I’ve been struggling with what to write about. A lot of the topics that feel important to me somehow seem frivolous right now, when so many people are in a state of profound distress over the recent elections here in the United States. I’m very emotionally spongy, people. My inclination is to soothe, to fix (if possible), to listen, to gather up my loves, to gravitate to the most current source of wounding and attend to it. Other than addressing a few individuals who are close to me, though, I’m not convinced that my inclination is wise to follow, in this instance. What the hell can I actually soothe or fix, here? What can I say that wouldn’t just add noise?
That said, I think I will focus on a topic that I’ve been mulling over, even if it doesn’t seem immediately relevant to a lot of people.
On Sunday night I went to the monthly discussion group for Western Mass. Poly People in Northampton (a Meetup group) and, as usual, we had a thought-provoking discussion that ranged hither and yon. One thing that came up was whether polyamory was inherently superior to monogamy. I tend to take the position of hell no, because I feel so strongly about respecting individual choice on relational matters, but had some useful push-back from another person who felt hell yes. This kind of surprised me. I asked, “So you think that all people who choose monogamy are just deluded?” “Yup.” This blanket statement still didn’t entirely fly with me, but I realized that what actually forged the common ground between us was a strong resistance to compulsory monogamy, that is, the cultural idea that monogamy is the only true path, along with its associated implications.
It seemed to make a difference, when I was clarifying my position, to draw a stark line between compulsory monogamy vs. deliberately-chosen monogamy by those who have considered a range of relational configurations. Compulsory monogamy is a monolithic assumption that sits like a giant ogre in the middle of the room, any room. It’s about control. It’s about viewing relationships as ownership. It’s about dominance and status. It’s tightly bound up with archaic views of marriage, contracts, property, the subjugation of women—yes, all the beliefs and institutions that support patriarchy, and capitalism, and power-over rather than mutual support. Compulsory monogamy says, “I will be the water that you swim in and can’t see, shaping what you think your ‘true’ nature is, defining the terms of what you consider ‘natural’ and ‘right.’ ” How convenient, in a power-over dynamic, to convince the underlings that we want our current set of cultural arrangements. How convenient, and even violent, to frame any variety of non-monogamy as an absolute breach of morality, rather than to closely examine the foundations of what constitutes practicing relationships with integrity: honesty, consent, transparency, a commitment to communication, allowing each other autonomy, accepting responsibility. When you don’t even know that there are ethical alternatives to monogamy, stepping off the prescribed path is dangerous or downright unthinkable.
Meanwhile, the construct of compulsory monogamy puts the onus of proving integrity on those who are outliers, and dissuades us from questioning whether compulsory monogamy itself is unethical. I would argue that, yes, these mutually-reinforcing cultural assumptions (compulsory monogamy, ownership, hierarchy, dominance, playing out in every corner of our relational lives, at home, among friends, at work, in private, in public) are unethical. Dictating the shape of our relational lives is not a loving act. Setting limits on who we are “allowed” to love is fundamentally anti-love. Love is not a force amenable to external control, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best.
This is not to say that I consider the deliberate choice of monogamy, for any given individual, is unethical—I will staunchly defend those who, after careful discernment, feel that this relational practice is what works for them and suits their heart. Think of the alternative—compulsory polyamory. It sounds ridiculous, no? Why should compulsory monogamy be any less ridiculous, among consenting adults?
It’s still a political post, isn’t it. So be it. I will raise my voice against the powers of thuggish dominance until the bitter end.
May we be free to follow our own hearts. May we relate to others in the ways that feel most supportive, uplifting, inspiring, and true. May we keep dismantling the prevailing ‘wisdom’ that only dictates the size and shape of the walls we build. May we smash citadels in favor of inhabiting our innate, untamed landscapes.