“I don’t have a girlfriend, I just know a girl who would get really mad if she heard me say that.” ~ Mitch Hedberg
**If you’re one of those highly-religious, ‘I waited until marriage and had sex with the only girl I ever dated’ type people, then you probably won’t relate to this post at all. There will be frank discussion of sexual attraction and non-monogamy. Or maybe you’re exactly the person who should read this.**
So, I’m at work today, bored out of mind because it’s April and retail is slow as fuck. What else am I to do but think about this week’s episode of House?
The plot was all about Open Marriages. There was also something about a dying chick, but that’s to be expected. If you’re even passingly familiar with the show, you should be unsurprised that the surly Dr. House is not a believer in lifetime monogamy. Naturally, his most famous axiom, “Everybody Lies,” can’t help but come into play here. Essentially, House maintains that our biological programming is anything but monogamous; it’s only because of social constructs that humans tend to expect fealty to one partner. Alternatively, House’s personal philosophy implies that those who attempt so-called ‘open relationships’ will inevitably fail at it because one or both partners will be dishonest about their feelings or actions.
It’s essentially a Catch-22. People in monogamous relationships (no, not just men) will be attracted to other people. If they act on it, they are despicable cheaters, but if they do not act on it they will grow to resent or despise their partner. People in open relationships, on the other hand, can blatantly desire other people, but one of the partners will inevitably feel rejected or left out, or worse, they will decide they do want to be monogamous, only with a different partner.
That is the Hollywood version of relationships. They are so much more drama filled this way.
But some of you “Love conquers all” happily ever after-types would likely find the previous description of a monogamous relationship to be grossly unfair. Sure, you might find someone else attractive (and everyone finds other people attractive, no matter how in love you are), but you aren’t unhappy being with one partner and you don’t ever resent or despise your partner.
That’s probably true. Personally, I’m naturally skeptical of relationships and suspect that after the honeymoon period, everybody gets at least a slight case of the “Grass Is Greener” syndrome. Maturity reminds us that if you’re constantly looking for the Super-High felt at the beginning of a relationship, you’ll never be able to survive in a long-term relationship. (you’re either mature or you watched High Fidelity.) But even the most grounded person will still miss that initial thrill of falling in love. It’s about as sensational a feeling as there is, and it’s only natural we would yearn for it, like an addict for a fix.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that there are plenty of happy monogamous couples out there who are not secretly harboring feelings of resentment. If we can accept that premise, might we also be able to accept that the Hollywood version of open relationships is wrong, too?
Some people will think this painfully obvious. They will find nothing shocking, questionable or ill-conceived about an open relationship. Those people are in the minority. Even among those who can accept the premise that an open relationship might work, a majority would probably add the caveat, “But I couldn’t do it.”
I’ve never been in one, but it seems to me that if two consenting adults enjoy each other’s company, communicate reasonably well and freely admit that they enjoy the pursuit of sexual relations with new people, there should be no insurmountable problems.
Yes, jealousy can be an issue, but give me an example of a monogamous relationship where there isn’t jealousy.
Yes, one partner may decide to leave the other partner for a new lover. But that’s a risk in any relationship.
The reality is, an open relationship is as manageable as a monogamous relationship. Everyone has been in at least one serious monogamous relationship that has failed (maybe not you rare, super-religious newlywed exceptions). Most of us have been in multiple. How many of those relationships have ended because of infidelity? Maybe none. Maybe all.
Maybe you don’t even know.
As a non-romantic (go ahead, ask any of my exes), I don’t have any belief in ‘Soul Mates‘. I don’t believe in souls for that matter. There are people out there who make exceptional couples. Those are usually the people I want to stab in the eye with my fork when I see them being all lovey-dovey at a restaurant.
For most of us, though, there is no perfect match. There might be someone who adores you. Maybe there’s a person who ‘gets’ you, you misunderstood genius, you (sod off). Maybe there’s just someone who willingly ignores your hentai obsession.
It doesn’t mean they were created for you, or that they are the yang to your blubbering yin. It just means that out of 7 billion people, your odds are actually better than you’d guess.
I’m not here to scream Monogamy is a lie! A monogamous relationship can be great. I’ve had a few, some better than others.
What most people seek in a monogamous relationship is not very realistic, and certainly nowhere near as realistic as having a completely functional, honest, open relationship.
The term ‘open relationship’ tends to be defined as ‘A relationship in which two people have extra-relational partners’. Really though, an open relationship can simply mean a relationship where two people are open to each other, honest. In that sense, all relationships should be open relationships.
Ideally, one individual could say, “I’ve developed an attraction to another person and am interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with them”, and their partner would be understanding. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the partner gives their permission, but it does mean that there is a willingness to discuss it without making one or the other person a villian.
The silliest aspect of relationships for me is the part where two partners sit around denying their sexual attraction to other people. What a waste of energy and time. I understand that our pride and ego make us want to be The Most Attractive Person In The World, especially with a significant other, but let’s get real. If I can say, “I want to fuck Rachel Weisz” (and I do), and a chick can say, “I want to fuck Ewan McGregor” (and you do), then admitting attraction to regular people in our lives is really no different. We just like to pretend it is. We hide behind our “Top 5 Celebrities We’re Allowed to Sleep With” lists because it feels safe, but in truth it just masks the fact that from time to time, we all have a natural desire to sleep with someone new.
Should monogamy be thrown out? Well, no. For starters, there is probably a not entirely recognized evolutionary reason why we as a species evolved to embrace one-to-one partnership (even while most animals do not). Whether or not monogamy serves a purpose in the modern world is debatable. Most ‘family experts’ would say it makes for a more stable environment to raise children, so I’m not going to argue the point. But what about those of us who really don’t want any children (and would rather you kept yours away, thank you very much)?
The true issue is less about whether or not two partners should be allowed to sleep with other people and more about how open and honest we are in relationships.
How much emotional blackmail do we attach to even the slightest hint of non-monogamous attraction? I’ve done it. I’ve made a partner feel guilty when she expressed outside attraction. And I’ve had it done to me.
We are self-involved people, and in relationships we are so often incredibly insecure. (You might be the exception to the rule, but probably not.) I don’t imagine being in an open relationship would change all of that. At the same time, the honesty that an open relationship requires would hopefully help offset those petty insecurities. It could deflate your ego to have a partner who seeks sexual rendezvous with other people, and at the same time, if that partner does sleep with multiple partners but at the end of the day still wants to come home to you, isn’t that just as much an ego boast?
The central focus of an open relationship, as I understand it, is not the sexual freedom. Rather, the openness is the point.
Only you can know what type of relationship is right for you. But, I’d encourage you to ask yourself: Do you adhere to monogamy because you’re madly in love with one person, or is it because it’s a social convention, or is it because in your insecurity you’re trying to possess someone, insuring that you will always have one person in your fan club?
It’s a question worth answering before embarking on yet another monogamous excursion.