasonably successful single person. I find certain levels of fulfilment in both lifestyles; I love leading a life unperturbed by the demands of a relationship, I love sleeping alone, and exploring various dimensions of my sexuality with men that do not much matter to me but I also appreciate the deep affection, support, and predictability of monogamy. I find the dichotomy of these two choices interesting but I find the fact that these are our only available choices even more so. In a universe defined by its infinite possibilities, after the creation of all things and the evolution of the most intelligent sentient species in all of existence (that we are aware of), amidst the chaos of opportunity at our fingertips, we have reduced our options for sexual affection – one the most fundamental and tremendous experiences that humans have to offer and accept – to either: banging drunk people on the weekends or eating Deliveroo and casual, exhausted fingering with your partner at home. If I sound hyperbolic, it is only in order to highlight the absurd lack of imagination that we display.
I like the notion of having your cake and eating it too. Honestly, what is the point of having cake in the first place if you cannot eat it? That just seems cruel.
Why is it that when we fall in love sex becomes so suddenly and exasperatingly consequential? Why do we suddenly come to perceive sex simultaneously as a binding thread and a trip-wire in romantic love? I wholly understand that sex with somebody you love is a rich and wonderful experience, I've known it very well. However, to suggest that it should be all your sexual life is limited to once you fall in love is just oppressive. Sex only holds as much meaning as we choose to assign it – and when you're being productively single, you can quickly come to understand that meaning frequently amounts to a solid level of 'FUCK ALL'.
The point is, I believe, our multi-faceted, curious, complex, and transient intellectual experience is what makes us essentially human and those characteristics extend inevitably to our sense of sexuality as well. If this can be soundly satisfied by a single partner then that is a joyous and remarkable thing but I suspect that for the larger portion of the population, it is simply beyond the scope of possibility. And consequently, romantic love becomes a negotiation, a place where sacrifices and compromises are made, and horizons are narrowed because it is supposedly correct to do so. This idea worries me.
I worry not only for myself but for the person I should love. Honestly, if we're going to discuss the immeasurable empathetic connection that you develop with another human being when you love them, I can't imagine why this remarkable bond should peter out so abruptly when it comes to their genitals. "I love you to the moon and back", we say, "but if you make your genitals feel nice elsewhere, you are dead to me". I believe that true love should logically surpass those insecurities – this may well be overly romantic and a somewhat appallingly naive sentiment but it's how I feel. We all know the specific insanity of feeling sexually unfulfilled, the way it gnaws at your ego, causes your concentration to falter, and makes your stomach drop (if you're all like "I honestly do not know that feeling" right now, good for fucking you). Is there any more an inconvenient reminder of our ape-ish origins than the feeling of trying to go about your civilised business day and JUST NEEDING TO FUCK?
I am not suggesting by any means that monogamy is always sexually unfulfilling, on the contrary, learning the ins and outs of someone else's body, bringing them to orgasm under your metaphorical (or literal, I don't know what you're into) thumb is a brilliantly satisfying experience. What I'm saying is that monogamy sure as hell can be unfulfilling and when it is, I think it's problematic how swiftly we act to repress, to deny those compulsions. I think it's problematic how furious and sad we become without giving ourselves the time to inspect the rationale by removing our thought processes temporarily from the constraints of those ideals.
Of course, when discussing such subjects, it's generally ineffective to reduce the argument to a scientific framework (mostly because science operates on logic and the gamut of human emotions tends to be super the opposite of that) but it is worth noting that in Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha's historical exploration of human sexuality, Sex At Dawn, the authors put forth the argument that monogamy is not the natural state of our sexual existence. Instead, Ryan and Jetha examine how the dawn of monogamy coincides with the agricultural revolution, after which women became perceived as property in much the same way that land and goats were. These concepts of ownership are challenging, particularly when assuming this argument from the point-of-view of a woman who is most definitely not a goat and exists in an increasingly individualistic Western culture wherein women are coming to assume equality of opportunity to that of men. I am drawn to challenge my own mindset when I take pride in possessive words associated with romantic ownership such as "mine", "his", "hers"; admittedly, I profoundly enjoyed the feeling of 'belonging' in a sense to somebody when I was in a long-term relationship, I used to glow when my partner referred to me in those terms to others. I now think that sense of pride is worth inspecting, that maybe we place too much significance in the value of ownership rather than the value of respect for another human as an autonomous and wonderful thing.
The value of sexual ownership also implicitly lies in a culture of sexual competition and if we're in as much damn love as we say we are with our partners, then why is competition still relevant?
I think it is also worth considering that perhaps the analogue of relationships as they existed in previous generations is a naive grasp at a world that's slipped beneath our feet. In a world that is economically, socio-geographically, technologically, and culturally distinct from the worlds in which these expectations were forged, why are we still so inclined to believe they can exist with any satisfactory permanence?
There are practical implications to these ideological shifts and I realise that in the grand scheme of things, love is largely inextricable from the cultural boundaries in which it exists. Besides this, sex is, neurologically speaking, equal-parts dredged from the primordial soup and integrated with sophisticated cognition; desire is a complex, subjective, and fluctuating experience for all of us. The notion of challenging monogamy is also a fundamentally terrifying prospect: love is great and remarkable and when you're cradled against your partner's body feeling totally exhilarated by their presence and the fact that they appear to tolerate you to some inexplicable degree, when you're pressing into them as though you could fuse your organs together by sheer force of will, it's an unlikely prospect that you'll withdraw from that embrace to loudly exclaim "But...but my philosophies!"
There are certain truths that we can look in the eye and then there are others that we'd much rather tie bricks to and bury in the ocean in the middle of the night mob-style but I think it's likely that if we were to sit for just a moment and prod that bloated corpse with a stick for a while, we could feel prepared to share that truth with the person that we love – if only inconsequentially. Perhaps then when desire happens to stray, it may not hurt so much. Perhaps our expectations of ourselves and others could soften. Perhaps we could learn to be less defensive in the places that don't matter so much and instead slip into passive appreciation of the lovely people who have decided they enjoy our company for some curious and fantastic reasons.