I do all kinds of research as a result of this blog. I read up on one thing, find reference to another, get the ADD, and then find myself mired in a topic I never expected to find interesting. And sometimes it leads to whole worlds of consideration and connections.
Case in point…on TED, I ran into a conversation on “open marriages”. There were some pretty heated comments, from both sides of the argument. So, I started reading up on it. As I searched, I was struck by the number of articles and websites devoted to the pros of open-marriage, and the lack of websites and articles against it. And as I started reading all about the “grandness” of open relationships, how they allow people to be freer sexually and are more honest to human desires, I found myself growing more and more annoyed. The overall opinion seems to be that we all have to accept that humans are not monogamous and that relationships and marriages that require us to “go against our animal nature” are stifling and doomed to sexual unhappiness and/or failure. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that open-relationships are the way of the future, and that if you are against them, you have trust and jealousy issues and need to seek counseling to get over them. Or better yet, that those spouses who expect monogamy are soul-sucking harpies with no sense of adventure, hell-bent on destroying their partner’s will to live. If I’m not mistaken, I’m pretty sure most people who walk down the aisle, do so of their own volition and are aware of the expectations when they say their vows. Just because we find out later that our needs have changed, doesn’t mean that our spouse is to be held responsible for those changes or is under any real obligation to accept them without question. In the process of my research, I’ve even seen a number of articles (from reputable sources, mind you) that seem to feel marriage is no longer of value in our present society…that it is a construct of culture, and that our culture has lost the need for it.
Obviously, you can see where my counterargument is headed. I have no issue with other peoples’ relationship structures. I do, however, have an issue with anyone telling me that my expectations of marriage are sentimental and unfair to my partner. I also have an issue with anyone (no matter how many acronyms you put after your name) telling me that I, personally, am not accepting my own needs for sexual exploration or growth if I “pretend” that I’m okay with “being tied-down” by an “outdated and possibly harmful practice” (marriage).
I get it. Human sexual desire is unruly. We can love and lust after countless people for a multitude of reasons, both crazy and sane. But…we can also harness that. I’m not saying it is right or wrong to harness it, I’m just saying it’s possible. And I think to damn closed-relationships as the cause of the breakdown of marriage is irresponsible. Sure, we have “animal desires”…but there is a stark difference between humans and animals – “free will” and the ability to control our behavior for the common good. If we all ran around giving in to our every whim, society wouldn’t last long. And even animals have “rules” governing relationships…they kill for ownership over partners, have committed pair and group relationships, and even have preferences to stay single and live alone. So to use “our collective animal nature” as a predictor or argument for polygamy, polygyny, or any other relationship dynamic is a fallacy.
When two people make a commitment to each other, it should be with the express idea that both people know there will need to be sacrifices and compromises to make the relationship work. Anything can work if all parties are in on the planning and practical implementation. The problem is, one person is usually more into it than the other. And neither person can really see it in exactly the same light (a drawback of human personality variance). Also, there’s the added challenge that humans and their needs change over time. This is why it is imperative that a couple keep the lines of communication open and continually address the interests of both people. I would argue that it is impossible to completely fulfill the needs of everyone in the room (even if there are only two) on an ongoing basis. But, love is the thing that bridges that gap (though, sadly, I’ve also read several articles today that posit love – all emotions really – is a fictional construct, as well). Even if I’m not able to meet all of my needs all of the time, I realize that love is worth more than me getting my way all of the time. That is the nature of a committed adult relationship: it’s bigger than impulsive desires. Or at least it should be.
More than anything, I see the move toward mainly open-relationships, as opposed to marriage, as a symptom of a bigger issue in society, where human connection itself has lost (or is losing) value. Some might say an open-relationhship does the opposite…that it allows an abundance and a variety of human interaction that marriage, by its very nature, quells. I’m not saying all open-relationships are bad. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that open-relationships being good doesn’t inherently make marriage bad.
Many years ago, I read E.M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End. The theme of the novel is human connection. The novel’s central argument is that human beings must connect and that this connection is ultimately the meaning of life. What then does it mean for a culture that no longer “connects”…no longer, as a whole, sees any reason for commitment, and no longer holds itself to a standard of moderation or self-control? I fear that younger generations have a sense that there is no consequence for their behavior and no good reason to deny their desires. This “entitlement” to feel good, all the time, to live completely for fulfillment is like giving in to addiction. Actually…it isn’t like it…it is justifying it.
I’m not saying that life should be about denying one’s happiness in the name of self-sacrifice and martyrdom. But, I also do not believe we should give ourselves any more excuses for our behavior than we already do. If we give into every one of our desires, what will there be to want? And without unfulfilled desire, what will we have to fantasize or dream about? If everything is within our reach, what will there be to work for? And if there is nothing to work for, what then, is there to live for? Yes, I paint a pretty depressing picture of it….and maybe even too dramatic a consequence. But, human desire, to me, is like a child. You give it an inch…and it will take a mile. You give it control, and it will own you. If we let children (like human desire) run our lives, it might be more fun, for awhile, but ultimately, it will fail. After all, as with children, someone has to be the adult.
I hate to be the “parent” in this regard, but really, I think that saying marriage is a thing of the past and the idea of a two-person commitment is unnatural is like saying that no one should be hampered by rules, and we should all just do what we want, when we want, with whomever we want…and the rest of the world be damned. The Lord of the Flies is a good example of what happens when the rules of society are erased. Someone will always rise to the top – and impose new rules. After all, it is human nature to create rules, to seek power, and to compete.
So, basically, this is how I see it. I won’t judge those who want to have an open-relationship – or do ANYTHING…as long is doesn’t harmfully impact anyone else – and in return, I ask that I not be judged for still having faith in an “antiquated” social contract and believing that saying no to some of our desires can actually be beneficial…to everyone. I tend to be a moderate in most regards, monogamy included. I’m not naive enough to believe my lover only wants me. And I am not under the false impression that I will never want anyone else. Every couple needs to figure out how they will deal with this little conundrum. Some will choose to simply work through the denial of extra-marital sex, accepting that they do so of their own choice and that the sacrifice is worth it. Others will decide to add others into their bedroom on occasion. Some will become full-time swingers or will create their own brand of open-relationship. And still others will find more creative ways to approach it. There are as many ways to deal with it as their are relationships in this world.
My ultimate question is this…in a culture such as ours…is marriage an outdated practice which coming generations will have no use for? And if we do away with it, what then does that mean for human connection and social dynamics? Is romance a mental fabrication? Love a fiction? Are we moving into an era of “anything goes?” If so, leave me to my fiction and allow me to embrace the past.