I have delayed writing this for a long time because the subject of monogamy is one that frankly, gets me into a lot of trouble. It is something I have struggled with all of my life. I will probably get into trouble for even writing this. Oh, well.
The other day my wife asked me if I had ever been faithful to a woman. I would have rather she had asked me how long I have gone without cheating because I could have confidently answered a year. Which to me seems like a long time. But to ask me if I had ever been faithful to a woman well, the sad answer to that was no. When I was younger I had no desire to be faithful to anyone. And then when I finally had the desire I found that I did not have the ability. My desires were too strong, too overpowering. I was like the character, Joseph Miles, from my novel Succulent Prey. Wherever I looked I was surrounded by flesh calling out to me to consume it and resisting it was almost maddening. Still, even the call of the flesh could not completely explain my inability to commit. As I grew older my sexual appetite declined as it does in all men. I may still have sex or crave sex more than the average thirty to thirty-five year old but certainly no more than the average twenty to twenty-five year old. Unusual for a thirty-six year-old but not indicative of a problem. Not like it was when I was twenty to twenty-five and my sexual habits were more equatable to a crazed weasel. Now, as then to a large degree, the problem is the simple fact that I love women. Not just their bodies. I love women. I fall deeply and madly in love with them and it pains me that I must choose one over another.
I am a polyamorous person. I do not, as is expected in this country, fall out of love with one person before falling in love with the next. My emotions just don't work that way. I am fully capable of being madly in love with more than one woman at a time. This inevitably leaves me in the unenviable position of having to chose between the woman I love and the other woman I love. Which means that I am always second guessing myself, "Did I make the right choice?" "Is she really the one or should I have chosen the other one?" And by doing so I am also always hurting some one's feelings and making them feel insecure about their relationship with me. It isn't fair to them or me. Marriage has solved this to a degree. I've made my choice. I'm fully committed to that choice. End of story. But every time there's a major argument the old questions pop up. Well I have another question. Why does there even have to be a choice?
Most of the men I know are very similar to me in this regard. True, most of the men I know are fighters or writers or construction workers or athletes of some kind and it can be argued that these fields attract certain types of men, men who are perhaps more macho or ego driven. Still, I don't think this is really about ego. I'm talking about emotion. It can be argued that writers as artists are more likely to shun societal mores. I don't think it's merely about rebelling either though. It could be argued that fighters other athletes have increased testosterone levels and that the selection pool is greater for fighters making it harder for them to be monogamous do to increased opportunity among a wide variety of females. This would make sense if we were merely talking about sex. I'm talking about love here. I'm talking about the very male habit of falling in love with one woman while still in love with another.
"Should we have to choose?"
That does make me sound greedy doesn't it? It makes me sound like I want to have my cake and eat it too. The common response to this dilemma is always, "Oh, you just don't know what you want?" This of course is not true. I have always known what I wanted each time I've been put in this dilemma. I wanted to keep them both. The only confusion came because society told me that I could not, that I had to choose one of them. My question is why? Why do we have to choose?
Chris Rock made a comment about the different ways that men and women react to potential mates. A man sees his bestfriend with a beautiful, intelligent, wonderful woman that he's deeply in love with and he thinks to himself, "I want a woman just like her." A woman sees her bestfriend with a handsome, intelligent, wonderful man with a good job and she thinks to herself, "I want him." It is so common for women to share other women's men that why do we even bother to pretend? In my first marriage I never bothered to hide the fact that I was married from anyone and I still had women crawling out of the woodwork to take me into their beds. Just as the instinct in males is to plant their seeds in as much fertile soil as possible, I believe that the instinct in females is to find the very best reproductive stock and the very best providers for them and their offspring, whether or not he already has another mate. This urge is resisted for the most part due to pressure from society and ideas of right and wrong that are programmed into us since birth. In some this morality is programmed so deeply that it supersedes and actually replaces the old instincts with these more civilized instincts but in others where this civilization has not gone as deep, the old instincts persist. I believe that this is why the more primitive and less civilized the environment a man or woman comes from or even conversely, the wealthier, more famous, more artistic, the more above the rules of society a man or woman is or believes themselves to be, the more the likelihood of polyamorous behavior. I suffer from both of these conditions. I emerged from the uncivilized streets of Philadelphia where the rules of polite society were slow to trickle down, directly into the art world where challenging the rules of society was the expected norm. In both circles my sexual eccentricities were applauded and celebrated. Even in so-called polite society, when men are alone and the women-folk are not in earshot, men did not often condemn me for my lack of fidelity. They wanted details. They wanted to live my life vicariously because each one of them wished they had the courage if not the ability to live as I did no matter how unenviable I assured them my life was. Because what it comes down to is that men like sex and we like it with different partners. We also like to be loved and we like to be loved by many.
Most mammals are not monogamous. In fact, a recent study shows that none of them are. Even the ones we long thought mated for life were cheating on the side according to DNA testing. Most mammals travel in packs where there is one alpha male and several females and other males who are generally the alpha male's children. Others are matriarchal with a female leading a pack of males and subservient non-reproductive females. Very few mammals have what we would consider to be the traditional family structure of one male and one female mated for life and those that do, studies show, still have "affairs" outside of their committed relationships. So are we humans trying to buck a natural instinct, perhaps even a selective design of nature? It does not appear that nature favors monogamy. I would think that if it did it would not be such a difficult thing for even us elevated and evolved humans to do. If polyamourous polygamous behavior were merely an aberration it would not be so common. In my experience the number of men that are truly monogamous far outnumber the number of men that are not and even they would if they didn't think they would break their wife's heart and lose their families. But if she was cool with it every last one of them would be cool with it too. Does that make it right? I'm not saying that. I'm just presenting another point of view.
Polygamy began, in many African tribes, as a way of ensuring that every woman would have a man to protect and provide for her. In many early tribes it was the chief's duty to marry any unwed women in the tribe. As tribes grew into nations this became impossible for the chief to do so he extended this duty to all the men in his tribe. Many Native American tribes sprang from the same traditions. A widowed woman would be married by her sister's husband so that she would not be alone without anyone to hunt for her or to help protect her. This practice was perverted in other cultures where a man's wealth began to be measured by the number of wives he had because presumably you only kept as many as you could afford. It then became common for the very wealthy to have wives and concubines that measured in the hundreds and even thousands. Obviously, this was not a matter of love but rather conceit. It is doubtable that many of these Sheiks, Sultans, and Kings, could even give the names of all of their wives and mistresses let alone have any genuine feelings for them. It was further perverted in religious cults that called for arranged marriages in which children as young as twelve were married off to men their father's age. Many now view child-brides as an inevitable consequence of polygamy just as they view child-prostitution as an inevitable product of prostitution rather than a function of its very illegality and lack of regulation. If it were legal there would be rules upon it just like every other legal institution. Rules which would prevent men or women from having underage spouses or having several hundred spouses I would assume. So what is it that prevents this from happening? Why is having more than one bride so frowned upon?
In the bible there are numerous examples of polyamorous polygamous behavior, which surprises me when we consider that biblical morality is one of the main reasons for the ban on polygamy. Are there other reasons than "The Bible says so?" Of course there are. I just can't think of one compelling argument right now. If you take away incest and child brides what other reason could there be? Men or women getting their hearts broken by having to share their lovers with other men or women? That's happening right now with or without polygamy. It's called adultery and it is at the top of the list when it comes to divorce statistics. The betrayal and the dishonesty has always been quoted as one of the main reasons for why cheating is so damaging to a relationship. If everything was on the up and up would that be worse? I don't know. I'm just asking. There's the fact of a child potentially having multiple fathers or mothers or not being certain who was the father or mother. Like that isn't happening in epidemic numbers now? At least if it was all under one roof it would be less confusing. If society lifted the stigma and the taboo around polygamy I don't think a child would care one bit whether he had one mommy or daddy or two or three. Now, because of the stigma such a thing carries in society it would be difficult to a kid but I still think he'd rather have three fathers that all live with him than three potential fathers that he doesn't know and has never met as we have today. It sounds like I'm touting polygamy as a cure-all for today's fucked up family situation and I'm certainly not. Maybe I am. I honestly don't know. I know the idea doesn't sound too far fetched to me. My wife would probably appreciate a break from my ravenous sexual appetite a few nights a week and I'm sure she would prefer it were with a second wife who she knew and approved of than with some random girl picked up at a nightclub. Maybe. Maybe she'd kill me either way. I ain't asking her any time soon.
So why am I thinking about such an off-the-wall subject? Have I completely lost my mind? I'm sure the HBO series "Big Love" has gotten many Americans seriously thinking about polygamy. The show does a pretty good job of illustrating the pros and cons of polygamy without resorting to the easy answer of "It's wrong! It results in child-brides!" Although they do show that side of it too. They show the jealousies, the camaraderie, the struggles the children go through trying to make sense of it all, the financial difficulties (though they did cop-out by making the main character wealthy), the husband's struggle to keep all of the women happy and satisfied (lots of Viagra.) I doubt I'd have that issue for many years. They even have terms for the other wives "Sister wives". Sounds warm and cozy doesn't it? Damn intriguing show. My wife hates it when I watch it though. She knows that after every episode my mind is working. "How do I talk her into adopting a sister wife?" If I can figure that out, I'm curing cancer next.