Friday, June 27, 2008

Thoughts on Monogamy II

If anybody'd offered to pay me to write a cover story on marriage and infidelity for a glossy weekly magazine (Hi New York! Feel free to send your offer to psycheslamp at gmail dot com) these are some of the ideas I might have developed.

1. There are two distinct types of wounds inflicted by infidelity. The first is the private one involving deception and broken vows. The second is a public one. The cheated-upon spouse becomes a figure of pity, their charms and shortcomings (real or imagined) held up to public scrutiny. At best, the cheated-upon is a dupe, at worst, their successful manhood or womanhood is disputed. Even the most sympathetic reactions still assert the legitimacy of judgment. "I can't believe he'd cheat on her - she's so beautiful and accomplished" is as patronizing as Obama's much-dissected "You're likable enough" gaffe.

Divorce is currently the primary culturally-sanctioned method for the cheated-upon spouse to regain their social dignity. Forgiveness, acceptance or just plain old resignation are all socially constructed as weak and humiliating. This strikes me as a deeply unfortunate dynamic.

2. For all of the insistence on our Christian heritage, how come the virtue of forgiveness gets such short shrift? Christianity without forgiveness is like hanging Bach's Art of Fugue in an art museum to admire the symmetry of the notes on the page. How one is supposed to maintain a relationship for three weeks, let alone thirty years, without cultivating forgiveness is absolutely beyond me. And that includes the capacity to forgive infidelity.

3. The hardest part of a polyamorous relationship? Resisting the urge to say very nasty things to people who insinuate that non-monogamy is incompatible with real love. Who says such a things? Pretty much everyone who is monogamous. This, I believe, is why polyamory remains uncommon...not the jealousy, not the fear of being compared to another lover, not the difficulty of juggling multiple relationships. It's the ubiquitous voices insisting that the only true love is an exclusive love. How do you disprove this? How do you know, for absolutely certain, that there isn't some deeper connection, some more passionate level of sexuality, some more complete intimacy, that you could be having if only you were with someone else?

But really, how do you know with any relationship that there isn't something better out there?

4. I have a hard time understanding jealousy because I've never felt it with any particular strength. However, I would identify three separate aspects of jealousy: the sense of anger that someone else has taken something (time, affection, attention) that should have been yours, the sense of contamination that the thing you once had has become less valuable because someone else has used it, and the sense of fear that you are in danger of losing something that you value. I would argue that only the second of these three reactions is incapable of being addressed through some sort of rational reassurance. I would also argue that this second reaction is a demeaning, dehumanizing way of looking at one's partner that should be discouraged in all cases.


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