Consider this scenario and question posed by writer Chuck Klosterman:
The Jack and Jane Hypothetical
Let’s say you have two friends named Jack and Jane. They have been romantically involved for two years, and the relationship has always been good. Then one day Jack calls you and sadly mutters, “Jane just broke up with me.” You ask why this happened. Jack says, “She thinks I cheated on her.” You ask, “Well, did you?” Jack says, “I’m not sure. Something strange happened.”
This is what Jack proceeds to tell you:
“There is this woman in my apartment building who I barely know. I’ve seen her in the hallway a few times, and we’ve just sort of nodded our hellos. She is very normal looking, neither attractive nor unattractive. Last week, I came home from the bar very drunk, and I ran into her while I was getting my mail. She was drunk, too. So just to be neighborly, we decided to go to her apartment to have one more beer. But because we were intoxicated, the conversation was very loose and slightly flirtatious. And then she suddenly tells me that she has a bizarre sexual quirk: She can have an orgasm only if a man watches her masturbate. This struck me as fascinating, so I started asking questions about why this was. And then–somehow–it just sort of happened. I never touched her and I never kissed her, but I ended up watching this woman masturbate. And then I went home and went to bed. I told Jane about this a few days later, mostly because it was all so weird. But Jane went fucking insane, and she angrily said our relationship was over. Now she won’t even return my calls.”
Whose side do you take, Jack’s or Jane’s?
In the article “Monogamy, It’s Over Between Us”, Klosterman argues that the above scenario raises more questions than just “Whose side do you take?” It asks “When does cheating begin for you?” and the answer to that question depends on if you think monogamy is reasonable.
Klosterman (and increasingly many others) thinks that not only is monogamy “mathematically unreasonable” but it doesn’t matter if you actually cheat or not if you believe monogamy isn’t a realistic way to exist.
So complicated. Which is why I think monogamy is reasonable. It’s reasonable because it’s simple. At the very least, monogamy allows for a more simple life.
If I were Jane, I would think Jack “cheated on me” as soon as he got drunk because it prevented him from being a gentleman. Jack “betrayed me” when he burdened me with the story of his stupid behavior and complicated my life. I would go “fucking insane” because he’s forcing me to think about what happened, make sense of it, and respond.
Monogamy is losing it’s allure as the ideal of romantic relationships not because it’s unreasonable or because we’re “animals” as Cameron Diaz explained it (Animals who use toilets). Monogamy is being questioned because we are being conditioned to value newness over depth. Yes, we are living longer, and technological innovation has made the world smaller, with more and easier access to more people. But, that technological innovation is also teaching us to want newer things, and faster and better than what we had previously. The “What you have isn’t enough” mentality is creating and exacerbating feelings of emptiness. Monogamy can no longer fill and ever-expanding emptiness, but shiny new things and desiring shiny, new, exciting relationships are seemingly great stopgaps and distractions.
Monogamy makes perfect sense to me because I value depth and monogamy allows me to start deep and remain deep.
I like newness but I find newness by becoming more curious about someone. I think people get bored in traditional monogamous relationships because they expect too much or there isn’t enough mystery. Deepness requires that some parts of the other person remain unknown. It requires you and the other person have a private, interior life that the other only gets glimpses of and always leaves you wanting to know more. Depth and desire require space.
Does monogamy not work or are people too shallow to allow monogamy to work?
I really believe everyone wants a lifelong partner but we aren’t taught how to sustain lifelong partnerships. Our culture does not support them. No one blames the culture for making monogamy difficult. Valuing newness means valuing consumption. And vice versa.
Monogamy is a decision you make, not a place or experience that makes you happy and fulfilled. The fulfillment comes from the decision.
It’s easy for me to write all of this as a single person who is not in a monogamous relationship, as Klosterman points out. Yeah, it is easy for me. It’s easy for me to imagine going deep and committing to depth and staying there.
I don’t care if monogamy is “uncool”, or outdated, or old school. I still believe in it.