With so many relationship options now available and acceptable, why would anyone choose to be with just one person, asks Carrie Laski.
We’ve all been there. You’re listening to great song, the tempo picks up, the beat starts to get your blood pumping, and you’re almost ready to break out those dusty dance moves when—BWOMP—something happens. The music drops suddenly into a mess of bass often accompanied by unidentifiable scratching sounds. Where did the song go? You’re not sure what went wrong, but suddenly you’ve lost the urge to dance, and you can’t figure out what to do with your arms/legs/head. You look around at others for a clue, but many of them seem just as confused. Or they look like they are convulsing, and you seriously consider dialing a paramedic.
This is how I feel about monogamy. At this stage in life, and perhaps I am speaking from the limited view of an early 20-something, being in a committed relationship with only one person is beyond my comprehension. Just like dubstep is. I believe that it is possible to have a fulfilling emotional, sexual, and intellectual relationship with more than one person. At the same time. I also believe that this fragmentation is necessary and even natural in our new and changing society, whereas monogamy is not.
These words are not the product of a jaded child of divorce. My parents have been happily married for over 25 years, so happily that I rarely ever recall seeing them fight. I grew up in the best possible household to advocate for marriage and monogamy, and yet I am proposing alternate options, namely open relationships in which all partners understand and accept the premises. This type of freedom helps those involved figure out what—and how much—they actually want out of a relationship. It also prevents the constricting feelings of obligation that suffocate people who pledge commitment and allows them to spend time with each other out of sheer desire to do so, without the nagging “I have to go because he’s my boyfriend,” or “She’s my girlfriend so I need to hang out with her tonight” refrains. Relationships should be about enjoying another person’s company and not dragging yourself around shackled like the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The recent trend in relationship writing is to bemoan the death of monogamy, but I’m wondering if it is such a sad thing to wave goodbye to? Hasn’t our society moved past other social phenomena without even a glance in the rearview mirror? I’m sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t want to see the return of practices like familial spouse selection or extreme Victorian chastity and sexual repression. These and other outdated rituals only seem to lead to marital dissatisfaction and troublesome mental states.
I for one have no desire to drown myself in a lake because I cannot bear a loveless marriage (ahem, Kate Chopin). I would rather rid myself of the burden by having the choice to adjust my relationships as I and my hypothetical partner see fit, almost like turning up or down the gas on the stove: too high and the pot will boil over; too low and it will stay cold. Men and women should be free to find our happy mediums, even if it includes adding another person to the mix or extinguishing the flame altogether.
And I don’t think these options should exist only for “single people” but also married ones. Here I’m recommending a fundamental change to the institution of marriage because it is not realistic to pledge yourself completely to another person at age 26, or 36, or even 46. People change their opinions and situations so often that what might make sense at one point in their lives might not keep working 10 years later. In keeping with that notion, relationships should be fluid as well.
But because monogamy is the current, most societally acceptable way of being with another person romantically, we still get articles that attempt to pinpoint exactly why young people are trending away from it (or at least taking longer to get there). Online dating is a favorite target of many authors because it is easy to blame technology for our own personal failings, and now there’s another thought: inequalities in education.
One article claims the lack of college educated men is what’s driving the downtick in committed relationships. College educated people tend to mate with other college educated people, and now that more women hold degrees from four-year institutions than men, a gap is opening up and widening. What will these poor, smart women do? However, if we think historically, more men finished college than women, and that statistic didn’t eat away at monogamy. In 1970, just over 10% of women aged 25-34 received a four-year degree, compared with double that percentage of men, and marriage was still at the root of American society. What is the fundamental difference between educated men and educated women with regards to their choices to marry or not? I don’t have the answer for this, and I’m open to hypotheses.
What I do know is that modern women are no longer stuck with the roles of child-bearer and protector of young. We have options available to us now that afford us room to be what we want, and to do what we want with our lives instead of being assigned the role of mother hen or incubator.
If those roles are what we want, that’s wonderful, and we should go for it, but now we don’t necessarily have to go down that road. We have control over our menstruation, our ability to have children, and our choices in sexual/romantic partners. As societal acceptance of LGBTQ couples increases, our choices are not even limited to men anymore. With this veritable buffet of alternatives, I don’t see how it makes sense to limit ourselves to one person. I’m not saying everyone should immediately run outside and hop into bed with the first attractive person they see, but I think it would be nice to have the option.
With a clear view of all available choices, we are able to narrow down what we actually want instead of feeling like our noses are being pushed in one direction without our say. And some of us might choose monogamy. And that’s OK. Right now I personally don’t see the draw, so I’ll just keep dancing to the beat of my own heart while trying not to mess with things I don’t understand. Like dubstep.
Carrie Laski is a 20-something barista/writer living in Chicago. She enjoys discussing the psychology of relationships and also writes for thoughtcatalog.com.