A New Way to Love by B.L. Wiebe
Three years ago I joined the millions before me who decided the forever promises they made on their wedding day actually had an expiration date. I felt like I had failed at marriage so started reading a lot of books and journal articles to make sure I did it right the next time. What I discovered was that monogamy as a way of doing relationships is only one of several options. This book is the story of my life after diving back into the dating scene, which led to a whole new perspective about ethically non-monogamous relationships. Alongside these stories, I analyze the scientific research available on human relationship patterns to try and determine if there is a best way of doing relationships.
There are countless stories about monogamous love because it is the primary relationship style promulgated by Western culture. Interestingly, the love component of monogamy is a new part of the equation. Until recently marriage was an economic institution meant to join powerful families or provide the labor needed for farming. With the onset of the feminist movement and widespread urbanization, everything changed, particularly for women in Western societies. They no longer have to marry if they want to leave their parents’ home and have more career opportunities than ever before. The ramifications of this are far spread. Couples wait longer to get married, have children later, and overall family sizes have gone down. The stigma of divorce has lessened significantly. Now that women don’t rely on men economically and men have access to technology that cooks food and cleans clothes, people don’t need marriage to survive.
This is hard to wrap our heads around because the story we know is marriage with its promises of monogamy as the ultimate expression of love. Perhaps this knowledge makes it easier to understand why we are actually really terrible at monogamy and always have been. Many of our greatest love stories, i.e. David and Bathsheba or Lancelot and Guinevere, involve betrayal. Prostitution is one of the oldest professions, so try as we might, humans are not great at being with just one person. Some succeed, but it takes effort because committing to someone doesn’t turn off the part of your brain that finds other people attractive.
When I first started reading about ethical non-monogamy, I was skeptical. Could there really be another way to love? Is it actually possible for people to be in loving and sexual relationships with more than one person? We have familial love for more than one person and friendships with multiple people. Why are romance and attraction different? People within the ethical non-monogamy community don’t think it is. It’s not so easy as making a simple mind switch. Decades of stories had told me true love is only for two people.
What really opened my mind was listening to podcasts about the experiences of people who have been at this for years. This is why I want to share my stories. There are plenty of stories out there about monogamous love but not nearly enough about people who want something different. The stories I share range from sexy, as I discovered aspects of my sexuality unbeknownst to me, to the painful, as I struggled through the break up with my rebound boyfriend. In the end, I discovered how I need to have relationships to make me happy.
If stories aren’t enough for you, I also provide a brief review of the vigorous scientific debate between researchers who think humans are monogamous by nature and those who do not. This research encompasses everything from examining fossils to determine what mating patterns our ancestors used four million to understanding the neurological activity that takes place when you fall in love. I started this research hoping to find answers, and what I discovered was humans have developed a flexibility to adapt to widely different environments across time and space. It’s no wonder the way we do relationships has also had to adapt.
Ethical non-monogamy is not for everyone but neither is traditional monogamy. Being able to make an informed choice can make all the difference for a successful relationship. I hope by sharing my experiences and the knowledge I gained from hours of pouring over books and scientific studies I can make the journey a little bit easier for the next person.