There's a T-shirt my primary partner, who is a maths geek, wants me to make for him.
It will say
LOVE [DOES NOT EQUAL] MONOGAMY
That would look much cooler if I could find the correct symbol for [does not equal], or, indeed, remember it. But there, in a nutshell, you have the reason why he's my Primary and not my Only.
I'll start with monogamy and what it isn't, and (in Part 2) move on to polyamory and what it can be.
What follows is ranty and possibly biased. I am by no means dissing monogamy for couples who find that it works best for them. But I suspect there are many paired-off people who are trying to work out why they are turned on to other people, and whether they are the only one drawn to extramarital play? And monogamy isn't good if you do it not as a voluntary choice, but because you didn't know there was a choice.
So, a few things to consider:
Monogamy is not love.
Monogamy is a cultural construct designed to make people, and particularly women, have sex only with their socially-sanctioned partner. It's enforced by social pressure, by law, by coercion, or (recently) by sheer mass-media hype. In the West, women have sufficient independence that they do not have to be monogamous (sadly, in other parts of the world, this still gets you stoned to death in very much the way Moses wrote into the Pentateuch). But, having gained decent brith control and economic independence, we've all bought into the Cinderella/Pride-and-Prejudice/Bridget-Jones idea that once you meet The One, you'll never ever want anyone else again, and you'll just skip off into the sunset hand in hand.
Monogamy, now that it is frowned upon for a father to sell his daughter on to a husband, is often based around the insecurity we're all nourishing inside, the bit that says 'what does ze have that I don't? Is ze prettier, wittier, better in bed?' There's a vast market in breath-freshener and diet pills and makeup and muscle-building shakes and vaginal douches and fancy underwear and books on how to give better oral sex, and they sell partly because we want to keep a partner faithful.
Monogamy is not equality.
Monogamy started out as a neat way for men to be sure the child they are raising is their own, once we as a species figured out that straight sex led to pregnancy. Before that, maternity was the important element of parenthood. Once it became apparent that men might be contributing to the care of someone else's child, social rules shifted to make it more difficult for the child's mother to have more than one partner. Patriarchal control kicked in, ensuring women were passed from father to husband in a virgin state, because illicit sex got between men and their property. Monogamy originated as a way to ensure paternity, and developed as a method of controlling women.
And monogamy is not working.
Humans are not built for monogamy. It's a social construct, not a biological drive. Our biological drive demand that we fuck a lot of people, and we tend to kick against our social training and do just that. Something between 25% and 50% of people have had extramarital sex, and that's the people who admitted to it. One in five fathers is bringing up a child who is not biologically his. Clearly, this social construct is failing. If four thousand years of moral opprobrium hasn't stopped us shagging around, surely we should embrace the opportunity to do so without guilt and dishonesty?
So what, if any, alternatives are there?
Part 2 follows soon. Watch this space.
Edited to add a couple of corrections.
I am informed by people who know their maths that the symbol I was after in fact means [Can Never Equal], rather than [Does Not Necesarily Equal]. This is linguistically true in the case of Love =/= Monogamy, but means the basis of my first argument is open to misunderstanding. What I was getting at is that, in our culture, romantic love is generally held to include and require monogamy in order to be valid, and I'd like to seriously question that assumption - especially in the media, and in the way we police each other's relationships, and submit them to the bitter testing of The Norm.
Second, I'm aware that some of my arguments have been ethnocentric, focussing largely on cultures descending from the Abrahamic traditions central to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. My apologies for skipping over other cultures and traditions so regardlessly. I'm aware that I find it easier as a writer to skip things I know less about. In future, I'll indicate where I am missing out important bits due to lack of
knowledge and research time.