Thursday, November 22, 2018

Toxic Monogamy Culture

Administrivia: work schedule change. Yes, another one, and a first for me. I have elected to work 11am-9pm four days a week in exchange for three day weekends. This starts December 4. I'm not sure how long I'll be allowed to do this, but I'm grateful to get my weekends back.

It's American Thanksgiving, otherwise known as "the day before Black Friday". My calendar on my work computer had a reminder for me this morning: tomorrow is the "Day After Thanksgiving". Ha.
The juxtaposition is amusing to me: supposedly, today is about being thankful for what you have, while tomorrow is the day you forget all that in the quest for more C.R.A.P. (Cheap Random Assorted Product).
Boring here today. Have to write something.  Casting around for things to write about. Well, I've covered toxic masculinity a few times...let's do toxic monogamy culture.  ("Toxic" is the word of the year for 2018, I kind of had to work it in.)

Before I do this, let me make a few things perfectly clear. One: monogamy itself is not toxic, not in the slightest. Two: what I'm about to write applies to all sorts of relationships...especially monogamous ones. Three: read number one again.

I'd better clarify number one, come to think of it. Just like there's nothing intrinsically toxic about being male, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being monogamous. Monogamy is a choice, a very powerful and affirming choice. What it ISN'T is a default. If you consciously chose monogamy, all the power in the world to you. If you didn't have a say in the matter, you're a victim of toxic monogamy culture.

You know what they say about "assume". (Never understood how when "u" assume, it makes an ass out of me as well as u, but whatever.) Be it masculinity ("the only acceptable negative emotion for males to express is anger") or monogamy ("she completes me"), it's those assumptions that are toxic.

Here are some more widely believed tenets that are toxic:

It has boggled my mind roughly forever that many people think jealousy is proof of love. It's patently obvious that jealousy is the exact opposite of love.
I have two different definitions of jealousy I use, depending on context:

1) Jealousy is wanting what someone else has, such that they can't have it anymore. This is distinguished from envy, which is simply wanting what someone else has.

Note the pronouns here: what and it. We're talking about things here.

PEOPLE ARE NOT THINGS, and loving people properly (i.e. unconditionally) means loving them even as they walk their path away from you.
This does NOT mean that you take relationships for granted. Quite the opposite, in fact, because relationships are about the people in them. I will fight like hell for the people in my life...but if it ever becomes clear to me that I'm no longer serving them, then love demands I let them go. Which brings me to

2) Jealousy is pain at another's happiness--almost as monstrous as schadenfreude, which is happiness at another's pain.

It is possible to be happy for someone's happiness while feeling every bit of your own pain. I had someone cut me out of her life very suddenly earlier this year--for the second time. The first time was at the behest of her boyfriend of the time. The second was her doing alone, without so much as a word of explanation. Oddly enough, it was the first time that felt like a death, and I mourned it for a full year. The second time was instant, and unquestionably FINAL, and yet--

I can't deny it hurt. Still does. I've lost entirely too many people along the way, sometimes very much intentionally, but often without much of a clue as to the whys and wherefores. I miss -- let's call her Olga, she told me once, here in a comment to this blog, that it was her web name in a discarded time, and I miss her all the more for the lack of explanation. And yet--

Olga was the sort of woman that a certain sort of man homes in on with uncanny speed...which is to say, she was a doormat. She'd had nothing but abusers for partners, and I aspired to be a partner to her, one who would treat her the way she deserves to be treated.

Ditching the nasty boyfriend was the first actual OLGA-action she had undertaken in at least nine years. Ditching me was about the third. And even as I cried and wondered what the hell just happened, part of me was cheering her on: you go, girl.

Do you know everyone you ever swore you'd love for life
I don't know them anymore
I know their names
I'd recognize them on the street and I don't love them
--Barenaked Ladies, Maybe Katie

Well, I do. I do love them.

The idea that a sufficiently intense love is enough to overcome any practical incompatibilities.

I refer to this as the "prayer paradigm", because that's where I first saw it. If you pray hard enough, and your faith is sincere enough, blah blah blah. I apologize to my religious friends, but author Gary Jennings had the perfect comeback to this: "pray into one hand and piss into the other and see which fills up faster".

This little morsel of toxic monogamy is rooted in oh so many fairy tales. Kiss that frog and he'll turn into your (one and only) true love of a prince. Yeah, um, life doesn't really work that way. You can love that frog all you want, but be prepared for the guys in the white coats when you start smooching him. He's a frog, you freak. Talk about practical incompatibilities.

I am acutely aware of every practical incompatibility. In fact, I lay them all out, practical and otherwise, right out front: like Jonathan Larson said in RENT, "Life is short, babe, time is flyin'/I'm looking for baggage that goes with mine." Those incompatibilities -- distance being the biggest and most intractable for me -- scare me, precisely because I KNOW that no matter how strong my love is, it's not enough.

The idea that you should meet your partner's every need, and if you don't, you're either inadequate or they're too needy.

This is maybe the hardest part of polyamory for the monogamy-minded to understand: IT'S NOT ABOUT "NOT ENOUGH". I'm going to tell you something that's probably going to confuse you: Eva is enough. Always was. We didn't open our relationship in search of something missing. I think people who do that are more than likely doomed to fail.

And yet. There are interests she shares with Mark that she does not share with me...and interests she shares with her best friend Lisa that she doesn't share with EITHER of us, and that's NORMAL.

We are all enough...but we are also part of the tapestry of each other's life. Look at the next tapestry you see and ask yourself if it's "inadequate". Stupid question, isn't it? Unanswerable, even?

If you are monogamous, don't put the burden of fulfillment on your partner. Even if he fills every last need you can imagine right now, both she and you will change over time, and nobody deserves that kind of impossible expectation placed on them.

The idea that a sufficiently intense love should cause you to cease to be attracted to anyone else

This one chokes off potential friendships...or kills marriages dead. It goes like this:

I love A, A is the woman for me, I love her so so, B over there is kind and funny and wise and ---shit. I really am attracted to B. Does that mean I don't REALLY love A? Maybe it does. Or maybe this attraction to B is not real. Meanwhile A just told me she's really crushing on C, so what the hell? Does she love me or not?

Pull yourself back from the situation and think about this logically a minute. When you partnered up with A, it was because of a set of qualities she has. She didn't stop having those qualities when the ring went on.  Neither did you stop having those qualities that attracted A to you. (I hope). So why, why, WHY do we insist that our partner is the most beautiful person in the known universe...but only to us; to everyone else our partner must be loathsome? How does that even make sense?

And yet memes like this are distressingly common:

Ugh. Congratulations, you've made your boyfriend an object. Twice you've said "he is mine", the exact way you'd say a treasured knickknack on your shelf was yours. Pro tip: your boyfriend is not "yours", he is his. Just like you are not his, you are yours.

Also, consider what this is saying about your relationship: it's obviously extremely weak. After all, if another woman can merely THINK about him and he'll desert you for her, maybe he's not worth "having" in the first place.
Hell, this makes me so angry maybe I'LL fantasize about your boyfriend just to spite you. It's not like you can stop me, right? Wow, look at those hands. I bet he's....

(ahem. Wee sexuality adjustment, please stand by)

(not that there's anything wrong with that)

Right. Moving on, no less manful but much less full of a man, so to speak:

The idea that commitment is synonymous with exclusivity

Again, I go to the "friends" analogy here. Are you committed to your best friend? Yes? I hope so. SO WHY DO YOU HAVE OTHER FRIENDS? Doesn't that lessen your commitment somehow?

Of course it doesn't. Having a second child doesn't lessen your commitment to the first and buying a car doesn't lessen your commitment to your mortgage and having other partners doesn't lessen your commitment to any of them. If you choose one partner, awesome, great. Just don't tell those of us who have more than one that "we must not really love" one of them. I could punch you with my left fist and you'd feel it the same as if I used my right. Think about that.

The idea that marriage and children are the only valid teleological justifications for being committed in a relationship

Teleowhatsis now? That ten dollar word is just a fancy way of saying "purpose", or better, "final purpose". In other words, hello, relationship escalator.

This is less of an issue nowadays because increasingly the younger set are forgoing marriage ("pointless") and children ("who the hell can afford them") altogether. But still it lingers: the first date must lead to the second, and so on, until you get married, own your own house, and have kids (which I must say again aren't even IN the standard set of marriage vows!) If you don't progress up that escalator, your relationship is a failure, and if you skip a bunch of steps, or appear in two different places on the escalator once, please stop being impossible.

People get into relationships for all sorts of reasons, none of which are any of your business, and they stay, or don't stay, in relationships for lots more reasons, none of which are any of your business. Which is the failure: the loveless marriage where we "stay together for the sake of the kids", or the divorce when we realized we were no longer serving each other's best interests? I'd suggest the former is more damaging (with the caveat that if you brought kids into the world, you have a lifelong responsibility towards them and, by extension and as distasteful as this sounds, to the other parent.)

The idea that your insecurities are always your partner's responsibility to tiptoe around and never your responsibility to work on

If you are confused by this, substitute the word "jealousies" for "insecurities". They mean the same thing, after all.
No, it's not your partner's responsibility to text message you every two hours with a picture of where she is. It's your responsibility to ask yourself what the fuck you're that afraid of, and then remind yourself that people live up or down to our expectations of them.
I know someone whose wife accused him of cheating on her nearly every day over a period of years. He wasn't, but eventually he decided if he was going to be tarred with that brush no matter what, he may as well reap the benefits. And do you know what? I don't blame the guy one...little...bit.
I used to work for a boss who accused every one of her employees of stealing. (Ironically, she was projecting: she was trying to cover for her own thefts.) But some of those employees, innocent at first, eventually did steal from her.

Trust is key in any relationship, monogamous or polyamorous. (Yes, there's trust galore in poly relationships....arguably more. When other choices AREN'T off limits, you have to place a lot of trust in your partner that she won't leave you for one of those choices. Of course, I'd rather flip that and ask "why leave A when you can also be with B".

The idea that your value to a partner is directly proportional to the amount of time and energy they spend on you, and it is in zero-sum competition with everything (and everyone) else they value in life

I have struggled with this one, I won't lie. It's a holdover from monogamy, when I spent virtually all my time with E--
wait. I worked eight hours a day five days a week. I spent time with family and friends, time I could have spent with Eva instead but I didn't and that must mean I don't value my wife....


I hate to rank my friends.  But I think it's fair to say my closest are, in no particular order, Nicole, Craig, Sue, and Jason.
I see Nicole every couple of months.
I see Sue four or five times a year,  despite her living practically next door.
Craig, maybe twice a year if I'm lucky.
Jason, once every other year,

And I'd take a bullet for any of them without the slightest hesitation. These are immensely valuable people that I hardly ever see. Would I like to see them more? Hell, yes. But life gets in the way, and hey, I know that I mean a lot to each of them as well.

I've always wondered if I could successfully maintain a comet relationship. (Comet: poly term for a partner you rarely see, but love fiercely when you do.) Of course I could. I have four very close comet friends, after all.

Now, I'll be honest (I'm never anything but, to a fault sometimes): I miss Kathy if I go too long without seeing her, and "too long" is an embarrassingly short period of time. But I no longer find myself wondering if that length of time between visits means I don't matter as much as I thought I did.

The idea that being of value to a partner should always make up a large chunk of how you value yourself

Because that's what life is about, isn't it? You must find a partner (only one, mind you!) and then you must keep that partner, and if you fail to do either of those things, you're a failure at life.


Never mind being of value, look at the way we talk about partnership: "she completes me". "He's my better half". This idea that we are not whole until we've partnered up is just crazy. But I know a self-declared feminist who does place an awful lot of self-value on how she appears to men, and who wouldn't last a week without one by her side. I know men who go from woman to woman like a bee at flowers, and who wouldn't know what to make of themselves without a convenient hole partner in their lives. Either way, it's wrongheaded. Just like how you're enough, you are a complete person and you ought to realize you're special (just no more special than anyone else).

Love your partner or partners. Be the best version of the grandest vision you ever had about yourself--and allow your partner(s) to be the same. Choose monogamy or choose polyamory--only make sure it's a choice freely and consciously made.

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