"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Saturday, March 12, 2016

On Monogamy

Now Playing: Youth by Daughter (we are the reckless, we are the wild youth)

Six weeks before I left Perth, I started a new relationship.

It didn't make any sense, but I don't think relationships, especially when you're young, need to make sense. You just meet wonderful people and have wonderful times and it doesn't need to make more sense than that.

I'm also a big believer in the short term relationship. Forever is an incorrect concept, and I think it's stupid and dangerous when people as young as I am try to imagine the partners they will want decades down the road. I've always had fleeting relationships with profoundly unsuitable people, but I've always relished in that incompatibility, that disconnect, the inevitable doom. It gives me wonderful bravado, to experiment in the sandboxen that these teen and early twenties relationships inevitably are.

I don't believe in monogamy. I oscillate wildly between deluded optimism and crushing cynicism and I go with the latter on this one. I realized how incompatible I was with monogamy in the same way frat boys give up on the concept of respecting women; sexual incompatibility - not just with each other, but with society. I don't know much, but I know me, and I know sex, and I know that monogamy is artificial and difficult and, for a lot of people, a zero sum game.

And so, naturally, I entered into a monogamous relationship.

I was cured of the cultural obsession with monogamy when I was a young undergrad. I was seventeen, I had vaginismus, I was smart and aggressively feminist, I loved sex, and I was a sexual assault and emotional abuse survivor. I had wonderful, healthy, fleeting encounters with people allergic to commitment, but who were also the sweetest, kindest people I had ever met. And I realized that obsessing over the sex lives of men who had not in any way committed themselves to me detracted from the happiness and pleasure of the moment, the moments that existed when two human beings collided and the other people of our past, present and future didn't matter. I learned to stop obsessing over what they were doing when I wasn't there, because another girl being there yesterday didn't detract from the fact that today we were drinking beer or playing video games or sleeping in a messy tangle of limbs and sweat and bodies and that I had a heavy head resting on my shoulder, mumbling endearingly and incoherently. And I learned that although we weren't the best of friends, didn't stay in contact, drifted apart, stopped sleeping together and even really seeing each other, these people were important and those moments were special, even though, for them and for me, there were other people in the picture and there was never any 'future'. I learned to love unconditionally and imperfectly and in the moment.

The people who had hurt me in the past believed in all the patriarchal institutions of heterosexual interactions, which naturally resulted in one cheating on his monogamous partner and using that conflict to hurt me, and the other having no qualms about sexual assault or shattering the illusions of a very naive girl. My immoral, slutty, non-monogamous friends and partners and encounters were flawed, imperfect people who sometimes did immature or even downright cruel things. But their respect for the human condition allowed us to understand each other more complexly, to forgive, and to live in the moment. That's what my slutty, smutty undergrad meant to me.

I did not enjoy monogamy, but I enjoyed the person I was being monogamous with. I didn't feel the need to go out and fuck indiscriminately, but being told that I had to be committed sat uncomfortably on me. I think it made our relationship more intimate than a six week relationship before you fly out really should have been, and the juxtaposition of intense intimacy and the looming plane ticket was probably more angst than was strictly necessary. But I genuinely enjoyed our time together, and I don't regret any of it.

It was interesting regulating my behaviour in ways I wasn't used to. I did not go clubbing during those six weeks, which was a post-semester ritual of mine - but I associated clubbing so intensely with beautiful strangers and blue hours that I didn't trust myself to not slip up. I found myself getting angry and frustrated when our schedules didn't sync up - because even though I was not having nearly as much sex as people imagined I was when I was single, it was weird having one person, but only one person, that I was allowed to sleep with.

But it was also comforting. It was comfortable. It was, after all, a social norm, albeit one that gets broken more often than it is honoured. There was a degree of intimacy and security that I never had before, and people started treating me differently. I had finally achieved what women were supposed to achieve - to con a man into promising not to fuck around - after years of being off the rails. And I'll admit, it was nice, even if people assumed that I was the one who had insisted on the monogamy.

And then it fell apart.

It was a very minor indiscretion, but for someone who was not really invested in monogamy the degree of the fuck up didn't matter to me. I was hurt and angry and jealous, things that I hadn't felt for a long time, emotions that I associated with a younger, stupider self. I was angry that I, the person who did not believe in monogamy, had nonetheless made a solid effort to honour something that was important to my partner, but had been let down by the person who adamantly insisted on the monogamy. And I felt like a failure, because in the narrative of monogamy I was possibly at greater fault than him.

And then I felt this overwhelming urge to keep it all together. This was the last time I would see him and I was not strong enough to make a grand gesture and refuse to see him, because I wanted to. And I didn't even think that what he did was particularly immoral or wrong or unforgivable because, again, I didn't believe in monogamy. But I pushed this confusing train of thought to one side and went to my going away party together, the perfect couple, with nobody none the wiser that the hickeys on his neck were not from me. I wanted to have it all, and for those few short hours, I did. I had the perfect partner and I was surrounded by friends and we were all young and beautiful in a heartbreakingly fleeting way. I had an offer to the best school in the country, but I was still in my hometown where I was loved. I had it all, but I was not happy. Because in that moment, next to my lapsed monogamous partner and friends that I was going to lose, I was more aware than ever that 'having it all', like all social delusions, was an illusion.

I think people cling to monogamy because we're told that it provides security; but that is a myth. I was abused and assaulted by two men who believed most ardently in monogamy and failed spectacularly at it. Security in a relationship is completely removed from exclusivity - a 'monogamous' man can still cheat on you, and anyone can leave you, monogamous or not. The fact that we were sleeping with other people didn't change the affection that drove people to carry me when my feet hurt or walk home with me, hand in hand, or for me to force feed water to a tequila-addled boy or text a former fling when he was depressed. And this indiscretion didn't change the fact that my partner was there for me when I needed him, which was all I ever wanted; and I think that's what we all want, which is why we blindly pursue monogamy, but I just don't think that's the answer.

Monogamy has been one of many failed experiments for me, but it has allowed me to see people and relationships more complexly. I understand now why people are so invested in monogamy and so genuinely perplexed when it fails. I did enjoy the comfort and security, but I also felt like it manufactured unnecessary pain, and that it was set up for failure. I don't enjoy feeling like a failure, or feeling like you're dating a failure, when until recently you didn't consider failure to be that, but millennia of patriarchal heteronormativity is making you second guess yourself. And I had reached a point when I was relatively free of that particular brand of paranoia and indulging in paranoia was not good for me or my mental health.

But the biggest thing I learned was forgiveness. Forgiving myself for not being perfect, or the perfect person to spend six weeks with. Forgiving my partner for not being perfect. Forgiving indiscretions and imperfect worldviews. Forgiving that we met in our early twenties (or, in my case, my late teens) and not as older, wiser, kinder people who knew what they wanted in life and from themselves and from other people; I had to forgive that we met as stupid thoughtless kids who could pretty much only agree that sex is fun and that we should have a lot of it. I had to forgive that we met in December and not November and so our relationship was six weeks and not twelve. I had to forgive myself for leaving, not just him but my life and everything I have ever known; an endeavour that was equal parts survival and a selfish delusion of grandeur. I had to forgive the astonishing number of times we managed to hurt each other in a very short space of time, and I have to forgive myself for missing him and missing home when I should be basking in the privilege of being an honours student at a world class university and having to do dishes for the first time in my life.

I really dislike the idea that every relationship that isn't forever is a failure; I was never aiming for forever. The thing that I learned was not that monogamy is not my cup of tea, because I already knew that. But the reason I indulge in fleeting relationships is because I think you become a better person, the more you recklessly and wholeheartedly live and love. When life and love is big and fat and swells until you can hardly bear it; when you've lived through abuse and assault and mental illness and physical pain, you learn to appreciate living large and loving big, in spite of the circumstances. And I really...I really was happy, and I'm glad that I had such a wonderful last summer. I'm grateful to have met people who made me happy, and I hope I made them happy, if only for a little while. That's all that matters.

I will be okay. He will be okay. And that's all I need right now.

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