The lines between monogamy and polyamory are breaking down as more and more couples experiment with the likes of “swinging, hook-up culture, and friends-with-benefits situations.” Is monogomy outdated? Dr Meg Barker certainly thinks so.
We are born into a culture of monogamy. As children we pledge allegiance to one best friend, we commit to one favourite colour and we are loyal to one profession in our games of make-believe. Everything in life is placed in a hierarchical order of preference with the aim that we are able to favour one thing above the rest. The same can be said for our relationships.
Schooling, the media, and society at large herald monogamous relationships as a safe zone. Noah liked the animals in pairs, Marks and Spencer are all about dining-in for two and we all know that come Orange Wednesdays three is definitely a crowd. Our understanding of polyamory tends to be flavoured with promiscuity and placed as the antithesis to commitment. People are quick to assume that all relationships breaching the rules of monogamy are destined to fail. But what of these so called rules? And what about the couples who are rewriting them?
Whilst monogamy is right for many people, our assumption that everyone is, and should be, monogamous is dated. “People in all sorts of relationships are having conversations about how open they want to be,” explains Dr Meg Barker, author of Rewriting The Rules. The lines between monogamy and polyamory are breaking down as more and more couples experiment with the likes of “swinging, hook-up culture, and friends-with-benefits situations.”
In conjunction with the emerging spectrum of modern relationships, American sex advice columnist Dan Savage has coined the term “Monogamish”. Challenging the common misconception that polyamory is synonymous with recreational sex, Monogamish couples are those who are strongly committed but open to engaging in sexual and emotional connections outside of their relationship. The success of such relationships relies upon a mutual agreement between all parties involved and plenty of open and honest discussion.
Every relationship has its own unique guidelines and varying degrees of openness. For some, flirtatious communication and banter on social networks is fine, but kissing someone else on a night out is unacceptable. Others can get over a kiss but would feel uncomfortable with their partner developing a close friendship with someone else. Many draw the line at sex, whilst others openly cross it. Some people need more than one partner, just as some people need flirting and others need lovers of both sexes.
Barker attests that honesty is the best policy. We cannot help our urges, whether monogamous or polyamorous, and we should be able to discuss them openly within our relationships. “The new dividing line,” she explains, “is between those who are honest and open with their partners and those who are not, as opposed to those who practise monogamy and those who are non-monogamous.”
Treating monogamy rather than honesty, happiness or sexual satisfaction, as the main indicator of a successful relationship, may give people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. There are plenty of people who enjoy or may like to consider a degree of openness in their relationships. That is not to say that monogamy is a thing of the past. Many or indeed most are perfectly happy in an exclusive relationship between two people. That said, at times we conflict ourselves by living in a modern society whilst harbouring dated and limiting opinions on relationships. Instead, we should reassess our love lives in terms that prize honesty, a little flexibility and, when necessary, an openness to sexual exploration.