When I was lying on the beach, being kept warm by the gentle rays of the caribbean sun, I finally had time and peace of mind to finish reading a book I started about one year ago: Treue ist auch keine Lösung – ein Plädoyer für mehr Freiheit in der Liebe (translates: Fidelity is no solution either – a plea for more freedom in love) by Holger Lendt and Lisa Fischbach. On the back of the cover it says:
LOVE DOES NOT NEED FIDELITY. We may not want to see it: real fidelity is a laudable exception, not the rule. And: infidelity can be love, fidelity on the other hand a loveless habit. Why do many people prefer to leave their partner in stead of separating themselves from their fidelity ideal? Is there a way out of the dilemma of wishing for fidelity and desiring to be unfaithful?
This book is not a guide. The authors do not want to promote polyamorous lifestyles or other relationship forms. They also don’t want to convince us that being monogamous is bad. All they do, is explain from different perspectives (scientific, religious, philosophical, psychological) why and how the idea, or rather the dogma of monogamy came to be and what consequences it has on how we (have been) deal(ing) with romantic relationships, jealousy, the fear of being left and sexual exclusivity. I do not want to summarise this book. What I want, is for every one to read it (at least until almost the end – that’s where it gets a bit too New Age Hippy bla bla for my taste) and share a few thoughts on the subject to get your mind – and your heart – going.
A LITTLE EXPERIMENT
I am taking one passage from the book in which the authors invite the reader to indulge in a little mind experiment.
Let’s imagine a situation in which you catch your partner at home having sex with someone else. How would people with a certain relationship model respond?
1. The person living a polyamore lifestyle would get into the room and say something like: “Hey, why didn’t you tell me anything out this? So nice to see you two together like this. Afterwards you have to tell me how the two of you fell in love!”
2. The open relationship person with the motto ‘don’t ask, don’t tell‘ might frown a bit and say: “Dear, we agreed not to do this at home. Here is some money and the address of a nice hotel. The service is good and in room number 55 you can get as loud as you want without disturbing the other guests.”
3. The swinger would surely suggest to join in.
4. The monogamous type would get jealous, angry, start a fight – or worse – and most likely end the relationship.
Which reaction would be the most objective, pleasant, loving one? Would you be able to react like that?
I used to be quite insecure in my two long term relationships and therefore also quite jealous. Interesting enough people who have had or are having affairs are also the ones who can get jealous and suspicious of their partners – because they know how it works, how easily it can be to be unfaithful and that it doesn’t have to mean the relationship or marriage is bad. I have been unfaithful in the past, so I can certainly relate to that. Once I got married, both my insecurity and my jealousy vanished. I began to realise that fidelity, being monogamous, is not that important and also not something I can expect from or demand of my partner – or myself for that matter. We tend to tell ourselves we have to be exclusive to one another for a long term relationship to be ‘perfect’. It is far more important, though, that a couple knows they can depend on each other, that they are friends and that they form a good team when children are involved. This is the basis for a long-lasting partnership, not being sexually faithful.
Monogamy does not come naturally to human beings. In fact, it does not come naturally to any being. We used to think there are animals who are considered being monogamous. Biologists recently discovered that by doing DNA tests with the offspring of ‘monogamous’ animals, some of the offspring were in fact not conceived by the ‘official’ male partner of their mother. So there goes that argument.
Monogamy is a concept forced upon us by religion to keep us – women (maybe…?) even more – under control. Marriage originally was a business deal. Add the romantic but very much unrealistic idea of two people being in love and bonding for life until death do them part and there you have it. By being in a monogamous, steady relationship men have the best chance of making sure their children are 100% theirs. We let ourselves be convinced that by being sexually faithful we are expressing true love. If our partner sleeps around or has an affair, he/she does not truly love us. If we have an affair, there must be something wrong with the relationship we are in. If the relationship does not correspond to what we believe are our ideals of true love, we end it and off we go looking for another, better, more perfect partner. This is called serial monogamy by the way – and it seems to be a trend nowadays. For the grass is always greener on the other side, now is it?
A person being under control sooner or later gets frustrated. As long as there are no seductions luring around the corner we are doing fine. But then we bump into someone at a club, get to know this fascinating new colleague, meet someone at a course, you name it. We feel attracted to this unknown person, but we cannot give in to our desire to seduce or be seduced by him or her because it is immoral. Because we are not animals. Because it would hurt our partner – if he or she would find out. Because there is nothing wrong with the relationship we’re in. Because we can’t start sleeping around just because the relationship isn’t running that smoothly at the moment. Because the sex at home is satisfying. Because… you fill in the reason. Our Pavlov brain is convincing ourselves there is no reason to have sex or be in love someone else. There is also no reason to buy a second pair of shoes when the first one fits comfortably and looks nice. And yet, if we are completely honest with ourselves, we want to anyway.
YES WE CAN
We can love both our parents, our siblings, our grandparents, other family members, our children, our friends. We can love so many people without giving it another thought, without neglecting anyone if we put some effort into maintaining these relationships. But we can only romantically love one partner? Huh?!
I have mentioned this argument before: Even when people were only getting to be 35-40-50 years old, they were not being faithful. We have a good chance of reaching the age of 85-90-95. Do you honestly think you won’t feel tempted to have sex with another person once, twice or trice during your lifetime? Or fall in love with another person? And an even more important question: do you want to deny your partner, someone you claim to care about – and yourself! – these wonderful, breathtaking feelings you experience when lightening strikes?
I remember how amazing it was to be in love with my now husband, more than 10 years ago. It made me feel alive, vibrating, energetic. I had never felt anything like it before. It was simply great. It would be a lie to say nothing has changed. Those butterflies that had invaded my belly have gone. Every relationship ends up getting some bruises along the way. The quantity of sex decreases and the quality becomes more routine. No matter how hard you try, every day life simply turns the pink glasses into some shade of grey. Love changes.
A couple in our situation could decide to end it, look for the next, better thrill and start the whole process all over again. Or they can stay together because the basis is good and they know they can be a good team, because they have gone through a lot and supported one another through difficult situations, because they care and because they are friends. I want my friend to be happy. If someone else can contribute to that, I don’t want to be the one to stand in the way. I hope I can expect the same from him.
New year resolutions are not really my thing, but for this year and all the years to come I am going to wish for everyone to get out of control and break free. Not from each other, but from the dogmas that have been imprinted into our minds for centuries on end. What do love and sex really mean to you? Do they mean (s)exclusivity? Possession? Control? Jealousy? Is love about you or about the other? Or are love and sex about happiness? Growth? Fun? Feeling good? Freedom?
People who are truly free, who can love freely, are happy people.
They are not frustrated or disappointed or angry.
Happy people don’t need control.
And the world would be a much better place.