Tags » Middlebury College


The Reign of Monogamy

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Durkheim and the reign of monogamy

I started practicing polyamory[1] three years ago in an attempt to free myself of the unbearable attachment, dependency and conditionality that came with monogamous relationships. Needy, shattered and incapable to fulfill my deep need for love and intimacy with others, I longed for change. I first heard about the tempting concept of “love without attachment” at a meditation retreat in Thailand. Soon after starting to open myself to the possibility that relationships may be built on mutual respect, love and appreciation instead of fear of losing the other, desire to dominate or fit social expectations, I was ready to embrace polyamory. The freedom and happiness it brought me inspired me to celebrate it, share it, spread it. I knew it was meant to be challenging, because of the normalcy associated with monogamy in society, yet I thought the status-quo was reversible and people only needed to learn about polyamory to at least give it a try, if not adopt it.

It didn’t take long to figure I was wrong. While I remain optimistic for the sake of not losing my energy as an agent of change in society, I now see the invisible strings that control it. “The practice of having a single sexual partner during a period of time”[2], or otherwise monogamy, fits Emile Durkheim’s concept for a social fact, introduced in The Rules of Sociological Method. Social facts are ways of thinking, acting or being which are normalized, generalized throughout society, constraining and external to the individuals who perform them.

One doesn’t need statistics to establish that monogamy reigns over Western Societies and is deemed “normal” and “normative”. Monogamous couples caress each other with lips, touch and public acknowledgement practically everywhere. Yet, expressions of intimacy between their “deviant” counterparts are not to be found in the daylight, out in the open. Non-monogamy is only allowed to exist in secret locations, particular subcultures and specialized online communities.

My personal experience with polyamory showed me that the influence of the social act lies in that “it asserts itself as soon as I try to resist” (Durkheim, 51). As long as I complied with monogamy, I was oblivious to its great coercive power. Once I dared to reject it and self- identify as polyamorous, I found I now had to deal with a number of negative stereotypes (polyamorists are “sluts” being one of them) and consequences (such as sexualization, shaming or being emotionally abused by partners because of my choice). Choosing to comply with the rules of monogamy seemed to be the only way to restore the violated social order and to bring myself and others peace. It seemed more like an ultimatum.

11004518_972925636058611_161370367_n My friends often tell me: “I get it, but I know I can’t (do polyamory)”. Monogamy, I am told, feels “innate”, it is our “nature” and therefore inalterable. But is it? Durkheim says that: “we are the victims of an illusion which leads us to believe we have ourselves produced what has been imposed on us externally” (Durkheim, 53). Children’s fairytale books, Hollywood movies, popular songs all project the images of idealized monogamous romance as the only way to experience love and happiness with another. As if nothing else exists. “All education consists of a continual effort to impose upon the child ways of seeing, thinking and acting which he himself would not have arrived at spontaneously” (Durkheim, 53)- Durkhaim claims, yet, how can the grown child perceive something as external to herself if it’s all she has seen and no alternatives have ever been presented?

Monogamy, as a social fact, perpetuates itself through a number of cultural tools, indoctrinates individuals and transforms them into blind followers who reproduce the very same devices which have been used to inculcate them. Furthermore, if monogamy was “natural to” and “inborn in” individuals than all human societies would be monogamous. According to George Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas, however, globally: “of 1,231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry”.

Coming to Middlebury, I expected an environment that was more receptive to polyamory due to its increased media coverage in the US, as well as the relative “abundance” of individuals and communities practicing polyamory compared to other places in the world. However, I was surprised to find that not only wasn’t this a “hippy school”, but even the largely popular “hook up culture” on campus served as a perpetuator of mono-normativity. Both hooking up and having multiple romantic and sexual partners are seen as profane alternatives to the sacred long-term, committed monogamous relationship. Yet, only the former is perceived as a legitimate substitute.

Hooking up allows busy, career-oriented, fun-loving students to “have a good time” without the commitments and effort involved in sustaining a committed relationship. An important aspect in being successful at hook ups is to make sure the person knows you are not actually having a relationship with them (also helping you to maintain position in the power game and remain desired). You don’t need to answer their every text. You don’t even have to be that nice to them. They are not your partner after all. Vulnerability and being real with each other are treasured as a domain held exclusively by one-on-one relationships. The hook up happy ending, thus, mirrors monogamy in that it requires the rejecting of others by choosing a preferred partner and coupling of.

512d9d9c8b780.image                 Social facts are hard to shake. Neither a single person, nor a small group of people can negate the overwhelming presence of social facts with their choice and actions. Whether or not I decide to be polyamorous instead of monogamous is irrelevant with regards to overcoming the stifling rule of the ideology of monogamy. Ironically, even when we reject the social fact, it influences us beyond our imagination. By allowing hooking up as a temporary alternative to monogamy, yet rejecting polyamorous relationships in which people build committed relationships with multiple partners, a paradoxical situation is created in which it is so hard to find a sole person to be with that monogamy is embraced again by lack of any other alternative. Practicing polyamory necessitates the presence of a diverse community of independent, mature individuals who value and seek relationships (whether monogamous or not). Within that arrangement one can hope and expect to meet and connect with a manifold of potential romantic and sexual partners with varying preferences for relationship styles. Yet, at places like Middlebury where relationships are feared, viewed as a hindrance to personal progress or otherwise rejected, if one “hits the jackpot” and finds someone willing to be with them, they would hardly risk the relationship by suggesting alternatives to the assumed monogamy.

[1] Defined as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time”, Marriam Webster Online Dictionary

[2] As defined in Collins English Dictionary


Last day at work: Happiness in Palestine.

Categories: Midd Blogosphere
Closing of training and English classes led by Maggie Nazer at Hebron YDRC, Palestine

Closing of training and English classes led by Maggie Nazer at Hebron YDRC, Palestine

Today was my last day working at the Hebron Youth Development Center as an intern. The amazing performance and exhibition which the participants in my leadership training “Art for Social Change” organized were exceptional. It was exceptional what they managed to do just in two short days of preparation left on their own. It was so fulfilling to actually see that my words and actions inspire others! My amazing co-trainer Asala Salhab said: “They told me yesterday: “Maggie said we are leaders so we should organize the performance alone and that we can do anything” and indeed after hours spent in the theater space yesterday, today they came at 9 in the morning on a Ramadan day only to rehearse and perfect the showcase of their work.

It’s unbelievable to me how close I have grown to my English students and how dearly I love them: all of them at once and each of them in a unique way. I spent the last 3 hours in a coffee shop having one of the best times in my life (seriously!), discussing passionately all possible topics imaginable (which I didn’t imagine to be possible when I first met them) despite the many cultural norms which otherwise do not allow a girl to be smoking nargille in the company of guys.

I want to tell you all again that I love you so and you have given me more than I have ever expected! Never have my ideas and efforts for social change and youth empowerment been more well accepted and celebrated.

Last but not least, you have brought me back to Life (no exaggeration!) after a very difficult year in which I many times lost hope in the power of my voice to influence any actual change and in which I was almost about to lose my trust in others…

You have given me hope, you have given me love, you have given me an enriched sense for identity (“We Palestinians teach Life, Sir!”), you have given me your unconditional support and trust.

And I’m way too happy and inspired to even be sad that I am leaving! (Although, I guess it will hit me once I’m no longer on this sacred land.)

Carry the magic we created together with you at all times and spread it generously!

P.S. Don’t forget: WE ARE CONNECTED NOW!

Special THANKS to Center for Careers and Internships at Middlebury College and my hosting organization Hebron YDRC.

Pure Joy

Pure Joy


In The Heights

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Still in recovery mode from a long race over Memorial Day weekend, I opted for a very short run on the much traveled “Red Kelly Trail”, the trail which circles the Middlebury College Championship Golf course, also known as “Augusta National‘s Little Brother”.  Well, we aren’t exactly having Georgia weather of late, but you get the picture.  I have talked about the sights on this trail on numerous occasions, most recently on a longer run incorporating the Red Kelly Trail about two years ago.  Not a lot has changed since then, except for the fact that the section of the trail across the west ridge (or alongside the 10th fairway for those who know the course) has been rerouted away from the course and onto its own separate trail, where runners are more protected from errant tee shots.  If even a small fraction of the golfers are as miserable with their drivers as I have been, this re-route will probably save lives!

So, I departed the Middlebury College athletic facilities on South Main St. and got onto the Kelly Trail directly behind the all-weather “Kohn” Athletic Field.  Yes, everything on the campus is indeed named after someone!  After completing most of the trail in the clockwise direction, as I neared the end of the trail, I crossed South Main St. (aka Rt 30) and did the short descent on the Class of 97 Trail.  After about a half mile or so on this pleasant little stretch of single track trail, I came to the point where it emerged from the forest into the more open fields below.  Rather than continue on at this point, I elected to return, originally planning to retrace my steps back to Rt. 30.  However, a few minutes into my return, I noticed an unmarked herd path heading uphill to my left, unceremoniously marked by the presence of a large tractor tire seemingly abandoned in the woods.  Ascending this trail, it became apparent almost immediately where I was – the backyard of the mansion known as “The Heights” or  “The Thaddeus Chapman House”.  Many years ago, a member of the family which owns this property showed me around the interior of this large old home, and while it has not been regularly inhabited due to the high cost of heating it in the winter, it’s interior has been well maintained as a sort of museum to life in the late 1800′s.  Searching for more information about this grand old house, I contacted my colleague, architechtural historian, Prof. Glenn Andres.  From him, I learned that the house was built in 1870 by the owner of the Starr Mill, one Caleb Ticknor.  The house was acquired by Chapman in 1875, who subsequently had it renovated in 1887 by architect Clinton Smith (the reknowned architect of the better known Shard Villa) into its current elaborate (that is as close as I can come to the real architectural terms like “Queen Anne” and “Italianate”) form

Despite my one previous foray onto this palatial property, I had never actually explored the grounds.  Not seeing any “No Trespassing” signs from my point of entry, I decided to explore the grounds a bit on foot.  One of the first sights I noted was the bermed amphitheater built into the back  yard.  Oral tradition holds (that is my fancy way of saying Glenn heard it, but can’t confirm)  that these terraces were once the basis of elaborate gardens, while other oral traditions (a few generations of Middlebury College students) confirm that these terraces hold a long tradition as a college student trysting site in warmer weather.

Heights Amphitheater

Heights Amphitheater

Further up the hill from this, on the East Side of the main house, is a small childrens’ play house. Peering in through the window, I could discern child-size furniture indicating its use in its heyday.

Play House

Play House


Finally, leaving the property through the front driveway gave a nice vantage point to enjoy a good look at the main house.


The Heights

The Heights

The driveway brought me back to Rt 30, pretty much just across the street from the College field house, making this a short (slightly less than 3 miles!) but interesting run. Since the last section of this run is on private property, should you choose to explore The Heights, please be respectful of this well-maintained gem. Although it is usually not inhabited, this registered historic site is in no way a derelict property!   If any reader has anything more recent to add to my bare bones story of this property, I would love to hear it!

Google Earth projection of the run

Google Earth projection of the run

Books that Inspire! For Palestine campaign at Middlebury College

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Books for Palestine

Thanks to the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI) at Middlebury College, this summer I will intern in Hebron Youth Development Resource Center (YDRC) in the West Bank, Palestine. This is the first of a series of initiatives I am planning to implement hoping to contribute for the empowerment of young people in Palestine.

Books are the easiest way for new ideas to be brought in, contemplated, adapted, transformed and disseminated! The right to books and ensuring the availability of books should be of uttermost importance.

The collection of new (published in the last 10 years!) books in good condition and covering various topics related to youth will be collected and brought to Palestine to be exhibited and made available to young people at the youth social hub in Hebron YDRC. The campaign has already be generously supported by CTLR. Further enrichment of the value of the campaign will be sending positive encouragements or inspirational messages along with the books to create an opportunity for human connection.

The current campaign emphasizes on quality over quantity: the books meeting the requirements set will be brought in Palestine within my luggage for no additional cost (I will not take much luggage on this trip since I’m going home to Bulgaria afterwards) and will not cause any further ecological harm (other than being made of paper, i.e. trees).

Feel free to message me for more information whether or not you want to donate a book! E-mail Maggie Nazer at mnazer@middlebury.edu


Destination Recreation: Christmas Tree Farms

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Destination Recreation: Christmas Tree Farms.

Here I am on the Vermont WCAX TV Channel Check out the vid and don’t mind my hair! MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – WCAX

Whether it’s already cut and waiting or still hiding in the field, a tree farm can hold that perfect centerpiece for your holiday living room.

And at Werner Tree Farm in Middlebury, they say picking out your own tree at a farm is a traditional Vermont Christmas experience.

“I think in Vermont people are more willing to go out take a walk and cut their own tree down and get their hands a little bit dirty,” says manager Amanda Werner.

Most people make it a family outing, she says, getting outdoors and spending time together.

“Part of that is being able to come out and walk around the grounds and look at the trees. A lot of people, even the ones that end up getting a pre-cut tree, like to walk through the fields,” she says.

One visitor to the farm is Maggie Nazer, an exchange student at Middlebury College. She says in Bulgaria they bought their trees from vendors on the street. This is her first time to a tree farm, and she has friends to help her.

The group is learning a few things in the field, such as why it’s important to know the height of your ceiling before you get to the farm.

“A standard ceiling is about eight feet tall which means you might have to make it a little bit shorter. If you do, I’d suggest doing it from the bottom so you keep the shape of the tree intact,” Werner advises.

A few minutes later, they spot the one. Nazer gets to cut it down.

“Wow it smells so good,” she says.

Once the tree is brought out of the field they put netting around it and then tie it down to the car. This tree is headed to the Middlebury campus, where students will make ornaments for it.

“It’s amazing. It’s so much fun. I think it’s great just having this ritual and really be able to feel the Christmas spirit,” says Nazer.

She’s one of many getting her tree here. The farm says they sold 1,200 last year and expect to do even more this year as demand increases.

Affairs to remember

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie NazerChurch, early on a Thanksgiving morning. I close my eyes to pray but the picture that flashes before my eyes is His being on top of me, kissing me. I’m not talking about Jesus, of course, and it’s not my imagination. “If love is a sin, I’m a sinner,” I comfort myself (with the lines of a song I had never heard) proudly as I whisper, “Amen.” I am thankful to remember last night precisely: our voices, the silence, the tension between our bodies, reading a book in bed together. No hangover, no doubt that it happened, no regret whatsoever.

Hooking up is so big in college that people have come so far as to call it a “culture.” Students are so busy, stressed and dedicated to succeed in the big world that hook-ups come in handy, within the strict time-frame of Saturday nights and with the helpful assistance of lots and lots of alcohol. Yet, what does it do for us? What are the needs we try to satisfy as we dress up, go partying, get drunk and take someone to bed? Is it about intimacy, or being with someone, or even simply receiving pleasure? And do we ever get what we want?

“Waking up on a Sunday morning is heavy-duty,” my friend tells me as we sit to have brunch together later that day. Coming to terms with last night’s outcomes must be, indeed, hard to swallow (no matter of our degree of mastery). With the ecstasy of being young, drunk and alive after yet another week of Middlebury academics, comes the natural need to perform in yet another discipline – sex. Yet, how do we prove we are the high-achievers we know ourselves to be?

We drink. We drink to relax ourselves, to get ourselves excited and excused… Drunkenness is the socially accepted apology for the lack of erection, for the abandonment of restrictions and the temporary display of amnesia when you meet your late-night companion(s) in the dining hall the following morning. Drinking is the confidence booster we need to silence our fear that we aren’t good enough, or interesting enough, or sexy enough, so that we go on stealing sex from each other uninterrupted by reality. We steal what we can steal, afraid we won’t be given anything otherwise.  It’s all good until you realize you can do better than that.

The sober seduction is the ultimate turn-on. There is power in vulnerability and beauty in the creation of proximity, be it even for a night. The more present I am, the more aroused. Only presence in the given moment provides passion with existence, because it exists solely here and now, and only then forever. Reduced to its mechanics, sex offers no pleasure. Eroticism is conceived by the consent and fullest participation of everyone involved in the sexual act. In the exchange of value we call “sex,” why do we rob each other of any meaning?

As I looked at the glowing stars stuck on the ceiling of my college dorm, lying sleepless in his arms, I asked myself why the need to forget. “Life is short”- everyone around me claims as a justification of everything we do in attempt to bring ourselves what we want, which most often results in the exact opposite of it. Yet if life is short why not live it to remember it? Should the affairs we remember be only the academic ones and do we have anything to feel good about once we put our clothes back on?

We all know that sex is no more a mere instrument to reproduction. But while we are among the luckiest people ever lived on the Earth to be able to create togetherness through sex without too much fear of unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (if we are smart about it, of course!), we run away from truly being with each other afraid of its implications… As we confront our guilty consciousness after another naughty Saturday has passed, we have to accept that the most obvious consequences of our wasted hook-ups are the missed opportunities… If not for “true love”, than at least for human connection and warmth. And as we dare to open up and be with each other unmasked, naked and sober, we might find that someone would want to stay around not only for the night, but may be even after…

The article was first published in my very own “Love and sexuality” column in “The Middlebury Campus” newspaper- Vol. 112, NO. 11 from December 5, 2013; www.middleburycampus.com