Is monogamy outdated?

Bridie O’Shea questions whether monogamy is in our DNA, or just drilled into our heads.

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For the majority of us, we’ve grown up in a world accepting that romantic relationships are between two people. That’s it. End of story. You wake up one day (preferably in your 20s) and casually ‘bump’ into The One outside of a café/beach/cinema/bar where your eyes meet and it’s love at first sight. Then you go on dates to a café/beach/cinema/bar, get married, and casually ride off into the sunset as you go live out the rest of your lovesick lives together…

Wait! Hold on. Sorry to shatter the dream, but according to Sexual Health Australia approximately one in three first marriages end in divorce. We’re living longer and exploring more of what’s out there in this great and wonderful world; so is it unrealistic to expect partners to be sexually committed to each other for all eternity?

With the recent leaks from Ashley Madison, a Canadian-based online dating site for married people or those in committed relationships, a big question mark is hanging over monogamy; is it outdated?

According to The Newcastle Herald, more than 25,000 Hunter residents have signed up to the website whose slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair”. Journalist, Georgina Mitchell, from The Herald also said, “The data, broken down by postcode, reveals another Hunter hot-spot is the Callaghan campus of the University of Newcastle, where 65 people – 10 per cent of the postcode’s population – are members of the site.”

If people aren’t happy or satisfied in monogamous relationships, then why stay in them? Is it fear from breaking away from the cultural norm? Are they worried what people will think?

Hunter student, Amanda, believes that she’s always been polyamorous but didn’t realise it until she stumbled across the word online. “That was definitely a turning point,” she said. She’d heard of open relationships before, but polyamory seemed different, more inclusive.

Part of the reason Amanda loves polyamory is that she can have the best of both worlds; long-term relationships and casual flings. But she’s had mostly long-term partners because simply, she loves falling in love. “My boyfriend and I have just reached our 12 month anniversary actually and we have both had a number of casual relationships in that time (he also identifies as polyamorous),” she explained.

Another Hunter resident, Jessica*, admits that she has just fallen into monogamous relationships without thinking about it. Her last monogamous relationship ended amicably about a year and a half ago. Towards the end of the relationship they stopped having sex and it impacted severely on her self-esteem and self worth. A moment that sticks out in her mind was when her partner said, “I couldn’t handle being in an open relationship… I couldn’t deal with the thought of someone else touching you.” She thought this was extremely possessive and felt objectified.

Jessica* then realised that she didn’t find romantic/sexual relationships to be any different to platonic relationships. “Having multiple friends doesn’t make each relationship less valid, and none of the interactions or experiences would be the same with each person,” she explained, “I’m also not a jealous person and see nothing wrong with having multiple partners so long as there is consistent open communication and everyone’s being honest. And so long as everyone’s being safe.”

A couple of months into having multiple partners, Jessica* feels liberated. She’s met people through Tinder (downloaded for entertainment purposes only she emphasised to me), at bars and through mutual friends. And when the question about having children was raised, she said, “I’m not sure if I’ll ever want children. And I don’t consider marriage to be necessary.”

Surprisingly, Amanda has found that people react positively when she mentions that she’s polyamorous. “People are always curious and gradually more and more people have known what I’m talking about!” So it appears that non-monogamous relationships are being more widely recognised and accepted now then they were 10 years ago.

Amanda believes that the portrayal of monogamous relationships as the ‘norm’ in media is an outdated idea. “I believe most people are naturally more inclined to a non-monogamous lifestyle, especially when they are young, but we are socialised to believe it is wrong. So most people who have these urges feel they must hide it out of shame, and unfortunately most of them cheat.” *cough* Ashley Madison *cough*.

So it’s difficult to say whether humans are generally monogamous by nature or nurture. But what is clear is that you have to find the relationship (or relationships) that works for you. We’ve only got one life; enjoy it the way you want to.

*Name has been altered for privacy.

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