Soapbox: Why I Must Consider Non-Monogamy

The other day, I was talking to one of my lesbian friends about the difference between gay and straight relationships. “Being a straight woman, who may want to get married someday, means I have to entertain the notion of having a nonmonogamous marriage,” I argued.

“Why?” she challenged me. (I get this reaction a lot. Especially from women, gay or straight, who tend to get defensive when I say something to this effect.)

“Not to consider it would mean I’m in denial,” I replied. To ignore the state of the institution of marriage would be silly of me should I choose to enter into it. The American divorce rate is projected to be about 50 percent for first marriages and even worse for second or third marriages. A recent study published in the book Marriage Confidential found that 65 percent of wives and 85 percent of husbands would have affairs if they knew they wouldn’t get caught. Let’s face it, these stats are depressing.

It’s not that I’m seeking out a nonmonogamous relationship; it’s just that, as a 30-something woman, if I do get married at this point, I really don’t want to be one of these statistics. That means my partner and I will have to do whatever it takes to make things work long-term. And, truth-be-told, I have no idea what those things will be.

I don’t know what it’s like to be committed to the same person for five, 15, or 25 years. I don’t know what kind of experiences or variety either of us will want or need or how we’ll change as people. To pretend that I do know would be a lie.

An article in this weekend’s The New York Times Magazine explores the pros and cons of the nonmonogamous marriage model, as popularized by sex colomnist, Dan Savage. The article quotes Savage’s views about how feminism impacted the institution of marriage.

“The mistake that straight people made was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitar­ian and fairsey … In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed, we extended to men the confines women had always endured. And it’s been a disaster for marriage … Straight women, are in relationships with men. Doesn’t it help to know what we’re really like? Women can go on marrying and pretending that their boyfriends and husbands are Mr. Darcy or some RomCom dream man. But where’s that going to get ’em? Besides divorce court?”

I agree with Savage that marriage has become a disaster due to these confines, but not because feminism has sought to strip men of their true evolutionary nature or because we’ve denied ourselves the “pressure-release valve.” And no, most of us aren’t expecting to ride off on horseback with Mr. Darcy.

I think marriage is in such trouble because our expectations of fidelity are unrealistic. Right now, the collective, popular paradigm about marriage is focused on maintaining fidelity, rather than maintaining honesty. Maintaining honesty would mean realistically assessing both partners’ changing needs and desires, even if they are totally different from one another, and being G.G.G. (Savage-speak for “good, game, and giving”) enough to compromise. I think the best we can do in our journey to make marriage truly “egalitarian and fairsy” is to be honest with ourselves and each other. That means acknowledging that nonmonoagamy could be an option that works.

So what do you think? Would you be open to having a nonmonogamous marriage? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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