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Monogamy, Nonmonogamy, and Identity Author(s): Christine Overall Source: Hypatia, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Autumn, 1998), pp. 1-17 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Hypatia, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3810500 . Accessed: 20/01/2011 00:05
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Monogamy, Nonmonogamy, andIdentity
and "nonmonogamy," I After a brief discussionof the terms "monogamy" evaluateexplanations theorists thepain thatnonmonogamy offered different by for can causeto thepartner a (especially femalepartner) a nonmonogamous of person is the sex). My suggestion thattheself, especially femaleself, is convention(of either in I and to objection allydefined termsof sexualpartners. present replyto a possible thisexplanation, thendiscuss theory's and normative my implications.
There are some persons for whom monogamouspractices, and others for whom nonmonogamouspractices,are in no way problematic.I, however, am interested in attempting to understand why both monogamy and nonmonogamy continue to be, and be seen as, problematicfor many of their participants,especially for women. My aim here is to try to account for the persistenceof the issues-even, or especially,for feminists-and their associated ideologies, structures,and feelings, in particularthe phenomena of jealousy and possessiveness. While nonmonogamyhas sometimesappearedto be more "liberated" and liberatingthan monogamy,for some, perhapsmany,of those affectedby nonmonogamouspractices,it can also occasion tremendousdistress(e.g., Eskapa 1984, 34). The personwho is "cheatedon" can feel profoundjealousy,desperation, and hopelessness,and even women cast in the role of "otherwoman" may suffergrief and pain over sharingtheir lover (Richardson 1985, 95-97, of 117-21). Here, I want to considerpossibleexplanationsand interpretations the situation where a person, especially a woman, who may well have no objections to nonmonogamousbehavioron an intellectual level, nevertheless feels deeply hurt when she lears that her partnerhas not been monogamous. The existence of a powerfulheterosexist ideologypromotingmonogamyis insufficient to account for these feelings. It is not enough to claim that vol. Overall Hypatia 13,no. 4 (Fall1998)? byChristine
monogamy,with its accompanyingjealousyand possessiveness,"stem[s]from patriarchalnotions of men's propertyrights over women" (Betsy Kassoffin "Non? Monogamy?"1985, 102). Many women who are self-identifiedfeminists have told me that although they understand,in theory, the patriarchal origins of the practice of monogamy, they are nonetheless unable to free themselves of their socializationto the extent of being able to countenance nonmonogamousrelationshipsfor their lovers or even for themselves, even aftera deliberateagreementto such an arrangement (Hamilton 1990, 85). Yet such women have successfullydisencumberedthemselves from many other aspects of patriarchalideology, including those that govern women's work, reproduction, and motherhood. For heterosexual feminists as for lesbians, merely being told that one should not be concerned about monogamyis not enough to prevent its being a live issuein their lives. Why does nonmonogamy continue to pose such problems for.these women? How can the profound possessiveness and jealousy often associated with sexual relationships be understoodin feminist terms? I attempt to answer the aforementionedquestions within the following structure: First, I provide brief discussions and definitions of the terms I and "monogamy" "nonmonogamy." presentand evaluatesome explanations offeredby differenttheoristsfor the pain that nonmonogamycan cause to the partnerof the nonmonogamousperson. Because these explanationsprove to which involves a claim about be inadequate,I proposemy own interpretation, the cultural construction of women's identity. I then present and reply to a possibleobjection to this proposal,and I conclude by discussingthe proposal's normative implications.
It is difficult even to define "monogamy"and "nonmonogamy," partly because of the political baggage that the words already carry.Monogamy For derived its originalsignificancewithin the practice of marriage. example, is in dictionariesof Englishusage,"monogamy" usuallydefinedas "thepractice or state of being marriedto one person at a time," and is contrasted with defined as "having more than one wife or husband at the same "polygamy," new time"(Shorter Dictionary, ed.). Most standard philosophical English Oxford and evaluationsof monogamydiscussit as a featureof contemporary marriage, now a nonaffair." studies focus on the "extramarital Although sociological maritalheterosexualrelationshipmay meaningfullybe describedas monogamous or nonmonogamous, in philosophical discussions the benefits and liabilities attributedto monogamyare seldom separatedfromthose attributed to the institution of marriage(Palmer1984; Bayles 1984).1The resultis often a persistent heterosexism within the analyses, best representedby Herbert Strean'scategoricalclaim that "[m]ostindividualswho rebel againstmarriage
and monogamyare angryand unhappypeople who understandably rationalize their objections.... They need therapeutichelp so that they can matureand derive genuine pleasurefromliving" (1980, 205). Moreover,given their patriarchalorigins, the concepts of monogamyand to inappropriate the discussionof feminonmonogamymay seem particularly nist and lesbian relationships.As JuliaPenelope insists, Lesbiansand feminists continue to use words like monogamy and nonmonogamy if they made sense within a "feminist" as framework, when, in fact, they makeno sense,especonceptual when they're being used to describe Lesbian relationcially to means, literally,"marriage one [woman]," ships! Monogamy and its contrastiveterm is polygamy, which means "marriage to more than one [woman]."I've added the word woman, in brackets,here because onlymen ever have the option of being marriedto more than one [woman].These terms assumethat women are the propertyof the men who marrythem. Both and nonmonogamy name heteropatriarchalinstitumonogamy tions within which the only important information is: how own?Since the question of manywomencan a man legitimately is supposedto be a non-question in feminist and "ownership" Lesbian-feministrelationships,I want to know why so many wimmin who claim to have a "raisedconsciousness"persistin using such words when they're supposed to know better? (Penelope 1985, 35-36, italics in original) Yet feminists and lesbians2do find the concepts of monogamy and nonmonogamy of absorbinginterest, for good or ill, and there is no dearth of discussion of these issues within the context of lesbian and heterosexual relationships. Here, discussionof monogamywill not presupposethat it must be defined in termsof formalmarriage(an institution that raisesa numberof interesting additional issues of its own [McMurtry1984]) or in terms of heterosexual relationships.I shall to some extent set aside the differencesbetween heterosexual and lesbian relationships. Part of the difficulty of researchingand writingabout issuesof monogamyand nonmonogamyis that most contemporary literatureon the subject focuses either on heterosexualmonogamyand or nonmonogamy,3 especiallywithin the institutionof marriage, upon monogI amy and nonmonogamywithin lesbian relationships.4 shall attempt to work acrossthat division. Of course,I am not unawareof the significantdissimilaritthe ies, particularly powerdifferences,between heterosexualand lesbianrelationships, even when heterosexual relationships are not given the social Nevertheless,I believe that with respectto this issue, blessingof legal marriage. where intimacy,self-identity,possessiveness,competition, and jealousyfind a
readyexpression,there may be fewer differencesthan usual between women involved in a heterosexual relationship and women involved in a lesbian relationship. Certain other ways of defining "monogamy"and "nonmonogamy"also introduce,in a partisanfashion, ethical and ontological issuesthat should not be prejudged.Thus, if monogamy is said to be commitment to an exclusive sexual/romanticrelationshipwith one person, the words"commitment"and "exclusive" may suggest, falsely, both that nonmonogamy cannot involve commitment and that monogamyshuts others out by excluding them. Alternatively, if monogamy is defined in terms of faithfulnessto one person, the implicationmayseem to be that fidelity is not involved in nonsexualrelationships, or that becomingsexuallyintimate with more than one personinvolves a breakingof faith, or that it is only possible to be faithful to one person at a time. (In rejectingthis assumption,some feministsuse the word"poly-fidelity" instead of nonmonogamy.) "Fidelity," "commitment,"and "exclusivity"are loaded terms. obviously will In what follows, therefore,"monogamy" minimallymean a patter by an individualof sexual interactionswith only one other personduringa given will life, periodwithin that individual's while "nonmonogamy" mean a pattern an individual of sexual interactionswith more than one person during a by given periodwithin the individual'slife. It Monogamousbehaviormayhave manyprecursors. might, forexample,be of a lack of available desirable other partners;it might be a consequence imposedby one'spartneras a condition of the continuationof the relationship; it might be a responseto a requestfromone'spartner,or negotiationswith her or him. Or,it might be an independentchoice, foundedupon moralor religious principlesindependentof the personwith whom one is in a relationship.What I am primarilyinterested in, however, is not so much the differentways by which monogamousbehavior originates, but rather,the significance of the situation in which a monogamouspersonwants and believes her partnerto be monogamous and, subsequently,discovers that the partner is not monogamous.
AND PAIN:EXPLANATIONS II. NONMONOGAMY
What accountsfor the powerfuland painfulfeelingsof anger,abandonment, personlearns jealousy,andgriefthat areoften occasionedwhen a monogamous I that her partneris nonmonogamous? shall considerand assessthree standard explanations:the role of the promiseof exclusivity;culturalconventions about scarcity;and psychoanalyticexplanations. One possible explanation, then, is the fact that in many forms of nonmonogamy, a promise, explicit or implicit, has been violated. Because the keeping of promisesis still held in high regard,the breakingof this promiseis
an indication of general unreliability.Richard Wasserstrom,for example, of attempts to construct argumentsfor the wrongfulness adulteryby pointing to the deceptive and promise-breaking behavior that it ordinarilyentails. Adulterousbehavior,he says, may be perceived as a manifestationof "akind of indifference," "anadditionalrejection,"and as "the intentional infliction as of substantialpain" (Wasserstrom 1984, 95). But the question remains why promisingsexual exclusivity is considered importantin the firstplace. What is interestingis not only that the breaking of the promiseis usuallypainfulfor the personwho expected commitment,but also that this sort of promiseis generallyregarded necessary,inevitable, and as desirable.Why does a commitment to monogamyoften appearto be essential to makingthe sexual relationshipsecure? Wasserstrom's answeris that "sexualintimacy is one of the chief currencies which gifts [of oneself] are exchanged" (1984, 96-97). He describes through the "correlation"of love and sexual intimacies as "natural"for women, although not for men, but offersno evidence or explanationfor this claim; in the end, Wasserstrom to professes be unableto saywhetherthere is "something about love in general that links it naturallyand appropriately with feelings of and possession"(1984, 101). exclusivity Other writers, however, have insisted that the pain experienced by the "betrayed" partneris a consequence of culturalbeliefs and conventions about love and sexually intimate relationships.The possessivenessoften associated with monogamousrelationships, they suggest, appearsto be founded upon questionable assumptionsof finitude: that love and intimacy are scarce and limited resources,and if another person gets love and intimacy from one's loved one, there won't be enough-or any-left for oneself. "[M]onogamous sexual relationships[are]privatizedand 'coupley':they set up barriers which [keep]other people out, as well as imprisoningthe couple. They elevate[ ] one kind of relationship above all others, and this narrow[s]the scope of other kinds of friendships" (Cartledge1983, 174). The very notion of "cheating"in the context of sexual behavior suggests depriving someone of something throughfraudor deceit, or the dishonestviolation of rules.The nonmonogamous person owes something to her lover, something that is defined by the socially-sanctionedrulesof the relationship,and she then takes it and gives it to someone else. There appearsto be a limited amountof love, sexualactivity, intimacy, commitment, and attention to go around.The implicit economic metaphor, consistent with capitalist culture, suggests that spending in one location means less for another. One person's gain is another's loss, and relationshipsare zero-sumgames. According to this explanation, monogamous,exclusive relationshipsare simultaneouslya way of coping with fearsof isolation, loss, and rejection, and a means of generatingsuch fears.By creatingthe opportunityfor "infidelity," Thus, McMurtry they also createthe opportunityto be hurtfurther. arguesthat
the pain of the "cheated"partner springs from the depth of the cultural prohibition of infidelity: "[O]ne is led to speculate that the intensity and extent of jealousy at a partner'sextramaritalsexual involvement is in direct proportion to the severity of the accepted cultural regulationsagainst such involvements. In short such regulationsdo not prevent jealousy so much as effectivelyengenderit" (1984, 116-117, endnote 10). Similarly, LynnAtwater claimsthat reactionsto nonmonogamyaredeterminedby ourculture's "feeling rules,"which are perceivedas "the only correctemotions to feel when discovering our spouses'infidelity"(1982, 19). McMurtryand Atwater are correct at least in so far as, in contemporary culture, the anxiety about finite human resourcesoften has a practicalbasis. An explicit or implicit promiseof monogamyseems like insuranceabout the future availability of an apparentlyor potentially scarce commodity:sexual intimacy.Realistically,from the point of view of a monogamousperson, the commencementof a nonmonogamousrelationshipby her partneror lover may seem to have a high probabilityof leading at least to the loss of some of the lover's time and attention, and at worst to the total loss of the lover. The experience of women such as Simone de Beauvoir,who cherisheda life-long commitment to Jean Paul Sartreeven while each of them conductedongoing "contingent"sexual affairswith others (which nonetheless often affordedher considerablepain) (Francisand Gontier 1987), suggeststhat it is possibleand useful to distinguish between sexual exclusivity and possession, on the one hand, and on the other,the creationof a long-term,even life-long projectwith another person.When one is sureof the permanenceof the life-long project, perhapssexual exclusivity mattersless. Present culturalconditions, however, encouragewomen to fear imminent loss of the loved one when s/he begins a sexual relationshipwith anotherperson.When simultaneousrelationshipsare not recognizedand validated,and when materialconditions makeunavailable the time and energy necessary to cultivate them, the only alternative to lifelong monogamy may appearto be serial monogamy.So when a partner begins a new sexual relationship,it is likely the beginning of the end for the old. When, in addition, there is a relationshipof economic/materialdependence of the monogamouspartner on the person who has begun another relationship,the fear of loss takes on an even more terrifyingdimension. However, this explanation, in terms of cultural conventions about and consequencesarisingfromscarcity,maynot be powerfulenough to account for the pain that is often caused by nonmonogamousbehavior even when the originalrelationshipis sustained.Nor does it account forthe specificallysexual nature of romantic possessiveness.As a result, some theorists have offered psychoanalyticspeculationsthat the depths of these feelings may come from with one's very earlyexperiencesand sexualhurtsrelatedto one'srelationships the mother."Wherethe site of control and abandonis the parents,especially body,the demandsof the infant self are most visible.. ." (Benjamin1988, 51).
Formost human beings, the mother was the firstgreatlove, the first"one and only," who cared most intensively for their bodily and emotional needs and wants. For a limited time, at least, mother seemed to be all one's own, one's possession,a loved entity scarcelyseparatefrom oneself, who existed only to fulfill one's own needs. The pain of the ultimate realizationthat motherhad a separateexistence, had other needs, wants, and interests,could not be exclusively one's own, it is claimed, may remain buried within people's sense of themselves, laying a foundationfor futurecompetitionsand vulnerabilitiesin human relationships,and a longing for the restorationof that old apparentlyexclusive relationship. People want to return to the original oneness, the absence of boundaries,the community and communing that constituted the relationship with the woman who created them (Joyce Trebilcot in "Non? 1985, 85-87; Ryan 1983, 201-202). Nancy Chodorow refersto Monogamy?" the theory that the returnto the experienceof primary love-the possibilityof to regressing the infantile stage of a sense of oneness, no reality testing, and a tranquilsense of well-beingin which all needs are satisfied-is a main goal of adult sexual relationships:'This primary tendency,I shall be loved always,everywhere,in every way, my whole body, my whole being-without any criticism, without the slightest effort on my part-is the final aim of all erotic striving.'(Chodorow 1978, 194) On the basis of this explanation, the sufferingoccasioned by sexual nonexclusivity may not be inevitable or unavoidable. To the extent that the the adult/infantrelationship,particularly mother/infantrelationship,is a product of existing normsgoverningchild-rearingand genderrole socializationin the contemporaryNorth American family (Rossiter 1988), there is nothing inevitable and naturalabout the relationship;it-and its outcomes-may be subjectto change. However,attractiveas this explanationmay seem, it also assumesan idyllic view of infancythat maynot accordwith the realitiesof infant experience.Not enough is understoodabout infancy and the perspectiveof the little child, as well as about the extent to which earlyperceptionsand distresspersist,to be able to know whether or not or to what extent these experiencesplay a role in adult perceptionsof and reactionsto monogamyand nonmonogamy.
III. NONMONOGAMY AND IDENTITY
I suggest it is possible to account for the possessivenessassociated with monogamyand the pain occasionedby nonmonogamyby lookingmoreclosely at the determinants,structures, and conventions of adultsexual relationships as they are lived and experienced in patriarchalsociety. "[I]tseems that in
linked to contemporaryculture,sexualityis nearly always,but not invariably, (Person 1980, 49). Sex is, or at least is made to seem, part of identity" individuality,and the startof sexual experience is commonly thought to mark the development of a more mature identity (Atwater 1982, 143). A sexual relationshipcultivated for its own sake (ratherthan, let's say, for the sake of income or personal survival) representsin part a choice about the kind of personone is going to be, either for the short-termor the long-term.5 According to patriarchalconventions and norms, while both women and men define themselves partlyin termsof their sexuality,they are expected to differin how those selves are constructed.Masculinecultureencouragesmen to see sexual activity as definitive of maleness. There is a phallic focus on "Insofar sexuality is a majorcomponent in the maintenance as performance.6 of gender, it is crucial to identity. There is a wealth of clinical evidence to suggest that, in this culture, genital sexual activity is a prominent feature in the maintenanceof masculinegenderwhile it is a variablefeaturein feminine gender.Thus an impotent man alwaysfeels that his masculinity,and not just his sexuality,is threatened"(Person 1980, 50). A man'sself-concept may be shatteredif he is "impotent" strikinglyrevealingtermin itself) or if a woman (a in his life has sex with someone else, becausethen he is no longer performing as a man should. (This is not to deny the pain that men may feel over sexual relationshipsgone wrong,but only to suggestthat its culturalconstructionmay often be differentfrom that of women.) Women are encouraged,more than men, to define themselvesnot so much through sexual activity per se, but by referenceto the person(s) with whom they aresexual.The convention of sexual relating,outsideof paid sex work, is that in that context the woman expressesherself, becomes and is most truly and genuinely herself.In a sexual relationship,the sexual partneris the focus of attention in a special way.According to MarilynFrye,"Attention is a kind of passion.When one'sattention is on something,one is presentin a particular way with respect to that thing. This presence is, among other things, an element of erotic presence"(Frye 1983, 172). In many sexual experiences,not only are one's physical/bodilyboundaries crossed, but also one's emotional/identificational boundaries.There is an opening up of the personto receive and encompassthe other. The individual becomes a personwho is in partdefined by the sexual connections she makes. Because, in Westernculture,sexual relating is defined as the ultimate formof intimacy, the result in women's romantic/sexual relationships is often an expansion of the sense of self to include those with whom they have sexual relationships. A sexual relationship then becomes a form of chosen vulnerability.As enforcedaccess is the heart of dominance,so chosen and willing opennessand vulnerabilityare the heart of erotic unity. Hence, in a sexual/romanticrelationship, a woman may become stronger,but also more vulnerable,becauseof
her sexual partner.That openness is the precursorof the feeling (illusory though it may often be) of oneness and mutuality of interaction, which develops fromthe balance of separationand fusion (Benjamin 1988, 29). Women, I suggest,are generallyexpected to incorporatethe sexual partner into their own identity.The social constructionof women to encompassthose with whom they are sexual is reinforced, for heterosexual women, by the definition of the heterosexual couple as the building block of the culture, a definition that contributesto the isolation of the couple as a social unit and the privatization the relationship.Forlesbians,mergingor fusingwith one's of lover may be especially problematicin relationshipsthat are highly closeted (Rotenberg 1989). That this self-definitionby referenceto sexualpartnersis the functioningof conventions of sexual relating is suggestedby the contrastto the conventions of sex work,in which women define themselvesby referenceto the paid labor they performratherthan by reference to the men with whom they interact, and usually choose not to be vulnerable, self-expressive,or genuinely open. Sex workers'perspective on their labor is not a distortion of the way sexual relating "really"is, but rather another way of structuringsexual relating, in particular, a way of dealing with an unequal and sometimes oppressive relationship. By contrast, noncommercial sex is supposedto be nonoppressive (though it often is not), and hence the conventions of sexual openness apply to it. To the extent that this ontological convention is adheredto, the incorporation within the female self of the person(s) with whom she is sexual helps to account for the pain that a partner's nonmonogamousbehavior can produce. "Parentsof four, five, six, or even ten children can certainly claim, and sometimes claim correctly,that they love all of their children, that they love them all equally,and that it is simplyuntrueto their feelings to insist that the numbers involved diminish either the quantity or the quality of their love" (Wasserstrom 1984, 100). Why are similarrelationshipsfar more difficult in the case of multiple sexual interactions?I suggestthat the significant difference turs on whetheror not the relationshipsarechosen. Even when they are originallyunsoughtand unplanned,beloved children are in an importantway a chosen and willed project of their parents,who undertaketo admit them to their lives. Similarly,a womanwho freelytakeson a second sexualrelationship in addition to one she alreadyhas is likely to feel a comparableexpansion of her identity, or even a claiming or reclaimingof self. She has chosen to take into her self another person;she has chosen to expand the boundariesof her person:"The benefitsof nonmonogamythat women describedwere an intense sexuality,the sense of emotional growth,discoveryof differentsidesof yourself through different people, and a feeling of independence"(Kassoffin "Non? 1985, 101).7 Monogamy?"
From the point of view of a monogamouswoman whose partneris nonmonogamous,however, the partner'snew sexual relationshipmay affect her own identity in waysover which she has no control; it is likely to appearas an invasion and violation of her person, a threat to her dignity,wholeness, and integrity.When the monogamouspersonsays,of her lover, "I'mselfish;I don't want to share,"she may not necessarilybe thinking of her lover as a child thinks of a toy or a bag of candy.She may ratherbe saying that she does not choose to share herself, to extend herself to include this new person,who is not a chosen part of her self-assumedidentity. According to SarahLuciaHoagland,"Iam presentor I am not at any given moment, and that I am later presentelsewheredoes not change the natureof my earlier presence" (1988, 171). However, the person with whom one is sexuallypresentoften changes who one is, and the refocusingand redirection of attention almost inevitably affectshow one is sexually present with other people. When a monogamouswoman'spartner is, without her assent, nonmonogamous,then not only is the monogamouswoman'sself invaded; it is invaded independently of her own will. Someone else has been introduced into the originaldyadwhom the monogamous partnerdid not choose and does not want. Moreover,the new personwho has been introduceddid not choose her either, and presumablydoes not want her. Thus, the new relationship undertakenby the nonmonogamouspartneracquiresenforced access to the monogamousperson'slife. This fact helps to account for the correctnessof observationthat the role of this new person may loom even RichardTaylor's largerthan "the role of the personto whom one jealouslytriesto cling" (Taylor 1982, 143;also see Eskapa1984). What is importantin feelingsof jealousyand nonmonogamousbehavior is not, or possessivenessin responseto a partner's and not only, the loved one, the loved one's "betrayal," one's feelings about the both of these, but also the perceivedintruder, sexualpartnerof one'ssexual partner,and one'sfeelings abouther or him. In responseto this explanation, it might be objected that relationshipsare not transitive:A friendof my friendneed not be my friend;a lover of my lover new lover affect need not be my lover. Why then would my sexual partner's new lover affect my identity And why would my sexual partner's my identity? any more than it would be affected if my sexual partnertakes up the cello, All becomes a vegetarian,or changes careers? of these actions on the part of sexual partnerare likely to have an effect on me beyond my control, yet my they would not likely arousemy jealousy,and people would be unlikely to be sympatheticif I did not want my partnerto change in these ways.8 My suggestionis that the self, especially the female self, is conventionally defined in terms of sexual partners.But if cello-playing,vegetarianism,or a new careerrequiredfromone's sexual partnerthe intimacythat sexual behavior usually does (and sometimes activities such as these can make this demand),then I submitthat it could be almostequallythreateningand painful
to the lover of the personengagedin these things, and the lover might become jealous.The reasonis that in such cases, these activities could become partsof the sexual partner's self. However,there are fewer social conventions, expecthat make it likely that cello-playing,vegetarianism,or and pressures tations, even one's career will be incorporatedinto the female self in the way that sexual partnersmore standardly Moreover,engagementwith music, with are. a specialdiet, or with professional pursuitsis not the same as engagementwith a person.Hence, my sexual partner's cello-playingdoes not make me vulnerable to enforced intimacy with a cello in the way that I may be vulnerableto enforced intimacy with another person through my sexual partner'snonmonogamousbehavior.At least underpresentconventions, a woman is more likely to incorporatesexual partnerswithin her identity;her self includes, or even is defined by,not the sexual activities themselvesbut the self or selves of sexual partners. The monogamouspersonwith a nonmonogamouspartnerthus findsherself in a kind of forcedrelating,9 which seems inevitablyto change the meaningof the originalrelationship.While the nonmonogamous personhas gainedby the freely-chosenexpansion of his or her personalboundaries,the monogamous personhas lost throughthe violation of her self-definition.It is sexualconventions that make possible the pain occasioned by nonmonogamy,but these conventions operateat the deepest level of our creation and understanding of ourselves.
IV. MONOGAMY, AND SOCIALTRANSFORMATION NONMONOGAMY,
The perspective sketched so far suggeststhat although there is nothing inherently morally superior about monogamy, the development of sexual relationshipsunderpatriarchyis such that one's partner's nonmonogamymay cause considerablepain, especially for women. The ideologies of monogamy and nonmonogamy reflect cultural notions of who women and men are supposedto be. To the extent that persons,especially women, define themselves in terms of their lovers, nonmonogamousbehaviorby their partnersis likely to cause harm. The conventional ontology for female selfhood thus creates the occasion for moral problems. These problems arise when one personis or wants to be nonmonogamousand the other personin the relationship is not or does not: "Whathappenswhen one partneris keen to have other Whose wishes should relationshipsand the other prefersto be monogamous? be given greaterweight?Is all the onus on the would-bemonogamouspartner to swallowher feelings or even try to change them?What responsibilitydoes the otherhave to take accountof those feelings?Is there indeedany negotiable could be workedout between monogamyand groundupon which compromises (Cartledge1983, 174). nonmonogamy?"
In an attempt to deal with these moral problems,Tayloroffersa series of "rules" the governanceof nonmonogamousrelationships(Taylor1982, 13). for But some of them seem maximally designed to promote men's interests in sexualaccessto manywomen-for example,rulesforthe monogamous partner such as "Do not spy or pry,""Do not confrontor entrap,"and "Stayout of it." an Others, such as "Stop being jealous"and "Stopfeeling guilty,"presuppose to terminateone's feelings. And others still, such as "Be extraordinary ability awareof the needs of the other"and "Behonest,"areso obviousas to be banal. Yet some feminist alternatives for the governance of nonmonogamous relationships are equally problematic. For example, one writer describes a possible model for lesbian nonmonogamyby distinguishingbetween primary and secondary rankingsof partners.In so doing, she appearsto enshrine a standardfor sexual relationships: patriarchal If you were primary, could expect certainrights,i.e., Saturyou day nights, vacations, making plans with your partnerfirst. If you were secondary, you knew to expect Friday instead of Saturdaynight dates, not to ask for vacations, to wait to make plans with your lover aftershe'd checked it out with girlfriend resembles the number 1, etc. In many ways, this arrangement with severalimportantexcepandmistress, pattern wife of age-old tions: everyone knows what's going on (at least the general picture), everyone technically consents (at least by puttingup withit), and each wife can have a mistress,or mistressa wife (at least in theory). (Kassoffin "Non? Monogamy?"1985, 102, italics added) Somewhat similar recommendations are made by MargaretNichols, who which are advocatesthe emulationofnonmonogamousgaymale relationships, assumedto be casual and brief, and the separationof romantic love from the Nichols proposesthat to love appropriate a "committedprimary relationship." the model supposedlyset by gay men of women-lesbians, anyway-follow "extramarital sexuality[that]is almostalwayscasual (even anonymous),brief, recreationalratherthan emotionally intense" (Nichols 1987, 118-119). and But it is unclear that this proposedpartitioningof feelings is either desirable or achievable, because it ignoreswhat I take to be the underlyingontological basisfor the pain that nonmonogamycauses. In general,because problemsabout monogamyand nonmonogamyappear to arise from the gendered constitution of sexual relations and personal identity,it mayseemthat their solution is for women to become stronger,more autonomousindividuals,with a better-definedsense of who they are, independent of those to whom they relate. Sexual/romanticrelationshipsare founded upon a cultural commitment to the primacy of the (heterosexual) couple. Within this context of isolation, women are encouragedand expected to lose
themselves in their sexual/romantic relationships,to fuse their identities with other persons.The solution to conflict aboutnonmonogamy,it may therefore seem, is for women to opt for the culturallymasculineavenue of developing a strong, self-sufficient,independent identity, which does not incorporatethe selves of sexual partners. Such a solution is problematic. As Person remarks,"any discrepancy between female and male sexuality is viewed as problematicfor females. The male model of sexuality, with its emphasis on orgasm and on sexuality as performanceand achievement, is used as the sexual standardfor both sexes" (Person 1980, 55; see also Lawson1988, 217-221). Similarly,Rossitersaysthat "suffer fromthe very individproposedsolutions to conflicts within patriarchy ualism that helps to construct the problemin the first place. For instance, if one attributesthe problems... to the characteristics a particular of relationbetween two people, then the solutionhas to be seen in termsof changing ship the nature of the relationship. What is avoided in this formulation is an examination of the waysin which poweroperatesto producea Womanwho is herself-in any relationship-coherent with capitalist patriarchy"(Rossiter 1988, 271). Discussionof the seemingly individualmoral questionsraisedby nonmonogamouspracticesmustbear in mind this political context. Although women are often socialized to be "selfless,"to ignore their own needs and desires,feminist critiquesof the masculinistideal of the independentself (e.g., Ferguson, 1989; Lugones 1989; Whitbeck 1983) counsel caution about its adoption by women and raise questions about whether or not it is truly undesirableto define oneself in termsof otherpeople. Forexample,discussions of lesbian relationships (MacDonald 1988; Rotenberg 1989) suggest that as growingcriticisms(Lindenbaum1985) of what are regarded the unhealthy element of mergeror fusion in these relationshipsrest too uncriticallyupon an acceptance of masculinistversionsof what human interactionsshould be like and a discountingof the role of oppressionin formingwomen'srelationships. And Benjaminsays, The original sense of oneness [with another person]was seen [by traditionalmale thinkers]as absolute, as 'limitlessnarcissism,' and, therefore,regressionto it would impede development and prevent separation.In its most extreme version, this view of differentiation pathologized the sensation of love: relaxing the boundariesof the self in communion with others threatenedthe identity of the isolate self. Yet this oneness was also seen as the ultimate pleasure, eclipsing the pleasure of difference.Oneness was not seen as a state that could coexist with (enhance and be enhanced by) the sense of separateness. (Benjamin 1988, 47)
Perhaps the real problem is not so much the construction of the self, especially the genderedfemale self, in terms of other people, but rather,the constructionof the self almostexclusively in termsof sexualrelationshipswith other people. The conventional productionof female identityprimarily and in throughsexual relationshipsmeans that both monogamyand nonmonogamy will continue to be problematicfor women under patriarchalconditions and assumptions. On the one hand, the ideology of monogamyovertly limits the opportunity to love morethan one personat a time:"Thelogic of the preferenceourculture gives the principleof exclusivity is that it is better to abandona person with whom one has built up an intimate relationshipthan it is to have and express (Gregory1984, 267-68). feelingsof love and erotic attachmentto two persons" But on the other hand, so also does the ideology of nonmonogamy,for it defines potential love and closeness in terms of sexual relatedness,and thus, ignoresthe other deep and profoundformsof humanconnection that maywell be physicaland close but arenot necessarilysexual.The idea of nonmonogamy holds out the deceptive promise that the way to love others, to be close to others, is througha sexual relationshipwith them. It creates the illusion that or sexual freedom is the path to sexual liberation,10 that it providesthe route It to social transformation.11 endorsesthe masculinistidea that sexual feelings are overwhelming and uncontrollable, and that one must act upon them.12 Critics of monogamyoften found their argumentson the assumptionof the power of underlyingsexual drives, which people repressonly to their detriment, or even which they areunableto repressat all (McMurtry1984, 112 and 115). Thus personswho aremonogamousareassumedeither to have a low "sex control over their sexualdesires.The drive"or else to be exertingsuperhuman ideology of nonmonogamy also assumes, without much justification, that sexual desires themselves are entirely unbidden and unchosen, that people cannot help how they feel sexually for other people, and that they have no libertyto direct and redirectthe sexual focus of their attention.13 My aim is not to legislateaboutthe rightnessor wrongnessof nonmonogamous behavior itself. Rather, I have sought to understand the nature and meaningof the sufferingthat nonmonogamycan cause.Given my ontological claim that the conventional structureof the self for women incorporates intimate partners, I suggest we need to rethink the partitioning of sexual activities and relationshipsas self-constitutivefromother activities and relationshipsthat are not conventionally taken to define the self. The concepts of monogamyand nonmonogamyare problematicbecausethey derive fromand to implicitlysubscribe certainviews aboutsexualrelations,love, and intimacy, and that underliehuman connections underpatriarchy, cryout for reexamination: that sexual coupling defines and is the hallmarkof closeness between human beings;that being sexual is being intimate;and that sex is almost the only route to warmphysicalcontact between adults.They endorsethe notion
that sexuality is necessarilycentral to human culture, central to who we are, and definitive of our selves; that personalfulfillment can alwaysbe achieved throughsex; that sexual enjoyment in itself is a hallmarkof health (Steinbock 1986, 12); and that sexual relationshipshave and should have a moral and emotional primacyover other relationships. All of these assumptionsare not only open to question, but also may be that unnecessarilylimiting to human identity and development.Forit appears if women and their bodies were not constituted as a sexual resourceto which access must be controlled and limited;if there were not the presentscarcityof love, intimacy, warmth, and closeness in human relationships; if human socializationdid not foster dependence upon one human being-in short, if the constructionof genderwere not the linchpin of patriarchy-then perhaps sexual exclusivity and inclusivity would not raise problemsfor women's (and men's) sexual relationships. But to the extent that women continue to be or encouragedto define themselvesprimarily even exclusivelyin termsof their sexualpartners,they will continue to be vulnerableto partners who choose not to be monogamous.
NOTES I amgrateful the women menwhohavediscussed to and theseissues with informally staff and reviewers their for me,andto the editorial at Hypatia twoanonymous Hypatia and comments suggestions. stimulating 1. As a result thecentrality marriage discussions monogamy, concept of of to of the of adultery itsassociated and behavior and are patterns implications thefocusof a large amount sociological of 1982;Atwater 1982; investigation Strean1980;Wollison (e.g., Richardson 1985;Lawson 1988). 2. See,forexample, "Non? A Forum" (1985).Mydiscussion Monogamy? Readers' draws there.See alsoAtheyandOsterman (1984,48-50). uponthe ideasexpressed 3. See, forexample, excludes consideration all (1982),whichdeliberately Taylor of same-sex relationships. that and feminists havewritten 4. It is remarkable whilelesbian bisexual extenaboutissues to theirsexual heterosexual feminists someare sively pertaining practice, what morereticent,preferring, to apparently, stick to issuessuch as sexualassault, and pornography, prostitution. 5. A sexualrelationship undertaken the sakeof incomerepresents choice for a aboutthe kindof worker is goingto be. one 6. Margaret Carter madethispointto me. first are 7. Thesefeelings amply confirmed the research byAtwater in done (1982)on heterosexual women. 8. I amgrateful the anonymous to reviewer presented objection. who this Hypatia 9. I owethisobservation TedWorth. to 10. "Byaffirming one'sfreedom fromsexualrestraint obtainsa feelingof one one of activities day-to-day freedom; in turn,sustains in the routinized this, personal (Walshok 1974,164). living"
of if 11. "Theconquest sexual couldbe the greatest in advance jealousy, achieved, humanrelations since the adventof commonlaw or the initiationof democratic (SmithandSmith1974,38). processes" 12. "Anyone who has suffered disproportionate, the inordinate incalculable and of love that both power romantic/sexual knows it isaforcewhichoverwhelms themind and andthecharacter. annihilates It reason, 1984, religion, respect rationality" (Eskapa 183). He "There 13.Taylor's exemplifies book theseassumptions clearly. writes, most are, in fact,menandwomenwho havea strong immediate and sexualattraction each to but knownto both of them .... I am other,often inexplicable, sometimes instantly of or the convinced the presence suchfeelings, the lackof them,is totally that beyond theirunderstanding-something whichshould, of control people,andequally beyond of them.... be to by itself, enough exhibitthefoolishness thosewhowantto condemn is Thereis no comprehending a givenmanor woman swept in a tideof sexual why up such feelingsfor for person,and quiteunableto muster passion just one particular in with and another whomhe orshemightbe genuinely deeply love,whois recognized in asa better 1982,25, italicsin original). (Taylor person all ways"
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