On Marriage and Monogamy

I’m not sure whether it’s the institution of marriage or the concept of monogamy that baffles me, or if it’s both of these things or a combination of these things. Humans are not biologically programmed to mate for life. Long-term, yes. Life? Probably not. The institution of marriage and the concept of monogamy are societal constructions developed to control women’s sexuality, and to use the woman as an exchange of property between father and husband. And yet we’re taught that we should marry someone and that it should last forever and ever. That we should make it work even if we are miserable. We’re force fed this fairy tale image of Prince Charming coming to rescue us and the two of us living happily ever after.

But this is so fucking unrealistic. Relationships take work. The person you married is not going to be the same person 5, 10, 20 years down the road that they were on the day that you said, “I do.” And you will have changed, too. Sometimes, people grow in similar or compatible directions. Sometimes they grow in diverging directions. And for those that do grow in opposite directions, why should they be forced to try to make an unhappy marriage work? Why should they spend their lives being miserable strictly because they “took vows” and “made a commitment.” You made this commitment to honor and love this person, but things change. Isn’t it worse to live miserably in an unhappy marriage, hurt your partner by possibly committing adultery, and have a relationship devoid of all love and feeling then it is to separate and possibly find happiness with someone else? Why do we feel that we have to force ourselves to make it work simply because we walked down an isle to take a vow that was initially developed as a formal property exchange and that is unrealistic and probably unnatural anyway? For the kids? Research shows that divorce doesn’t really negatively effect kids hardly at all. That it’s better to have two happy, involved parents living separately than it is for kids to grow up in a house where their parents fight or are miserable all the time. Why do we feel this sense of obligation to work at and remain in a relationship that no longer fulfills us, isn’t meeting our needs, or is no longer what we want?

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t think that people can happily find one person that they commit to and spend their lives with. I believe that person may exist for many people. However, I don’t believe that it’s natural for people to remain physically monogamous to one person for the rest of their lives. We’re programmed to want sex with multiple partners. Can we have a primary sexual partner? Sure. Can we go years and years being happily monogamous to that primary partner? Of course. Will there be a time that there’s an itch to fuck someone else? Most likely. And the longer you remain in a relationship, the worse that itch gets and the more difficult it becomes not to scratch it. Why is it so awful if the person that has given their heart, soul, and life to us receives physcial pleasure from someone else? Sex and love are two very different things. And if you develop a wandering eye and your partner develops a wandering eye, why not receive physical pleasure from another person/people together? Any time I’ve brought another person into the bedroom with a partner and myself, it has very much been a bonding experience for me and my partner. Something that we shared together. And they shouldn’t have to cheat because if they want to fuck someone else, they totally can, as long as I at least get to watch!

To me, that is such a healthier way of going about a relationship than trying to force yourself into monogamous, life-long partnership. Cheating or resentment can flourish in those relationships. Why deny natural, primal, id impulses to someone, or try to deny them to yourself? And if you’re unhappy in a relationship, why let a piece of paper and a societally constructed institution based on treating women as property keep you tied to someone?

EDIT: I just re-read this and I have something that I want to add. I do know that non-monogamy is not for everyone. Not everyone can handle watching their partner be intimate with another person. I understand that. However, that doesn’t mean that they never have a desire to be physical with someone other than their long term partner. I think, however, that for long-term, lasting, happy relationships, non-monogamy can be really beneficial. Keep in mind here that I am referring to consensual non-monogamy in a way that works for the couple involved, whether it be polyamory, an open marriage, swinging, or some variation on any of those. 
I think that non-monogamy, when done healthily and correctly can improve feelings of closeness and intimacy and increase communication. I know that it is what works best for me, and it’s something that I make sure that all of my partners are aware of before they enter into a relationship with me. I don’t *always* want to sleep with other people or bring other people into our bedroom, but I need to know that it’s an option if the desire ever surfaces. But again, I do understand that it isn’t for everyone. 
And I guess that I’m not as opposed to the concept of spending your life with one person as I am to the unrealistic picture of marriage that is shoved down our throats and forced upon as not only possible, but expected. Are there some people that meet someone, fall in love, and remain happily and contently in love, committed, and monogamous for the rest of their lives? Of course. But those people are the exception, not the rule. We need more realistic portrayals and expectations regarding marriage, relationships, and monogamy because part of the reason that so many marriages are so miserable I’m sure is related to the fact that they *do* fall so far below the expectations and standard that we are told that we should set.

I’m sure this post is going to be very controversial and that many of you will have a lot to say on the matter. I look forward to hearing it.

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  1. Petal
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Well said and well thought out….love it! and I completely agree.

  2. Eve
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    This is a very thought-provoking post.

    Personally, I want marriage, eventually, but it's not the be all and end all of my life. As for monogamy, I find it works better for me than the other things I've tried. However, that doesn't mean it will always be that way for me, and I don't see a problem, morally speaking, with non-monogamous relationships as long as there is honesty. It's all about what works best for the people involved.

    I like the idea of spending the rest of my life with someone, but I do consider divorce a perfectly reasonable option if things don't work out. My parents' divorce was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and of of the best things my mother ever did for herself. Also, while the idea of happily spending the rest of my life with someone is very appealing to me, I don't think that means everyone should want that or strive for that. What's right is whatever is healthy, happy, and honest (emphasis on honest).

  3. Hubman
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    This may seem contradictory, but while Veronica and I are swingers and greatly enjoy fucking others, we would be perfectly happy with only each other. And we were for 17 yrs before we opened our marriage and could easily go back. We fuck others because it's fun and we like to, we don't *need* too.

    But I completely understand your point. My step-father is a retired clergymen who left his first wife after 30+ yrs of unhappy marriage because he and she grew apart. When he proposed to me mom, I have give some grief about being a divorced priest. His response was very simple and accurate- people change as they age, not all people change and remain compatible, and clergy are no different than anyone else.

    I'll be back to see others comments

  4. Gemini
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    One of the things I have found in longterm monogamous marriages is that, in a significant percentage of them, one member of the couple is almost completely subservient…

    There are so many couples where half of the couple simply takes the lead from the other…if the husband changes (or visa-versa) the wife simply follows along…these are the spouses who don't have a life of their own…their life is so totally wrapped up in their significant other that they become nothing more than an appendage of their spouse…they lose their own identity (or never had one at all) and just take on the life of their spouse…they take on their religion, hobbies, friends, interests…everything…

    My sister is that way…when she got married, she converted to her husband's religion, became a fanatic for professional hockey (she had never even seen a hockey game in her life), became "outdoorsy" (though she had never camped or hiked a day in her life prior)…her whole being evolved from HIS…

    Maybe that's what it takes to have a successful longterm marriage…the way to avoid growing apart is to just "become your spouse"…when they change, you do too…I just don't get it…I prefer to have my own identity, not take on someone else's…

  5. bebehblog
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I think monogamy is not for everyone. But marriage – for me – is the ultimate form of monogamy, which what that "forsaking all others" bit was about in the vows. Someone once told me the trick to staying successfully married was to never both fall out of love at the same time. I think that could be rephrased never both lose interest in each other physically at the same time.

    I think it's sort of telling that you think successful marriages are the exception. The statistics may be in your favor but when I think of "marriage" I think of a happy, committed couple who love and share their lives. I hope that you eventually find the right relationship for YOU that makes YOU happy.

  6. Eliot
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    I have no issues with monogamy. But I really, really hate the stigma associated with being single/choosing not to marry, and I loathe married people who perpetuate said stigma. I'd actually love to see marriage abolished which is why I don't support gay marriage. I don't support straight marriage, either. Since marriage will most likely never be abolished, I think it's fucking stupid that gays are not allowed to marry.

  7. Nell Gwynne
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Great post.

    Unfortunately, I think another reason why people stay married (even if doing so makes one or both parties unhappy)not just because for the societal approval of committment, but because they would not be able to survive on their own. As long as people get health/tax/etc benefits from being legally married, and as long as people (especially women) who divorce face significantly greater financial instability, marriage will be a necessity for a lot of individuals.

    I have an old college classmate who just got married in the spring of her sophomore year, partyly because the college only permitted married students (along with those with children, and those 23 and older) to live off-campus.


  8. Another Suburban Mom
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    As someone who has been married for a while now, I can see your point.

    I think that what happens to many people is they get married because they feel it is expected of them, or the 'biological clock' is ticking or they are afraid of being alone and not because they truly want to be with the person they are marrying for the rest of their lives.

    Also making a marriage or any long term relationship work, is work. It takes thought, communication and planning.

    There is no magical formula to a happy marriage. As far as monogamy? Right now non-monogamy works for Hubman and I, but for us it is merely the sugar roses on the icing on the cake that is our marriage.

  9. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Behbehblog, you said: I think it's sort of telling that you think successful marriages are the exception.

    It's not that I think that successful marriages are the exception. I think that two people that fall in love, get married, and remain happily and successfully monogamous are the exception.

    A successful marriage depends on how you define "successful." Two people that agree to non-monogamy may fall in love, get married, and remain happily and successfully non-monogamous yet married, and that, too, is a successful relationship.

    What I think is the exception is the fairy tale marriage that we are taught we will or should find one day. Most marriages, even those that last, have their share of unhappy periods, one unhappy partner, or at least one partner that has committed adultery (with or without their partner finding out).

  10. Sonora Sage
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    My dad went back to his wife after a brief affair with my mom. Supposedly because of the whole vows/for the kids bit.

    45 years later, my half-brother told me he wished my mom and dad had stayed together, that the two years he spent living with them were far happier than the years before and after.

    It pains me to see people living unhappily because of a promise they made when they were young and very different from the way they are today. But it's their choice.

  11. Sexy PTA Mom
    Posted August 12, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I guess I kind of agree with Hubman and Veronica. I think I would be just fine with my husband for the rest of my life, but since that is never the construct I have been forced into, who knows? I am really unhappy with the institution of marriage right now, because it still excludes gay couples in so many states. I think that the state should only have power over some form of civil union/legal contract and that anything else should be up to the individuals in question. I often do wonder if part of what has kept the spark alive for us for 24 years is the knowledge that we aren't "stuck". I know I can always have a bit on the side, but usually I don't want to. :)

  12. April
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    I'm curious what research you are basing the statement about divorce not being detrimental to children on.
    As a divorced mom I am here to tell you that is not really the truth. My little guy has been greatly impacted by my divorce. I would agree that he and I are both better off but the idea that the divorce didn't affect him negatively doesn't fly.

    On the marriage thing. I would never be happy sharing a partner. Whether I decide to remarry or not remains to be seen but there is no way I would be able to handle that. That may be a reflection of my religious views. I am willing to try anything in bed with my one partner. And I truly mean damn near anything. In return I expect monogamy. I believe that people are engineered to mate with one person for life. Not that they will but that that is how we are made.
    I'm a great example of marriage gone awry but I still have faith that it can be done. Seriously if penguins cna do it, so can I.
    Also I think that people give up to easy. Yes it gets hard and yes there are times when it fucking sucks and you hate that person. But there is a sense of satisfaction to be gained at the end of another year or decade or whatever that you made it. And also I think that if it is worth having it is worth working/fighting for. It's not always going to be roses, but if it was wouldn't it be pathetically boring?

  13. April
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I was going to say something similar to what ASM said. I think there are a lot of people who get married for the wrong reasons. Some get married when it's early in the relationship and everything's all rainbows and butterflies….before they've had time to REALLY get to know each other. I think people who get married just because the woman got pregnant, did it for the wrong reason. People do it because they feel pressured, or they don't want to be alone, or having the marital status makes them feel more complete.

    I, too, was curious to know which research you were referencing about children not being affected negatively by marriage.

  14. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I see the comments asking about the research but I'm on my phone at the moment but when I get to work I will find it for you guys.

  15. alana
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if I agree. I mean, in part I’m totally with you and these are things I’ve said to other people. But there is a tone of “we can’t rise above our animalistic urges” that bothers me when people say things like “we aren’t meant for monogamy.” I think the more important fact here is that we’re capable of monogamy and therefore have a choice. (We aren’t meant to eat McDonalds but we do so anyways. My point is there are many behaviors that humans take part in that may not be part of our natural physiology.)

    I also don’t agree fully with the idea that because you have sexual fantasies about people other then your partner, you will end up cheating on them or want to cheat on them. As you said, fantasies are completely normal and I think using them as proof we aren’t able to be monogamous is a bit of a stretch.

    It’s funny, I don’t want to be married and have no plans of ever marrying Ryan but I find myself defending marriage (I don’t even think most people marry for the right reason and I hate the idea of virgin hood and all that jazz). I just believe in choice and people should do whatever they think will make them happy. Who are any of us to say what’s right for anyone else? People hate it when their “alternative lifestyles” are judged so ignorantly, but aren’t we doing the same thing in reverse? Ultimately, I don’t see anything wrong with all the different flavors of relationships and marriages as long as you and your partner are deciding together. It’s the undertone of validation for infidelity that bothers me I think (which I don’t think you altogether meant).

  16. alana
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I want to point out that my whole argument is that you should do what you think will make you happy and I’m not saying any lifestyle decision is better than any other. I just don’t think the validations for the lifestyle decision you (as in any of us) have made invalidate other people’s decisions.

  17. Welcome to Chicago, Jillinois
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Anyone interested in fucking my boyfriend while I'm out of town this weekend? I thought it'd be sweet to set him up with something while I'm gone. He's cute and real good in bed! Anyone?

    What can I say? He cooks for me, and I get him laid in all sorts of ways. It works great for us!


  18. Welcome to Chicago, Jillinois
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Anyone interested in fucking my boyfriend while I'm out of town this weekend? I thought it'd be sweet to set him up with something while I'm gone. He's cute and real good in bed! Anyone?

    What can I say? He cooks for me, and I get him laid in all sorts of ways. It works great for us!


  19. April
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    Worst reason ever for getting married? I was 21 and my dad died of a freak brain tumor. I lost all capacity for mental stability and married a total asshole. Then proceeded to get pregnant and stay for 6 years. *not* reccomended.

  20. April
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    April: I married a total asshole too for the wrong reasons! I moved to a small town in a new state and didn't know anyone. He knew everyone so I just clung to him. It didn't matter that he called me fat and ugly and told me that I had a big nose. It didn't matter that he went out with his friends every single weekend until 6 in the morning. It didn't matter that I felt more alone living with him than I'd ever felt in my life. Nope. I still married him. I did LOVE him and I'd set a goal to be married by 25. I was divorced before 30.

  21. Sexie Sadie~
    Posted August 14, 2009 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Well, you know that I agree with everything you have said here. I think that couples should structure their relationship however it works for them. If that includes non-monogamy, then great. But they shouldn't be ostracized or judged for doing what works for them. I, too think it's unrealistic to expect monogamy to be easy (fuck, marriage is just really hard), but for some people monogamy remains important. And really, that's probably a really good thing. Otherwise, everyone would be fucking everyone else and all hell would break loose ;)


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