Monogamy in Modernity? Or, The Ever-Shifting Landscape of Modern Relationships

By May 9, 2014Blog
Monogamy in Modernity? Or, The Ever-Shifting Landscape of Modern Relationships
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Meagan Dill

Too often, we assume that any mainstream lifestyle is the only one around – but in reality, this is far from the truth. Even though practising monogamy is still an extremely popular way of life, it’s undeniable that this more traditional kind of relationship is no longer the only option when it comes to modern love.

You may or may not have heard of the practice of polyamory. In all likelihood, you’re more familiar with the concept of polygyny: a relationship in which there is one man who has several female partners. It’s important to draw a clear line between this concept and polyamory because the two differ in several important ways. Although both are relationships openly consisting of multiple partners, polyamory eliminates the gender bias inherent to polygyny. A polyamorous relationship existing between three or more people can consist of any combination of male-female, male-male and/or female-female relationships within the larger polyamorous relationship. Clearly, this is a more complex set of relationships than your typical monogamous relationship – but we do live in a complex world, and who’s to say there isn’t a place for relationships of a similarly complex nature?

Some advocates of polyamory say that monogamy is an outdated system which makes less sense now that we enjoy longer lifespans in a society tending towards liberal ideals. As a result, we now have more freedom to pursue alternative lifestyles, some of which may indeed be better suited to this longer lifespan of ours. Additionally, the chances of falling in love more than once increase since more time alive means we are likely to meet more people in our lifetime, some of whom we will likely be very compatible with.

And of course, everyone knows that the constantly climbing rate of divorce indicates that marriage doesn’t work, right? Actually, although divorce rates are often assumed to be constantly soaring, official statistics disprove this. The most recent figures released by official Australian demographic authorities are from 2012, and surprisingly, they show that the monogamous act of getting married is in fact more popular than ever: over 120,000 marriages took place in Australia in 2012 – the highest number ever recorded. Meanwhile, there were about 50,000 divorces in Australia in 2012, which conforms to a pattern of decreasing divorce rates each year beginning in 2002. One way or another, it does seem that conventional relationships (and subsequent marriages) do still function healthily.

Due to the lack of legal framework for polyamorous marriage, no official statistics are available on the prevalence of such relationships. However, a quick Google search provides a seemingly endless stream of polyamorous support and/or dating websites. In browsing the FAQ sections of such websites, it seems that many of these communities wish to dispel myths surrounding polyamory and hope to educate outsiders about the reality of polyamory so as to reduce negative assumptions.

The most common myth about polyamory is that it’s all about sex and swinging and infidelity – and a lot of it. However, many polyamorous groups emphasise that in actual fact polyamorous relationships are an extreme form of commitment. The idea is to share in the giving and receiving of love with multiple partners. Instead of being jealous of your partner having other lovers, the ideal polyamorous situation results in a sense of warmth and happiness when the ones you love give and receive love with multiple partners, too. The polyamorous community has even coined a word to describe this feeling. The word is “compersion”; essentially the polar opposite of jealousy.

Polyamory differs from infidelity in that openness, honesty, and consideration are valued highly. Before bringing another party into the relationship, all existing partners must discuss this possibility and agree that they are comfortable with that. If  one or more person is not, the new relationship should not be continued. If it is continued on the sly, or indeed was ever carried out secretly, that would then be considered cheating. The distinction between the two, then, is the factor of deceit. A healthy polyamorous relationship has no element of deceit, while the conventional concept of cheating is fraught with it.

When it comes down to it, everyone should have the right to explore alternative lifestyles and relationships if they so desire. While I don’t see polyamory as something I would personally be suited to, I’ve found that learning more about it has led to a greater sense of understanding and less judgement on my part when it comes to such relationships. Love is love, is it not?

What do you think? Is polyamory a logical next step for modern relationships, or is tried-and-tested monogamy the way forward? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



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