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September 15, 2008 | by  | in Features |
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Monogamy: The Death of Freedom

Salient’s drunken rambler Annoy Mouse AKA Film Editor Haimona Peretini Gray sheds his pseudonym and talks frankly about monogamy, relationships and the new sexual revolution.
The case for monogamy – like the hetero-normative state – is seen as commonsense by many within our society, but it really shouldn’t be. It is an imposed form of morality that we have been indoctrinated with from birth. The continuance of sexual taboos (beyond the ones that protect those who can’t protect themselves) can only be seen as a flaw in our society and something we need to correct. As George Bernard Shaw said “Confusing monogamy with morality has done more to destroy the conscience of the human race than any other error.” But why do we conform to Christian ethics on such a personal and non-violent issue?

Monogamy

Since the industrial revolution Western society has become more individualistic, and this need to appease societal norms by being in a relationship has lessened. We are no longer expected to mate for life, yet people still choose to couple in this way. So why is this? What does monogamy give us that we cannot find elsewhere?

A term that comes up when researching and interviewing people about monogamy is giving. Giving yourself to another is a sign of love and loyalty to one person, and while it traditionally “Stemmed from patriarchal notions of men‘s property rights over women” (Betsy Kassoff, ‘Non? Monogamy,’ 1985) the majority of women I talked to still engage in and prefer monogamy.

This may be partly due to the proverbial elephant in the room, Love. The source of all knowledge Wikipedia says “Love represents a range of emotions and experiences related to the senses of affection and sexual attraction. The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure to intense interpersonal attraction. This diversity of meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states” – and who am I to dare question the great oracle?

If love is such a difficult emotion to define, then why is it assumed by many that this interpersonal love can only exist between two people? This notion of only having one ‘true’ love is the predominant paradigm in mass media. From the writings of Jane Austen (yawn) to the Rom-Coms of Hillary Duff, this belief in monogamy above all goes back to the tradition of marriage and its importance in maintaining kinship connections and preserving social hierarchies.

For the longest time marriage was predominantly for the benefit of the families and didn’t take into account the intimate feelings of either party. This does not however discount the existence of love prior to the industrial revolution – even between couples seemingly forced together – and the potential for a chosen partner rather than arranged marriage was there.

But to truly understand monogamy beyond the fairytale portrayals we must treat sexual desire and romantic love as separate entities. In other words we must treat our base desires (attraction, the need to spread our DNA) and our emotional need to find a loving soul mate as separate. Most monogamous relationships I have been in were merely futile attempts to find an emotional connection that wasn’t there. This kind of stress put on monogamy as the be-all and end-all is too much for it bear.

Back in high school, I agreed to enter into a monogamous relationship, only to realise moments later that I had made a mistake. However, I felt that I had made a commitment to someone I genuinely liked as a person and didn’t feel right just ending it then and there. Consequently I spent the next few months trying to make it work, before eventually I had to give up: one day, while talking to both her and her friend, I realised that I was far more attracted to – and had more of a connection with – her friend. So this relationship just wasn’t going to work, and I broke it off. While for me this had been a long time coming (and the moment with her friend merely confirmed this), she felt that I was simply dropping her out of the blue, which hurt her in a way that breaking it off in the first place wouldn’t have.

As the previous example demonstrates, enforced monogamy can be a mistake. Anthropologist Margaret Mead in her study of sexuality in Samoan youths emphatically criticized the neurosis-inducing nuclear family, including the stress of Christian monogamy, and used her Samoan material to demonstrate an alternative to premarital chastity. With divorce rates in most Western nations (including our own) consistently rising, shouldn’t we reconsider this two party system?

The two party system???

The main critique of the US political system is that it doesn’t promote healthy competition. Their two party system doesn’t fully protect the democratic process from the whims of its constituents. In other words, the potential to fall out of love or to love more than one person at once does not factor into monogamy and can make it an untenable system.

A concern with two party relationships is that one partner will inevitably be pushed into a subordinate role. In gay couples this is referred to as a top/bottom dynamic which, while useful sexually, shouldn’t be enforced out of the bedroom, for to do so would just point out the inherent inequality of monogamous relationships. We all have anecdotes about friends and family members who have become ‘whipped’ or otherwise controlled by their partner but this is seemingly accepted as a part of ‘normal’ monogamous relationships. We’re okay with this form of manipulation and control because it is deemed to be universal or somehow natural. Whether male or female, this kind of dominance is tantamount to a form of emotional abuse. ‘Wearing the pants’ or being ‘under the thumb’: these phrases all echo the jealousy and possessive nature of monogamy.

This idea of monogamy is not universal and was not greatly practised until the spread of Christianity. Most other societies had a much more open form of personal relationships and sex lives.

“Monogamy is rare not only in nature, but among humans. Of 1154 societies in the Human Relations Area Files (a large database originally compiled as Yale University), more than 1000 (93%) recognize some degree of sanctioned polygyny (that is, at least occasionally, males can mate with more than one female), and polygyny is the preferred choice in 70% of them.” (Geoffrey A. Clark, ‘Human Monogamy,’ 1998)

Another option can be polyfidelity, a closed relationship with more than two members (generally three or four but occasionally more). According to Polyamory Wellington, the literal meaning of polyfi- delity is being “truthful or honest to more than one”, as commitment is needed to balance the needs of all involved. This system, like our MMP, is open to more than the two major parties. This form of relationship can be very positive for those who want to commit to more than one partner – either due to bisexuality or just having more than one partner whom one wants to be involved with – but all members of the relationship must be compatible. The risks of polyfidelity can be that it will lead to either more infidelity or that it can revert to a monogamous relationship, leaving someone left out.

The world of the ‘free’

The truth is that maintaining any form of relationship is difficult, and some people just don’t feel the need to be in one. Both the asexual and the ‘actively single’ don’t believe in the concept – and with just cause. If we are to believe every lad mag and porno then the idea of tying yourself to one person is perverse. “Veni Vidi Vici” – I came, I saw, I conquered. This is a very juvenile take on sexual relations but it is the one that is practised by most of the occupants of bars after 2am and is used as a marketing tool for everything from Diet Coke to Jimmy Choos (thanks Sex & The City, you piece of shit).

The notion of being ‘actively’ single seems like an alien idea to those in relationships but it is a reality for many of us. Some see it as an inherently sad and lonely state of affairs. The idea of a promiscuous lifestyle is used to sell us products but those who actually live it are the targets of scorn and pity.

According to the Mingle2 Dating report, the average 20 year old male living in Wellington has slept with four people, while women of the same age were slightly higher at five. Does this mean that anyone not within this group is too promiscuous? As someone who doesn’t fit the norm I reject the notion that having more sex than the average person makes me or anyone like me a bad human being. If you are honest and earnest about the nature of the sexual encounter, then the fear of misconstruing a fun, sexually liberating moment for something more emotional can be subdued entirely.

The freedom and confidence that being actively single can give is a reward in itself and contrary to popular belief not all ‘one night stands’ have to end in awkward avoidance: I am still friends with a number of people I have hit on (with varying success).

The allure of living a carefree, hedonistic lifestyle and having the liberty to pursue it makes being actively single a logical way of life for me.

But there are drawbacks.

Women in particular aren’t allowed to embrace this side of themselves, and those who do are vilified as ‘sluts’ – a mean spirited term with many moralising implications. Men who do the same are perceived as sexual deviants, not in control of their most base instincts and therefore aren’t rational actors. This is yet another example of inequality between the sexes: men are merely womanisers, insulted but seen as being simpletons when women are abhorred because they should know better than to try to subvert these puritanical sexual norms.

The confusion between lust and love is a common one and the lack of clarity (e.g. boundaries, future potential etc) within an only physical relationship can be damaging. As can gossip. Wellington is a painfully small, incestuous town and people talk. But this isn’t so much a problem with the concept of being single, it’s more a personal flaw that many of you seem to have. The vile gossip vultures must be stopped.

Earlier this year I met a women in one of Wellington’s many wank twenty-something bars. We laughed and shared a moment, which ending in our going back to her place. We continued to see each other around the city (yet another example of this town’s size) and continued to sleep together on a casual basis but didn’t move beyond this. Until one day a talk was needed, she explained her feelings, I explained mine and I left feeling that we had come to an understanding and that noone’s feelings were hurt. I was wrong.

But the biggest natural concluder to this actively single lifestyle can be the need for something more. It gives you the freedom of choice, but once you find someone for whom you are willing to give up this life of hedonism then it seems less a necessary way of living than an excuse to not put your heart on the line.

The love affair between Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine

The story of Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine’s romance has been told many times.

Kahungunu had heard reports of Rongomaiwahine’s beauty and high birth, but when he arrived at Nukutaurua, on the Mahia Peninsula, he found that she was already married to Tamatakutai. In an attempt to impress her people, he gathered enormous quantities of fern root, tied them into bundles with vines, and rolled them down a hill. Such were the quantities that it became like a landslide, blocking the doors of the house.

Kahungunu then went up onto a hill and watched the karoro (shags) diving. He practised holding his breath, counting ‘pepe tahi, pepe rua, pepe toru …’ (count one, count two, count three . . .) until the birds reappeared. Then Kahungunu went diving, holding his breath for as long as the shags had done. He filled several baskets with enough paua for all the occupants of the village. When he surfaced from his final dive, he had covered his chest with paua, and everyone was very impressed. The hill has since been named Puke Karoro.

Having gained the approval of Rongomaiwahine’s people, Kahungunu set out to create discord between Rongomaiwahine and her husband Tamatakutai. One night he surreptitiously broke wind near the sleeping couple, causing an argument between them. In the morning Kahungunu joined Tamatakutai in the sport of surfing in a canoe. After several trips Kahungunu took over the steering, and capsized it on a particularly large wave. Tamatakutai fell out and, unable to swim, was drowned.

Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine eventually married and while he had many other wives, Rongomaiwahine has gone down in history as the most significant (many of Rongomaiwahine’s descendants on the Mahia Peninsula identify themselves as Ngati Rongomaiwahine rather than as Ngati Kahungunu).

Conclusion

The quest for that special someone can drive you insane (or even to murder in the case of Kahungunu, not that this was the only time he had killed someone but that’s just how we Kahungunu roll) but it is an urge that seems almost undeniable. While on an intellectual level we can neither prove or disprove this as a universal need, the noble pursuit of ‘love’ motivates many.

But the quest for ‘love’ should not be sought out in any form of relationship that doesn‘t suit you. There are many kinds of relationships and even more kinds of love. So keep your options open and don’t get bogged down by others’ perceptions. While monogamy will and should always exist it should not be the default, and if we as a society are no longer challenging our status quos then we have failed.

I think this pretty much sums up how most of us feel, thank you Woody Allen: “this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.” – Annie Hall

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  1. popozao says:

    Anthropologist Margaret Mead in her study of sexuality in Samoan youths emphatically criticized the neurosis-inducing nuclear family, including the stress of Christian monogamy, and used her Samoan material to demonstrate an alternative to premarital chastity.

    Deerrrrr, that was a hoax freakshow. Go back to your self-serving polygamous shit.

  2. Jackson Wood says:

    Popozao, the controversy surrounding Mead’s findings and the posthumous publication of contrary evidence by Freeman has never been cleared up and it is unlikely that it ever will be. Many anthropologists still accept that the work is genuine.

    Even if the work was totally fictitious it would still go to prove the authors point by providing an argument in favour of the proposition that we may choose/forced to be monogamous for whatever reason, but that we have a polygamous nature which has caused the cognitive dissonance which causes you to be hostile towards Haimona.

  3. Michael Oliver says:

    Dan Savage, sex advice columnist, pod cast host and coiner of the phrase “Santorum” (google it, seriously) has written and spoken extensively on this topic, and his position (which more or less rounds up about the same as yours, Haimona) is that the monogamous Christian-styled “norms” of sexuality aren’t exactly norms at all; they’re just propagated as such. When you look at it, people are into all sorts of dirty, seedy guy-on-girl-on-girl-on-strap on-bondage-on whips-on-safe-words type of sexuality fun and frivolity. Deciphering a norm is incredibly problematic and nigh-on impossible.

    That said, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with monogamy; it can be just as meaningful and exciting as any other sexual practice. Take a leaf out of Wee Hamish (who did not stop crying from Aberdeen to Auckland)’s book – he went out and nailed that cock-tease pig-tailed Mac-using slut from the Hyundai commercials and loved every gooddamn minute of it. More power to him, I say.

    or is that too creepy.

    I don’t even fucking know anymore fuck

  4. Haimona Gray says:

    Yeah i’ve read Dan Savage’s writing and quite like it, but as for Wee Hamish (who did not stop crying from Aberdeen to Auckland) I would suggest he consults a doctor ASAP as I too had a fling with the Hyundai commercial lady (it was the 80’s and I had been up on the razz for a one month) and now I can only eat wholegrain.

    You are both a gentlemen and a scholar, good day to you sir.

  5. Shitkicker McGee says:

    I saw a penis before!

  6. Asian dude from ANZ ad who has a hard on for haircuts says:

    No time for sex – too busy getting haircuts. This one? HALF A WEEK’S WAGE FROM SOME SHITTY IT DEPARTMENT*

    * $200 (GST not inc)

  7. Shitkicker McGee says:

    This ANZ shit is just getting fucking ridiculous. Why don’t you just all fuck off back to where you came from.

  8. Mr. Magoop says:

    Agreed. The monogamy issue is all about sex. SEEEEX!

  9. aaron says:

    sexy article, i’d have his babies

  10. James Clarke says:

    You gay chaps have missed the point with all of your intellegent ramblings; the guy from the bank ad has an awesome haircut, although it looks terrible it was expensive and that makes for a good haircut so they say. Bitches bitches bitches, bang them all of them as many at once, as many as you can in a day seperately if you have to, make them swallow.

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