Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dissecting The Concept of Monogamy

Monogamy can be interpreted in two contexts. The common context relates monogamy to romantic love, and the other relates monogamy to marriage. In this post, I am addressing monogamy in the context of romantic love. The concept of monogamy has two common views. The first one is usually called "strict monogamy", the other is usually called "serial monogamy".

Strict monogamy states that a person has one "true love" in his lifetime. This belief is commonly held but rarely practiced. This belief is a direct derivative of the common imagery of the "one true love", and the fairy tales of the prince and the princess meeting and falling in love and living happily ever after. In this belief, there are two scenarios that can happen. The idealistic vision is that a person will experience attraction and love only once in their life, and this would be their one true love. In more pragmatic visions, a person is perceived to experience love several times in their life, but only one of their experiences in love is "true" love.

The pragmatic vision of strict monogamy is usually characterized by the concept of a "soul mate". So basically, the vision is that people live their lives, fall in and out of loves multiple of times, but those relationships that failed, failed because they were not with their soul mate, their one true love. So the people would be entering relationships in the hope of stumbling upon their soul mate, and having an everlasting relationship! In this vision, previous lovers are pictured as being somewhat inferior to the person that one ended up having an everlasting relationship with. That's to say, they were not instances of "true love", your true love is that love you finally got to after successive failures.

Serial monogamy states that a person can have only one "true love" at any point of time. There is strong similarity between the pragmatic vision of strict monogamy and serial monogamy. So, just like in strict monogamy, a person falls in and out of love several times in their life. Serial monogamy is also a commonly held belief, and is much more practiced in real life. The idea here is that a person gets a lover (usually with the title boyfriend or girlfriend), their relationship is maintained for some time, then they break up, and then enter into a new relationship. The difference from the pragmatic vision of strict monogamy that their is no belief that the love of a given person should be superior to all previous lovers. So in this belief system, you can claim that you had more than one experience of "true love". One does not have to denounce previous relationships as inferior to their current relationship in order to claim that their current relationship is sincere.

After this brief introduction to the various beliefs held for monogamous love, let's look at the implications of those beliefs.

Most people (I guess) would identify with serial monogamy. It is after all how most people conduct their relationships, although for some people their inner thoughts and feelings resonate more with the vision of the pragmatic strict monogamy. Pragmatic strict monogamy in my opinion is very insulting to the concept of love.

When I was first introduced to the concept of strict monogamy I was completely abhorred!! And yes, like most people I was introduced to this concept at a very young age. To see why strict monogamy is abhorrent, let's look at a very simple scenario:
Say that you met someone who you find to be absolutely charming, and that you find yourself in love with that person. You would characterize your love for that person as honest and sincere. In other words, it's love in it's most noble form. But then, you foresee that this person may not be in your life forever. That you may have to part with this person at some future point of time. And then you find yourself in a pickle. If you ever met someone else and felt those same noble feelings of honest and sincere love, then you have to denounce your love for the person you are currently with as "not true love"! This is because in that belief system you can only have one true love, so you either have to admit that your current lover is not the real deal, or that it is impossible that any future love that you experience is also sincere because you already consumed your one shot at true love!!

Such scenario is truly disturbing in my opinion. That if you sincerely love a person now, all your future relationships are a "fraud". Or that if you were going to have a future sincere relationship, then your current relationship is a "fraud"!! It is a very disturbing and counter-intuitive idea, and I find it truly immature to hold such belief!

Needless to say, labeling your relationships as insincere or frauds is insulting to the people that you love. So in this setup, you are being forced to insult either your current partner, or all of you future and past partners. You are being forced to value your relationships in a post-facto (after the fact) manner. Such setup obviously does not make the concept of love noble in any way, but rather one has to hold a belief of inferiority of all your relationships that did not turn out exactly the way a person envisions them.

The obvious solution to this dangerous belief is that a person can indeed have sincere feelings of love towards more than one person in his or her lifetime. To me, this instantly made me believe in polyamory. However, the concept of serial monogamy solves the same problem but with an additional condition. So, in serial monogamy it is believed that a person can have sincere feelings of love towards more than one person in his or her lifetime, BUT you can only sincerely love one person at any given point of time!

That's a really big BUT there in serial monogamy. And I believe this additional condition is misinformed. Once we understand why strict monogamy is problematic, we can easily see why serial monogamy is also problematic. I have already addressed this in a previous post, but let's get over it once more. As we have seen with the problem of strict monogamy, we are being forced to denounce certain love experiences as insincere because we perceive it as impossible to experience true love more than once in a lifetime. However, in serial monogamy we are being forced to make that same denouncement of the sincerity of love if our experiences of love happened to overlap in time.

So, for a serial monogamist, if they find that they are developing feelings and emotional connections with someone, they are instantly being forced to decide that one of their love experiences as being insincere. So, you either love this new person in your life sincerely which means that you should terminate your relationship with the person you are currently involved with, or you see the new person as a threat to your current relationship, and must destroy any emotional connection that is developing between you and that new person.

However, this notion is ludicrous in my opinion. The notion that the sincerity of one's love has to be questioned if they find themselves being emotionally connected to more than one person. In my mind, this problem at it's core is not in any way different from the problem that is raised in the context of strict monogamy. And for this reason, I think that anyone who has a problem with the implications of strict monogamy should be equally disturbed by the implications of serial monogamy!!

Again, the limitation of loving one person at a time is nothing more than a misinformed, not properly thought out, externally imposed limitation. There is nothing in our nature (at least for most people) that prevents us from wholeheartedly loving more than one person at any given point of time. And the introduction of this limitation does not make the concept of love more noble. Quite the contrary, it is debasing and insulting to the concept of love, and to the people we love!!

Polyamory, which is the belief that we can love more than one person (even at the same time), is the obvious and natural response to the problems that are being introduced by the concept of monogamy...

There are some challenges to practicing polyamory in system that idolizes serial monogamy. The problem is highlighted with the concept of cheating. In most relationship paradigms that are practiced today, having more than one relationship is indeed insulting to your lover. This is because for a person to love someone other than the one they are currently in a relationship with would involve cheating. And cheating in my opinion does challenge the sincerity of love one has for another. However, this is a problem of design and construction. In other words, when people design their relationships with the principles of serial monogamy embedded in their construction, they create a system where loving more than one person comes at direct contradiction with sincerity.

So our initial problem is persistent in such a design. If, by design, the only way a person can practice polyamory they need to cheat, then it is an obvious flaw in the design. The very purpose of polyamory (in my personal view) is that we do not undermine the integrity and sincerity of our relationships either past, current, or future. For this reason, the open-relationships design is crucial to practicing polyamory while adhering to the principles that compelled a person to hold a belief in polyamory. For a person to be able to truly love a person without compromising their integrity and sincerity with respect to their already established relationships there needs to be an understanding between partners and lovers about the principles of polyamory. So open-relationships is a paradigm design of relationships such that practicing polyamory does not undermine the concept of love, and maintains its integrity...

17 comments:

Ghadeer said...

Good article Devil I enjoyed reading it :)
As for the idea of loving one person for your life time well I agree with you, we change and life may let you live experiences that may force you to breakup, it may be rare if u met ur perfect match and u never changed ur mind though it may happen :)
I was reading your article and thinking and comparing with my own emtions and lives of people around me, there are many people who could stay and keep on loving only one person at a time, and talking abt myself, when I love one I just see them perfect and others may not mean to me not because I consider it as cheating but may be because as they say love is blind :) it stops me of looking at others and stops me even of seeing my partners weak points, I just love him from all my heart so if I compare with myself and my own emotions I believe that polyamory exists only in theory. well, I could understand your point of view, but I just dont believe you can share same level of love with more than one at the same time, if we took the example of being comitted to one person u loved and when u met another one I think even if loved that other person u will love him differently and in a different level.
I believe that our brain and the way we think controls our emotions, so it's how u decide it to be, let's suppose that you loved someone who believes in monogamy and is already in a relationship, can't you control your emotions so u let them take another direction so u wont suffer for this love? I believe u can, if u really believe that u can love anybody anytime then I think it will be easy for u to go on with ur own life without them, and it is the same thing when u r in a relationship and want to commit to one person, its all about taking decisions. Ok I know that u may think that I have no emotions because I say so, but the fact is I love many people at the same time but I can control my emotions and direct them the way I decide and no more than one person will share the same type and level of love at the same time, does this mean polyamory? I believe not because even in serial relationships we admit they were never the same, our love changes as people we love change, and if considering one love for life time is rare, we have to say that loving more than one at the same time in the same way or level is more rare :)

Devil's Mind said...

There is a distinction I want to introduce. Which is between three things:
1-Beliefs: What you believe is possible, or idealistic.
2-State of affairs: How things are or turned out to be.
3-Personal tendencies: How a person reacts in certain situations.

To demonstrate the distinction, I'll provide few examples:
- While holding a belief that a person can love more than one person. That same person might be single, or in love with just one person. This is a state of affairs that does not contradict a person's belief in the possibility of loving more than one person.

- What you describe about yourself that your personal tendency is to be so much involved with your current lover that you would not actively engage in romantic potential with other people. Hypothetically, you can still believe in the possibility of loving more than one person, although you don't actively try to realize that possibility. No contradiction here either.

So if a person happened to love only one person in their lifetime, this does not negate that they might still hold a belief in polyamory, although their life would be compatible with a belief in strict monogamy.

However, your reply did not address the problem that I mention. So, I am going to ask a personal question, though you don't have to answer, just think about what I am trying to point out.

Have you sincerely loved more than one person in your lifetime till this point?!

If the answer is yes, imagine that someone requested that you hold a belief in strict monogamy, which would imply that only one of your experiences in love was sincere, and the others were in reality insincere although you might be confused and thought they were sincere. Would you be willing to accept that belief?!

If the answer is no, then you might not see the problem, unless you try to make it into a hypothetical question.

Would you hold a belief that implies that some experiences you had were insincere?!

Ghadeer said...

First I have to say that u always have good answers :) u know how to go around every word I say :) btw it is something positive I like it :)
Back to the subject, I agree with u that there is a possibility that all of the relationships u experience are sincere :) but I was saying that they can't happen at the same time unless u accept the fact each one will hold different level or shape of love, in this case I can say that I believe in polyamory, but I still think that only one will be holding the real love stigma at the same time because of the fact that they will be different. I my personal opinion the meaning of real love changes as we grow, I may love one person differently in each stage, and it may also happen that each stage will be related to a different person and that was what u were pointing out as serial, well it is not that one of them was insincere all were sincere at that period of time. But my idea is when talking about real love that u believe in each stage it cant be in the same level or shape with more than one and this will imply that at least one of the relationships is insincere or not real.
Again if polyamory accepts the idea of experiencing different levels and types of love at the same time I think all wt u said is right, otherwise I consider it as a theory or let's say ideal situation.
I have to point out that this is MY own point of view. I do accept that people may not agree with my point of view but it is still a point of view :)

Devil's Mind said...

Well, I will address two points that are commonly raised by many people, that you too seem to find difficult.

Yes, different relationships can have different "level" and different "shape". This is true for both serial monogamy and polyamory.

Shape is mostly affected by your mental state. Say, love in high school is different from the more mature adult version. And, with different people you will have different interests and passions. So the shape depends on the combination of yourself and others.

And yes, they might be experienced at different levels or depths. However, there is a general saying for people who accept polyamory that is "loves multiplies, it does not divide".

For most people, they imagine their love as being finite, so that when they love one person they give 100%, but when they love two they might give 60% to one lover and 40% to the other. Something to that effect.

However, they way I see things, it is quite different. Loving two (or more) people does not lessen your love to other people. Each person you meet (sort of) bring their love potential with them. Or as some people say it, the more people you love, the more capacity you have for love. And there is actually much credit for that view.

So yeah, different people in your life mean different things to you. It does not all have to be the same depth or form. The different reasons and different personalities, and how those elements interact together will make each experience unique. However, one experience does not belittle or lessen the value of the other experience.

Ghadeer said...

Great! I got it better now :)
I agree that a person may love more than one at a time but each love will have its own level and shape, and I agree that they will never affect each other, I believe that more than one love relationship may share either the shape or the level at the same period of time and keep the 100% love, but they will never share both level and shape or one will overcome the others
Now when talking about real love, its shape differs in each life stage, and when talking about level we may be talking about the highest level of love, and if anybody shares the same shape and level at least one of them may not be sincere or real.

Arabobserver said...

perfect logic as usual!

Khaled said...

I think you are being trapped to define and thus constrain the concept of love.

That, for me, is one of the major problems of our modern times: the fact that people think they can define and label things.

Why complicate things. Why generalize. To each his own.

Anonymous said...

Your article hit all the right notes. I personally never believed that you fall in love and that's it - there can be no interest in others.

The belief turned into a reality when I recently found myself in that position - loving two people sincerely and passionatly at the same time. The mere thought of loving two people meant that I am cheating on one but am I?

Someone would think that you would have "control" over your feelings but that does not make sense.

I don't have an answer myself but can certainly understand and support what you are talking about.

Thank you for a good article.

Devil's Mind said...

Anonymous, glad that you could relate to my post. :)

Devil's Mind said...

Khaled, I agree to each his own. But I make those types of posts because I see that most people accept beliefs borrowed from others that in reality are not suitable for them. So, to each his own, except that for most people it's more of to each what he's told he is supposed to!!

So, I am not trying to make anyone make the same choices as mine, just give them reason to rethink positions that they take simply because they don't know make their choices consciously, and just imitate what other people are doing!!

Observer, thanks. It's not the most logical article I made. It is sentimental to some degree. But I am glad you saw the logic behind it.

Ghadeer, I don't really think it's possible that two relationships turn out exactly the same. People are too unique, and this makes it improbable to create identical relationships. However, even for arguments sake, if the experience of love for two people shared the same level and shape, why do you think that one of them is likely to be insincere?!

I know that for some people they relate exclusivity to love. So, maybe the reason you find that difficult is that you feel that if what you share with your lover is not exclusive, this takes away from the sincerity. However, I really doubt that exclusivity is a reliable measure of sincerity!!

I mean, the whole concept of monogamy revolves around exclusivity. Especially, sexual exclusivity. So, people are told that they should only have sex when they are married to keep sex exclusive. And all the reasons for monogamy are motivated by this exclusivity concept. However, is exclusivity really that much critical?!

Incognito said...

You can love a hundred people all at one time. It is a conscious decision by some to commit to one person and avoid falling in love with others... Whoever claims that you can only love one person is definitely someone who does not know what they are talking about. But the enforcing of intent, the conscious decision to commit to love one person and avoid falling in love with others is what in my opinion defines a healthy monogamous relationship: it is where both partners declare their love for another, and commit to, in face of blowing winds and the existence of potential others that can be stumbled upon along the way, to refrain from falling in love with others or letting others experience their own love. That is the beauty of relationships, that is what makes love, in my opinion, grow stronger between the two: sacrificing other potential lovers that could be otherwise found to stick to experiencing that love with just one person. That is in my opinion the purest form of love.

This is of course the opinion of someone who believes in monogamous love. It is not because I have been taught that monogamous love is what society expects that I come to this conclusion.

Love is not constant nor does it finding it with someone at some point in time mean that it will last forever. It will move in wave patterns of up and down... and our understanding of that love, our definition of it, becomes something much larger than an emotion: it becomes the overall picture of looking at the person across from you who has held your hand in the ups and downs of the journey of the wave function of love... It transforms or melts with respect and appreciation and even admiration.

If two people can agree while being true to their emotions to love one another and others as well, then it is by all means a happy arrangement. The equation of love is afterall determined by the parts that make it up, and so long as these parts perceive the and accept and understand love in the same manner, then they are more than free to experience love in the way that makes them happy.

Devil's Mind said...

Incognito, I agree with most of what you say. Especially, that monogamy and polyamory is mostly dependent on the understanding of partners of what loves means and implies.

However, there is an underlying assumption that you make in favor of monogamy that I find dubious. You say, "That is the beauty of relationships, that is what makes love, in my opinion, grow stronger between the two: sacrificing other potential lovers that could be otherwise found to stick to experiencing that love with just one person."

Why would love grow stronger by sacrificing potential lovers?! Why is this sacrifice necessary?! For this sacrifice to be necessary, it must be the case that loving more than one person belittles that person's love for his lovers. I don't think that this is necessarily true.

Actually, in some peculiar ways, this might be even less true. Which means that loving more than one person will actually strengthen the love experience for everyone involved.

In my own experience, (and you can compare this with your own experiences) a second love is stronger than first love. And third is stronger than second, and so on. This is not exact really, but my observation is that everytime a person loves they gain experience. And the experience that is being gained can be used to improve relationships that you experience later.

So, with every experience in love, a person gains knowledge about love, about themselves, and about how relationships work. And this knowledge will make newer relationships stronger.

But in polyamory, this knowledge is being gained continuously. So, if I was with person X. And later got in a relationship with person Y (while still being with person X), the knowledge I gain from my experience with Y can be used to improve my relationship with X. Hence, it is an advantage that would have been impossible to achieve in monogamous relationships.

And this is just one way that opening up a relationship can be advantageous.

Devil's Mind said...

To elaborate on my last comment, I personally see relationships and experiences in love to serve a purpose higher than simply emotional satisfaction. Every relationship is also an opportunity in personal growth. We learn about about humanity and ourselves. We learn about our emotions and what makes us and other people happy. We also learn about how to create connections with fellow humans.

In this view, other relationships will work together to make each individual relationship grow stronger. However, without this commitment to personal growth, the case for open relationships may not be as strong.

Ricky said...

simply excellent...i can't agree more...but what can you do in this predominantly monogamous culture?

Devil's Mind said...

Spread the ideas and raise questions that makes people reconsider the tenets of what monogamy stands for. Apart from that, I am not really sure what can be done.

curtis mclarty said...

this is a very great article and I agree with everything however many people that are in the monogamy lifestyle ( which i dont practice ) i find is more of a condition because this form of relationships has been passed down for many generations from babylon ( which we know is corrupt ) it was a creation to control love and boil up repression and hate and contradictory which are all negative traits i grew up to be monogamous but as i aged i questioned why it works ( but doesnt ) and i find that at the start of most relationships there is jealousy between couples after much observation its things that are said that add to the conditioning of staying monogamous such as: name calling, ( what are you a whore? ) or ( do you think that guys hot or something? ) and much more things like that and the list is endless and for me in my relationships i say no such things nor do i have jealousy i broke the programming passed on and so has my gf of 9 years we are more happier now then we ever were being monogamous there's no lies and full communication and i dont wanna come off like im putting monogamous people down but i think they need to really step back and really think about looks that have been exchanged or words that have been said to make the other feel jealous and the list really is endless love is endless and eternal by limiting it to one human is.... well i dont have a word for it because i dont want to denounce monogamy it just needs to be remodelled but i think if your wanting to have just one love then that love should be for God for no man is greater then God and to each is their own however that can be a dangerous outlook on life as when that is said man and woman just follow whatever is told to them like sheep..

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