Monday, February 18, 2013

Deconstructing Love and Monogamy

Yesterday at the Fellowship of Freethought, Chris and I had a fascinating discussion with new friends about the socially constructed ideas about love, monogamy, and relationships.  In particular, one friend said, "There is no other relationship in which we expect monogamy except romantic/sexual relationships.  You would never tell your best friend they weren't allowed to be friends with anyone else and that the two of you need to have a ceremony in front of everyone that says you're both off limits for friendship from now on, and if you're ever friends with anyone else I get half your shit."  Now that's not quite how I see marriage, but he has a point. 

All of these notions about what a relationship should be are socially constructed to support patriarchal systems.  Even polygamy, which has origins in all the Abrahamic religions but is now taboo, still limits the sexuality of the multiple women to one man.  And gay or bisexual relationships are often ridiculed because they don't fall in line with monogamy.  Open relationships are fairly common in the LGBT community, especially with gay men, but I've often wondered why that might be.  Is it because men are sexually driven and thus gay men are doubly so because they have no woman to "tie them down", as is often suggested?  Or is it because deconstructing one set of socially constructed norms about sex makes it easier to do the same to other norms?

Even Chris and I don't fall entirely into the monogamous category.  We prefer the term "monogamish".  One of the things I love most about my relationship is the way we can freely communicate our thoughts about subjects that would normally be considered taboo.  When we first got together, we discussed what our definitions of being "faithful" to each other were rather than just blindly following the socially constructed norm.  To me, a truly successful relationship is one in which the partners communicate openly about what their expectations, limitations, and compromises are.  We've agreed to be romantically exclusive but are okay with "fooling around" with other girls as long as we're up-front and open about it, especially if we do it together.  We often "check out" girls together and he enjoys watching me play with other women almost as much as I enjoy doing it.  That's what works for our relationship.  Some couple might have a "girls don't count" rule or "sex is fine but not love" or something completely different.  I'm not saying all relationships need to be open or that monogamy doesn't work for some, but I think it's important to really think about it.  I believe most people adopt these norms because they've never stopped to question them or discuss them with their partner.  I know people who are in healthy, loving, polyamorous relationships.  I know people who are in romantic asexual relationships.  I can acknowledge that while those are not relationships I would prefer, it clearly makes them happy.  That's all that really matters.

Too often I think we try to compare our love lives with others.  Either to feel morally superior or more chaste or more liberated or vindicated or justified, but I feel like comparing your relationship with others will always be apples to oranges.  Can't we just be happy that others have found love too?  I have never understood how someone can look at relationships where the people involved are clearly in love and turn their nose up because of trivial differences.  Someone being disgusted by this picture:
Or this picture:
Makes about as much sense to me as being disgusted by this picture because the bride has a different hair color than I do:
Clearly all of these people love each other and are happy.  Isn't that enough?  At the end of the day, the number of partners, sex of partners, family situation and all the rest are just distractions.  Real love is a transcendant and universal feeling that all people deserve to have respected by society.  And love is more than just romantic attachment.  I love my mom, I love my sister, I love my dog, I love the kids I work with, I love my friends, and all of that love changes me into a better person.  In a world that promotes violence, misunderstanding and partisanship, love is a radical action.

In closing, I'd like to share a music video by Macklemore about marriage equality that I'm sure many of you have already seen but it's important to share.  It's called "Same Love" and it's important because it confronts the norms of homophobia and misogyny that are so prevalent in hip-hop music.  And it shows a straight man relating to people who don't share his sexuality, which is sadly still a radical action.  If this video doesn't have you bawling by the end, there may be something deeper you need to address.

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