The Moral Man-Whore

Monogamy. Let’s start with some basic principles. Imagine that you’re involved with someone whom I’ll refer to as  a “love interest.” This “love interest” could be someone you love or it could be someone you simply like, but the important point is that he or she is someone with whom you would normally want to form a monogamous relationship. For the sake of discussion, the feelings that you have for this love interest can be divided into two main components: (1) a physical connection — your desire to touch her, to kiss her, to have sex with her, etc. — and (2) a mental/emotional connection — your love of talking to her and her sense of humor, your desire to ask her for advice to have her confide in you, and everything else that doesn’t necessarily require anything physical.

The central flaw that I see in monogamy is that, for every (non-religious) reason you can come up with for eliminating all physical connections with people other than your love interest, I can give you a similar or identical reason for eliminating all mental connections with other people.

When you form a monogamous relationship, what you essentially do is agree to eliminate all physical connections with anyone other than your love interest; in return, your love interest agrees to do the same. You each agree not to have sex with anyone else, to kiss anyone else, to “heavily pet” anyone else, and to do anything physical with anyone else beyond minimal contact like shaking hands, hugging, or maybe (at most) kissing on the cheek. On the other hand, except in the most restrictive monogamous relationships, additional mental/emotional relationships are usually fair game. Members of a monogamous couple are ordinarily permitted to have other friends and to care about those other friends, to have important and meaningful conversations with other people, and to confide in others about serious problems.

The central flaw that I see in monogamy is that, for every (non-religious) reason you can come up with for eliminating all physical connections with people other than your love interest, I can give you a similar or identical reason for eliminating all mental connections with other people. In other words, for every reason you can give me for not having sex with anyone else, I can give you the same reason for not having any other friends, for not having meaningful conversations with other people, and for not caring about anyone else. In fact, assuming (as people often do) that the mental/emotional component is more important to a relationship than the physical component, any reason for eliminating physical connections would apply even more strongly in the mental/emotional context.

The answer is relatively uncontroversial: human beings enjoy variety in their lives.

For example, one common justification for monogamy is that, for a relationship to work, you have to “give yourself completely” to the other person. If you’re having multiple sexual relationships, those additional relationships are in some sense distracting you from your one true love, preventing you from truly bonding with that person. But if being in a relationship is really about “giving ourselves completely” to someone, shouldn’t we be giving ourselves completely to that person mentally and emotionally as well? Shouldn’t we be equally worried that our “other” friends and “other” conversations are distracting us from our one true love? Another related reason I hear for monogamy is that eliminating additional physical connections has the effect of improving the physical relationship with the one we love. But even assuming this is correct, it represents an equally good (if not better) reason for eliminating additional mental/emotional relationships. If forming a truly meaningful bond with our love interest means channeling our focus and affection toward a single person, then we should probably just stop taking to everyone else entirely except when it is absolutely necessary.

What right do I have to say to my love interest: “I’m scared of the possibility that you will find someone better than me. I don’t want you to find the best person for you. So I’m going to make sure that you stick with me, your second-best option.

Of course, that sounds ridiculous — obviously, no one (including me) really believes that being in a monogamous relationship means systematically breaking off friendships or refraining from all third-party conversations. My point is that it is no any less ridiculous to systematically eliminate additional physical connections. The questions we must ask is: why do the above restrictions sound ridiculous? In other words, why do couples almost always permit additional mental/emotional relationships? The answer is relatively uncontroversial: human beings enjoy variety in their lives. Even if we have a “best friend” to whom we’re closer than anyone else and with whom we share every aspect of our lives, most of us want to have a number of friends, a variety of conversations with a variety of people, and multiple people we care about in different manners and degrees. So no matter how much we adore that one person on both a mental and emotional level, we turn to others all the time because they have different interests, offer different perspectives on difficult problems, or simply provide us with a different form of fun. Most importantly for the purposes of my point, few people seriously contend that our friendship and more “casual” connections somehow cheapen our more intense personal relationships. No one has ever been able to give me a good reason for why physical connections should be any different.

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People do give me a number of bad reasons. One of the most common is jealousy: fear of losing the person we love. This makes some superficial sense — if my love interest were going around having sex with a bunch of different guys, it would be entirely reasonable for me to be worried that she would find someone she likes better than me and that I’d be doomed. But despite the reasonableness of my fear, what right do I have to say to my love interest: “I’m scared of the possibility that you will find someone better than me. I don’t want you to find the best person for you. So I’m going to make sure that you stick with me, your second-best option.” This seems pretty selfish to me. Again, it still doesn’t answer the question of why i wouldn’t mount a similar attack on the mental/emotional front — that is, I could be equally worried that my love interest will meet some guy who so overwhelmingly sweeps her off her feet with his charm and intellect that I seem like a used dishrag in comparison. Does this mean that I should tell her to stop talking to other males because of the possibility of this happening? You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of the most insanely jealous among us who believes that.

I’m not entirely sure that it’s our natural instinct to be monogamous. The divorce rate in this country and the fact that, no matter how much I care about my love interest, I get a boner when I so much as scratch an attractive woman’s shoulder, suggest otherwise.

Then there’s my favorite argument: that I’m “using logic to analyze an emotion that has nothing to do with logic,” and that “it’s our basic human instinct to be jealous, to want someone for ourselves.” Well, first of all, I’m not entirely sure that it’s our natural instinct to be monogamous. The divorce rate in this country and the fact that, no matter how much I care about my love interest, I get a boner when I so much as scratch an attractive woman’s shoulder, suggest otherwise. Even assuming for the moment that it is indeed our “basic human instinct” to be monogamous, why should that matter? We suppress our “natural instincts” all the time when it’s reasonable to. Let’s say I’m sitting in a crowded classroom and I really have to take a shit. It may be my “basic human instinct” to crouch right in the middle of the classroom and defecate all over the seats, but I’m not going to do it no matter how much pain I’m in. If I do decide to go for it and the professor starts yelling at me, would he really care if I said, “Don’t worry, it’s my basic human instinct to take a shit on this desk?” Or, to use another example, it may be my basic human instinct to eat everything in sight until I can’t move, but I suppress that instinct because surrendering to it will make me feel fat and unhealthy. Now, you might think that sex is different from binging and public shitting because it is reasonable to be monogamous. However, that just brings us back to the problem that you haven’t given me a good reason for distinguishing physical connections from mental/emotional ones.

To be clear, I’m not saying that we should all force ourselves to have sex with a lot of people. If that makes you uncomfortable or you don’t enjoy it, then of course you shouldn’t do it, for the same reason that people shouldn’t have lots of friends and talk to people all the time if they prefer being alone. My issue is with monogamy as the strict default setting in society, and with the fact that a person’s refusal to abide by that default leads others to assume that the person is shallow, emotionless, and — worst of all — that he or she is in some sense mistreating their significant other. My issue is with the number of movies I’ve seen that involve some “player” who realizes that his womanizing lifestyle has left him “loveless and alone,” and who ultimately concludes that his life will only have meaning if he demonstrates “commitment” to a person (which, surprise-surprise, mean monogamy). My issue is with the fact that even some of my closest friends tell me condescendingly that my views “seem logical” but that I’ll feel differently when I “meet the right person.”

In other words, because my belief can’t possibly be correct, it must be the case that I believe it because I haven’t experienced real feelings for another human being. Well, that is not the case — far from it. It simply seems self-evident to me that a person should not give up something from their life that they enjoy without a sensible reason for doing so. More importantly, it seems to me that we should be capable of providing some reasonable justification for a principle that pervades our society so deeply. As far as I’m concerned, this hasn’t happened yet, and until it does, I will remain the shallow dickhead that I am today.

The Moral Man-Whore.

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