I’m not interested in finding the ‘one’.
I want to find the 3, 5, 10.
Let me explain.
For me, monogamy is dying. Slowly choking on its own promises of happily ever after and fulfillment from a single soul, which is an overbearing and unfair expectation to place on any person at any given time.
Let me clarify further.
There are different types of monogamy: social, emotional, physical.
From Wikipedia page on monogamy: "According to the Ethnographic Atlas, of 1,231 societies from around the world noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry."
Out of 1,231 societies surveyed, 15% are monogamous. That leaves 85% of the world in a different space than our large, conservative society where it seems an imperative to only mate with one human for your adult life, despite the more than 50% divorce rate of the United States.
Let’s go deeper.
Physical monogamy is defined as: the practice or state of being married to one person at a time, OR the practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner.
Essentially, promising that your physical body can and will only belong to one other human during the span of your commitment, usually via marriage, sometimes through a relationship. The promise that your body will only touch one other body during the duration of your decision to have a bond either through word or a state sanctioned ceremony.
Let's get to the center.
Emotional monogamy. The notion that one person can provide for you everything that you need to feel emotionally secure and heard. But can anyone person do this, and the better question, why rely on one person to do so?
So, here the heart: I no longer have a desire for emotional monogamy. Physical monogamy? Maybe. But are the two intertwined? Possibly, or not at all.
Let me rewind.
I had a conversation with a lovely friend recently that cemented my desire to detangle myself from the notion that one person could provide for me what I have been taught to seek from romantic relationships. In describing her current relationship, she commented that she no longer sought emotional validation from the constant person in her life, with whom she happened to have an open relationship, and where they were present in each other’s lives an average of one day a week. Instead, she has learned to seek her emotional affirmations from a variety of sources, sourcing out her needs to a multitude of friends who could support her in various ways, and her happiness shone. A light bulb went off. I recently find myself divorced after a ten-year relationship, one where I clearly had entwined all of needs into expectation that my ex-husband could meet ALL of them, because, you know, our culture of monogamy, and specifically, the familial culture I have been raised to follow.
My grandparents, who I admired, had a relationship that I would now categorize as ‘complicated’, with my grandmother being a teetotaler Catholic, and my grandfather an alcoholic, depressed, likely philandering, atheist. When I reflect, I recognize that there was ‘love’ between them, a very complex adoration weaved by the expectations of society and the times in which they lived. But superseding the love, in my current view, would be the trauma that resulted from some of the lifestyle of addiction and hurtful choices that were often made by my grandfather and placed squarely on the shoulders of my grandmother. Yet, she rarely complained, bottling up all her tension and disappointment, and teaching me, unconsciously, that it was better to keep the hurtful aspects of my life private and to myself. Now, looking back, I wonder if she had confidants, or people who helped her navigate such rocky terrain, but I suspect not. It was merely an expectation that relationships carry enough emotional generosity to fulfill whatever needs were required, although I surmise many fell short, with women bearing the emptiness of those disenchantments.
But this conversation helped me realize how ridiculous that ideal was, both for my ex-husband and myself. The notion that one person could possibly fulfill all the emotional aspects of who I am, deep and rich, yearning and content, was laughable, especially considering the gradual dissolution of my marriage. Why should I even want to seek such gratification in one source, when he was not prepared to meet those needs in their entirety, as it was an impossible task?
I am so many women from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Should it not make greater sense then, that those women, each her own distinct person with her own distinct needs, would require emotional validation that would differ? Shouldn’t I need a collection of support that would change and transition according to my needs?
And if I need this for my emotional self, what about the corporeal? Is it truly advantageous to be engaged physically with a single person for a point of time? What is monogamy if nothing more than us slowly tightening the noose around our many selves, hoping that they will merge into what we hope will be one? But if that one cannot hold us all, then how can we hope to breathe, or survive such physical poverty?
It’s not easy to seek such emotional support outside of a traditional relationship. Jealousy typically rears its ugly, misshapen head. Those who are not providing the support being sought often feel that they are somehow inferior, being unable to fulfill all the aspects necessary for wholeness. It takes a person of specific maturity and security to feel comfortable allowing a person with whom they have a commitment, even if tacit, to seek a validation they might not be able to provide. But I posture that this is what we should all be striving for: the notion that we can all find what we need emotionally, even if it doesn’t fit in the nice paper bag of what we consider a typical partnership.
As for the physical, I think this is a question of preference, and security. Are you invulnerable enough that you would feel comfortable in a relationship where you knew someone else might have access to the same physical intimacy you share with someone? Or does that thought make your blood run cold? Do you seek variety, because monotony stifles you? Or are you content with reestablishing a constant, deeper reconnection with one person in the hopes it will sustain and delight?
My personal logic purports that physical monogamy might be better sustained if emotional polygamy is employed. If you can love a multitude of people in different ways, and they show you the same care and attention that meets your needs to be a self-sustained, happy individual, wouldn’t it make sense that if you have a greater connection with a sole individual, that it would allow for increased intimacy? How free would you be to give yourself in your entirety to one person if you have been given so much in numerous, alternative sentiments?
Or maybe not. Perhaps seeking emotional validation in many places leads to hunger for greater experience, greater possibilities. Maybe we are all insatiable, but some of us are just more advanced at controlling such desire without feeling the same deprivation and loss.
Regardless of whether the physical merges or diverts from the emotional, such heart support is an essential part of our human survival. Studies of attachment in babies show this clearly: we need to feel loved, to feel close to our species, in order to become well adjusted, human adults. But like infants, maybe it does not have to come from one source, but can be provided by many. I believe it is more important to receive what is suitable in the realm of love, rather than only receive it from one person who may not be capable of actualizing our myriad needs within its bounds. In that regard, we might be nothing more than babes, seeking what we require from wherever we can find it provided best, and we should honor the needs of such primal infancy, even if polygamy is the path to satisfy.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...