Wednesday, August 13, 2008


I've been thinking about marriage this morning.

When I tied the knot in the late 80s, I think it was more from a sense of not wanting to be left behind than any kind of idealistic commitment. My ex did it for the same reason. Neither of us are what would be considered romantic people. We were both getting older and didn't want to feel isolated from what seemed at that time to be a passage of adulthood.

In the early 70s, college years and a bit after, I lived with someone in a long term relationship. Eventually we both grew apart and separated. Still, it was a good and satisfying relationship while it lasted. Sometimes I wonder what became of him.

I'm all for configuring relationships into any shape and form that works for the individuals involved. Toward the end of our marriage, the point at which we knew it wasn't going to last, our relationship was open. He was welcome to see other people and I was as well. We had separate bedrooms. Still, each evening we would find ourselves in the living room debating various and sundry ideas, whatever we'd been thinking about that day.

He and I were both intrigued by the idea of line marriage, a concept developed by Robert Heinlein in his book The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It made sense to both of us and neither of us could come up with a logical reason to reject it.

He brought a woman to our home, someone we both liked, and we spent the weekend together - all of us - making breakfast in the morning, bumping into each other in the small kitchen, talking, going to a movie, driving through the Rocky Mountains together, coming home, ordering pizza and falling asleep on the living room floor, all of us exhausted from the headiness of the ideas we discussed and the general camaraderie.

It felt good. And right. There was no sexual content to any of this. It felt more like three good friends sharing our lives. I enjoyed it.. very much.

It's not that I question monogamy. For some people, it works very well. I basically hold the position that it depends on the person and the circumstances. Fundamentally, I believe that grown adults can decide for themselves how they want to design their relationships.

Still, I hear so many horror stories of marriage crammed into a box of exclusivity. Sooner or later, egos get involved, power struggles arise and the fur begins to fly. Friendships are destroyed and turn into something else. It's as though something in the dynamic changes so radically that it becomes rather frightening.

Just for me, I don't know if I'd ever want to try marriage again. I might be willing to live with someone - if it's the right person.

What do you think? Do you think monogamy and conventional marriage is the natural way of human beings - or do you think it is a social custom that has little relevance in this day and time?



Defiantmuse said...

I'm glad you wrote about this. It's been on my mind a lot recently. I don't believe monogamy is natural. Nor is the idea of marriage. And for me personally, one of the reasons I've been so resistant to marriage is it's origins of legally passing "ownership" or a woman from one man (her father) to another man (her husband). Another is that I just don't believe in the idea of just being with one person for the rest of your life. It's a nice notion but the reality? People change. Relationships change. You have to allow for that. And yes there is divorce, etc. but then what's the point?

MsLittlePea said...

It works for some and not others. I think people need to think for themselves and not let society decide for them. I imagine much of the push to be married and monogamous(at least for women) has much to do with religion. The whole idea of wedding have always been silly to me even though I am married.(I had no ceremony though)
But is marriage and monogamy natural and relevant today you ask? Hm. That's a hard one. I think yes and no to the natural part. I agree with you grown adults can respectfully think for themselves.

But as to relevance. I'd like to say yes because I do believe in marriage and the power of making a promise to someone. But I'm leaning towards no given the divorce rate and the way people treat each other after all those "promises" are made. My sister just got through a very emotional divorce and the first advice given to her(from one of our Aunts) was that she should get it annulled in the church. We were disgusted by this since that would make it seem as if the marriage never happened, like her kids were never born. And all for what? So that when the time came she could remarry in the church? That's ridiculous. And it's those little silly rules like that that make marriage less and less relevant.

jen said...

i think any act of being together, sexual or not, is a choice. we are born alone, we die alone, the rest we have to set our minds to and find the path that makes the most sense for each of us.

Amy Y said...

I think this was a very brave post, Chani!

I'm married... with no ceremony... but if I had it to do all over again, I'm not sure that it's necessary for me to have a piece of paper to profess my love for my partner. I'd probably just cohabit or maybe not even that, if I were ever to move on to another relationship.

My husband and I did dabble with not being monogamous. In the end, I wasn't able to handle it because of trust issues related to the lack of monogamy that was happening before I was let in on the secret. I think things might have been different if we'd tried inviting other people into our relationship before the trust was broken, though.

I find the subject fascinating, though. I think we're monogamous because of societal judgement rather than natural tendancies. Because let's face it ~ we're selfish and it feels good to be desired. By as many people as possible. And really, I think we have far worse things to worry about than people going around loving all the people they can. I'd much rather see that than the tension and hatred that come out of an unhappy marriage (and the children that are a product of that environment).

meno said...

"I believe that grown adults can decide for themselves how they want to design their relationships.

That really says it all.

Blog Antagonist said...

This is such an interesting topic. A couple of years ago, I knew a threesome who practiced polyamory. They lived together and the woman had children by both men. By all accounts, they were deliriously happy.

At first I each his own, but not for me. But the more I thought about it...hmmm.

Realistically, I'm not sure I'm secure enough for a relationship like that, but I can the appeal and I can see how it works for some people.

I love my husband very much. We've been married fifteen years and I can honestly say I've never been tempted to be unfaithful. But that doesn't mean I don't look. We are sexual creatures and it's hard to deny thousands of years of evolutionary programming.

Girl on the Run... said...

I would love a monogamous relationship. However I'm not sure if with all the spices of life it's a possibility.

For me monogamy is a the only way it should be. Girl Boy meet fall in love and live happily ever after... it's my dream since childhood. Still working on said dream.

Boy.. must be lost!


heartinsanfrancisco said...

I don't know if monogamy is natural or not, but it is not for everybody. There are animal species that mate for life, but they don't live as long as humans. Marriage is a societal construct to protect children, mostly, and they should be protected. I think that people should be free to do whatever makes them comfortable, though, as long as it includes supporting their children.

slouching mom said...

i don't think monogamy is natural. but i do think that of all social constructions, it is, in theory, one of the most beautiful and emotionally fulfilling.

it's hard to manage, and it mostly doesn't end up working, but when it does, i can't imagine that there's anything more deeply satisfying for both parties.

stanghkanaurak said...

This is a state of mind, not the body. I was married for a very long time to my wife whom I loved very much. It was not predictable. It is a matter of the mind and spirit. In most infidelity it is a part of the body that is not very important that is concerned. Mind is the seat of consciousness and this is where it becomes harmful. If we use our minds to seek the next high and the next thrill, we do harm to ourselves and others.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I have no clarity on this one. There are some species for which monogamy is natural.

We are omnivores by nature. Perhaps we are the same division in our relationships - for some of us, monogamy is natural, for some serial monogamy is natural and for some no monogamy is natural.

Suki said...

I'll agree with you. Monogamy is a societal construct in my eyes. No point in enforcing it on people making a hash of long-term relationships!
That's about as much as I can dash out before college, I'll be thinking about this and might get back again later.

Anonymous said...

Instead of hijacking your comment section, I wrote a post in response for tomorrow.

QT said...

It is hard for me to imagine what it would be like if I had been married at my mom's age (25) and at almost 60, was still married to the same person. I have changed so much in the past 10 years...

I agree with the statement that grown adults can decide for themselves. And I also think that sexual fidelity is given way more weight than it deserves, when really, emotional fidelity means so much more *in my eyes*.

Anonymous said...

It is probably not an ssue of what is "natural," it is an issue for what is comofrtable for th epeople involced. But I'm extrememly skeptical that most people would be okay with their partner sleeping with other people. I know some say it works but I don't buy it. I think it is almost inevtable that someone will get hurt. That said, I also don't think that many people can stay in one monogamous relationship forever. I don't know the answer. I had a good marriage for a very long time, and I still feel like marriage is a good thing. Not a necessary thing, but possibly wonderful. I expect I will be ready to make that leap of faith again one day.

Chanda (aka Bea) said...

I hardly know what to think about marriage or relationships. I've never been married, and my relationships have been faint imitations of what I think they should have been.

I do know that I do not have that much control over my little green monster, so if I were to find myself in a LTR or marriage, it would have to be monogomous.

But that's just me. I think love is so hard to come by in this world, that one should do whatever one has to do to keep it.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I do not think monogamy and conventional marriage is the natural way of human being. I believe that marriage was initially developed as means of insuring that the offspring of a man were actually his and therefore his “blood” received the inheritance. In most cultures (and religions) fidelity was required of the wife, but not the husband.

That began to change in the West during the past 80 or so years after suffrage was won by women. The idea that “what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander” developed to the point that polite society expected the husband to be faithful to the wife for the first time in history.

It changed again in the 1960s with the so-called “sexual revolution” stimulated by the development of the birth control pill. Sex was freed from conception.

Of course, there is much more to this marriage debate—I’ve been researching and writing about it for over 30 years. For me, folks most naturally ought to do whatever feels right for them individually, realizing that violating their society’s mores and laws could lead to anything from being ostracized to being decapitated or stoned to death.

Jazz said...

I've been with - and faithful to - the same man for over 20 years now. As is he. I can't say neither of us will ever stray, that's not something anyone can promise. But I can assure that if one or the other does ditch monogamy, it won't sit well with the other.

This being said, in the past 20 years I've become a completely different person from when we got togther and so has he; we are very very lucky to have evolved in the same direction.

Be that as it may, I don't think that we are necessarily wired for monogamy, probably the opposite, although personally I couldn't have an open relationship.

I'm more of the serial monogamy sort. I can only deal with one partner at a time, anything else takes way too much energy.

Christine said...

this is a very interesting topic. i have a friend who has been married for several years with 2 kids. now a new person is involved in the marriage and the person has joined the family. they consider the three way relationship to be a type of polyamory relationship. once upon a time i might have been shocked and upset by this, but for their family it just seems right.

i don't judge them, though many do.

for me, though, i truly love the monogamous relationship i am in with my husband.

Molly said...

Wow. Loaded subject! Our long marriage has should I say this? Turbulent? It often seemed like not such a good idea. But we're from ultra traditional backgrounds.........Most days I think we still love each. But love evolves over the years into commitment and shared concerns. I'm not sure "love" as defined by the media, is much more than nature's way of continuing the species. It's what's left when your eyes are finally open and you're wearing your spectacles that determines the rest..........

we_be_toys said...

I am a happily married woman. That said, I'm not hung up on the idea that people need to be married or monogamous if that isn't how they're wired. We got married after living together for 4 years because we knew we wanted to have children together, and we wanted them to have the benefit of a stable family dynamic. For me, that's about the only reason to cleave together in a permanent bond.
Very thought provoking, as usual, and some excellent responses.
Think you might be impacting now?! :P

hele said...

I agree with Jen. Whatever makes sense to our hearts between the two biggest events of our lives are what we should be doing.

Mark said...

Great subject. Most marriages don't work because people normally get married for all of the wrong reasons. One many people get married to early. With the average life span lasting longer and longer those who marry young are going to be in a monogomus relationship that much longer as opposed to years past. I still believe in marriage, however I believe it has to be done with eyes wide open and entered into at a much later time in life.

Ian Lidster said...

After two failed marriages, I didn't want to do it again. Then I met my current wife, and it just felt right. Still does a decade later. Hopefully I learned from the past. I think she did too, as I am also her third.
I was very unfaithful in my first marriage back in the 70s, and I thought fidelity was merely a convention, and not one I wanted to adhere to. I've fully changed that view, not because of morality, per se, but because of the risk of hurting someone and consequently losing them. This time I want to keep what i have because I cherish it.

Village Farang said...

I figure if you want a single life, stay single. If you commit to someone, then commit. The cheater always feels justified and doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. If you care for someone, however, it seems callous to disregard their feelings and betray their trust. Like so many things, sex only becomes an issue when there is something else wrong.

JBelle said...

I absolutely think mate for for a lifetime. There are breaks and malfunctions, but in general I think it's our preference to pick a mate and move through this life with the mate. Wolves mate for a lifetime. So do bald eagles. And hawks!

JBelle said...

I absolutely think HUMANS mate for a lifetime.

Olivia said...

A very provocative post, Chani. I think this would vary so much depending on the person. It is so hard to say what is right for someone else, at least for me.

I believe in lifetime monogamy. I think that the longer you are with someone the more you learn about unconditional love.

I'm typing with one hand so my comment will be short this time!



painted maypole said...

i don't know how I missed this post when it first went up....

I'm open to all different kinds of marriage, and although I do think it is in many ways a social construct, I also think there is a lot of value in commiting to one person and doing your best to work through things, and creating a stable and safe environment for children to be raised. So... I think it has a lot of relevance in this day and time, but I also think, for all the "family values" talk in America that we don't really support marriage well at all. Families used to be much closer together, and friends and relatives all supported each other and there was more community. Now people get married and disappear into their own homes, and only rely on each other for everything, and no wonder they stress out and think the grass is greener elsewhere.

ah... I'm rambling. So... um, I'm all for marriage, but I think it can take many forms

AnneDroid said...

I think that a long and happy marriage is a wonderful blessing, providing, through love, amongst other things: friendship, security, safe and fulfilling sex, company, a sense of being understood and accepted, and freedom from loneliness. I also think if you've not experienced all that, either in your own or your parents' marriage, it must be very difficult, impossible even, to see marriage as anything other than a place where you feel trapped and are potentially emotionally hurt on a daily basis.

I also think that a happy marriage is ideal as a place for kids to grow.

What is unhelpful though is when married people are smug and judgemental of those who're not as lucky.

I also think we should teach kids about marriage so they have a more realistic expectation of the potential lovely comfy-ness of it rather than the soppy Hollywood stuff or the glamorous erotic stuff.

I like Ogden Nash's poem a lot:
"The glances over the cocktails
that once did seem so sweet
don't seem quite so amorous
over the Shredded Wheat".

Julie Pippert said...

Ooooh great post, great thing to discuss.

We married to appease the laws and culture. I don't think either of us felt we needed it. After going through our own very personal service, we asked each other for a couple of years: has it hit yet, do you feel married? And the truth was, no, we didn't feel any differently. There came a point, you see, when we asked each other: what do you choose? And it was each other.

Now, fifteen years later, I do feel it. I feel married.

The first eight years were the easy part: DINKS.

Then we added children. A mortgage. Jobs. Settling down. Trying to be normal. Challenges hit.

Suddenly, the construct of marriage was meaningful. We had made vows, publicly, legally, and this challenged us to work together through it. He is a lifemate and soulmate, although neither indicates perfection or is a guarantee of anything. It means we are invested. It means our goal is to navigate and work this thing together. It means a challenge, having to work through, ride out rough times, remember to enjoy good. It means a struggle sometimes to put our focus into one another. But we do. And to us, it's meaningful and right.

This is our story, and it is applicable only to us.

I don't presume to know what is right. But I do know the reward of what we do for us.

That's as personal as I have ever gotten, I think, about my marriage, online.

Magpie said...

interesting post, and interesting comment thread.

we got married because my husband felt strongly that kids needed married parents, and we were talking about having kids.

in many ways, i think it's a silly institution. i'm a person, an individual. like jen said, you're born alone, you die alone. and like defiant muse said, there's that cultural baggage of the "ownership" issue. it seems unfair that the government (and many employers) give preferential treatments to married folk.

all that said, i'm not sorry i married my husband.

womaninawindow said...

I think marriage comes down to two things fundamentally: trust and respect. Anything can work within that framework as long as two people are evenly matched with these two traits. Oh, a sprinkle of honesty too. Of course it's the honesty about it all that keeps it all moving.

cat said...

I'm married now, but in the beginning I had objections to the institution. Youth? Not sure.

Now that I'm older, it's comfortable.

Also, it's easier. Easier to describe the person you live with by just the one word. Easier to battle with the red tape of being an expat. Easier in that there is no hunt for companionship.

If something happens would I marry again? Most likely not. It's been too hard to get to where I am now in this relationship, so I doubt I'd have the energy to do it all over again.

And I do enjoy my own company, so it's not like I'd be lonely alone.

Catherine said...

What a fascinating discussion...

Carla said...

Very interesting. Sorry I wasn't around in when the conversation was taking place. Well, to put in my two bits now...what I think is most essential in honesty and respecting the other person. If one person believes in monogamy and is upfront about it, it's not fair for a person who believes in multiple partners to get in a relationship with that person without first coming clean about their beliefs and intentions. I really believe honesty is fundamental.

Anonymous said...