Friday, April 18, 2014

A refutation of claims made about open and closed relationships

In a Facebook group recently, I became involved in a thread where someone made several claims about open and closed relationships, and, being in a closed (monogamous) relationship, I felt the need to address them, because the claims contained several unfounded characterizations of monogamy that do not apply to my relationship, or that of any healthy monogamous relationship I know.  I am just going to go through these claims one by one, and I'll address them directly.

In the 21st century, all relationships should be open.
This claim assumes that monogamy is obsolete.  This assumption ignores the implications of open relationships, and how monogamy reduces some of the risks involved.  While I am not saying the open relationships should not exist, anyone engaging in one should understand that having an open relationship with a partner opens one up to the following:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (risks reduced through use of condoms and careful screening of partners).  This is true of cheating, though, too, so you run the risk in your monogamous relationship.  The key here is to be honest and responsible. 
  • Unwanted pregnancy with a person with whom you are not in a committed relationship, which opens up all kinds of legal and financial trouble (reduced by the use of contraception, tubal ligation, or vasectomy, but only the latter two are guaranteed).
  • Jealousy (we will get to that in a moment, because there is a claim about jealousy later)
  • Awkward living arrangements, if the relationship dynamic changes to a new partner getting more attention
On to the next claim:

The idea that you own the body of your mate is outdated.

Who said that monogamy is about ownership of your mate's body?  This claim is a caricature of modern monogamous relationships.  People choose to be together and choose to eschew other suitors.  Many factors contribute to this choice.  In the case of me and my fiancee, it's about finding everything we wanted in each other, and finding what was missing from other relationships.  It's not about jealously protecting my prize; it's about both of us wanting to be together, exclusively with each other, because it makes sense in light of where we are in our lives and how out treatment of and feelings for each other compare to our interactions with past partners.

The concept that you are too jealous to handle the pressure of another human being giving some affection to your beloved is also detrimental to relationships.

Again, we have a caricature of monogamous relationships, this time involving jealousy.  We don't want other people trying to give affection that we can adequately provide for each other.  There's no reason to involve other people, because we fulfill each other's needs more than adequately, and advances from people who think we should be open to them only serve to annoy us both.

The jealousy claim was followed by an assumption that everyone in the thread had at least one relationship destroyed by jealousy.  That's a huge assumption, and it serves only to demonize monogamy as something in which only jealous, possessive people engage.  My parents were monogamous, as were several of my relatives.  Not everyone had a perfect relationship, but I can point to a few where there was never even a consideration of stepping outside of the relationship, not because of jealousy, not because of possessiveness, but because they loved each other and had no desire to be with anyone else.  They were compliments to each other.   In the case of my parents, they were together for fifty-three years, until my dad died.  I don't remember them arguing once in my forty years of life, and nobody else can, either.  I know that's one anecdotal example, but it demonstrates that the possibility of monogamy without jealousy or possessiveness exists, even if it's only in one couple.  Couples have problems.  That's why over 50% of marriages end in divorce.  But to say monogamy never works is to ignore the percentage of marriages that do not end in divorce, even if one does not take my word on the relationship of my parents.

Jealousy is lack of confidence in yourself.

I'm not so sure.  Jealousy can arise from insecurity, certainly, but could it not also be a natural reaction?  An evolutionary adaptation that made it more likely that other potential mates were scared off?  I'm not condoning jealousy and possessiveness, but it seems to me that it could be primal and instinctive to be jealous, at least initially.

Closed relationships are like religion: both are philosophies based on a faulty premise and unsound logic.

Religion is based on faith, which is intangible and arbitrary.  Monogamy is based on tangible emotion and, in the case of me and my fiancee, myriad reasons that are quite logical.  The chemistry (release of oxytocin) needs to be there, I'm certain, but if we didn't laugh easily together, weren't sexually compatible, weren't affectionate, didn't have so many things in common, didn't have shared experiences with parenting kids on the autism spectrum, didn't have common goals and dreams, we wouldn't be together.  We can name so many reasons and side benefits to us being together, it's insulting for someone to come along and compare the reasons we're together and exclude others as potential partners to something faith-based.  This judgment is condescending and wildly inaccurate.

 You love a person so much you demand they never love anyone else. 

We love each other so much that we don't need anyone else, and other people trying to nudge their way in annoys us to no end.

Closed relationships actually come from religious traditions.

If this claim were true, then no primates would engage in monogamy.  The truth is that our primate cousins engage in monogamy 20%-30% of the time, compared to 3% in other species.  If the claim were true, monogamy would not appear in every culture throughout history, at least to some degree (the ancient Greeks were a notable exception).  If the claim were true, more people would engage in polyamory among nonreligious people, and there are no numbers to substantiate that claim.

Claim: Open relationships/polyamory make you feel uncomfortable because you know that I am right and it makes you feel emasculated.  The same way religious people react when you demand proof of god. I demand proof that holding back your partner emotionally and sexually is good or healthy for the relationship and the people in it. 

The person making the case for polyamory, who claims that monogamy is like religion, uses a tactic here that religious people use: instead of making the case for his way of thinking, he places the burden of proof on the people he condemns.  If he were arguing logically and making a good case, he would demonstrate how people who engage in polyamory and open relationships live healthier, happier lives.  Also, it's common for religious apologists to argue that deep down, you know they're right; deep down, you really believe in their god--you're just afraid or embarrassed to admit it.

I don't believe he is correct, so it doesn't do a thing to my masculinity.  I know monogamy works for me and my fiancee, and I don't want anyone else.  Neither does she.  Also, I'm not holding my partner back; I'm loving her, being happy with her, making her feel good, treating her right, and giving her the best sex of her life.  She doesn't want to go to anyone else; I'm giving her everything she wants and needs.

If [polyamory] is natural, it should probably be more common and accepted by society at large.

The argument from nature is a logical fallacy.  Many things occur in nature; that doesn't necessarily mean they're better for a species.  Psychosis, sociopathy, mental disorders, birth defects, genetic disorders and a great many other things occur in nature; it doesn't mean they're common or that they ought to be more widespread.  I'm not trying to make polyamory or open relationships out to be inherently bad, but I think the judgment that they are inherently good, logical, and should be more widespread and accepted is something one cannot base on the fact that it occurs naturally.  People aren't going to adopt a new relationship dynamic because of what's right for 5%-6% of the population.

I think I made a pretty decent case for exactly why closed relationships are emotionally traumatic and just the result of needy people clinging to each other's neediness.

Actually, no; he made a case (and poorly, at that) for monogamy being based on jealousy and possessiveness, not on neediness.  This claim is new.  The idea that closed relationships are emotionally traumatic is just a claim; there are no numbers or even anecdotes to back it up, and the neediness argument is just an example of him demonizing what he thinks isn't natural or moral.  I often say to my fiancee: I would not die without you, but with you, I live better.  I would still smile and laugh a bit without you, but with you, I laugh harder and more often.  I would not be depressed without you, but with you, I am truly happy.  I could go on with example after example of how she makes my life better.  I don't need her to live, but she makes life so much better, I want very badly to have her in mine.

I don't hate closed relationships.  I made it very clear I see them as based on a faulty premise and based on emotional desires instead of logic.

He doesn't hate closed relationships, but he demonizes them at will and insults people who engage in them as illogical, jealous, possessive, needy, and just like religious people.  What this statement sounds like to me is:

  • I'm not racist, but...
  • I'm not homophobic, but...
  • I don't hate women, but...
You get the picture.  I'm not saying he's a racist, homophobe, or misogynist, but he certainly does look down his nose at monogamy.

I don't hate closed relationships emotionally.  You guys hate me emotionally because I scare you.  Inside, deep down, you know I am right.

I pointed out already that the "deep down, you know I am right" claim is not at all different from the religious apologist claiming, "Deep down, you really believe in my god."   I've also heard the argument that I'm scared to believe in whatever god the apologist is trying to sell (usually the Christian version).  I don't hate people with difference of opinion.  I don't demonize or condemn polyamory or open relationships.  They are just nor my thing.  Having my choice demonized and condemned in a condescending way is unwelcome and unappreciated.


Unknown said...

Excellent article, Greg! I get so tickled when people claim to be logical, then use nothing but emotional and fallacious arguments to support their claim, while calling out others for being emotional and illogical. Someone get that fool a dictionary.

While he probably did believe his own claim, his tactics lead me to believe he was a troll. I wish I'd been online while he was making his claims. I would have had so much fun calling him out.

On the argument from nature, by his logic we should all be homosexual, as approximately 10% of humans are homosexual, which makes homosexuality natural, and therefore ideal for all humans (apparently). Also, anyone who doesn't think exactly like me is clearly an illogical, closeted theist!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Reich said...

I am glad you enjoyed the article! The homosexuality (or even pansexuality) argument would have been a great analogy.