According to Merriam-Webster, the definitions for the word “monogamy” (a noun) are as follows:
1. archaic : the practice of marrying only once during a lifetime
2. the state or custom of being married to one person at a time
3. the condition or practice of having a single mate during a period of time.
So, does monogamy exist? Of course it does. In fact, all three definitions are alive and well for some people, somewhere. After all, we all know of at least one couple who married young, stayed together through thick and thin and then were separated by death at an old age. And as for definition number two, monogamous marriage is the only kind that’s currently legal in the US, so the vast majority of marriages fall into this category.
Definition number three is likely the one that causes the most confusion and heartache. This definition of monogamy has inspired countless investigations, tears, outbursts, misdemeanors, blog posts, books… the list goes on. Because when most people think of the M-Word, they think of the faithful devotion of two people to each other. They think of one partner in love, one partner in life and one partner in bed. It’s a beautiful vision between lovers, until life gets in the way and one party strays.
The pain of betrayal goes deep, to say the least. It’s the kind of deceit that cuts to the core, yet leaves no visible wound. The victim is left utterly alone, feeling robbed of that which s/he held sacred. Infidelity opens a relationship (and family) to shame, humiliation and potential health risks.
The aftermath of an affair can leave hating hearts hardened and unwilling to take another romantic risk. And who could blame them? After what they’ve been through, a life of celibacy (or promiscuity) would be much easier.
In our media-bombarded society, we can learn a lot about love and sex. We can find instructions about how to “affair-proof” a marriage (supposedly, anyway). We can read personal stories from couples who overcame infidelity and now claim to be stronger and more in love than ever. We can immerse ourselves in virtual support groups for various relationship issues. And we can learn the alternatives to monogamy.
It’s no secret that monogamy isn’t the only option when it comes to romantic partnerships. Humans across the globe engage in open marriages, plural marriages and polyamorous relationships. So why are so many are stuck on the idea of a single partner?
Perhaps monogamy seems “correct” because that’s how most of us were raised. If Mr. Brady was secretly screwing Alice (or anyone else), viewers had no idea. The characters in our favorite fairy tales didn’t ride off into the sunset with multiple suitable partners. And although polygamy was practiced in biblical times, it certainly isn’t something that’s preached in the present.
All of that said, are monogamous relationships really the most moral? I guess that depends on whose moral compass you’re using.
Many animals aren’t monogamous, what if monogamy isn’t natural? It’s true, monogamy doesn’t work for everyone.
Should monogamy exist? Yes, of course it should be an option for those who choose it.
Should monogamy be the prescribed construct of all relationships? No.
It seems to me that monogamy will be less painful when we stop trying to force it. We’re evolved enough to know that we don’t all fit in the same boxes, so let’s stop making assumptions about the rules of engagement in our relationships. We need to replace expectations with continued communication to determine if monogamy is the appropriate course, and whether or not it’s working along the way. Let’s open our minds to broader ideas. When we can accept all kinds of relationships, we’re all free to find the place where we belong.