A couple of months ago, Elizabeth looked at a big Newsweek piece on polyamory and criticized it for its lack of depth, neglect of religious angles, and its unrealistic portrayal of poly communities. Well, compared to this CNN story with an attention-grabbing headline of “Mate debate: Is monogamy realistic?,” that Newsweek article was a masterpiece. Apparently the premise of this article is that in oldentimes, people were monogamous but in these complicated modern times, it’s a completely unrealistic virtue and should be dropped post haste.
First off, contra the headline, there’s absolutely no debate in this story. The first 33 — yes, 33 — paragraphs of the story are all about how irrelevant and old-fashioned monogamy is and the final five include a psychologist saying that “nature” has provided powerful incentives for monogamy that are still valid. But even if you make it to the nether reaches of the story, there’s no debate in the sense of two sides rebutting each other. Here, in fact, are the story “highlights” (their term) as described by CNN:
–Changing social mores, growing life expectancy prompt new questions about monogamy
–Mating for life is within the realm of human potential, but it’s not easy, evolutionary biologist says
–Some people try polyamory, or having relationships with several partners at the same time
–Americans are too surprised by infidelity when it happens, author says
Now, I don’t know what version of history they’re teaching A. Pawlowski and the story’s editors at CNN, but I’m pretty sure that fidelity in monogamy was never something achieved with perfection by any group of people at any point in history. Monogamy isn’t something that has been valued because it is easy or ubiquitous. In fact, it might be valued precisely because it goes against human nature.
The top of the story uses celebrity infidelities as an example of how “the realities of modern life” work before suggesting that serial monogamy — changing partners as your life changes — might be the way to go. And then:
For some, even serial monogamy seems too restrictive.
The 1970s introduced the concept of “open marriage” in which couples stayed married but were free to date other people.
More recently, polyamory — the practice of having romantic relationships with multiple people at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of all involved — has been getting a lot of attention.
“We found the expectation that one person should be our everything seemed unrealistic given our day and age. … It’s oddly pressuring to set up that scenario,” said Mark, who lives in Springfield, Missouri, and is in a polyamorous relationship. (He asked that his last name not be used for privacy reasons.)
So “some” reject monogamy. Some practiced “open marriage” (no stats on how that worked out on marriage success rates). And polyamory has “recently” “been getting a lot of attention.” This is less journalism than a poorly written freshman composition.
Mark, from the anecdote above, says that he and his wife both have partners and that they all get together to have dinner time-to-time:
“People describe polyamory as ‘poly-agony’ because of all the work you have to do to maintain things,” Mark said. “It’s just not normal to look over and see your wife with another man. I know a lot of people would have a real problem with that. I really don’t.”
Great quote. Now let’s ask some more questions. How does the addition of partners affect child-rearing, the avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases, obligations to spouse(s)? No room for that in this story. Instead we get a positive mention of a dating Web site that encourages married people to have an affair and a quote from a French author contending that monogamy, “which is really no more than a useful social convention,” will not survive. If that’s not enough, we get an entire section on how zee French are so much more sopheesticated about zis silly little monogamy. There’s this quote, which could launch into an interesting discussion:
“Americans are too surprised by infidelity when it happens. I think we go into marriage with perhaps unrealistically high expectations about human nature,” said Pamela Druckerman, author of “Lust in Translation.”
Unfortunately, the quote is just used to justify infidelity. The thing is that people do go into marriage with ridiculous expectations. I read this Michelle Obama quote in the upcoming New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story about her marriage that I just loved:
“The strengths and challenges of our marriage don’t change because we move to a different address,” she said. Mrs. Obama said “the bumps” happen to everybody all the time “and they are continuous.”
“The last thing we want to project,” she said, is the image of a flawless relationship.
You notice, when you’re married, that pop culture tends to obsess about relationships outside of marriage and pay very little attention to relationships during marriage. Sandra Tsing Loh may get published in The Atlantic regaling readers with her infidelity, divorce and rejection of marriage — but you don’t read too many articles about successful marriages. And when the media do discuss marriage, we get all sorts of absolutely childish characterizations — such as the idea that monogamy used to be easy and now isn’t.
And how big a role does religion play in marriage? For my husband and me, it’s everything. Even in our very short marriage of three years and two children, we probably wouldn’t have made it out of our first year without our faith in God. We pray, we use the Ephesians 5 model of marriage, we ask for forgiveness daily.
How big a role does religion play in this story about monogamy? It’s literally not mentioned. There is no discussion on either side of the aisle about religion, nothing about the sacrament of marriage, its spiritual components, or any role that religion might play.