I’ve been with my partner, Danny, for almost 7 years now. That’s a long time in the world of gay relationships. It’s even a fairly long time for a straight relationship–it’s by far the longest I’ve been involved with. We have dealt with or acknowledged a whole host of standard relationship problems (household chores, evening plans, family and social obligations, etc), but one that we struggled with mightily at the start of our time was the decriminalization of outside sexuality, and I am pleased to say that we more or less conquered that one.
Dan Savage (et al) calls it “monogamish.”
The most important thing in any relationship is open and honest communication. Without that, the rest of the relationship doesn’t really exist, so far as I can tell. We’re social animals, we humans, and we depend on social cues to understand the world and our place in it. These cues can be as obvious as a wife saying to her husband, “clean the dishes, please,” or as subtle as that same wife turning around and rolling her eyes a moment after the husband trundles off to play Call of Duty on the Xbox after getting home five minutes ago and dropping his work stuff on the floor in front of the door.
Some cues, however, are issued by society, and become silently loud third members of the relationship. From these cues we learn how we’re supposed to interact with our partner’s parents, and how long your eyes can linger on a particularly delicious specimen of humanity. Of all the facts this partner brings to the table, the most pressing is the need for monogamy.
All the relationships I’ve had in the past were laid in the foundation provided by monogamy, though I’ve never, ever had a conversation about it. My first instinct, when entering into a union, is to appreciate the presence of this one-to-one situation, consuming the theory that monogamy forges strong bonds and creates an environment where the relationship can flourish and lift the boats of the two people involved. It’s a convenient situation and, in many cases, is completely appropriate.
But let’s not kid ourselves with the lie that monogamy is somehow natural. It is absolutely a social cue that is delivered to us by the same monster that tells us masturbation is wrong, or alcohol is wicked, or any other historical opinion that has no right being described as a fact of nature. In the actual natural world, there are very, very few species that practice monogamy–so rare that, when they do appear to natural behavior scientists, the papers get some degree of sensationalism in the court of public opinion, as though the relationships formed by flamingos and penguins are suddenly validating the structures humans have created to formalize and normalize the lifetime partnering.
Those attempts always looked, to me, like cherry-picking facts to support an unsupportable claim. Monogamy is no more natural than polygamy, and polygamous animals far outnumber the other; there is no evidence that the core of human monogamy is anything more than man’s attempt to own women.
Heck, it’s a very recent invention in marriage that the man be monogamous at all. And scientists are still quite divided on whether or not natural human monogamy exists at all (other than the instinctual “hang around until the babies, who take for fucking EVER to mature, finish learning to hunt on their own”). Some studies claim that, even among modern human societies, only one in six enforce monogamy as a rule. At the end of the day, though, the science is mostly irrelevant to this point.
So one of the earliest, most difficult conversations Danny and I had was when we decided to do away with monogamy.
Do I spend countless hours worrying about Danny, working to make Danny’s life better, enriching my world with his presence? Absolutely. I am madly, fully, wonderfully in love with him, he’s the apple of my eye, the cream of my coffee. I absolutely adore him.
And one of the ways I show my love is by not claiming to hold ownership over him. Right now, I can type a few characters into the browser and in moments I can be face to face with a pair (or more) of people who are cheerfully fucking for my entertainment. I can read long accounts of passion in books (some of which are major motion pictures, now). I can watch politicians maneuvering to be photographed holding hands with their Stepford wives. I can listen to pastors praising a godly relationship as the closest mankind can get to the divine. Clearly, as a species, we don’t agree with each other on the definitions.
I consider myself a feminist in this regard, in that I consider the birth of modern monogamy to be steeped in the man’s desire to control the woman. I think the removal of these ridiculous restrictions on human sexuality will have a larger impact on female sexuality, but this tide lifts all boats. And if you don’t want to play in my pool, you’re welcome to your own. I don’t say that I’m in an “open” relationship (that euphemism sits in my mind like a lead ball, a lecherous demand to copulate as much as possible without ethical restriction), just that I am in a non-traditional one. Sex outside of marriage, an activity that happens across all groupings of humans, is just sex. If we were all just a bit more honest with ourselves, I think it’d do us well to admit that. Sex–like eating, sleeping, and socializing–is a human need.
Given how much pain and suffering comes from those bonds breaking under the normal strain of human interaction, I’d really appreciate getting rid of the restriction at all.