Playing monogamy

30 Jan

monogamyWere I to write the thinking woman’s book of advice for potential lovers of the already committed I would firstly say, it isn’t thinking that gets us into such situations, and it usually isn’t thinking that gets us out. It will come as a confronting shock for many thinking women to discover that thinking only goes so far, and cannot by itself save you from yourself.

I would then say, it is extremely important for your own survival to remember there are always three people in your relationship, one of whom is quite likely unknown to you.

It is also important when everything goes pear-shaped (probably more important than anything else) to invest time in understanding why you decided to inflict this particular kind of torment on yourself in the first place.

I don’t want to gender my imaginary book: women take extra marital lovers as well as men, lesbians are unfaithful and so are gay guys, and I don’t know how gender and sexual orientation change the dynamics of betrayal, or if they only add variation to its expression.

Also, for the sake of convenience I’d use the term marriage in the largest sense, to include committed relationships without the State’s imprimatur.

In my case, I blundered into a marital minefield. Because of what I knew of my lover, and also because of what he said, such as “I am only doing this because you are irresistible, I don’t tell lies to my wife,”  I thought adultery was a rare event in his life.  As it turned out he’d been engaging in extra marital affairs since the 1970s, and they were, in fact, part of the established pattern of his long marriage. I was a rarity in the sense that, according to his wife, I was “the only one he’d done this with,” this meaning  fallen in love with, and so deeply threatened the marital equilibrium. The others had apparently been little more than co-operative receptacles for his ejaculatory fluids, and of minimum consequence, and she’d seen them off without too much trouble. Annoyingly, I have this sense of myself as an equal human being, and an unwillingness to crawl under a stone when someone decides I am no longer of use to them.

My lover’s wife had, she told me, become very cynical about men and their pathetic sexual desperation. I told her I couldn’t imagine becoming cynical about an entire gender, but, I added, perhaps that was my downfall. I don’t think sexual desperation is particularly gendered, women can and do yearn and desire. Woman can and do go looking for a zipless fuck, and feel ashamedly desperate both for wanting it and doing it. It is one of our culture’s epic fails, that human sexuality is looked upon with such severe moral judgement, and such complete lack of understanding.

As well, I felt sorry for my lover’s wife. After all those years she probably thought his adulteries were over, and then he’d gone and done the worst one of all.

These people were to all appearances living in a long-term monogamous marriage, the kind that is held up to us as a model, as a desirable peak of  human intimate achievement. They were “pillars of the community,” forgive the cliché, an outstanding example of a bourgeoisie that still exerts repressive control over public morality, and expectations of sexual behaviour. They do not, as she accused me of doing,  “write intimate things all over the Internet.” But they are pretenders. There is nothing in the least monogamous about their marriage and hasn’t been for decades. Indeed, the biggest threat I apparently represented to this couple was not the ending of their marriage, but the power I had to reveal them to their community and family as two-faced long-term fakes.

You always take enormous emotional risks when entering into affairs with married people. But when you walk into an already well-established pattern of infidelity it’s like walking into a spider’s web of lies, half-truths, games, dishonesties, and an accumulation of dysfunction, all of which cling to your face and heart with a nasty stickiness that is extremely difficult to remove.

They are practised at playing this game, you may not be, and believe me if you aren’t, you will not know what has hit you. You are a pawn. They will use you. You will be the means to their duplicitous end. You, and others before you, have served to keep together a marriage that otherwise might long ago have blown apart, had it been truly monogamous instead of only pretending to be. You are an outlet, dear. For a man’s or woman’s desire that cannot be contained and satisfied within the monogamy to which he or she has committed themselves, and lacks the courage to examine.

“I knew I should never have let him meet you that first time on his own!” his wife raged at me and I saw immediately that I was not dealing with an adult when I got involved with this man. I was dealing with a naughty child who couldn’t be let out without a wife to guard him from himself. But by then it was too late. I’d done it.

Personally, I don’t see the point of monogamy as a life goal, or as any measure of moral achievement. It may be an ideal situation for some people. I can see it has potential. It worked for me because I never found anybody else as interesting as my husband, which was simply great good luck, not to do with any strong moral sense about monogamy, or strong resistance to temptation. Of which I obviously have neither.

It isn’t the desire for another that is wrong, or even the acting on it. It’s the arrogant sense of entitlement that allows people to use and then dispose of other women or men as temporary sexual and emotional outlets, in order to help them maintain the treasured illusion of the perfection of monogamy, that in itself counts for so much in the assessment of what is a “successful” marriage.

When we are devastated by betrayal, and the profound hurt and jealousies it brings, it can seem to help, I suppose, to call up a moral framework from within which to hurl fury and pain at the perpetrator. Not only have they done you wrong, they are  wrong, in the terms of this moral framework. It might temporarily help with the pain, but in fact, it’s just another illusion.

I am a symptom of the troubles in your marriage, I told my lover’s wife. I am not the cause. To her credit, she agreed with me.

It is a mystery to me why people do not sort these things out. Come to some mutual arrangement about a partner’s ranging desires. Refuse to come to such an arrangement and leave. Live as single people free to love who they will. To play the same old game of betrayal and remorse and broken promises for decades, in the service of a constructed ideal of  family founded on monogamy, smacks of idiocy to me. I prefer the deeper intimacy that comes from acknowledging and sharing the truth of a situation, even if it means frightening change and sometimes endings.

What is  “family” if there isn’t truth at its foundations?

This all matters very much, because the monogamous relationship is held to be the cornerstone of our culture. It’s increasingly challenged, and that can only be good, because I doubt my experience is an isolated one. I suspect there are many more playing at monogamy, and I suspect that the cornerstone is neither strong nor true. Challenging its cultural stranglehold is likely one of the more significant tasks we face, and the ramifications are extensive.




13 Responses to “Playing monogamy”

  1. 8 Degrees of Latitude January 30, 2015 at 4:27 pm #

    You ask a seminal question: What is “family” if there is isn’t truth at its foundations?

    The answer, which would be the same for casual or causal groupings as well, say for communes and kibbutzim, is plain. Truth is the key.

    Most societal constructs are built – somewhat shakily in my view – on rules that were designed by others for others to follow, on pain of punishment. This is – was – not necessarily hypocrisy at work. Any community needs rules by which it governs itself in a temporal sense and those mandating sexual fidelity are no different from any others, except that they stem from archaic genetic drivers, remain overlaid by theology, and for practical purposes are dysfunctional.

    The Ten Commandments (in the short form and severely culled for practical non-religious purposes) are instructive. Nos. 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 are sensible. Further 6, 8 and 9 form the basic structure of criminal law and No. 10 civil law.

    1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
    2. You shall not make idols.
    3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
    4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    5. Honour your father and your mother.
    6. You shall not murder.
    7. You shall not commit adultery.
    8. You shall not steal.
    9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
    10. You shall not covet.

    You write, perceptively: “Personally, I don’t see the point of monogamy as a life goal, or as any measure of moral achievement.” You might say, as indeed you do in other words, that it is a concept honoured in the breach almost as much as in its practice.

    I share that view. I think it is actually fairly widely held.

    The key to all human relationships is surely not to cause hurt to anyone else. The key to not getting hurt, which is arguably more important still, is to understand the motives and behaviour of others. The two enabling mechanisms in any committed relationship are love and trust. These should never be seen as mutually exclusive. Further, together and separately, they are capable of withstanding anything.

    But I agree that idiotically promiscuous philanderers, who are chiefly men, are essentially juvenile creatures. They are best avoided.


    • Jennifer Wilson January 30, 2015 at 4:55 pm #

      Love and trust, together and separately, are capable of withstanding anything. Yes. Beautiful.

      I am thinking about loving and not trusting. Trusting and not loving is more straightforward.

      Yes, Ive loved and not trusted. You are quite right.


  2. Michaela Tschudi January 30, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    You wrote “It is a mystery to me why people do not sort these things out.” I agree, but I suspect many people in a monogamous relationship are not willing or able to “deepen” their “intimacy”, because their relationship is based not on trust and respect, but rather, on convenience and personal gain (power, position, authority).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 31, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

      Yes, I don’t see how treating one’s spouse as someone who has to be always “managed” is in any way trusting or respectful. And it’s such a burden – if I had to manage a spouse how would I have time and energy to think and write and play? So essentially, I guess I’m too selfish to want to control anybody.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. doug quixote January 30, 2015 at 11:52 pm #

    The expectations and sensibilities of the relatives and friends of the “monogamous couple” are what is being protected. Threaten that so long-held and preserved fiction, that house of cards, and you will reap the whirlwind.

    Still, I do enjoy your examinations of these issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson January 31, 2015 at 6:03 am #

      I may reap the whirlwind, “but they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up the thundercloud…” Cohen, of course.


      • doug quixote January 31, 2015 at 8:03 am #

        Sorry Guinevere, I did not mean you in your present position. I was speaking more generally. Re-reading my post, it reads more ominously than I intended. Too tired last night . . .

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson January 31, 2015 at 8:09 am #

          Such is my faith in you, DQ, that even were you to be entirely ominous I would assume it was only out of concern for me…. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Elisabeth January 31, 2015 at 8:50 am #

    Fascinating thoughts. I can’t but help identify with everyone in this mess, though I’m not keen on the one who gets off scott free, the so-called philanderer. I take it he’s not complaining about your writing, but she is.

    And to me that’s the saddest part of all, that she should turn her wrath on you and not on him – though she’s probably also furious with him – but what about her own self-examination, her own rage at herself for being in such a mess?

    These things are complex. To me monogamy is a bit of a myth, an ideal if you like, that as you say, some manage to manage, but most of us need to compromise along the way in all our committed relationships.

    I’m not sure that I believe love and trust conquers all. Partly because I reckon they, too, are fickle. They change over time. They get stronger or they corrode.

    I wish there was someone I trusted absolutely, but there is not. I don’t even trust myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson January 31, 2015 at 9:07 am #

      At times I think trusting someone is a terrible burden for them, and wonder if I have the right to inflict it? The one thing I hope for is the truth, even when it feels terrible to hear it. The hardest person to hear the truth from is myself though

      Actually, I just remembered how my DIL tells our 3yr old family member on some occasions, when she hasn’t witnessed any offence against his little brother but strongly suspects one has occurred,that if he tells the truth he won’t get into trouble, and he always tells her what he did, and he doesn’t get into trouble, but they talk about happened and sort through it. Other times when she sees what’s happened, he’s sent to the corner. I really like this way of teaching little ones about truth.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Toni Blackmore February 1, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

        The word trust is so emotionally charged and binary in nature. I estimate how reliable someone, self included, is likely to be in a situation from prior responses.


        • Jennifer Wilson February 1, 2015 at 5:38 pm #

          It’s always only estimation, isn’t it. Anybody can do anything, really, with good reasons of their own.


  5. paul walter January 31, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    People can be such blockheads on the long path to the getting of wisdom.

    There is some uncompromising stuff here about duplicity, neglect and naivety..a husband who cant understand his obligation to t he womán he has taken on, perhaps her inability to comprehend his need for space and out of insecurity, be “controlly”.. so the monitoring drives him out.

    Goes back to what John Lennon said about life as what happens, while a person plans other things.

    I think 8 Degrees take was interesting, and add that the first handful carry a message as to self deception and holding to Parmedian first respect, no sense of humility, no cultural memory commemorated, no humanity..So much of creation is so much bigger than just a little Leunig person standing there, baffled, but the individual and the universe can be complementary provided there is an attempt to adjust to a notion of others and their feelings.

    I also enjoyed that sharp observation from Michaela Tschudi, btw.

    Liked by 1 person

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