Some thoughts on relationship assumptions
And what I was in Qatar filming ;)
I’ve been thinking a lot about love and sex and relationships and dating and the structures and assumptions and woundings that inform all of those things, that dictate how we feel about them and how we approach - or don’t approach - them, for quite a while now.
As readers of The Greater Freedom will know, it was my inability to act on my sexual desires in the way that I wanted to, in the ways that I thought a liberated woman should, that first made me want to write the book, that first alerted me to the fact that I was a woman; one informed and therefore at times stifled by assumptions and expectations of what a woman was supposed to want, supposed to behave like, supposed to be. Once I tugged at that thread, all of the other assumptions and expectations became starkly illuminated, and also came tumbling down.
One of the assumptions and structures that most informs our socialisation is that of monogamy as a natural, biological imperative. Perpetuated by beliefs like Plato’s; that we are divided at birth, doomed to spend our lives in search of our other halves, the assumption of monogamy tells us that we are half people, that we are not whole until we find that one perfect person to spend our lives with.
Many other harmful assumptions follow; that when we find that person, if they so much as look at another person it means they clearly don’t love us, that we are clearly not enough, because if they did, if we were, they wouldn’t even want to look at someone else; that this romantic relationship should be the central one, the most important one in our lives, should give us everything we want and need to the detriment of all other relationships; that the existing gender roles in relationships are the ones we have no choice but to follow here, too; that there is something wrong with us if we don’t have that, if we don’t want it, or don’t want it to look exactly how we’ve been told it’s supposed to look. The assumptions that follow are, in fact, endless.
But what if it’s not true? What if monogamy is not, in fact, coded into our DNA - as many argue it isn’t? What if it’s a societal construct, rather than something that comes naturally? Indeed, in a world in which 50% of marriages end in divorce - many due to “marital infidelity”, it doesn’t seem like it does in fact come all that naturally.
In truth, there is much to suggest that monogamy has only been the norm for the last 1000 years and is actually an ideology and an ideal perpetuated by Christianity, and honed by the agricultural revolution - when people began to own and farm land - making it important to be able to establish clear lineage for inheritance purposes. Studies suggest that only 17% of human cultures are strictly monogamous, with the vast majority of human societies embracing a mix of relating styles. So, why this insistence to contort into boxes that leave so many unhappy; that are not flexible enough to encompass us, or the realities of being human?
“At its best monogamy may be the wish to find someone to die with; at its worst it is a cure for the terrors of aliveness. They are easily confused.” - Monogamy, Adam Phillips.
Reaching a conclusive answer as to whether monogamy is nature or nurture is not as important to me as removing monogamy from the default setting and broadening out the conversation so that we can have it. Indeed, the harm caused by the fact that we are socialised to believe that it is so indubitably true that we can’t even question or talk about it at all; that we can’t even think of ways of relating or lives outside of it without shame and accusations of being deviant is, what seems to me, the real tragedy, and a recipe for disaster.
That monogamy used to mean one person for life, and now means one person at a time shows that our definition of it has already changed, and can and will continue to change. As it should. Because if connection and love are so important and beautiful, then why are we policing it? Why are trying to put love in a box? What if love is expansive and limitless and all the rules and assumptions around it are actually harming our connections?
Of course, there have always been people and communities that have questioned these assumptions; that have found ways to live outside of them. That number has surely increased in more recent years, or at least become more visible, and many are increasingly rewriting traditional relationship rules.
More people are getting married later, or not at all, than ever before. More people are cohabiting without getting married, or having children outside of “wedlock” or not having children at all. A 2020 study from You Gov America found that just as many millenials (43%) say they want a monogamous relationship as do a non-monogamous relationship. And that’s just a few examples.
What’s more, we increasingly have broader definitions of what constitutes a worthy and worthwhile relationship, and an understanding that relationships can be both successful *and* temporary, as well as feeling like these traditional milestones are outdated, and no longer as relevant or important.
These changes, this broadening, makes it easier for people like me, like us, to think about things like the importance of romanticising your own life - in essence, not waiting to be coupled up before allowing yourself to partake in your own fulfilled existence, to the revolutionary rise of situationships, to doing things differently, even within marriage, to thinking about being childfree, and so, so much more.
That broadening, that ability to question and consider these assumptions and structures is not just important for those that live and love on a scale of polyamory, but for everyone, in fact. There are many things we can learn from people who have un-defaulted monogamy, even for those who are in a monogamous relationship or are monogamy-leaning; things like jealousy management, open communication and boundaries.
It’s only by questioning everything, testing our assumptions and the institutions that have grown from them that we are able to live and love and form relationships that are authentic and fulfilling and equitable, rather than just stepping onto a relationship escalator in which every single stage, every single step is already defined and assumed. Because our unconsciously buying into these assumptions informs the choices we make or don’t make, the conversations we have or don’t have and ultimately the lives we live - or don’t live.
Much of this is what I was flown to Doha to talk about, just a few weeks ago.
I shared on Instagram how nervous I was for the talk, and also that I’m not allowed to provide any more detail about it just yet. Weeeeelll, if you’re a paid subscriber, keep reading because I’m going to do a little cheeky reveal about what I was getting up to, below, along with some exclusive photos from the filming. If you’re yet to upgrade your subscription, you can do so here to gain access. Paid community members receive additional perks - and more and more of this, as I continue to find my feet on this platform.
The talk in Doha was truly a milestone career moment, and helped to further develop so many of these thoughts that I’ve been thinking. I can’t wait to be able to share more with you all soon, inshallah.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on monogamy - do please reply to this letter and let me know what you think. I’ve also put together a list of books that have helped inform my views on all of this. You can check it out here, if you fancy.
PS, if you missed it, check out March’s recommendations.