Sunday, March 05, 2006

Monogamania 4: Pussies, Whips, Claws, and Leashes

So, after reading all the discussions that have happened around this original post, I have a few final musings, and then I think I want to let my brain rest on this one for a long while and think about/write about other things.

Thought #1:
I began to notice that most of the polyamorous people who were writing in all seemed to have one person they thought of as their "true mate," and others who they slept with outside of that relationship. I'm wondering if that's the preferred state for most people--to have one love bond, but to have some side action. It's interesting, because you'd think if you wanted to be truly polyamorous, you'd not want ONE of anything, including a marriage or committed one-on-one relationship. Or rather, you'd be single, sleeping with many. And yet that seems not to be the case for most of the polyfolks. What do you all think? Is the ideal a soulmate, with benefits? Or completely open, unbound relationships for all?

Thought #2:
The always insightful Figleaf was pointing out to me in an email:
Since stereotypes say men are sperm-spewing,conscienceless animals we wallpaper over those who have no problem with monogamy. Pussywhipped. No ambition. Maybe a closet homosexual. Scared to have fun. Really religious! All these excuses we make to protect our stereotypes! WTF is that about anyway?
I think this is what has always bothered me the most. Every comedy you see where a guy's about to get married, every bachelor party speech you overhear, every joke that's made to the groom just before a wedding is always, "Oh, she's gotten her claws into you good," or "You can still run while you have the chance!" There is this sense that monogamy--particularly for men--is related to their freedom and masculinity somehow. I suppose I don't understand this whole attitude, seeing as pretty much across the board every study that's done shows that men are far happier and healthier when they're married, and that the sex is not worse. For instance:
Survey responses from the married men painted a positive picture of marriage - 94 percent said they were happier married than single, and 73 percent said their sex life was better. From a story in the Arizona Republic.
And:
According to a large-scale national study, married people have both more and better sex than do their unmarried counterparts. Not only do they have sex more often but they enjoy it more, both physically and emotionally. From Rutgers University's National Marriage Project research center.
And yes, I understand that "married" does not necessarily mean "monogamous," but one would assume that most people in marriages are more steeped in the mainstream and are at least attempting to live out the monogamous lifestyle as a result. And yes, I also know "happier" is a relative term, and as a single person, I have some issues with how these survey questions may have been asked, mitigating factors, etc., but still--the results seem fairly consistent everywhere you look.

So why this prevailing attitude that marriage/monogamy is a "trap" for men?

Thought #3:
In a related thought, I want to hearken back to another discussion that went on at Figleaf's blog a while back, which may have been the initial catalyst for my post, after I let it marinate for a while. You can find the post and responses here. The main post's question was really, "If partners gave each other the permission to have sex outside the relationship, would that quell their desire to do so?" But in reading all the comments and discussion after the question was posed, I remember I really reacted strongly to seeing people referring to the person who wanted a monogamous relationship as "holding the leash," and the suggestion that it might be possible that, "the more exclusivity one demands, the greater the risk [of the person sleeping with someone else without telling you]," or the possibility that "giving each other permission not to be [100% monogamous] makes it [monogamy] less painful."

It's not the actual suppositions people were making, but just the descriptors. Monogamy as being "leashed," "a demand," or "painful." I think it bothered me because I've never really viewed monogamy as any of those things. To me it was a compliment, not a burden. That person wanted me above all others, and I wanted him. We weren't sacrificing, we were WANTING. And what we wanted was each other, most of all. I never felt my partner's belief I would be monogamous was a "demand." I thought it was a mutual understanding, a shared feeling of love and fidelity. I never felt "leashed," or that I was "leashing" my partner--I wanted to be there, and I assumed he did too, or would have spoken up. And while relationships in general are not always easy, and I've had my troubles along with everyone else, I never felt that staying committed to someone was "painful." Well, actually, that's not true. I did ultimately find my long-term committed relationship to be painful (though not because I wanted to sleep with someone else), but when I did find it so, we ended it.

So--as to me...what do I think is right, mono- or -poly? Neither, really. I think it depends on the people, the circumstances, the agreements and guidelines made, etcetera. But I do think there have to be clear guidelines and expectations set up front, which both partners can agree to (assuming it's a two-partner agreement). And it's not fair to change the rules mid-stream and not discuss it. I think most everyone who's talked about it here or on other blogs agrees with these.

And I also think that if anyone is walking into either situation, monogamy or polyamory, thinking it's a "trap," a "leash," or "painful,"--or if they thought they'd be okay with it but then find instead it's any of those things for them, well, I think that they have a responsibility to speak up, be honest, and take themselves elsewhere if ultimately they can't get what they want. If you're feeling trapped in any relationship, it's not right for you. But that's only my opinion, of course. My longest relationship was six years. I probably have no right and not enough understanding of lengthy marriages to lecture to you long-time-marrieds. But to me, on the outside, it looks pretty clear-cut, really.

Which do I think is right for me? I just don't know anymore. I'm at a stage where I'm having to evaluate a whole slew of assumptions that I once held as true in my life. I'm not sure where I'll end up, but I'm sure it'll be interesting finding out. Lately, though, I've been thinking a lot about WHY we want to be with one person. Or why we want marriage and children. I'm not asking this because I think they're bad choices. But I'm just saying, what about this: If you were able to be absolutely sure that you would never catch an STD, you'd always have loving friends, and you had absolute certainty that at the end of your life, you would not end up alone or impoverished, and you would be well cared for-- would you care about getting married? Having kids? Having multiple lovers? Having one special lover? Living alone or in groups?

Right now, to me, that seems to be the most honest litmus test for figuring out what you really want. If you'd answer, "Yes, I'd care if I did/didn't have one monogamous partner," or "Yes, I'd care if I had/never had kids, or "I'd never/still want to get married if I knew that was going to be the case," then you know what you really want. Of course we don't have any guarantees that we won't die alone and friendless if we're not in a monogamous marriage. But we don't have any guarantees that our spouses won't leave us or die either, or that our kids or friends will still be around when we're old.

We just don't know what can happen. Ever. So to choose a lifestyle other than the one you know deep down in your heart you'd want if you weren't scared--that just can't be the right thing to do. Can it?

The tricky part, though, is knowing whether you really know how to answer those questions honestly.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Darkhawk said...

Response to thought #1: My experience is that people who come to polyamory from a monogamous relationship or background often hedge around the relationship with sole-spousal-relationship agreements as a means of easing the transition stress. Some people think this is a good idea, some people think this is a bad idea, I think it's a "Well, if it works for you, but I sure wouldn't do it."

I know people who vigorously resist heirarchy and hate the notion entirely. I'm not one of them, but my heirarchy is descriptive: if a relationship works out as a spousal relationship, that's what I treat it as. (I learned that just because I love someone doesn't mean it's a good idea to try to build a life-partnership with them the hard way. So I had to learn how to have relationships that weren't structured in the cultural expectation that a real relationship ends with marriage.)

Thought #2: The best guess I have is that it's part of the 'men are uncontrollable sex machines' notion, and that marriage is supposed to end that. I suspect a lot of people play along with that sort of joke because to do otherwise is to in some way negate their virility.

Thought #3: I never really got exclusivity; it wasn't something I valued even when I figured I was monogamous. (I wound up in a long-distance relationship with a guy who said, 'Look, this long-distance monogamy thing is dumb, I'm going to see other people', to which my response was, 'Sure, whatever.' I was confident in our relationship -- and I'm still in touch with that particular ex-boyfriend, we send each other birthday wishes every year -- so it didn't matter to me whether he was involved with someone else.)

My basic feeling when I'm not cranky is that someone offering me monogamy isn't offering me something that I value. And they'd probably be better off offering that to someone who's likely to appreciate it, because I ... just don't. I do parse it as a gift (or a gift exchange), but not one that I want to receive. (When I'm feeling cranky, it does parse as a trap -- of type "What am I expected to do to show my gratitude for this thing I don't want?")

3/06/2006 12:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My feelings on the whole thing tend to fall under 'why is there only one set of rules?' My polyamory is not your polyamory but my poly works for us and yours works for you and that's the important part.

3/07/2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

I think the notion of 'soulmate' is a pseudo construct, one that has worked to sell millions of books, in a world where many millions of people feel alienated in some way. Whether this is due to consumerism, globalisation, or whatever else (changing power shifts in relationships, issues of emasculation etc), I'm not sure but the idea of soulmate as the 'one and only who is destined to be with their other soul half' is airy fairy at best. Marriage, centuries and centuries ago, wasn't about 'romance', it wasn't about sex or orgasms. Most of the time it was a simpler ritual: alliances, consolidation of propery etc.

Polyamory or Polygamy isn't new, but more and more so, in our times, it's become a convenient reason to gain the best of all sexual worlds, because when one comes across it in the Blogosphere or the Internet in general, it's always about 'sex' or the 'sex' which is a poor description really. Polygamy/Polyamory can serve other purposes, but it's portrayed in a 'sexual' manner (for example in some blogs) and this I suspect, most of the time, is for 'show' because, really, it's not like it can be 'validated' for any reader so for all anyone knows, what they're reading about may be fallacious. So I don't really 'take it literally' most times, what they're talking about because it always focuses on the sexual element or 'I choose polyamory because i like the sex etc', that to me, is just attention seeking, has no real substance and can be written by anyone with a creative mind.
In many blogs, for example, where polyamory is the discussion, the people don't really discuss the aspect of children, how the relatiosnhip dynamic is affected, whether it's affected, whether or not there are issues with jealousy -which is innate in the human species regardless of pretenses. It's all about 'sex', how they do it, how many people, the group sex, and basically it doesn't even skim the surface and that's all it is, superficial. Most times, I even doubt some people live polyamorist/polygamous (where they're living with their partners and/or children) lives and 'have' the time to sit there blogging their sex and personal lives. I always question these things, as I do with online 'escorts' who 'have time' to sit there each day blogging each day about their clients.

No relationship is sugar coated, every relationship set up has its flaws, and the thing is those people online who proclaim they live this lifestyle, hardly touch on the flaws or the ups and downs, it's all so 'perfect' so 'sexy' or whatever, which really makes me question the validity of their supposed 'perfect life'.

Every human has a preference out of a group of objects, partners etc. This has been shown by many scientists, Piaget showed it with babies as young as six weeks to conclude that preference of 'one' thing over the next thing (between a choice of two let's say) is largely innate. Also on the other end of the scale there is the issue of operant conditioning. I'm more inclined to believe that people are capable of being conditioned by external influences (imagery, propaganda etc) as well as their own belief (what they want to believe) but they may believe it, it doesn't mean that its (whatever the belief is) is functional.

The notion of monogamy being illogical, is a path I travelled as well, but now I also ask whether or not this is a form of conditioning? (in pornography, it's all about variation, the Internet is about variation, this is shown in films etc).
Am I being conditioned to believe that monogamy is unnatural?

I do think this sometimes.

Also I ask myself what polyamory/polygamy teaches future generations. To not be 'attached' to one person, and therefore not be attached to anyone? Because it's difficult to be 'equally' attached to say, five partners, emotionally let's say.

In Eastern cultures, where polygamy was a practice, and in some cultures is practiced, it's not a 'love' construct, nor a romantic construct. And this is more logical, wheres the newly renovated, internet exclusive construct is all 'love' and sex, but only in a controlled setting (that of the pc, via 'confessions' which is why I dont even take them seriously as 'valid' descriptions).

3/07/2006 9:25 PM  
Blogger Anastasia said...

So why this prevailing attitude that marriage/monogamy is a "trap" for men?

It's an attitude that is passed onto men by those who seek to market or financially gain from such an endeavour. The modern day reality, for example, is that men are the highest consumers of pornography. What themes are common in pornography for men? Variation, multiple partners or the possibility of having 'more'. Pornography has always been there, sure, but in the last ten years it's morphed into something else: sms chatting, the Internet (personal sites, sex personals for discreet relationships etc). It's encompassing more areas, than what it encompassed before (print media, photography and film).

You'll be sitting there watching television late at night and see an advert, 'sms this to this number and meet someone now'.
It's drummed into men day in and day out.
They may as well say, 'Hell, why stop at one when we can offer you all this pussy and then some?'

What does today's modern pornographer know? The same thing that cosmetic company executives know: operate on the principle of making people feel insecure about themselves.

'Are you letting sex slip by? Well we have options for you, call this number, submit your profile. Don't be 'tied' down (because it's 'hell on earth')'
It may not be ('the tied down theory') proven, but it's the easiest excuse people use.

3/07/2006 9:38 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

darkhawk: Good to see you again. :) I think the main thing is that you are clear on what "gift" you want to recieve, and which one you want to return to the store. I think most of the relationship problems in the world come from people who don't have it as solid in their minds and are trying to return stuff after the expiration date. ;-) Thanks for your comments!

Anonymous: Thanks for your thoughts. I don't think there is one set of rules for *anything,* really. But the world is made up of both entropy and patterns, and I'm prone to being fascinated by both.

Anastasia, my brilliant co-Nick-Cave soul sistah: I've been wondering the same thing myself. How on earth do these peole have the TIME? I mean, I can barely remember to feed my cat somedays. How on earth would I keep a schedule with multiple lovers straight? And I wonder how children fit into the equation, too. Excellent point about sex vs. the everyday workings of "relationship" and "job" and "family" and "life."

And as with you, my whole initiation of this post-o-rama is based on my questioning what exactly we're being TOLD to believe and what exactly is really the truth. There are messages for both sides, as far as I can tell, being thrown at us every day. So far, I don't think I can say that for sure what's real or what's not. Maybe it doesn't beg the question in the end, because it just is what it is.

I have a lot of trouble with people trying to force any lifestyle, religion, or thought process on me just because they happen to believe it's true or it works for them. But you've gotta believe *something* for yourself, built out of on whatever structure works for you. And then, I guess, you've got to find someone else who agrees with your beliefs if you want to have a harmonious sexual relationship with them. So I sure hope whatever lifestyle choice I eke out for myself, someone (or ones) will be willing to join me in...because one-handed sex can only last you so long. :)

3/07/2006 9:53 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Ah, Ana, we're cross-posting. Re your second comment: interesting theory. I do believe men are barraged with sexual messages. But I'm not sure I believe they're so mindless as to not be aware of the manipulation involved. I don't think just because they're shown the images it instantly turns them into the sex-starved stereotypes. Most men I know have a fairly realistic viewpoint on porn; they realize it's fantasy--pretty pictures, not reality.

I'm not a man, but I can assume many of them may think like I do about porn--I see a threesome in porn: yes, it's variety. If it's well done, I think this is hot to watch. A threesome in reality? Not as hot. Just the physical maneuvering alone is enough to throw a wrench in the erotic nature of the thing, and on top of that, it seems almost always someone ends up feeling they got the short end of the stick (ahem). And then there's the morning after when people often end up feeling weird about it, and relationships are affected by it...

But I've not got the Y chrom. to say for sure. Maybe some of the men can weigh in here if seeing a wider variety of sexual images, and having wider availability to easier sex sources makes them desire more sexual variety than they would normally.

Myself, I'm willing to believe that, like women, men are rational enough to weigh their current situation and assess the options. Are they happy where they are? Then probably they're not going to do much to change the situation, no matter what influencers they're getting. If they're not, then probably they're gonna get right on that sms situation. The thing that is more bothersome, though, is that it seems society is more willing to excuse them more for doing this dishonestly or surreptitiously. And that, m'dear, sure sucks big ass.

3/07/2006 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

I figured it was tacky to just buzz by in response to a link and never come back. ;) You've got good stuff here, so I'll keep reading, y'know?

And yeah on the "clear on which gifts" thing -- it's another iteration on the same thing we were thrashing in the previous thread. ;)

I'm clearly not reading the same poly forums that you guys are, though. I see a lot of, "So how do you deal with jealousy?" and "What do I tell my kids?" and "How do you deal with scheduling" and occasional flamewars about whether or not people should be talking more about sex. (The site that I'm most inclined to point people at for 'what it's really like' is polyfamilies.com, actually.)

And frankly, there are people out there who boggle me with their social lives. People who need to keep PDAs in order to keep their dating schedules straight, for fuck's sake. Now, call me introverted -- which I am -- but my schedule feels pretty full without needing electronic assistance for maintaining it. (I live with my husband; we go to a weekly get-together with friends; I see my lover typically once during the week and on the weekend. Every so often I do lunch or dinner with a friend. Friday, a bunch of folks are going to a play. My life is packed!)

3/08/2006 5:54 PM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkhawk: And I'm delighted to have you reading--and commenting. Thanks for the lovely compliment (she said, blushing profusely).

I actually have not read any poly forums yet, aside from the one that happened to link to my article, and they didn't get heavily into a life-logisitcs discussion there. Although I did discover via that that there is a "poly camp" (though it's gotten cancelled this year)!

I was referring primarily to the specific responses I was getting related to the post. I'd never claim to know the dynamics of the poly community--I'm still quite ignorant about that, which is why I'm so full of questions. So it's good to know that these forums exist and people are dealing with a myriad of real-life, as opposed to just sexual, issues when they talk about polyamory. I'll have to check the link out.

My, your schedule! How on earth are you going to have the time to invite me over for dinner? ;)

3/08/2006 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Darkhawk said...

I'm glad my presence is appreciated. ;)

I'd take the LJ community with a grain of salt, personally -- it's a bit overrun with general livejournal dynamic on occasion. (The LJ user bellcurve on age peaks at 18. Sometimes it shows.)

The forums I've defaulted to for serious discussion have been various of the mailing lists run off the polyamory.org site (one of which I am the backup administrator for), some local mailing lists, and the usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory. (The alt.poly FAQs, hosted at polyamory.org, are useful reading.) When I talk about my experiences with other polyfolks, I'm primarily pointing at those resources and people I know who participate or have participated in those areas.

I like the polyfamilies folks primarily because they're doing a lot of the activism work that I try to do from a position of ... greater mainstream social credibility, if that makes sense? Decade-long marriages, kids, all that stuff. I'm slowly working my way up into their league: five years married and a mortgage! ;)

And I'm afraid I'm scheduled all through the weekend. ;) My whirlwind of routine normalcy is picking up.

3/09/2006 1:27 AM  
Blogger Miss Syl said...

Darkwing: "The LJ user bellcurve on age peaks at 18. Sometimes it shows." You crack me up. So true. Thanks for the forum links. I love food for thought.

3/09/2006 9:13 AM  

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