It’s nice to hear the anti-marriage drumbeat intensifying.
Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
Sandra Tsing Loh, The Atlantic, July/August 2009, pg. 116
Sandra Tsing Loh is getting divorced. In this article for The Atlantic magazine she explains the usual trajectory of relationships and why monogamy is unnatural. She uses this to argue that the current model of marriage is outdated. Serial monogamy, she says, is a much more natural model for human beings.
I am a critic of both marriage and monogamy and agree with much of Loh’s analysis of each.
Why do we still insist on marriage? Sure, it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grand-parents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?
What I do not agree with, however, is that relationships must necessarily end in order to start fresh with someone new. A more utopian model is polyamory, where individuals are free to love more than one person at a time. Each person satiates different needs and at different levels. This is what we should strive to achieve to maximize happiness.
The dopamine highs of new love are euphoric. Eventually those feelings naturally subside and we settle in to an equally wonderful stage of relationships based less on excitement and lust and more on deep and lasting trust and companionship.
Our relationship model should be like concentric ripples of sequentially increasing diameter on a smooth pond created by the disturbance of a dropped object. We have far fewer intimate relationships than we have casual acquaintances. There can be room in the interior circle for more than one other person.
I need a core person in my life. I’ve always been that way. I’m glad to have been with Kirsten for so long and that we’ve developed a love that transcends the emotional highs and lows of fleeting infatuations. She meets most of my needs, but not all; she doesn’t like to fly, watch sports at the pub, or engage in lively debate. And, no matter how hard we try, the days of dopamine rushes are over for us. We get them for a hour or a day or a weekend, but they aren’t constant. Our relationship has naturally evolved beyond the early days, weeks, and months of lust, infatuation and curious interest.
The problem I have with serial monogamy is that it’s akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Too often people jettison a longtime partner because of sexual infidelity alone. This is sad, petty, shallow, short-sighted, immature and completely unnecessary.
It is unlikely–if not impossible–for one person to fulfill every need we will have during our lifetime. It is inevitable, therefore, that trying to maintain such a relationship model will lead to disappointment, resentment, and emptiness. Instead, we should be able to maintain relationships with enough people so all our needs are satisfied completely.
We should categorically reject the one-size-fits all model that persists today. We should, throughout or lives, have many close friends, romantic flings, and sexual partners. There is no reason we can’t have all these types of relationships simultaneously, instead of serially.