The definition of marriage has changed, and it is still constantly evolving. Being married no longer means one man and one woman. I’m not just talking about the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, but exactly what goes on behind closed doors between a husband and his wife. I’m talking about swinging, polygamy, and other types of open relationships.
There are significant differences between the lifestyles that fall under the umbrella term “open relationships.” There are several forms of non-monogamy, including:
Polygamy: “a form of marriage consisting of more than two persons. The most common form of multiple-partner marriage is polygyny, a marriage of one husband and multiple wives who are each sexually exclusive with the husband. There is also polyandry, which is one wife and multiple husbands.”
Swinging: “committed couples consensually exchanging partners specifically for sexual purposes.”
Polyamory: “a relationship style that allows people to openly conduct multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, ideally with the knowledge and consent of all involved in or affected by the relationships.”
I had the chance to speak with a friend of mine, who wished to remain anonymous, who was in hybrid non-monogamous relationship with his now ex-wife.
He told me that he and his wife were something between swingers and polygamists. Anonymous was in the army, and his first experience with non-monogamy began when he got an order to go to Korea for one year. At the time, he and his wife were only married for four months and he felt guilty leaving her for a full year.
“I don’t remember who proposed it. We decided we should be able to see other people – nothing serious, just a ‘friends-with-benefits’ type of thing. Leaving her alone didn’t feel right, so we did it and didn’t have any issues.”
To anonymous, being in a monogamous relationship is only natural for so long, until the initial infatuation and chemical responses start to fade. After this, people want variety, but he believes social conditioning tells us not to pursue it.
“It is so strongly rooted. I can’t think of any taboo or anything people fixate on more than sex. If you look at religion, there are a lot of rules in the Christian Bible, but the only one people harp on is sex; it is always abortion, birth control, and not being gay. There are a ton of rules that no one pays attention to, but sex and marriage – people are fixated on those.”
Throughout his relationship, he and his wife noticed a strong bias against the two of them. He was comfortable with opening up to his friends and family about his relationship, whereas his wife felt she had to keep it a secret.
“A lot of people asked me, ‘how can you stand to see your woman with another man?’ For my wife, people would call her a slut. The irony is, she was a married woman with less sexual partners than most women. But people were quicker to call her a slut first.”
Anonymous even lost a few friends because of it, but found he was less ostracized than his wife. This oddly intrinsic, territorial and possessive behavior leaves people with the mindset of, “How can anyone ‘share’ their partner?” But is it nature or nurture?
The argument is nurture. Genetic underpinning of this distaste is elusive, while there are many studies out there arguing that human beings are naturally polygamous.
If I tell you I like apples, but you hate apples, you won’t hate me for my preference – because that’s just crazy. If I tell you I’m in an open-relationship, it doesn’t work out the same way. This midbrain process stems from a social stigma that tells us it is not okay, so our brains are quick to reject it because it is on a level with which we cannot cognitively work.
The most interesting part of the conversation was him sharing with me the responses of other women, whom were sexually interested in him, once they found he was in a polyamorous relationship.
“Women were more responsive to me when I told them I was married and they were under the impression that I was cheating. But when I told them I was allowed and my wife knew about it, most women were not okay with that. They found it troubling and lost interest. On the other hand, guys liked it when they found out my wife was a swinger.”
Apparently, some find the taboo of cheating more appealing than the taboo of open relationships; or perhaps it’s the social proof of value which marriage provides. Some theories say a ring on a finger is social proof that one is worth marriage. However, if someone is single then there must be something wrong with them. The mainstream social narrative tells us that a well-adjusted person gets married and has children. We tend to subconsciously assume that something must be wrong with a person who is unmarried after a certain age, despite the many valid reasons one may have to remain single.
Whatever the reason, the argument still thrives that human beings are naturally polygamous. If this is true, then the question arises: Why have so many parts of the world, particularly the West, become fixated on monogamy instead?
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