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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mary had a little lamb.

Once upon a time (I just love starting articles that way) I had a girlfriend. We started dating when I was about 15 yrs old. Like all teens we had our ups and downs and eventually went our separate ways. She married, had kids and I did the same. During that time we stayed friends though our communications were sporadic. After we both divorced we tried dating a couple of times but things just never really developed beyond a good friendship with the occasional physical venture, or adventure if you prefer.

Now that you know the history we can get down to the gritty pieces with a girl we'll call Lucy.

During the history I have outlined Lucy has pretty much been a serial monogamist. She comes from a fairly strict Christian family so my lifestyle is somewhat of a problem. Over the years I've explained to her my Polyamorous beliefs. And we talk enough, about the details of our lives, for her to know how I manage my relationships.

I've watched her enter into relationship after relationship, with guy after guy, who cheats on her. Lies to her. Hides things from her. I've heard about the guys she later found out were married. The guys who had other girlfriends. The guys who only wanted sex and dumped her soon after they got it.

Most recently the drama was a guy she was dating who was also dating another woman. Both Lucy and the other woman thought they were having a relationship with the guy. Thanks to the wonders of Facebook they both realized what was going on. The guy's response; "I'm not in a relationship with either of you." Obviously his way of saying; "I didn't lie to you". I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say no, he didn't lie. But he wasn't forthcoming about a situation he created that he knew was wrong.

What struck me about this was Lucy's reaction. She told the guy they could still be friends and even hinted she might be willing to continue dating him as long as he didn't hide the fact he was dating another woman.

Now for the rest of this to make sense I need to admit that I love Lucy. I'm honestly not sure of the depth of that love but I do know that were I unable to ever have a romantic relationship with her, I would still love her. We have shared enough of our lives and our emotions that I will always care for her.

What doesn't make sense is that Lucy doesn't want a romantic relationship with me because of my lifestyle. She doesn't like the idea of 'sharing' me with someone else and the concept of Polyamory conflicts with her Christian beliefs. Yet I won't lie to her about dating others or the details of those relationships, I would have no reason to cheat, and would definitely want a relationship more substantial than just sex.

Why is it that some monogamists often will come to accept infidelity, dishonesty, and betrayal in their relationships after having successive relationship failures most of their lives. It is almost as if after a certain number of failures we begin to believe the flaw must not be in the people, but in the design, and the flaws will need to be accepted for the design to work.

Strangely, while accepting those flaws, the same people will still disapprove of Polyamory claiming that it is a flawed design that disrupts the sanctity of marriage, family values, morality, and a number of other things.

Which leads us to my question of the day. Assuming a monogamist has come to the point I mention above, where the flaws are accepted, what makes their relationship design different from Polyamory? They may be having a relationship with someone who is sleeping with someone else. Granted, they will be hiding it or lying about it, but beyond that are Poly and Mono much different? To push the point, I think Poly would be preferable then as it would exclude the bad parts of the relationship like lying, deceit, etc.

Have you noticed this same progression of events with your life, or with your friends lives? Do you think people come to a point in their lives or relationships where Polyamory and Monogamy overlap or are very closely related? Or once again, am I alone in the cornfield suffering delusions from excessive use of moonshine?


  1. "It is almost as if after a certain number of failures we begin to believe the flaw must not be in the people, but in the design, and the flaws will need to be accepted for the design to work."

    I would offer that we come to believe the flaw is in the people and therefore we come to expect cheating and the like. I don't know too many who try to negate the benefits of traditional marriage -instead you get how to books and internet sites and counselors giving you tips on how to take care of your marriage.

    I took my daughter to the bookstore, when she was about 20 and showed her all the books on how to fix your marriage, how to affair proof your marriage, how to keep the love alive, how to get over the affair, and on and on. Those books are aimed not at the design but at the people. Spend more time together, develop separate hobbies and whatever else they may say. I told my daughter that if I had seen as many books on how to fix my Camry, how to keep my Camry from breaking down and how to pay for my repairs, do you think I would have bought a Camry. No...all these books would indicate a design flaw. Now if I had bought the Camry after knowing these issues would occur, then that is my own problem!

  2. Shelly,

    Thanks for a great comment. You make a persuasive argument and provided me with a nice paradigm shift on the topic!

    I think maybe our points overlap a bit. For example, if a woman forgives her cheating husband I think she is accepting the flaws of the person. On the other hand, a woman who has forgiven multiple men for cheating on her, or forgiven her husband for multiple affairs, in my opinion has by default accepted a change to the design of her relationships. She is now allowing that her mate cheating on her is a common component of her relationships. A supporting example is the numbers of times I’ve heard a woman say “Men have a hard time keeping it in their pants”. Yes there is humor in the statement but, probably also a nugget of honesty.

    Although I agree with you about the number of books you mention on repairing a marriage being aimed at people rather than the design, the argument works the other way as well. If monogamy was a good design, including the people, then there wouldn’t be very many books on repairing monogamous relationships.

    In the last paragraph I said “…including the people…” and here is why; Continuing your theme of a car, I guarantee you I could build a car that nobody could drive. Designing a car inherently has to include the ability of a human to drive that car. To build a car otherwise would most probably be considered a design flaw. To some extent I think of monogamy the same way. The design is to facilitate relationships between people. People are one of the major components, just as with a car. So to use a design that doesn’t consider limitations of one of the major components is, in my mind, a design flaw.

    Despite my arguments here I do agree with you to a point. Back to the car example again; you can build a car with a design that considers the person but if the person drives the car improperly (drunk, aggressively, or recklessly) there will be problems which really aren’t a fault in the design of the car. The fault will be with the person.

    Which brings me to your closing statement; “Now if I had bought the Camry after knowing these issues would occur, then that is my own problem!”
    Bravo! What an awesome observation!

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this comment. Thanks for giving my brain cells a kick in the pants!


  3. You are welcome. I hope it did not hurt when I kicked!

    I wonder if the design problem is not marriage but the behavior that is expected in marriage, as dictated by society.

    I believe men can keep it in their pants, just like women can keep from gossiping and being petty and catty. By a woman “allowing” her husband to cheat she is accepting a behavior that is told to her by society is wrong. Of course the other side of that coin, is cheating the character flaw or is lying? To me his flaw is his dishonesty, not the inability to keep his pants zipped up. One should not accept that type of dishonesty in a relationship, so what is the woman getting out of it? It is a dance between two people. Why does she accept that “flaw?” Fear of loss? Fear of failure?

    I see where you are going with your argument with the car and people drinking while driving. It too is a behavior that has been handed down as inappropriate…most likely because someone will get killed. We are not going to change the basic design of the automobile or its culture to facilitate the relationship between the car and people.

    I do believe we should look the society’s unrealistic expectations in the design of the man made institution of marriage. You and I both know loving others is not a character flaw but such is the design of marriage – it makes people feel guilty and angry over love and sex, beautiful and natural feelings and behaviors.

    After I read your reply to my comment I have to rethink my line, if I bought the Camry knowing the problems then that is my fault. The expectations of society are strong…even though we read every day the affairs, the failure of marriages, is it really my fault if I am doing what millions of people expect me to do? It seems buying a car which has a bad design is truly my problem, getting married, even in the midst of all the stuff that could go wrong, is condoned and expected by society.

    I may have gone down a primrose path here! Thanks for making me think.

  4. Shelly,

    A good kick is what I need sometimes. No harm done!

    Questioning societal expectations of behavior by married couples is a very interesting question. At that point is cheating a flaw of the design, or a flawed expectation of the design. To geek out for a moment; if I were to design a software program to paint pictures but the user community expected the program to wash their car there is a problem. But you make a good point; is the flaw in the design or in the expectations placed on the design? I think it could be argued either way so for now I’ll just leave that one alone. I loved the point you made though.

    Your statement “You and I both know loving others is not a character flaw but such is the design of marriage – it makes people feel guilty and angry over love and sex, beautiful and natural feelings and behaviors.” really got me thinking. I’m not sure there isn’t a character flaw involved. I say that because I think if people know the expectations, societal or their own, that are placed on a marriage (or simply a monogamous relationship) when they agree to that relationship and then can’t abide by those expectations the error was theirs, not the design of the relationship. If they then feel guilty or angry over love and sex isn’t it because they have put themselves into a relationship design they don’t enjoy?

    Note to everyone. . . Let me take a step back here because I’m probably sounding like a monogamy and marriage basher and I’m really not. (I have an article coming soon that touches on this subject more). I actually believe monogamy is a healthy and appropriate way for some people to live. Just not for me. I think some people need the security and socially qualified set of well known rules that come with monogamy. They are just simply wired that way. And I believe in marriage. Commitment in my mind isn’t a bad thing. If two (or more) people feel a strong inherent need to create a tangible bond in the form of a license, certificate, vows, or even just a ceremony to show their friends I think that is great for them. Just not for me. For some people marriage and commitment are wonderful, beautiful things that help define their lives, give them a sense of purpose, and provide satisfaction.

    I’m not sure about the comment “…is it really my fault if I am doing what millions of people expect me to do?” I have a hard time not reading that comment and immediately thinking ‘Peer pressure’.

    And I agree that buying a car with a bad design for the most part will be your fault. Likewise with marriage, condoned and expected by society as you mention, if the marriage is broken you will be at fault. Society isn’t going to help you fix the car or your marriage.

    I just had an interesting thought. Marriage is only legal between a man and woman in most of the U.S. The argument could be made that because marriage has been defined by the government to exclude classes of citizens they have by default both created disadvantaged classes (which often leads to discrimination) and endorsed a system (marriage) that has an exceptionally high failure rate. At that point wouldn’t the government bear some responsibility for the results? Maybe they should be providing divorce aid? Maybe mental health care to the disadvantaged classes they created? (I can almost hear my taxes going up).

    Shelly, I’m going to step back onto the primrose path now. I like the view there much better. Maybe I’ll see you there!