Oftentimes, I have wondered if societal constructs are stifling or are much needed to create order in our society. I have wondered if the advantages of these constructs outweigh their disadvantages?
And that’s just by the way.
The main focus on which I will like to zoom in my lens are three different versions of human (romantic) relationships; Monogamy, Polyamory and Friendship.
According to the New York times, a research claims that early humans started shifting towards the idea of monogamy around 3.5 million years ago and I believe 3.5 millions years is more than enough time for the present society to generally allow for an evolution in the ways humans connect sexually and romantically with one another. Of course, there are a lot of people who are veering away from monogamy but they are met with resistance and even disdain, and called denigrating names like “loose” and “free for all” and generally regarded as not morally upright. They’re taunted many times with “so, can I join the party? Where’s your partner so I can hijack them since it’s ‘free love?”
For a species that claim to be very intelligent, it is disappointing to find someone’s moral values being judged by the mere act of who to be with and how many people they choose to be with. It is almost comical really (if we decide to look past the restricting damaging effects on human relationships that it has), and this has come to be because there is a rigid monogamy construct on ground that dictates the number of (sexual and/or romantic) mates each human being can have.
I, for one, believe monogamy is not sustainable in our current era. I understand it might have served the purpose of protecting the paternity claims of men in the past, but currently, for me as a woman, I do not think monogamy serves me. Even in the past and by “past”, I mean 3.5 million years ago when humans still dwelled in the wild, I daresay monogamy only served men and did not explicitly serve women in any way. The female of the species (Hi Mindy McGinnis) sometimes had to sneak off to mate with someone else who they subjectively believed had better genes, as opposed to the person they had paired with who provided whatever other resources the woman and her offsprings needed to survive, but whose gene was not appealing enough to the woman for her to want to pass off to her offsprings. It happened in the past and it is happening in the now. The percentage of paternal fraud is there to back this up.
This brings me to the argument that monogamy is not sustainable because humans have insatiable needs. Just one person cannot realistically provide us with everything we want and need, human relationships are never ALL ABOUT sex. I mean look at everything on the Maslow scale, how possibly realistic is it that just one person would be able to satisfy everything on that scale FOR LIFE?
And it is noticeable that it is only the woman who is mandated to be faithful even in a monogamous relationship. I cannot make a brazen claim that this happens in the Western world but in my country, Nigeria, and all over Africa as a continent, the woman is expected to be faithful while the man is free to explore and have sexual and romantic relationships with other women. So most definitely, this whole idea of “monogamy” is a scam used to exploit women and prevent them from maximizing the resources they would have had access to from multiple partners. In some parts of Nigeria, there are cultures that punish the woman who sleeps with a man other than her husband while notably, there are no similar cultures that punish men for infidelity. Women are punished, while men are praised for their virility (y’know “men will be men”) all the while claiming “monogamy” in THIS kind of arrangement. The woman is expected to put up with the man’s side chicks and sometimes, the woman is brazenly expected to even be responsible for the offsprings fathered by the man outside.
Monogamy is supposedly an arrangement that provides security for the parties involved but it is a generally known fact that monogamy and security do not go hand in hand. In fact, historically, monogamy stemmed from the insecurity of men because without monogamy, they would not be so sure of the paternity or survival of their children from other men. And that obviously hasn’t worked so much with the high prevalence of paternity fraud.
I also think that people who genuinely believe in the idea of monogamy sometimes have too much expectations from the monogamous relationships they have with other people and that’s because they erroneously believe they can get everything they need from just that one person. Honestly, I cannot emphasize how unrealistic this is enough.
Hypothetically, if just one person could provide us with everything we need and want, what about variety? Just one person cannot provide variety and that is why it is very difficult for couples in monogamous relationships to not cheat, and this has led to a lot of ills in the society like domestic violence and even murder. Once again, is monogamy sustainable? And more importantly, is it really serving humans and humanity at large? Why should we restrict one another’s freedom? Shouldn’t love be free? Why have we decided to also include love and human connections as one of the things we make artificially scarce, among other things? Why have we commodified love?
I would have voted for polyamory as the right (or even perfect) method of human inter-personal relationships but for the baggage it also has. Let me first of all clarify it that what I mean by “polyamory” here doesn’t apply to just the male being free to have as many sexual/romantic partners as he wants as it is generally allowed in patriarchy. This term in this context encompasses the idea that women, men and every other gender identity can have as many partners as they want in relation to their mutual consents and agreements with everyone involved in the relationship.
As a woman, I am more likely to go for this arrangement than monogamy. In polyamory, I do not have to cheat or hurt my partner. I do not like the term “ethical cheating” being accrued to polyamory. Technically, two polyamorous people in a relationship who have decided and mutually agreed to have other partners are NOT cheating on each other. I get many of my needs satisfied as opposed to having just one partner and the level of emotional security is relatively higher, subjectively that is.
Objectively, a recent field research on a large sample in Canada has shown that people in polyamorous relationships are happy and are more sexually satisfied than their monogamous counterparts and of course, that’s logical. More varieties and experiences, folks.
The incidence and rate of violence resulting from infidelity and murder out of blind rage at finding out one partner is cheating on the other will also be significantly lower in polyamory, since there is a lowered reason to ‘cheat’.
Ideally, polyamory should be less toxic than monogamy, with the few outlines I have given about this relationship style.
However, I feel polyamory is mostly like monogamy multiplied. And what I mean by this is that the various baggage monogamy has are transferred into polyamory and the problems only get multiplied.
For example, in monogamy, there is this patriarchal hierarchy in which the man is regarded as the “head” and the woman the ‘neck’ or whatever. Now I write as an African woman, I understand that this phenomenon may not be so strong in the Western world but in Africa, and more specifically Nigeria from where I originate, this is the case.
This hierarchical structure makes for a very unhealthy and imbalanced relationship dynamics and I can see it is being imported even into polyamorous relationships wherein one partner is elevated above the other(s) or lowered. This leads to jealousy, unhealthy competitions and possessiveness. Now it is as if the problem you would have had with one partner gets multiplied all over.
I joined various international polyamory groups on Facebook when I first started trying to get the hang of what polyamory was all about right? And the experiences polyamorous folks have had with polyamory did not look so palatable to me and I think that is subjected to the high unrealistic starry-eyed expectations I had of polyamory. Of course every idea has its own problem and this got me curious in trying to find out if there was anything else i.e a method of human relationships that could be better than all these (mess)?
Now there is a backstory to all of my research;
There is this person who used to be my friend. We started off as friends and it was a very beautiful friendship. That was the part where I enjoyed the most in all of my time with this man. We started dating and everything changed for me. I started getting jealous and possessive, whereas when he was ‘just’ my friend, I did not have any of these emotions. Nothing changed in what we did as friends and as lovers. NOTHING. But now, I was no more his friend, I became his girlFRIEND, gender role and by extension patriarchy have come into the mix. Now I had societally-expected ‘girlFRIEND’ patriarchal duties to fulfill like cooking for him, cleaning after him and chasing other female competitors away from him. I started having this sense of ownership and seeing other women around him as my competitions. Patriarchy says there are many “options” for him and he is free to explore those options and so the anxiety that was never present when I was ‘just’ his friend started creeping in. But thank goodness he understood so we could walk through my fears and anxiety together.
Later on, we decided to try polyamory until we saw it had almost the same problems as monogamy, and this time multiplied. There is the problem of hierarchy, and possessiveness and jealousy because the ground is not levelled for everyone involved.
There is a common denominator in monogamy and polyamory and that is ROMANCE. I think the idea of romance is a scam, especially for women. Romance is like this dark quicksand that you sink inside of, a quicksand absent in friendships.
What can you do with your lover that you cannot do with your friend?
You can have sex with your friend, you can love your friend, you can have kids with your friend, you can live with your friend, you can do just about anything with your friend without the possessiveness and jealousy and every other toxic trait found in both monogamy and polyamory.
And of course, you can have as many friends as possible with whom you connect with on different levels and for different reasons to satisfy your needs as all human relationships are transactional.
So what exactly is the difference between a ROMANTIC relationship and friendship? What is romance? Is this romance not the problem here?
While I practised polyamory with my boyFRIEND, I had sex with a mutual friend of ours, and I cared about him as my friend. We shared a bond separate from the bond I had with my boyFRIEND. I realized I enjoyed his presence in my life because particularly with him, I neither have to worry about other women in his life nor get jealous or possessive like I did with my boyFRIEND. It was at THIS point that I started asking questions. What on earth is a romantic relationship and what on earth is friendship? Are you as confused as I am? Are you thinking about this? You should.
Why can’t we all be “just friends” with one another? Why can’t we love everyone without any ownership systemic structure brought into the mix? Why should we reserve love for a certain number of people? Why can’t we have sex with anyone we fancy outside of any rigid monogamy or polyamory structure since sex is JUST a biological act? I mean other species have sex so freely and we, the supposed intelligent ones can’t even have sex without various emotional and societal repercussions? Why can’t we love everyone with no bond being inferior or superior but just existing uniquely in their own rights? I mean more than 8 billion people in the world and we are restricted to form beautiful bonds with one person for life (monogamy) and a handful of people (polyamory) without the individuals we are involved with and the society at large losing their shits?
Let me tell you a quick true life story.
Did you watch CLOUDS? That movie about young Zach Sobiech‘s life?
He had a childhood friend and a girlfriend.
Zach and his friend loved each other deeply. They went through the rigours of osteosarcoma together, they were best friends. Zach and his friend were almost closer than Zach and his girlfriend, I mean they had known each other since childhood while the girlfriend came into the mix in high school. Zach and his friend knew each other’s fears and deepest secrets. They sang together, they helped overcome each other’s fears. Zach’s friend helped push him into limelight by uploading one of his music videos on YouTube. They both loved each other very much (as it should be), afterall they were friends.
By the virtue of Zach’s friend’s gender, we can rightly call that girl Zach’s girlFRIEND right? BUT they were NOT dating. The girl wanted to, but Zach opined that he did not see her “that way.” What exactly is “that way?” Not sexually attracted to her? Is that all? Is the whole point of ROMANTIC relationships sex then?
Can you tell me the difference between Zach’s relationship with his childhood friend and his (romantic) girlfriend?
If we have already established that we can have sex with our friends, WHAT then is the difference between Zach’s relationship with his childhood friend and his romantic girlfriend?
What is romance?
Possessiveness ? Jealousy ? Sex? Gender roles? Patriarchy?
Is romance a kind of structured love that is privatized? Is it the privatization that is the problem?
Because love in itself is not a problem.
I started off with friendship with that person, evolved to monogamy and then to polyamory and this is I asserting that friendship is the safest truthful ground to stand on when it comes to human relationships. Of all these, I enjoyed the earlier friendship the most and it was hard to get that friendship back after it was tainted by romance.
Friendship makes love free from toxicity, healthy, non-competitve, non-hierarchical and non-commodified.
It makes the participants free to love anyone and everyone (as it should be) because as humans, aren’t we all supposed to love one another?
It is time to dismantle all these systemic and structural restrictions that make it difficult to freely love everyone because the world is in dying need of this free love.
LOVE, free from control, commodification and definition.
We should be able to freely enunciate this sentence to everyone we meet:
I love you as a human being and THAT is enough. Every other (systemic) factor does not matter.
Written by Sisí Afrika.