Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Monogamy Gap

"If we had more cultural discourse about the value of open relationships in society, as well as other forms of nonmonogamies, we might better empower individuals to have honest conversations about their sexual and romantic feelings. We might find (as I suspect) that monogamy might be a sensible way to grow a relationship, before couples open up sexually."
~Anderson, The Monogamy Gap

I finally finished Anderson's The Monogamy Gap. Here is a good synopsis.

Anderson's bottom-line solution to the prevalence of cheating among young men is to have emotionally monogamous/sexually promiscuous relationships. He refers to this set-up as an "open relationship" (he does not use the term the way I would). So for Anderson, an open relationship is just a sexually nonmonogamous one (not an emotionally nonmonogamous one). He makes a distinction, too, between "cheating" and an "affair." The difference he sees is that "cheating" is about sexual gratification and variety, and an "affair" is about an emotional entanglement. Because all of the young men he interviews claim to have cheated because of wanting sexual variety and also claim to be very much in love with the partner they cheated on, Anderson seems to then reach the conclusion that openly emotionally monogamous/sexually nonmonogamous relationships are a solid solution to how widespread cheating is among young men.

Like I posted a week or so ago, I really liked his brief chapter on jealousy. I thought it offered some simple, but practical, advice on how to manage jealousy and transform it, based on research about how high self esteem and confidence lessen the feelings and effects of jealousy. I thought this section of the book was solid.

An undercurrent of the book that I did not enjoy, however, was the focus on how so many of the young men he interviewed saw their cheating as a quest for pure sexual variety. The language used, by both Anderson and his interviewees, was borderline crass at times, and the focus on "fucking" sort of irked me. I understand the need for sexual variety; I also have this desire. The desire for sexual variety is what initially prompted J and I to open our relationship. So I get it. But the framing of it also left out aspects of casual sex that are often necessary for me: respect, sex positivity, and (some level of) sobriety. I'm not saying Anderson was advocating for disrespectful and drunken casual sex encounters as a means of letting young men satisfy their needs for extradyadic sex. But he did not address the etiquette of sexual nonmonogamy, including how these young men should ideally treat their casual sex partners.

Also, Anderson did not really get into other forms of nonmonogamy, including polyamory. He briefly mentions poly as an option in the beginning and end of his book, and then for the bulk of the book focuses on what he refers to as "open relationships."

It struck me that this solution Anderson offers is still fairly couched in the monogamy paradigm. I think it has been fairly well accepted that cheating occurs, affairs occur, and that people desire extradyadic sex after the honeymoon period wears off. But it is not accepted at all that you might desire romantic intimacy with more than one partner at a time; you are still expected to romantically love only one person. Like traditional swinging, I see Anderson's solution as a a sort of bridge between absolute monogamy and polyamory. I think it has limitations, obviously: what happens when you start to care for a casual sex partner? Just cut them out of your life? (My reaction: meh/sad face.) However, I do think this approach is a step above dishonest "monogamous" relationships.

In addition, he discusses the difference between spontaneous cheating and premeditated, recurring cheating. According to Anderson, the men he interviewed that cheated more than once cheated "out of love." He argues that if the young man didn't love his partner, he would simply break up and leave the relationship. But because the young man desired the emotional intimacy of his relationship and loved his partner, the young man cheats as a means of staying in his relationship and getting the sexual variety that he desires. (Getting his cake and eating it too.) However, many (if not all) of the men would never bring up an open relationship with their partner because the thought of their partner with another drives them insane. My question is: how does love include possessiveness, control, and a majorly dishonest double standard? My answer to myself: this conception of love comes from a monogamist society.

I have already recommended this book to several men. I think it probably resonates with men who have desired sexual variety and don't mind being (or desire to be) emotionally monogamous. I think Anderson does a good job of accurately reflecting the current trend of cheating among young men, and I would love to read a similar book about young women. My guess is that the trend is similar, although I could see possibly the motivations (maybe not though; I think both alcohol and a desire for sexual variety play similar roles in young women's cheating) and the repercussions (e.g., slut shaming) being different.

I thought his conclusion chapter summarized many of his main points well, so I included some of it here. Happy Reading!
"In this book I used a combination of well-known theories to explain how men transitioned from believing that they want monogamy, to simultaneously wanting but not wanting it; and ultimately how they rationalized cheating as a way to maintain symbiosis and longevity with their monogamous partners. The “dyad” in my theory refers to a couple, and the “dissonance” refers to the growing cognitive dissonance that monogamism places them into. My theory showed why men desire monogamy in the first place (using hegemony theory), how they grew conflicted as sexual habituation set in (using cognitive dissonance theory), and ultimately how cheating makes sense as a tool in navigating this dissonance (rational choice theory). The basis of my theory is that our cultural affinity for monogamy and stigma of any other form of sexual/romantic coupling places men into a Catch-22. Here, if they stick by the rules of monogamy, they are destined to a life of anger and contempt at not being permitted to have what they so desperately desire. Yet if they cheat, they suffer from anxiety and guilt — and ultimately they could lose their romantic partners if they are caught. Whereas sexually open relationships solve this Catch-22, we are nonetheless prevented from even entertaining the idea of being in one because of the hegemony that monogamy maintains, monogamism...
I described the monogamy gap as a transitional space in a couple’s relationship. Upon first entering a dyadic relationship, men experienced fantastic and frequent sex, and this made it easy to fall into the practice and valuing of monogamy without criticism. However, as a relationship progressed throughout the stages from romance to performing, sex became less frequent and less enjoyable. Men grew desensitized to their sex, and efforts to spice it up only lasted so long. But just because men started to develop sexual desires for others, it did not mean that they desired a sexually open relationship. These men so continue to subscribe to the value of monogamy, and the immorality of open relationships, that they either thought that they must no longer love their partners because they desired sex with others, or they suff ered in silence. The monogamy gap emerged at diff erent times in their relationship for different men, but on average it seemed fairly predictable that it would almost always have emerged within 2 years of constant monogamy. I also suggested that the pornication of society, the frequent and easier access to sex before being in a monogamous relationship, and the rich sexual marketplace these men belonged to brought about desensitization to sex with their partner sooner. Not wanting an open relationship, but desperately wanting sex with someone else, these men got drunk, placed themselves into a situation where they could be tempted, and found a way to temporarily rectify the dissonance of the monogamy gap: cheating..."

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