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The Reign of Monogamy

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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

References:


Love unlimited: or why Polyamory is good for you!

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie Nazer MouseI have been obsessing about Love ever since I was 12 and fell in love for the first time. My life over the next few years could easily be fit in one word: misery. There has been nothing I have ever wanted more than to love and be loved and thus throughout my teenage years I either pitied myself for not being with someone, suffered the consequences of my dysfunctional relationships, or grieved over my past romances. It was a vicious cycle I had fallen into and didn’t know how to break away from.

In 2012, I travelled to Thailand for a meditation retreat. The Thai monks who led the retreat promoted unconditional love and among the many different Buddhist values they introduced me to, the idea of non-attachment and non-possession in relationships were the ones I felt the most urging need to master. “Could I who was a slave of Love and always vanished into my relationships practice non-attachment and set myself free? How could it be?”- I asked myself doubtful. Yet, exhausted of the all-consuming quest for relationships and sick of searching for love outside of myself, I decided to give it a try.

It was a whole new world of perception I was entering. As I strived to learn more about the appealing practice of “love without attachment”, I wondered whether it was a mission possible for people other than ordained Buddhist monks who had anyway given up on most of worldly life’s temptations. Meanwhile, I was myself exploring Love in ways I hadn’t experienced it with a German guy, called Carsten, whom I had met on the retreat. Carsten and I spent hours talking and sharing; helping and disturbing each other’s meditations. Our relationship was unfolding easily, most naturally- without the gender games, inauthenticity and need to create conflicts to deepen the connection I had assumed to be integral components of relationships.

Magie Nazer hitchikingAs I discovered that relationships are a powerful way to learn and grow and started practicing letting go and non-possession, I opened myself for greater compassion, greater passion, and greater Love. And while Carsten and I had to part ways a couple of months later, due to the fact he was not ready to face the realities of “free love”, I knew there was no turning back for me. At about the same time I mysteriously stumbled upon the formal definition of what seemed to best incorporate the values and freedom I aspired to create and share with others- polyamory.

Polyamory or “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved”[1] goes far beyond justifying multipartnering. To practice polyamory is to be willing to face the social stigma and unacceptance, in addition to one’s own deeply rooted fears and insecurities, in order to intensify personal development and improve one’s relationships with others.  Polyamory as a spiritual practice is not much different from yoga or meditation- it takes time and effort, and determination. Yet, learning to be mindful towards oneself and others, taking control over one’s own emotions and behavior, and creating relationships based on mutual respect, love and appreciation instead of neediness, desire to dominate or fit social expectations is crucial. It is crucial because it empowers people to be effective communicators and to support each other’s growth, resulting in the creation of happier, more aware and more emotionally mature individuals.

Polyamory “is not a sign of an attachment problem or other disorder”- Tamara Pincus, D.C.-based Clinical Social Worker/Therapist says: “it as a valid relationship choice”.[2] Polyamorous relationships exist in different forms and configurations, yet are built on the premise that “openness, goodwill, truthful communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved”[3]. As I started practicing polyamory and discussed it with potential partners and friends I always came across surprised faces and repeating questions. The most stubborn one of all: “How can you love more than one person?”

Maggie Nazer, Martin Rohani, Strahil VasilevIn fact, we all practice polyamory, only without realizing it. A person has a variety of relationships and is capable of (and most often than not “guilty” of!) loving more than one person at a time. And while, of course, the love we feel for our mothers, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives is different, isn’t it Love after all?  Polyamorous people, often referred to as “poly”, do not believe that love is a scarce resource. Love is not something that If I give to you, I cannot give to someone else. For, indeed, love is different! And every time we love someone, it is as if we love for the first time for we have never loved this very same, unique person!

Polyamory does not view people as interchangeable, which is often the case in modern monogamous relationships. When people act in certain ways or reduce their array of choices out of fear not to be replaced, they are deprived from their most basic, yet most important human right- freedom. The tendency of individuals to hold themselves back to remain loved is a common denominator in many relationships. When love is assigned conditions, fear of change is installed. If the bond in a relationship is based on shared interests, views or activities, partners often feel pressured to stay as they are, so that their relationship will not be harmed. Many times people “brake up” because they become accustomed to a certain way of being together (as when they are madly in love with each other), but as they lack tolerance, when the dynamics of the relationship change (and things settle down a bit, making space for new experiences and emotions), they fail to see the positives and think their relationship is over. Lack of acceptance of change on an individual level is shadowed by non-acceptance of transformations of the relationship, too. Just as every person undergoes different processes and metamorphosis, so does any relationship. Learning to accept and value the changing dynamics is crucial to creating healthy relationships and embracing unconditional love.

Maggie Nazer Carnival PrincessSince a little girl, I had attributed to Prince Charming a long list of qualities I examined thoroughly (even though not quite consciously!) every time I was about to start a relationship. Having expectations and trying to fit men into my idea for an ideal partner was never a success. As I explored polyamory and examined relationships as we know them, I realized there will never be a single person able to fulfill all my needs and more importantly- there shouldn’t be. Every person adds something new to our lives and we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph”.[4] Objectifying people and trying to make them appear or be as we want them diminishes the chance of truly getting to know them and learning from them. The created resistance, pressure and pain cause emotional damage to everyone involved.

Another concern non-polyamorists often address is that polyamory overvalues sex. Such an argument seems to be easily proved in the context of the allowance of having multiple sexual partners in polyamory. Yet, polyamory emphasizes on building and sustaining relationships, be they sexual or not: “ Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationships.”[5] Monogamous relationships, on the other hand, clearly stress the importance of sexual exclusivity. While one’s partner is not (usually) forbidden to love other people, sharing sexual intimacy with others is an absolute taboo which implies that it is valued over everything else, “as if it is the one thing you must “own” to feel safe”- says Mystic Life, author of “Spiritual Polyamory”.

The reason why we only agree to open ourselves to one person at a time and expect the same is a matter of instruction. In “Sex 3.0- A sexual revolution manual” British author J.J. Roberts claims that monogamy was socially applied for economic reasons. The author presents a comparative analysis of the nature of sexual and social relationships starting with the Ancient nomadic societies. The nomad tribes had no notion of ownership, since they moved from place to place taking just as much as they could carry with them. Women and men contributed to the tribe equally and since the tribe was collectively taking care of all children born of the tribe, men and women were free to mate with each other according to their own free will. Ownership over land and consequently- women, was established with the agricultural revolution (“the transition from a pre-agricultural period characterized by a Paleolithic diet, into an agricultural period characterized by a diet of cultivated foods”[6]).

As men started to own and inherit the land they worked, they wanted to ensure that the children they will feed and give inheritance to will be theirs. “A system of control needed to be invented… to calm male paternity concern; a deal which allowed men to claim women as their sexual property”[7]- and thus marriage was created. But what is more- Roberts proposes- with the cultural transformation was introduced a second plane of human sexuality. The “natural” plane of sexuality is defined by nature and is observed throughout the mammal kingdom, while the plane defined by the word “normal” is prescribed by society. Consequently, many individuals who have the natural need to experience love and intimacy with more than one person feel pressured to compromise their values and carry the burden of what is considered “normal”.

While polyamory as a relationship choice offers countless benefits among which personal freedom, appreciation, conscious sexuality and relating, deepened connectedness and intensified personal growth, people remain critical as to whether they would personally consider it, pointing at jealousy as an excuse not to challenge the norm. Jealousy is described as a “secondary emotion that generally refers to negative thoughts and feelings of fear, insecurity, and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something of value – particularly a human connection.”[8] Interestingly, jealousy is often viewed as a part of the human condition we lack control over. Being jealous has nothing to do with genetics, however. Improved control over our emotions is the result of understanding the underlying forces which trigger one’s outbursts of jealousy.

Maggie Nazer in SofiaAttending a workshop on emotion management, I learned that whenever a negative emotion arises, it is because of the lack of its positive counterpart. Whenever one feels jealous, for instance, it is an indicator that one’s need for love, or security is not met. Knowing what lies in the core of one’s emotions, significantly increases the chances of positively resolving the issue. Whether it is by receiving help or working alone on personal issues as low esteem or people attachment, or giving honest feedback that our needs are not met or that we feel threatened by certain situations are some of the options that create not only more self-knowledge and opportunities for growth, but ultimately- more love. Respecting your partner’s freedom to experience intimacy with others is a sign of spiritual maturity: “sharing the body of another human being is the greatest ego challenge we face in our desire to experience unconditional love”, “Spiritual Polyamory” insists. As jealousy and control are transcended, joy overtakes. For what can be greater than seeing your partner happy, even if it is not always you the one to bring this happiness.

“It’s funny how heterosexuals have lives and the rest of us have “lifestyles”- Sonia Johnson, American feminist activist and writer, adds. Undoubtedly, polyamory has a long way to go before it manages to overcome all deeply rooted cultural prejudices which inhibit our thinking. As polyamorists we have a long way to go to challenge the status-quo (“Nearly all of romance and sexuality has been portrayed in a monogamous context. People who are in love with someone and fall in love with someone else are usually demonized”)[9] and earn the humane respect that is our birth-right. The biggest challenge for all of us, no matter how we distribute our Love, is to stay engaged and strive to improve ourselves and bring the most out of the people we share our lives with and the relationships we build with them. Continuously. One at a time or simultaneously altogether, for those of us who like a good challenge.

Maggie Nazer happy


[1] See wikipedia
[2] Huffington Post, The Polyamorist On The Couch: Q&A With Tamara Pincus On What Therapists Should Know About Big Love, 12/12/2013
[3] Alan M. “Five speeches from Poly pride Weekend”, Polyamory in the News, Oct. 20, 2008
[4] Elie Wiesel, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code
[5] Wikipedia; Polyamory
[6] Wikipedia; Agricultural Revolution
[7] http://sexthreepointzero.com/wiki/index.php?title=Sex_3.0
[8] http://www.bandbacktogether.com/jealousy-resources/
[9] Mystic Life, “Spiritual Polyamory”

Mapping Relationships

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Mapping Relationships

Yes, it is THAT complicated!

I found this “map” of relationships which explores the variety of relationships that exist within the romantic and sexual realm of our communication. Polyamory, Monogamy, Swinging, Cheating, Open Relationships and other all have a place in this attempt to present the different options that we might often not even hear of.
Then again, every person brings more to the table and there are literally as many love styles as there are people on the Earth.
And this makes up for a vast field of exploration :P Doesn’t it?