Who knew exactly what I wanted to say about monogamy in marriage in the American culture can be summed up in a tagline for a potato chip company? The tagline? “Betcha Can’t Eat Just One.”
Frito-Lay’s old slogan, sadly, encapsulates much of American culture today. The point the slogan is trying to make is that if you eat just one of their potato chips, it would taste so good to you that you couldn’t possibly stop yourself from having another. They are addictive, one could say.
We live in a culture of addiction, where addictions are both lauded and lampooned, where addiction language is embedded in popular culture. Who out there is a junk food or reality TV junkie? Who needs their chocolate fix? Who’s feenin’, jonesin’ for a hit of some person a la Jodeci? Is someone’s love your drug?
These days, everyone is addicted to something, but that’s not all. The last few generations have been unofficially called the “Me” generation, the microwave generation. We want what we want, and we want it RIGHT NOW! If I don’t get what I want from you, I move on, and even if I do get what I want from you, I can’t stop at just one person giving me what I want, can I?
The reason monogamy seems to be broken isn’t because the institution of marriage is broken, it’s because society, our perception of what’s acceptable, is broken. It’s because we don’t understand a very simple principle: just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should; everything that’s good to you isn’t good for you, and some things that are good for you don’t taste good or feel comfortable.
Marriage and monogamy both mean commitment. Commitment means sacrifice: in order to commit to something, I have to let something else go. All choice works that way; by choosing one thing, you aren’t choosing something else. It’s easy to give up things you don’t want, isn’t it? If I had to give up chocolate for a million dollars, I wouldn’t feel bad; I’m allergic to chocolate anyway (yes, I’m allergic to chocolate. *gasp*, the horror, etc.). But if I had to give up writing for marriage? Umm…let me think about it. I want both, but if I can’t have both, it gets complicated. I can either accept that I can’t have both or scheme and plot a way to have both that I can manipulate in such a way that not only can I accept it, I can justify it and have it socially sanctioned.
So what do people do when they want all the trappings of commitment and none of the sacrifice? They can:
- Shack: If they need to get out of this arrangement, it’s a lot simpler than getting out of a marriage contract. You don’t have to totally commit and can define for yourself what level of commitment you have. If you “cheat” or don’t live up to what the other person thought they agreed to, you can tell them “it’s not like we’re married.” If the thought of being trapped bothers you, but you want a steady partner, this can be ideal, because the door is still cracked.
- Divorce: I want the perfect person for me. I’ve been told by every romantic comedy, fairytale, friend, and other that I need to be married to be complete, and that only my soulmate can complete me. I shouldn’t have disagreements or fights with my soulmate. My soulmate and I should be having sex regularly and living happily ever after. If things don’t go that way, well, obviously this isn’t my perfect match. I need to “trade him/her in for a new one.” I can keep doing this until I find the right one, decide their is no right one, or die.
- Open relationships: I love this person and want to spend my life with them, but one person can’t be expected to meet all of my emotional and sexual needs, and I can’t meet theirs. I don’t want to go behind anyone’s back and cheat all the time, so I’ll let them know upfront that I don’t believe in traditional monogamy.
- Serial monogamy: When I’m with someone, I’m only with that person. I’m committed to the relationships that I’m in, and can be in a relationship for a long time. But then something happens. I get bored or the other person gets too serious. Maybe I just realize that this person is good, just not good enough for me to settle down with FOREVER. So I keep looking.*
Infatuation is addictive. You get to feel beautiful and desired. Just holding hands makes you tingle. You discover you like so many of the same things. Their annoying habits are endearing. Every day is an adventure. You both are so considerate and affectionate. You hear that romantic opera music in the background. You’re telling your friends how perfect the relationship feels. Who wouldn’t want that forever. But that’s not love (or at least, it’s only one early stage in love’s development; we’ll get into what love is later). Some people bounce from relationship to relationship, chasing the high of infatuation, but it never lasts. People used to know that. In our culture today, however, chasing highs is what we do, whether we jump out of airplanes, beat video games, literally run after “runner’s high”…or chase the euphoric early days of infatuation.
I don’t think the institution of marriage is broken at all. I heard it said once that the way the family goes is the way society goes and vice versa. Our society is all about selfishness and instant self-gratification, two things that have no place in any marriage or family. How could anyone expect the institution of marriage not to suffer in such an environment?
I’m an optimist by nature. It’s not in my nature to leave any conversation without a bright side. The bright side is true love and commitment is still possible. If you believe in the importance and sanctity of marriage, it’s still possible to find happiness in this much attacked and maligned institution. You can still have a family that works within a monogamous union. At this point in the marriage kit project, I can’t tell you exactly how to do that, but I’m working on it. What I can tell you, though, is that it always begins with you; whether or not you’re selfish, whether or not you truly know what you want, whether or not you can truly commit to anything.
That’s my two cents, anyway. Feel free to leave yours in the comments section, or email me at 2blu2btru4u[at]gmail[dot]com.
*I don’t mean this to be offensive to anyone. I’m not saying that everyone who cohabitates, gets divorced, or finds themselves in patterns of serial monogamy is attempting to shirk commitment, nor that they don’t have any intention of getting married and settling down with their significant other. There are two sides to every coin. However, I do want to make it clear that what we intend and what happens isn’t always the same thing, and that some things have more risk than reward.