For the length of a column, allow me to put aside the eclectically diverse relationship paradigms that have blessed modern romantic lives with templates suited to the involved individuals’ needs. What remains in the scraps of this jumble is the model that single-handedly and unequivocally governs our world, a dreaded bastion of traditional society. Monogamy has shaped the laws, religions and social structures of the West, and many people who have recognized its oppressive role have with varying degrees of success attempted to extricate themselves from it. For all of my rational reticence, I have been unable to rid myself of a sort of emotional nostalgia for the concept: the lurking hope that I will someday find a burgeoning charming boy, so charming my parents develop a worrying fondness for him, and as he blossoms into a man he roots himself in my life as a figure of support with whom I eventually wither away. My cynical frustration with the socialized ideal bitterly clashes with the nearly violent tenderness and warmth this prospect boils up within me. In times of fragility, I cannot shake off this image regardless of how much I numbly repeat to myself its flaws. This narrative screams of patriarchal worship, emotional dependency, and unrealistic expectations, given that the standard doctrine has placed me in the unattainable female role of the gendered binary, maybe because I am predominantly attracted to men. Regardless, most people are at least familiar with a version of this story, and many will eventually land in a similar lifestyle.
As idyllic as the vision of a stable relationship may seem, the unspoken ease with which the foundation people build their lives upon can be upheaved makes me reconsider its true value as a model and the dangers of striving for it. Monogamy relies on the systematic suppression of unwarranted sexual desires, and marriage (its sometimes religious, paper-sealed reification) on the assumption that so-called “true love” transcends temporality and changing life circumstances. It seems easier to disregard marriage as a byproduct of heteronormativity, and its long-standing rejection of the queer community has made it almost commonplace for its members to shrug off its emotional significance. But the imposing certificate is just a small symptom of a larger cultural conditioning, one that pairs us off into units we are shunned for stepping out of. To me, the fragility of long-term monogamy and pain it can inflict is best exemplified by the most dramatic way its momentous seal can be broken: cheating.
Indeed, cheating (or adultery, if there’s already a pair of rings to consider) is, as you all know, sometimes reason enough to end the longest-lasting relationships. It is considered a breach of the written or oral pact between two people, a betrayal of the cheated partner’s trust. From their perspective, their counterpart’s action popped the bubble in which they were floating towards their very own scripted ideal. Did Cinderella ever have a fling on the side? Soon enough, an even worse question may appear: why did my partner burst their own fantasy? Or in other words, what did I do wrong? A solipsistic focus on the event spirals the thoughts of the cheated party into self-blame. As many a tragic narrative has told, those closest to the couple have similar thought processes as everybody desperately avoids the real question: why did they do it? The demonization and mediatized hype of adultery has in part led to the aforementioned inwardly directed blame, since nobody wants to believe their loved ones are intrinsically sinful as doctrine dictates. The illusion of perfect monogamy has left no place for the rationales of those who commit adultery. They are left to fend for themselves through guilt, remorse, and shame as their normative environment rewrites their past.
So what of the cheater? The mystified protagonist of this sad tale, whose monstrosity fascinates us, holds the key to resolving this particular narrative. In my opinion, the reason why the motivations or impulses that compel someone to cheating are often left unspoken is that they will always fall outside of the grasp of this fucking infamous monogamous framework. Whether it is lust, dissatisfaction or subconscious impulse, the causal factor involves an eventual realization that something isn’t working in the paradigm. The discrepancy between the reality and the image of a situation means that this person must accept they have let down their partner, their friends, their world, all those whose perception of monogamy as unanimously functional was upheaved. And so, soon it won’t be the people around them asking why they did it, but rather themselves: was I too attracted to him not to? Do I love her enough to end my marriage? Were they really worth all this shit?
And so goes the tragedy of adultery, or at least one variant of it. I do not intend to speak for all parties involved in such circumstances, but rather describe a logical rationale for the emotions involved. It’s a selfish exercise, where I try and find salvation through explanations. When I see lives I care about being torn about by the essentialist notion of “cheating,” I find solace in deconstructing the notion into its constituent characters, motivations and events; it stems from a denial to see those I love as a sequence of predetermined dichotomous adjectives. I refuse to distil human beings into the frigid categories of criminal and victim. I would also like to think that my reasoning is not unfamiliar. If so were the case, another question would be raised: is this really enough? Can one truly tell this story, that of the violent end to monogamy, or is it a futile endeavor? The answer frightens me.
And that answer isn’t the only scary thing. I’m afraid that this template I’m so deeply connected to fucks me over like it has so many others, that the promise of happiness monogamy offers is the lie I expect, that I’ll become the star actor of my own tragedy and hurt those around me. I do not feel capable of warning people away from this institution some of us so heavily depend on. Marriages do work, and for many people life-long commitment is an attainable and realized romantic goal. Call me jaded all you like, but frankly, I don’t do justice to the term: I’m really just scared. My main wish is for those reading this who share my demons to confront them, and with a shared consciousness we may distance ourselves from the toxic frameworks provided by our blind faith in monogamy, into a region of critical thinking within this flawed and currently immovable norm, and maybe eventually (and I say this with a reluctantly fuzzy smile) towards a realizable version of my ever-present daydream.