Did you ever have a good friend just disappear on you when they became romantically involved with someone? You know: a friend you loved to hang out with, a person who was your go-to buddy for a cup of coffee or a drink, the first person you’d call when something really good (or really bad) happened to you?
And then they fall in love and suddenly you can’t reach them. You ask if they’d like to have a cup of coffee and they reply, “I don’t know; I’ll have to see what WE’RE doing.” On the one hand, you’re happy for them to be in love, but on the other hand, you really kind of feel like you just got dumped.
The bottom line on it is that romantic love, as we currently practice it, tends to be very exclusionary. We’re a decidedly monogamist society, so 99% of the time falling in love involves two people, period. And, yes, there is a strong expectation that those two people will devote the majority of their loving and caring to each other and not to people who are outside of the relationship. It’s very much as if your former best friend is saying, “Well, yeah, I loved you but that was what I was doing until I could find someone to fall IN love with and now I’m busy. Bye!”
The Lovers tarot card beautifully illustrates the romantic model of love that the Victorians positively adored. A man and a woman stand beside each other, nude, but not touching, not even making eye contact, while an angel hovers overhead, its wings spread protectively over the couple. The message is loud and clear: romantic love is holy and ethereal and, yes, we have bodies, but REAL love is about those heavenly emotions and not about . . . you know . . . S-E-X.
And, yes, it’s about two people and two people only. You don’t see any best friends hanging out in this card.
Thic Nhat Hanh says that true love, as opposed to our normal idea of romantic love, includes four elements: (1) loving/kindness which is the ability to offer happiness to the other person; (2) the energy of compassion, which removes suffering from you and the other person; (3) joy in loving; and (4) inclusiveness, which is removing the barriers between you and the other person. BUT – and this is the kicker with our western concept of love – if it’s really true love then those energies will continue to expand, particularly the energy of inclusiveness.
In our romantic love model we draw a circle around ourselves and our partners and say, “Okay, we’re in love – go away.” In this alternate model, romantic love becomes a spiritual practice that expands to include, rather than exclude, others. In other words, if it’s real love it grows your circle, it doesn’t contract it.
Which leads to a very sensitive and perhaps painful question: Is monogamy really a healthy model for growing love in our lives?
Unfortunately, the very question comes packed with a lot of poisonous images. We think of the middle aged man cheating on his wife with the babysitter. Or unhappy housewives having miserable affairs with the next door neighbor. Or swingers, who basically just want to fuck anything that moves, proclaiming that they have, “an open marriage.”
In other words, there’s a large, built in, “Yuck,” factor when we try to visualize a model of love that doesn’t involve exclusive monogamy. All of those images, though, are operating WITHIN the framework of a monogamist society. Screwing around on your wife or husband is yucky because it involves lying, cheating, and deeply hurting people who love you, trust you, and expect that you’re going to be, “faithful.” Sexual swingers probably have inordinately high sex drives and are non-monogamous by nature. They just get yucky when they try to disguise their true nature within the framework of a traditional marriage.
It may help to think about this issue if we can actually step back a bit and ask ourselves, “Is monogamy natural? Is this the natural state of human love or is this something that’s been imposed by society over many thousands of years?”
As Leonard Schlain points out in, “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,” the evidence is strong that most human societies were originally matriarchal. And there are actually a few truly matriarchal societies left in the world. So where do they stand on the issue of monogamy?
The Mosuo women are China’s last surviving matriarchy. They don’t marry. The women choose and change partners as they wish, whenever they wish.
The Minangkabau people practice marriage to a limited extent but the women and children live in their own houses and the men live elsewhere.
In the Khasi society, a matrilineal and matrilocal culture in the northeastern part of India, monogamy is the norm but women are free to divorce and remarry as frequently as they want to, with no social or economic consequences.
So, if the most ancient form of human society was the matriarchy, and if the current surviving matriarchies are examples of how those societies functioned, then we can conclude that monogamy is NOT a, “natural,” human norm.
Even more fascinating is the fact that these are WOMEN who are rejecting the monogamist model. Remember, a large element of the argument for monogamy is that women, especially when they’re pregnant, are weak, helpless, and badly in need of male protection. Apparently these societies think otherwise.
Is monogamy simply an artificial social construct that was foisted on humans by patriarchal societies that viewed women as property, as, “belonging,” to men? And, as the Goddess archetype reemerges in the world, will we see a breakdown of the monogamistic model?
There may be signs of that, especially among older people. Sociologists have already noted a new form of family structure they call, “living apart together,” in which people who describe themselves as being in love still choose to maintain separate households. Women in these relationships are very much maintaining their own individual identities rather than merging into a shared identity.
It’s fascinating to think of what new forms of romantic relationships may emerge in the coming few years. Communes? Group marriages? Matriarchies? The Lovers card may need to be a lot larger before it’s all over.