Monogamy is everywhere. Does anyone know what it is?
October 30th, 2023
A concept that needs neither an introduction nor a defense, monogamy could still do with a deeper inquiry. This week, we turn our attention to the question of commitment.
Like most people who have experienced monogamy either personally or peripherally, I am most sure I know what it is when I don’t have to define it. There are the entrenched traditions that rest on monogamy, or the examples we can find of couples in our communities, but all of those can quickly be complicated with just a few well-timed or well-phrased questions. But then, monogamy is a definition that’s never been as definite as many people would like it to be. To look at a dictionary, a statistic, a census record, or any other kind of story made official is to only see what can be reported.
Since its inception, Feeld has been a platform that prizes a fluid, easy approach to describing oneself and one’s desires, and with that comes the ability to locate exactly what you want, or to discover that you didn’t even know there was something else you could want. That’s probably why it’s so commonly—and correctly—thought of as an app especially welcoming to open or non-monogamous individuals; those who are actively trying to expand or challenge the existing structures so that we can build something different to what we might assume has come before. Those who identify as ethically non-monogamous or open, either as a couple or an individual, make up a significant portion of the people you’ll find on Feeld, but it is equally welcoming to people with their own diverse experiences of and different interests in monogamy. That’s because, at its core, Feeld is what its members make it, and the members are the ones out in the world exploring all kinds of different relationship structures.
In thinking about this I remembered when, several years ago, I saw Esther Perel being interviewed. As I wrote at the time, I noticed that the audience was mostly couples. I was there on my own, which gave me plenty of permission to eavesdrop. The conversations were strained the way they always are before a main event, the tone one takes when standing in front of a restaurant hostess looking for a table, or during the previews before a movie—guarding against the twinned awkwardness of prolonged silence or sudden interruptions. Still, I liked to listen, and imagine that the details I noticed told me something useful or even accurate. Some of the couples were there in sets, like a double date, which seemed really indicative of some quality to their friendship I wish I knew more about; some of the couples were wearing almost identical fall jackets; others were debating the best subway route home or recapping what the weather had been like that morning. The second Perel walked on stage they all shut up.
Perel said a lot about her work as a therapist and writer, which has made her a best-selling author and a reasonably famous public figure, but something that to this day stands out in my memory is a statement she made about monogamy. Serial monogamy is a misnomer, she had explained; a true definition of the concept, as inherited from the eras and cultures that predate our own, would only include that vow known as until death do us part. In our time of longer lifespans, no-fault divorce, and pretty ok protections for common-law partnerships, people are free to take or leave their relationships as they wish. Most of us can probably think of at least one person in their life who is never single for too long. To have the ability to build a pattern of subsequent monogamous relationships is, in its own way, a small but powerful reminder that even within what might be considered the most entrenched traditions anything can—and will—change.
Perel’s books include the same questions that almost everyone asks themselves as they navigate their own relationships and the ones in their communities: is monogamy a social norm because it is inherent, or because it is enforced? What about the taboos around infidelity in theory, and then the high frequency of it in practice? We are inundated with anecdotes and characters that are used to show both sides—the ways in which monogamy harms us, the ways in which it protects us. I’ve come to think of these contradictions as a kind of monogamy agnosticism: yeah, maybe monogamy is real, but, in this day and age, what’s the difference? It can be an individual choice that brings freedom to the person who wants it, or a normative standard that excludes so many possibilities that it becomes a trap to the person under it.
Wondering about this or any other question when it comes to the intricacies of an emotional bond will only get you so far—eventually you just have to ask directly. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m realizing that the impulse to eavesdrop in that crowd is like another opportunity to read people: as Feeld members know, there’s an absolute wealth of literature within the app, detailing endless combinations of expressions for what a person wants to find or the way they’re looking to be found.
We’ve recently heard from a number of people who use Feeld because they’re looking for a monogamous partner; we’ve also heard a number of definitions of what “monogamous partner” means to them. This inspired us to turn our gaze towards monogamy this week. Monogamy is a mainstream idea that needs neither an introduction nor a defense, but could do with an inquiry towards a deeper understanding. What is monogamy, and who gets to define it? Who practices monogamy, and how do individual experiences change our collective understanding of it? What are the cultural histories of monogamy, and in which ways are they evolving? What are the benefits of it, and what boundaries are enforced by its limitations?
The week to come offers an open invitation to reconsider the concept of commitment. We’ll be sharing a number of perspectives and insights from our community and our team, and we hope to hear from you as you follow along.
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