When I was a teenager I found in some now-forgotten magazine a math problem that intrigued me at the time. The magazine very briefly described the scenario something like this: Imagine a sheet of paper that has a number of dots scattered across it in a random layout. If there are n dots on the sheet, how many dots are not the closest neighbor of their closest neighboring dot?
The problem must have been presented in an earlier edition of the magazine, because the article I read briefly described the problem and then walked through ideas from readers on how best to answer it. The largest number of responding readers reasoned that the answer was 0 if n is even, and 1 if n is odd. That made a lot of sense to me as well, because if Dot A’s closest neighbor is Dot B, then wouldn’t Dot B’s closest neighbor be Dot A as well? It turns out, however, that in math—as in life—not everything is so simple.
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.
I’m not sure how common it is for people to take a good hard look at monogamy and decide that they want it. My guess is that monogamy is so well ingrained into our culture that it’s almost invisible. Sure, we spend a lot of time thinking of whom we’ll marry. Some of us spend a lot of time even deciding if we’ll marry. But how many of us think about or decide between monogamy and polyamory? I mean, really think about it.
In my discussions with people, I hear a lot of arguments against polyamory and in favor of monogamy. Yet I’m not sure that they aren’t just knee-jerk reactions to something that is utterly foreign to them. “I mean, polyamory? Come on. You can’t seriously be considering that. Everyone knows….” And then I am presented with something that, to me, at least, usually doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Am I not considering the full consequences of my decisions? Or is it just hard for people to reject something that has become simply a backdrop in our culture, the fabric upon which the other choices of our life are made?