and they twain shall be one flesh


I stumbled upon a great post this morning about the social imprint of monogamy and the unachievable ideal prevalent in society of finding your “one and only” when you marry. The post in question was titled How I Know My Wife Married the “Wrong” Person. It is clever and insightful about the ways in which many of us enter marriage without really understanding it, and about how marriage can never meet up with the fantasies we entertain about it in our minds.

Unfortunately, in trying to explain where we go from there, the author fails to continue to use the critical thinking that got him that far in the discussion. Or, perhaps more accurately and more fairly, in listing some alternatives to the problem of what to do when we find ourselves in a marriage that doesn’t meet our admittedly unrealistic expectations, he is either blind to or conveniently dismissive altogether of one of the most practical solutions to this problem: that of polyamory.

He argues–rather correctly in my opinion–that it is impossible to find, in one other individual, someone who will meet all of our needs emotionally, intellectually, physically, etc. And then, even if somehow we could find such an individual, what is the chance that we in turn would be able to reciprocate in all of those areas in exactly the way that he or she would desire? In short, the myth of the perfect soul-mate is a beautiful if sadly unrealistic expectation.

He then proposes four potential solutions to the problem of not being married to the “right” person. Predictably, the first three are obviously flawed and easily dismissed. (1. Serial monogamy, with one failure after another. 2. Serial cohabitation, again with one failure after another. 3. Make your heart a stone and never be vulnerable.) And the fourth and final solution? Conveniently, it matches his religious indoctrination: commit yourself fully to your spouse, to hard work and long-suffering until death. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually address the problem. It just asks that you accept that your dream of a soul-mate is a myth. And that you allow some mystic power of Jesus to somehow make it bearable that your mate isn’t perfect for you and never will be.

And it’s hard to blame him completely. He is boldly Christian. He can’t consider the possibility that the words in the Bible may not be the express will of his god. And the message is one that Christians are only too willing to embrace. Yes, we must be martyrs, just like our savior. We must commit to god’s ideal and never waver. We must be strong and forgiving and charitable. All great and wonderful things. But it doesn’t erase the fact that your spouse will not meet all of your needs and that you will not meet all the needs of your spouse.

But what if there were an alternative? What if you could take (and give) the things that worked well between you and your spouse? And what if you could find other people to help fulfill other parts of your life? What if you could open yourself to the idea that you are an individual and have individual needs? That you have an individual journey through life and that even if others might be able to walk along with you for part of that journey, that their own journey is unique to them? That just as you would not want them to prevent you from taking the path that works best for you, that you would not want to hold them back from their own path to happiness?

What if you could open yourself to the possibility of allowing your relationships to exist on their own terms, free of external constraints? What if you could enjoy the stability of what your spouse gives you, of your home and children, and seek fulfillment in other areas from other people without fear of judgment and recrimination from your spouse? What if you could take freely what you need from people who had something they freely wanted to give you? What if you could give freely to people something they needed and could freely accept from you?

In short, what if polyamory were a possibility?

I know that the initial reaction that people generally have when they hear about polyamory is to immediately reject it. This is especially true of religious people who feel that their god has sanctioned monogamy and frowns upon any other relationship model. But how much, really, is our fear of polyamory subject to the same cultural and societal norms that have given us the misconceptions about finding a soul-mate that are commonly discussed and debunked by articles like the above, while those same articles remain blissfully ignorant that there may be a better way?

We are able, sometimes, to challenge the cultural status quo when that status quo goes against our religious indoctrination. But when our religion and our society coincide? When they both reinforce the idea of monogamy as the only path to happiness? That’s a tougher wall to break through.

17 thoughts on “and they twain shall be one flesh”

  1. This is a great post. You deal with questions that I ask silently. I have read one agnostic who disagreed with the idea of polygamy, one Robert Ingresoll, if I can find the relevant passages I can link them sometime.

      1. In the lectures of Robert Ingersoll Vol 1, he writes

        All the language in the world is not sufficient to express the infamy of polygamy; it makes man a beast and woman a stone. It destroys the fireside and makes virtue an outcast

        he writes elsewhere in the same lecture

        I have no love for any god who believes in polygamy. There is no heaven on this earth save where one woman loves the one man and the one man loves the one woman

        The link to the book is here, you can download any format

        1. While I appreciate his words and can see the skill involved in writing them, there is no logic present in the portion you’ve quoted, merely bald assertion. Not that I necessarily disagree. I’m not all that into a god that encourages polygamy, either. But why does it make man a beast? Why woman a stone?

  2. You are very convincing in your case for polyamory, although I can’t imagine it working for me, or a lot of people I know. Perhaps I am too emotionally immature, or simply a possessive control freak. Anyway, I’m interested by my intellectual agreement but instinctive dislike of the prospect, and wonder if I would need to see evidence of successful polyamorous relationships before I could believe it can actually benefit relationship structures in society.

    1. I don’t necessarily mean to sound convincing to others, as far as telling others to embrace it in their own lives. I think that it’s okay for different people to have different values. I just think that if it’s not presented as an option, many people who could benefit from it will never be in a position where they can even consider it.

      For me, it was kind of thrust upon me, and after some initial hesitation, it just seemed like a better fit. But to be honest, I still maintain a few reservations, and I’m still trying to find out how well it fits me.

  3. While I agree that there’s no such “perfect person” I disagree that polyamory is the only solution.

    For me, equality is the key to every relationship. The more people you involve in that relationship, the harder it is to keep things balanced.

    Just because compromises are made in a relationship doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, and that it won’t bring you happiness.

    And, I know from experience, just because you know a relationship isn’t going to last, doesn’t make it not worth doing either.

    Maybe monogamy isn’t for everyone, and they can do what they please. In the end, I guess there isn’t one relationship model that fits everyone.

    1. Yeah. I wasn’t trying to sell polyamory as the only solution. I was simply trying to present it as one possible solution amid a list that really was trying to sell biblical monogamy as the only viable solution.

      I also think there’s a difference between polyamory and polygamy. When you have multiple relationships, you aren’t necessarily combining those relationships with each other. You let them be as separate as they want to be. Just like you might have a relationship with a spouse while maintaining a relationship with a parent.

      And yes, polyamory doesn’t preclude the fact that you’ll have to compromise. Just that you don’t have to make a lifelong compromise.

  4. I always enjoy your polyamory posts. I have played with the idea a few times but always come back to the longing to be monogamous, even if it is serially monogamous. At the moment, I do have multiple love interests, with different degrees of sexual contact or none at all. Each of them meets a different need for me – one for intellectual conversation, one for metaphysical thought, another just for sweetness and occasional poetry. I love having these men in my life and my life would be poorer without them.
    It gets confusing at times. I can’t always remember if I filled in my life’s events to one or the other. I sometimes am not as sensitive as I might be to jealousy issues. I hate to admit this, but sexual desire can get confusing, too. Whose name will come out of my mouth during those peak sexual moments (most of which happen when I’m by myself, anyway)?
    I seem to have ended up polyamorous by accident, not by deliberate action. I suspect that, if there were one man who wanted me all to himself, then I would willingly go in that direction. Since none of them do, I keep walking the path that has been set in front of me.

    1. I think that’s one of the things that reinforces the intellectual attraction I have to polyamory. That life sometimes gives us polyamory even when we weren’t seeking it. As I stated on my first post on polyamory, I feel emotionally attracted to the fairy-tale endings that monogamy seems to promise us, and if I really thought there was a good chance of achieving something like that, I too would probably be compelled to go in that direction.

      1. The odds aren’t great for romantic monogamy, that’s for sure.
        When I went looking for proof of happily, joyfully married long term couples towards the end of my own marriage, I did find a few examples, and those few continue to give me hope. In the meantime….

        1. In a way, I suppose that’s where I am in my life right now, too. I have something amazing in Girlfriend, and polyamory works for me both intellectually as well as practically. Maybe it won’t always be that way. But for now, I just have to keep moving forward.

  5. One thing that always amuses me while also pissing me off about the whole Biblical monogamy thing is that monogamy isn’t the only relationship type in the Bible. Granted, the other type is polygamy, wherein the man can have multiple wives, but heaven forbid a woman wants more than one husband. But that that fact is so often overlooked, especially by Christians, gets to me sometimes.

    Anyway, personal rant aside, I very much agree that polyamory isn’t looked at as an option frequently enough. However, having been in a 10 year polyamorous relationship and also in another far more short-lived one, I also know that it can be a difficult option for mainstream (especially when there’s a strong Christian background) to consider.

    It’s definitely tough to break through the status quo when religion and society both inundate us with “one true love” messages. It’s also hard when dealing with people who don’t want to look too closely at their decisions and their behavior. Case in point: my husband told me, before we got married, that he wasn’t sure if he could be polyamorous. He said he got very jealous and made a joke about not messing with a system (cheating) that’s worked for so long.

    So many people, for whatever reason, would rather cheat and/or practice serial monogamy than even contemplate changing their relationship style. I find it curious that it’s apparently preferable to:

    a) suffer in silence with a partner you know isn’t “right” for you,
    b) cheat for whatever reason,
    c) hop from one relationship to the next in search of some ideal that is improbable at best, or
    d) some combo of the above.

    Is it for everyone? Nope. It’s really hard. But I agree that it should be more of a widely talked about option.

    1. Great points. I wonder what would happen if we looked at biblical marriage from what the bible says about it rather than what Christians think the bible says about it. 🙂

      And yes, I would agree that your short list is actually just as common in today’s marriages as the list of alternatives that were in the original article. Maybe a followup post would be in order.

  6. I have always been fascinated by the idea of polyamory and on paper, it makes perfect sense to me. It appeals to my desire to be happy and ensures that my significant other is happy as well. I think it takes a special kind of strength to be polyamorous, though- a strength I don’t believe I am capable of producing. The thought of my husband desiring another woman and acting on that desire is almost crippling to me and, likewise, I couldn’t even fathom myself with another man. A part of me feels that if I were exposed to the rationale of the lifestyle a little earlier than college, I might’ve been able to play with the idea more in my own life, but another part of me thinks that maybe I am just a jealous person and it would never be possible. Also, I think it would be difficult for a young woman to be polyamorous and not be also considered a “slut”. But, I suppose that comes along with engaging in a lifestyle others do not understand.

    1. Those are all very good insights and are definitely something to be taken into consideration when contemplating the lifestyle. As with anything, though, I think sometimes our fears are greater than the realities of the situation

      Not to say that everybody is a great match for polyamory, but just as an exercise, consider what fears we would express if we lived in a polyamorous world and we were considering monogamy. “That sounds great,” we might say, “but how would I handle the monotony of a single person?” Or “What would people think of me if they knew I was so boring that I only wanted to hang out with just my guy?” Or “I couldn’t imagine starting a relationship with someone who had no previous experience and thus no skills.” These things would sound overwhelming, but we deal with them all the time and think of them as completely normal.

      How much does it really depend on choice, and how much on culture?

That’s my truth. What’s yours?