Jaime: I think monogamy is a mistake as an ideal. I believe in permanent promiscuity.
Kelly: You’re saying people should cheat on each other?
Jaime: No, if there were no monogamy there would be no cheating. We do not have monofriendamy do we? We do not say you are “cheating” on one of your friends simply because you enjoy time with another friend too, do we? Why should our sexual relationships be any different?
Kelly: Well, because people get jealous if their sexual partners have other partners.
Jaime: No, jealous people get jealous if their sexual partners have other partners. Not everyone is like that. I’m not like that. I don’t get jealous.
Kelly: Well most people do get jealous and would feel a lot more pain and misery if there were no ideal of monogamy and their partners were sleeping around on them.
Jaime: But they shouldn’t.
Kelly: What do you mean “they shouldn’t”?? It’s how they feel. It’s how normal people feel. Who are you to say what they should or should not feel?
Jaime: People should not feel things that are unfair.
Kelly: You are saying that one person cheats and their partner gets angry and the one who gets angry is the one being unfair—not the cheater?!
Jaime: Yes. It is unfair to demand someone else be denied a pleasure that does not hurt anyone else.
Kelly: It hurts the person being cheated on!
Jaime: But it does not have to, that’s the choice of the person who feels “cheated on” to feel aggrieved when they should not.
Kelly: No, it’s the choice of the cheater to disregard their partner’s feelings and have an affair! The cheater is the one responsible for all that hurt.
Jaime: No, it’s the jealous person who is at fault. It is the jealous person who is introducing a rule by which everyone should have the same, diminished amount of pleasure and then getting angry and trying to make their partner feel negative emotions too. The jealous person says, “We must both have less pleasure than we could and if you have more pleasure than me, or pleasure without me, etc., I am going to increase the pain for both of us. I am going to obsess over your extra pleasures that I wasn’t in on because I am the selfish center of the world and you are my sex slave who can never have sex with anyone but me.” So the jealous person is first demanding that they both have less pleasure than they could and then is increasing the misery of them both when their partner goes and has some perfectly good pleasures. It is totally unfair to put these demands on someone else and on yourself. It is selfish and small.
Kelly: There is more than life to pleasure! We all have to curb our pleasures for the sake of higher goods. Or for the sake of higher pleasures.
Jaime: And what higher goods or higher pleasures is it worth missing out on all the pleasures of having sex with multiple people?
Kelly: I don’t know, um, Love?? Commitment?? A special shared, intimate bond with only one person that no one else gets to share with that person??
Jaime: So, you don’t love your friends because hanging out with more than one of them is “cheating on them”? Or do you have only one friend? Do you agree with those jealous people who get jealous of their lover having other friends?
Kelly: No, that’s unhealthy, it’s possessive.
Jaime: Why is it not possessive to say that your lover cannot have other lovers then? If other lovers make your bond with a person less intimate and special, why do not more friendships make your friendship with your lover less intimate and special? Some people think the latter, you would call them possessive, but not those who have the same attitude but only limit it to sex? What is so special about sex that we should consider that another autonomous agent owes it to us and us only, whereas they can do all manner of other friendship activities and objecting to those things is pathological?
Kelly: It’s not just sex in a physical sense. Sex is emotional too.
Jaime: And friendship isn’t? People don’t care about their friends?
Kelly: But sex is a way to fall in love with someone else. Our bodies are primed to make us fall in love with people we have sex with.
Jaime: We are also disposed to fall in love with friends.
Kelly: Well, that’s why there can be emotional infidelity too. Sometimes you can cheat without having sex.
Jaime: See! You are endorsing possessiveness! You are endorsing the attitude that our lovers should deprive themselves of deep affections and bonds with people lest they have more than just the one they have with us!
Kelly: Well, if it is going to displace your place as their romantic interest, of course you should ask they “deny” themselves that.
Jaime: But that’s unfair! You’re asking them to have less richness of human connection just so you can be their sun and moon and stars! You have to be the center of their world and their world has to be smaller for it!
Kelly: But you’re giving the same thing for them! You’re not having emotional affairs or physical affairs either, that’s what makes it fair!
Jaime: No, that’s what makes it doubly unfair! You are both missing out! You are both loving less and being loved less!
Kelly: No, it’s not less love, it’s more concentrated love. Friends are inadequate for filling the longing for one partner who you can be satiated with and content with in the deepest way. Friendships can only go so deep. To fully connect we need a profounder romantic bond with one person. If we all listened to you, then sex and romance could never get us anything more than we already have from friendships. We would not really gain. We already have friendships, we would just get some more. But we would lose the special bond between exactly two people who exclude all others from the deepest connection.
Jaime: But by admitting that people can have what you called “emotional affairs”, you admitted people can have deep romantic attachments to more than one person. Why not see how many people we can have them with? You are right that friendships are only partially satisfying. But they come in degrees. It’s not like there are only “shallow friendships and a deep intimate connection with just one person”. And even the deep intimate connection with your favorite romantic partner, even in monogamy, does not mean that that person fulfills everything all the other friends do. You still need them for exploring other parts of your personality. So, why not say there are degrees of friendship, and then try to get as many relationships at the highest degree of physical/emotional connection as you can? And, while you’re at it why not pile on more physically pleasant ones even when they’re not an emotionally big deal, just so you can add to your overall pleasure too!
Kelly: But it does not work that way!
Jaime: It could!
Kelly: No, it could not! There is something about the pair bond that is compromised if it’s not just between the two of you. Part of the intimacy is in the exclusiveness. If this is not something special to the two of you but something one or both of you associate with others as well then it does not reinforce the specialness of your relationship the way sex and romantic intimacy should. It makes these things common, spread across all your relationships, and so it is inherently cheapened. It loses all the rareness and the concentration in the one relationship that makes you think of that one relationship as incomparable, as something beyond all your others. You cannot replicate that with emotional affairs!
Jaime: But every person is different. My favorite thing about friendship is that each friend brings out a different side of me or relates to a slightly different combination of the same sides of me. I find myself in each friend in a unique way. Each friend is not special because we have a special activity only we do and which I delude myself into thinking I have to have that one person to do it with. No, each friend is special because each friend him or herself is a totally distinct person with totally distinct pleasantness about him or her. Now, if I could get to a level of physical and emotional connection with more than one person like that, then it will not cheapen sex or intimacy or romance but multiply it all.
Kelly: But what if for your partner you are the only one, now you’re giving them only a fraction of your total love while they are giving you everything.
Jaime: Well, I wouldn’t have “a partner” obviously.
Kelly: But what about if one of your partners only has you! What about how monogamous people feel when their partner has this emotional and sexual bond with someone else! They shouldn’t feel jealous!?
Jaime: Look, the bond with the one person is not replicable with anyone else. Imagine if you lose a friend to death and someone said, “well, don’t worry you have others to fill those roles!” You’d slug that person. No profound friendship is so interchangeable. What I feel for another person does not diminish what we have. And denying myself bonds with others won’t mean you can magically give me what other people can. We need to accept that we cannot be any one’s be all and end all—and we shouldn’t want to be that! We shouldn’t want to be someone’s irreplaceable jealous god who we deceive them into thinking is the only one who can bring them sexual or romantic satisfaction by selfishly denying them access to all other people. I mean, you are single, right—are you a virgin? Are you looking to marry only a virgin?
Kelly: What does that have to do with anything?
Jaime: Well, if you have had sex with multiple partners, even if only one at a time, then apparently you can share physical and emotional intimacy with more than one person.
Kelly: But those people are in the past, they won’t matter to my future marriage.
Jaime: But they should matter to your life! These are people you must have shared some kind of intimate bond with—given how seriously you take having sex!
Kelly: But it’s over now, they’re in my past. It’s not like I was juggling them all at the same time or I will be thinking about them when I’m married and finally found the one who is right for me.
Jaime: So, before, you were implying the sexual romantic relationship is the height of human relationships and now the people you have had this sacred bond with in the past are forgettable?
Kelly: I didn’t say they were forgettable, just that they are my past. I don’t feel the same way about them now.
Jaime: So, these friendships are actually less permanent than your regular friendships which you still maintain? I thought these were so much more important.
Kelly: They were, at the time. They were more intense at the time than any friendship, even if they didn’t last as long.
Jaime: And wasn’t that a good thing? Even though they were incomplete relationships, not eternal, not perfect, not as long lasting as some other friendships… Why not have multiple such bonds at once if you could? So what if they don’t last forever or don’t involve an eternal commitment, aren’t they special as far as they go?
Kelly: But they only were special because I focused on one person at a time and worked to make the relationship be the one if it could. It wouldn’t work all at once, people get jealous, people get hurt, people don’t just shut off their feelings like you want them to.
Jaime: Maybe they should.
Kelly: But most don’t want to!
Jaime: They’re just insecure. Should we pander to that? Worse, should we call the monogamous ideal of the insecure the highest moral standard for love and sex?
Kelly: Look, you can do what you want, but it is not good for everyone.
Jaime: Maybe if the culture didn’t pump up monogamy as the only way, people would not find what I have to say so traumatizing. We have to start somewhere in changing attitudes so people feel less uptight about these things.
Kelly: I don’t think you have the right approach in demonizing people who value faithfulness and who just want to leave some things exclusive and intimate. Relationships are hard enough. They don’t need encouragement to have more and more entanglements, more and more expectations on sexual prowess, so that they constantly feel like they need more sexual trophies to feel good about themselves and feel like they have enough libertine pleasure. You want to have your polyamorous relationships or whatever, then have them. But there is no reason your values should be the norm. What about the children with mix and match parents this would create? What if you have four children with four lovers, are you all going to be living in the same state forever? What about diseases? What about the wealthy gobbling up more and more lovers since they can and leaving the losers cold? There are benefits to monogamy, even if we don’t have as much hedonistic pleasure as you think we should.
Jaime: Well those are a lot of issues you raise that would need further discussion. But I resent you trivializing this as just “hedonism”. I think people are healthier with more love and more pleasure and that they can have better virtues if they are open to more thorough, more intimate, more physical relationships with more people and if they can allow those they love to do the same without resenting it.
Kelly: You underestimate all the ways that people can hurt each other and act selfishly. You act like there is no deception or exploitation possible from sex and from a mindset that treats it so utterly casually.
Jaime: And you act like increasing pleasure in life is a bad thing that inevitably leads to ruin and misery. You act like selfish jealousy is actually a virtue and like sex is the enemy of friendship and of love in all but one context. But I’m just saying it does not have to be that way if we all changed our attitudes and expectations and set up different understandings of the extents and limits of our responsibilities to and for each other. We can make new norms that let us be both good and more sexually liberated.
Kelly: Look, you can have your “new norms” and your “sexual liberation”, but they don’t have to be pushed on everyone.
Jaime: But what if everyone would be happier with them?
Kelly: They wouldn’t. You don’t understand human nature.
More debates between Jaime and Kelly: