It’s time to debunk the myths of open relationships. Bring an open mind and let’s talk sexual enlightenment, how marriage works, and the reality of monogamy.
I recently got married. It was a big step that took a lot of guts. I have been thinking about the underlying social norms that have now been laid upon me, by default, having just participated in this cultural ritual. I have also been reflecting on what it took for me to be ready to commit to my husband in the first place.
Had I been afraid of commitment for most of my 20s? I have to admit I was guilty of serial monogamy for most of my dating career. I would get bored and move on after awhile. I am sad to say that perhaps I was even somewhat oblivious of the effects this may have had on past lovers.
I evolved though, and I like to think these follies were a necessary part of my growing process. I was raised in a split family without great examples of consistency or contentedness. So it took awhile to find out what a good relationship even felt like.
It took my now-husband, who introduced me to a little book called Sex at Dawn, and a lot of previous soul searching to come to the conclusion that I was not a candidate for monogamy. It had ruined countless relationships in the past when my attentions began to stray. I found out later in life that this was a completely natural occurrence—could be healthy, in fact—and was nothing to be ashamed about (or to end a relationship over for that matter).
So yes, my husband and I practice non-monogamy—a variety that prioritizes the pair bond between us. We were together for 3 ½ years before we got married. We have some degree of openness with this piece of our relationship, and many of our friends know this about us.
I’m pretty sure some of the most kind, open-minded people have the unconscious belief that open relationships signify un-evolved, deep-seated commitment issues.
I happen to think the opposite. I feel it takes an extreme amount of self-awareness, good communication, compassion, and emotional flexibility to be in a successful non-monogamous relationship. It takes courage, too, to face some long held fears about being abandoned, experiencing a lack of love, and impermanence.
I know for a fact that monogamy doesn’t prevent any of these fears from becoming a reality. Neither does marriage! People in monogamous relationships still separate, feel abandoned, feel a lack of love, and experience impermanence.
I think, more often than not, cheating or adultery can cause these feelings. What could be a better catalyst for feelings of abandonment or lack of love than thinking you had something, then realizing you were fooled?
What if a new possibility were put on the table from day one? What if you scrutinized, negotiated, you decided the ground rules, faced fears together, and came up with a plan. What if both parties decided that seeing other people was okay?
How would it feel to have your deepest fears, the ones that prevent true intimacy, eventually quieted?
I have been reflecting on some of the comments and questions I’ve fielded, upon becoming a wife. I witnessed—and not on an isolated occasion—open sighs-of-relief from friends when my husband and I first announced our engagement. This was puzzling at first, then slightly irritating. It was obvious that, in their minds, our engagement meant we had grown out of that uncomfortable thing we were doing before—which was obviously just us working out our commitment issues until we decided we had found ‘The One.’
More recently, after the wedding, I had still further explanations to make about how we were: yes still non-monogamous, yes we just had gotten married, and yes legally.
“How’s married life treating you?” Seems like a simple enough question, asked mindlessly of every newlywed; however, I think what is partially implied by this question speaks volumes.
Translation: “How’s not screwing other people going?”
(After all, what you’ve done is exchanged ownership of each other’s genitals.)
Ownership over not just genitals, but property, wealth, children, and agriculturally valuable land. The latter may be out of date slightly, but it is agriculture and the invention of farming that brought about the revolution of ownership in the first place. Before we had to protect the crops we grew, before we put our blood, sweat, and tears into the land, we were hunting and gathering on everybody’s land. It didn’t matter whose kids were whose, or which piece of prairie or woods the food came from. Agriculture created ownership, which created monogamy. Farmers didn’t want to feed and raise someone else’s kid because it cost too much.
History is important because it gives us perspective. New science on the nature of human sexuality is fascinating and begs us to question our past programming.
Becoming mindful about our attachments to culture is of primary importance to individuals interested in evolving past their parents’ views about the world.
The implicit agreement in a new relationship, unless otherwise specified, has been monogamy. The implicit understanding in our culture has been that marriage = monogamy.
This is why we are experiencing so much confusion on the part of a few of our friends, and it’s not their fault. It’s in there deep—supported by 10,000 years of agriculture and implied ownership in our collective past.
It’s interesting to look at more recent history, in propaganda and advertising. In the early 1900s, Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, introduced a new trick of using sex to get people to buy things. Things that will literally kill them, like cigarettes. He knew that if you used sex to attach people to products, these products would live forever.
Why do you think this is?
It’s in our nature to be super sexual. If an idea is painted with human sexuality, it is hard for people to get over it. It’s even harder still, since we have a past of demonizing sexuality, sex shaming, and creating some incredibly prudish and stifling programming.
And then, some-fucking-how, monogamy got attached to successful pair bonding.
“We’ve been married for 30 years…”
Our culture congratulates these couples… but for what exactly? I know they are applauded for finding life partners who can work together, defy the odds and continue to love one another. This is completely admirable and may be the end of story for some, but I wonder if we aren’t also thinking about how astonishing it is that they’ve made it that far. We congratulate them for suppressing their innate super sexuality without sacrificing themselves.
If you really want a challenge, maybe we’re congratulating these couples for defying their sexual nature for so long. That’s insane—we can’t believe they’ve actually done it. Just a thought.
Marriage success rates are plummeting, but before we start blaming, maybe we should examine this institution with a little more mindfulness. Question the implicit. Does marriage really equal monogamy? Can we sink deeper into our fears and desires to see what’s driving them?
Could I be more honest with myself about my own sexuality? Hell yes—I still have a lot of bags to unpack—but I’m working on it, and in the process I am finding some kick ass inner peace with the whole thing.
My husband and I are hoping to defy the statistics. We are going to do this because we are honest about our inherent sexual nature, we’ve examined it for what it is (biology), we opened up the Pandora’s box of cultural programming, are debunking it, and we’ve created an out-of-the-box relationship based on understanding our individual needs as non-monogamous, super sexual human beings.
Imagine if we all were to shine a little light on our programming, to become a little more conscious about what really makes us tick, makes us happy, fulfilled, and what antiquated programs can be deleted. Sexuality aside, let the mindful dialogue begin.