The Great Blackdragon Debate: Are Open Marriages and Polyamory Good or Bad For Society? Part One
A few weeks back I put out the call for someone who disagreed with me strongly on a particular issue to debate me on this blog. The call was answered, the debate happened, and now here it is. The specific rules of the debate are listed here.
A few guys had several good ideas to debate me on, including politics and monogamy. Politics is fun to debate, and maybe we’ll do that for the next Blackdragon Debate, but I wanted to keep the debate topic somewhat on-topic to women. The “monogamy is bad” debate I’ve had a bazillion times with a bazillion people so I’m little tired of that one, not to mention I’ve already laid out my case for that here.
I finally went with a guy named Soul, who’s commented on this blog before. (Full disclosure: I happen to know Soul personally and he’s used my services. That doesn’t mean I was easy on him, as you’re about to see.) The issue he wanted to debate was regarding monogamy, but in a way I’ve never discussed before. Thus the debate topic he chose is as follows:
RESOLVED: A society in which non-monogamy and sexual freedom are accepted social norms for both genders will fail because too many men & women will form unstable open relationships instead of nuclear families with stable pair-bonded couples, which will lead to social turmoil.
Soul will be arguing for, I will (of course) be arguing against. To be clear, this is not a debate on the validity of nonmonogamy for the individual, which even Soul admits is probably a good idea (Soul is married but not monogamous, both by choice). This is monogamy in regards to society at large.
Soul is a retired electronic engineer & cognitive neuroscientist, now working as an organizer in local small-scale agriculture, and is celebrating his 31st anniversary of an open marriage this week. (Congrats, Soul!) He was an academic debater in high school, and relishes the ability to argue with zest for either side of any issue. He’s a very intelligent, knowledgeable guy as you’re about to see.
One of the debate rules was to limit responses to four paragraphs. Both Soul and I took full advantage of that and both of us got too wordy at times. The next time I do a debate on this blog (and yes, I would like to do this again) I will tighten this up. Perhaps I’ll implement an actual character limit on every response.
The debate was fought over eight “rounds”, or responses, plus two closing statements. Because of the length of the debate, I’ll post half of the debate here and the second half next week. As promised, I have presented Soul’s responses here 100% raw and unedited by me, even when he gets a little testy with me. 🙂
Who was the winner of the debate? After reading part one today and part two next week, I’ll let you decide.
Here we go:
Round One: Soul’s Opening Statement
Human societies need stable families centered around pair-bonded couples, to survive and prosper. Children form healthy, well-integrated personalities when they grow up in loving households with both parents present and supportive. In today’s complex technological environment, it can take easily more than 20 years for children to complete their education and become fully independent, and during all that time they can benefit from the resources of an intact home base. Stability can also be a benefit to the couple, as it helps to facilitate the accumulation of wealth and a sense of trusting companionship over time. If the relationship is good, it can be an ongoing source of joy and emotional and sexual fulfillment for both partners. Whereas men and women who do not have a sexual relationship partner tend to be frustrated and lonely, and children from broken families, primarily raised by single parents, are much more likely to live in poverty and to have poor outcomes in school.
Long-term monogamy is a simple, logical structure which offers the possibility that most everyone in society will find a stable hook-up: a law of nature, as explained in Genesis: “there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded.” Also, individuals in relationships can thrive based on the expectation of their partner’s faithfulness. Sexual jealousy may be a result of innate and instinctual desires and fears about the way we want our partners to behave for our own benefit. If the Freudians are correct, subconscious processes related to childhood development may also be a factor in causing jealousy: an amorous competitor for a loved one’s affection can excite the Oedipus complex resulting in projections of the competitor into a parental role, re-stimulating deep emotional triggers. Perhaps for all these reasons, women (as well as men) find it very emotionally difficult when their sexual partner is non-monogamous. Sexual jealousy can be experienced very powerfully even when there’s an understanding that fidelity is not expected. All of these reasons mean that monogamy will always be seen as a desirable norm in society, although today it must compete with other relationship ideals.
Since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s, Western Civilization has been on a trend towards creating a society in which sexual freedom is also an accepted social norm for both genders. And what we’ve learned is that many people cannot responsibly handle this freedom. We are discovering that the raw sexual appetites of men and women are unruly, illogical and irreconcilable. In an environment of sexual freedom, unstable open relationships flourish in their destructive power. Highly successful, confident and competitive men (like BD) find that they can have simultaneous sexual relationships with multiple women, whose hypergamous preference leads them to at least temporarily accept a partial share of that man’s attention. However, women in these relationships experience enough jealousy and anguish over their reasonable desire for exclusivity, that they come and go from the relationship, sometimes repetitively. As the blogger “Heartiste” ever-so-humbly wrote, “Most girls who have torrid flings with alphas might learn what kind of player warning signs to watch for, but their hearts will ache for one more of his touches, and they won’t be able to bond very well with any future men who don’t rise to the standards set by her alpha ex…. those memories will be like stones dangling from heavy chains tied to her soul. They will haunt her for years, even into the bed of whatever future beta she marries.” One man can affect dozens or even hundreds of women this way. Meanwhile, young men who watch the “cock carousel” from the sidelines, are also damaged: filled with resentment and a sense of social injustice, questioning their own self-worth, they often never really understand what hit them.
So in order to survive, couples and families need a socially supportive environment in which long-term monogamy is the preferred and expected behavior. At a legal level, we need to restore the idea that marriage is a contract with consequences for failure to perform. Traditional marriage included the concept that the man is the source of leadership for the couple, and also that marriage includes the expectation of ongoing sexual availability. We know now that men and women are not naturally monogamous, so it would be healthy for lapses to be treated with compassion and understanding rather than punishment; but nevertheless they are mistakes, not to be applauded but rather to be treated as symptoms of problems. Considering the current situation, I think there’s a lot of value in teaching men to respond with courage, “alpha” confidence, and even “game” to get respect and love from women. But it’s going too far, to see rapid turnover in multiple sexual relationships as the new normal, or as a desirable goal for men to aspire to. Bloggers like Blackdragon who advocate for open relationships and non-monogamy are not helping to reverse the trend to social decay in America; on the contrary they are unwittingly part of the problem.
Round Two: Blackdragon’s Response
I agree that a pair-bonded couple is best for both children and society, and I agree that children from divorced families are hurt, often hurt badly. In a minute I’m going to use exactly that to demonstrate my point. So we have no disagreement there (though my general attitude is “society” always finds a way to take care of itself, and usually “society” would be better off if people stopped trying to “do what’s best for society” and instead focused energy on making their own lives better, happier, and more productive). I also agree that jealously is biological and painful, and can even be uncomfortable even when monogamy is not expected. Where you’re wrong is stating that monogamy “has always been seen as a desirable norm in society”. Actually polygamy (one husband many wives) was the desirable norm in most societies for much of human history. Polygamy was very normal, indeed preferred, for hundreds if not thousands of years, reaching into the modern era. Southern Chinese cultures were widely practicing polygamy as recently as the 1970’s before westernization set in, and middle eastern Muslims still practice it. If you study ancient history, the true mass chaos of constant wars, plague, famine, and civil unrest started in earnest well after monogamy became the mandated norm, starting around 300 AD during the rise of the Catholic papacy and Constantine’s use of the (admittedly weakened) the power of the Roman Empire to spread Christianity abroad. This ushered in the Dark Ages, arguably the worst 700 years of contiguous human history. I’m not saying monogamy caused the Dark Ages, nor am I saying the world prior to 300 AD was a cakewalk, but you have to admit that A) polygamy as a societal norm didn’t cause mass chaos, particularly as compared to the harsh realities of the time, and B) monogamy didn’t stabilize anything…one could even make the argument it made things worse (but that’s a different topic). Not that I’m for polygamy; I’m for either just-sex (FB), polyamory (MLTR) or serious-but-open relationships/marriages (OLTR).
You talk about the negative feelings associated with some open relationships, like the women always wanting that Alpha she had before and beta men feeling bad they don’t get to participate (which is silly since they can participate any time they wish; all they have to do is make the decision to become more Alpha, a decision I had to make myself many years ago). Here’s the problem: The negative feelings you describe are MILD, and I mean MILD when compared to…
A. Discovering your monogamous partner has cheated on you.
B. Going through the pain of a breakup or divorce when your partner is leaving you and you don’t want them to leave, not to mention the damage this does to your emotions, life, finances, and children.
Between those two above feelings and a woman “longing for an Alpha” or a man feeling a little jealous, it’s no fucking contest. The two above are far, far worse. Just ask anyone who’s been cheated on or who’s been divorced (or experienced a similar big breakup). And don’t forget, as you yourself correctly implied, both of those things are standard parts of monogamy; there is no avoiding them in the vast majority of cases, since monogamy is not how humans were designed. You’re pointing out what’s bad about nonmonogamy, and I agree with those negative aspects. The problem is the negative aspects of monogamy are far, far worse. How is an over 60% divorce rate in most cities or a 70% to 77% infidelity rate in most long-term marriages good for society? How is it stable for its adults or children? You say encouraging open relationships undermines society, but you forget the horrific damage monogamy is currently doing to society. That means you must show that serious-but-open pair-bonded relationships will cause more damage to society than an over 60% divorce rate and a 77% infidelity rate(!). Good luck with that. I’m all ears.
Round Three: Soul
Blackdragon, I couldn’t agree with you more that the institution of marriage in America today is deeply fucked up. What I’m debating is whether the problem is that men and women, against all odds, are still trying to get married, get committed and have kids; or whether the problem is that there’s entirely too much sexual freedom and non-monogamy in our culture, and we need to bring back some good old-fashioned ethics and practical common sense into our sex lives. Our topic refers to “A society in which non-monogamy and sexual freedom are accepted social norms for both genders,” and I submit that in many ways, that is exactly the way things are. For single people, basically any sexual behavior is treated indulgently. Women are free to pursue one-night-stands, short bouts of serial monogamy, and (usually duplicitous) multiple simultaneous relationships, all with abandon. Men do the same, if they’re alpha enough. Teenage girls may still gossip among themselves about who’s too slutty, but nobody really cares. Everything is forgiven when a person says the magic words “I just haven’t found the right partner yet.” The only exception is that married people are still expected to give up their sexual freedom.
When couples do jump off the singles carousel together into a marriage, they find that the wives are longing for their husbands to behave like the highly experienced, confident, top-of-the-heap “Alpha Males” that they dated and fucked but couldn’t get commitment from; and the husbands are completely beta-ized if not terrorized by their wives’ bitchy unhappiness, their capability of easy infidelity, and their power in a divorce. It’s a downward negative feedback spiral. And for young women bored with the “beta” they settled for, or for “needy alpha” men who lose their cool, divorce is buying another ticket back on the carousel. How can you imagine a situation that puts more tremendous pressure on our families; and how can you possibly blame this fiasco on men and women’s simple longing for stable committed monogamous relationships?
You suggest that open marriages (OLTR) will be perhaps more stable and less painful at failure than monogamous marriages. And that may be true, but OLTR is no panacea. First let me ask you: if your primary relationship is working well and your sexual and emotional needs are being met, then what is the point of exciting the emotional angst of jealousy in your wife, by going out and sleeping with another woman? How does that help her feel more love and commitment towards you? And if your exploits make your wife feel emboldened to sleep with another man, even if she’s initially not that interested because she’s satisfied with you — what is to prevent her from forming a strong emotional bond with that person? Serious pursuit of OLTR feels like leaving your wife’s bedroom door open and inviting trouble in. Furthermore, you and your wife are reaching out and involving yourselves with other peoples’ lives, who may be confused about your level of availability, who may be negatively affected emotionally by the experience, or who may be motivated to break up your relationship for their own benefit. Your wife’s other partners may not play by your rules, and women are not good at following rules and logical structures either. So if OLTR is not less stable and comforting than monogamous marriage in our society, I don’t believe that it works any better, either. The problem is too much sexual freedom and polyamory in the world of single people, and OLTR is a band-aid when we need a tourniquet to staunch an open wound.
It’s true that polygamy was practiced in the earliest historical civilizations, and still to the present day in Islam. Of course I’m not denying or ignoring that. But monogamy as an ideal has an equally ancient history — as evidenced by the Egyptian archetype of Osiris, Isis and their child Horus; the Canaanite god Baal and his consort Astarte; and of course the biblical Adam and Eve. Polygamy in patriarchal cultures is a manifestation of the fact that men are competitive. The distribution of physical strength, intelligence and cunning is unequal, so some men will always emerge more victorious than others. Women have always had very simple taste in men: they prefer the best, the strongest, the wealthiest, the most powerful. Now, I’m not denying that most men in modern culture could benefit from Alpha Male 101 boot camp. I know I have. But the idea that we can all be alpha enough to pull an endless stream of 19-year-old supermodels, is basically a ridiculous pipe dream — although no doubt a good way to sell E-books. Furthermore, women may enjoy their time in the king’s harem, but they don’t generally stick around for long — that is unless you imprison the women and castrate the prison guards.
Round Four: Blackdragon
If I’m understanding you correctly, you would prefer that all this sexual freedom women now enjoy is bad. Indeed, woman’s sexual freedom IS the cause of the high divorce rates now as compared to 50 years ago. If your solution is to go back to rigid laws (social or otherwise) restricting the sexual freedoms of women, all so we can get back to a 1950’s style marriage system, then you already know I would strongly disagree with that on every level. As an individualist and libertarian I think personal freedom is the highest value of human life. I have no right whatsoever to tell you what to do with your personal life as long as you’re not directly harming anyone else. If an adult woman goes out and has fully consensual sex with 20 guys and I don’t like it, that’s my problem. (The conversation changes drastically when we start talking about women making babies when they can’t afford them. There I do agree there should be very harsh social punishments for women who do this. But I’ve talked about this before.)
You said that “it may be true” that OLTR is better than traditional monogamous marriage. Well, then we’re done. I win. 🙂 You go on to list the reasons why OLTRs are not perfect, and I have said repeatedly that OLTRs are not perfect, but they are better. No one can offer you a perfect system. But I can offer you a better one.
I am not saying people will never feel jealousy in an OLTR. I am not saying people won’t possibly break the rules in an OLTR. I have also said, many times, that OLTRs are not permanent. Just like monogamous marriages, an OLTR will likely come to end someday (unless both partners are well over age 60). I am not saying all men can be off-the-chart Alphas, nor do I expect them to. I am not saying that all men can fuck “an endless stream of 19-year-old supermodels”. C’mon dude. Here’s another important point: I not saying or expecting that if nonmonogamy becomes a societal norm EVERYONE will chose to jump into MLTRs or OLTRs. Even if those arrangements became normal, a huge swath of the population will still choose monogamy. There will always be a strong percentage of religious people, or needy people, or low-sex drive people, or hyper-jealous people who will choose monogamy over poly/open. Which is fine. Again, freedom. Choose what you like.
What I am saying is a man being married or living with an OLTR, with or without children, with a prenuptial agreement and no co-owned debts or assets, and having one or two occasional fuck buddies on the side is far superior than traditional monogamous marriage in literally every way, both for individuals AND society. (Except for the one possible downside of jealousy, but I’ll happily take the one negative of jealousy over the 14 negatives of long-term monogamy.) Society would far more benefit from this arrangement than either the status quo or an oppressive 1950’s conservatism. Far less cheating. Far less arguments, anger, and drama. Far less damaging, hateful divorces. (Divorces and breakups, yes. Angry, damaging, hateful ones, no.) Far less men being ripped away from their children. Far less screwed-up kids from having two divorced parents who hate each other. Far less lawyers getting rich from people’s misery. Far less people using the family court systems as a weapon to get even. Far less terror and shock when one discovers their spouse has cheated on them. Far less dashed dreams and hopes for a Disney fairytale that was expected but impossible (even if the marriage lasts forever!). My alternative sounds like a much better society to me. Not perfect, but better.
<This ends part one of the Great Blackdragon Debate. Part two is coming shortly.>