John Edwards, Again: The Monogamy Issue

In Lauren’s post on John Edwards, anonymous says:

“It is clear to me that the people posting about how monogamy is unnatural and how people can be happily poly amorous have never been on the receiving end of the news that their spouse has had an affair or seen the absolute devastation it can wreak on a family. If an open marriage works for you, kudos to you, I think that’s awesome. It doesn’t work for everyone though and I find it rather insensitive to gloss over how absolutely heartbreaking it is to find out that your spouse has cheated on you, with no thought for your feelings or health. It is a much, much different ball of wax then a mutually agreed upon open marriage and it should never, ever be compared to one. Whether you think it’s a natural relationship or not doesn’t impact the result on the betrayed spouse.”

I think anonymous has nailed it.

I’d even take it further and take a stab that the people posting about how monogamy is unnatural are not likely to be (yet) on the receiving end of the fact that there are some restraints on how egalitarian hetero polygamy can be in a society that hasn’t yet achieved full feminist status.

Personally, though it’s not for me, I have nothing against the poly lifestyle for consenting adults. So nothing here is meant to be a judgment whatsoever re anyone fitting that description.

But those who would bemoan the constraints on someone like John Edwards of the monogamous standard should look at whom the poly standard would primarily benefit in today’s world.

Men, and women below 50. Or maybe below 40. Ageism as it particularly affects women is an issue worth discussing further on third wave blogs, because none of us are guaranteed escape from it.

As we’ve talked about on other threads (see comments 37-50 here), statistically, hetero men as they age have more access to same-age and younger women than do hetero women. Women are rewarded more for youth/mainstream decorativeness and men for perceived stability/security. Therefore, over time, were more marriages to be open, men as they age would have more access to multiple partners, women would not.

In my view, “Jack” (comment #37 on the linked thread) is a troll or at the very least, an ass. Case in point: “An old rich woman isn’t hot, she’s just old and rich. She can buy plenty of cats. Women will always be attracted to high-status men, and men will always be attracted to young, fertile women.” But as abhorrent as his comments were, we all know that a number of more tactful men have similar thoughts.

So we can lament the fact that poor John Edwards and poor Eliot Spitzer were unfairly limited by an “unnatural” monogamous standard. (I wonder how much of this “we” is composed of hetero women over 40, or women under 40 who’ve seen how their mom vs their dad is affected socially by a divorce).

But I shed no tears for these dudes. What about Elizabeth Edwards, what about Silda Spitzer? Women who’d given up meaningful, profitable careers to support their husbands. And therefore, without worldly status of their own or the mainstream notion of good looks (typically requiring being born in the 60s or later), lacking the wherewithal to compete with their husbands in attracting other partners.

I don’t want to restrict anyone’s freedom. If someone wants an open relationship, and not just open on one end, and finds someone who’s also good with that, then kudos to them. But let’s not point to a relationship that appears to have been open on only one end and hope for this evil, restricting monogamy to die out.

Because that would be good for… who exactly?

66 comments for “John Edwards, Again: The Monogamy Issue

  1. August 12, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I agree. I wrote about Edwards’ infidelity at my place a few days ago. I think the issue of infidelity is a big one for politicians, not only because of what it does to their spouse, but also because of what is says about them as a person.

  2. the15th
    August 12, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Wow, octogalore, your guest blogging stint has included some of the best insights I’ve seen on any feminist blog in a while. I’ve been trying and failing to articulate why the “maybe they had an arrangement” argument is not helpful to women.

  3. Katherine
    August 12, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    First, I should say upfront that I did not read the thread you refer to, I’m responding only to what you say here. Also, I should mention that I’m poly. I am not convinced, however, that it’s “natural”. We’ve been living in pairs in most cultures for so long now, I believe monogamy has probably *become* “natural” at this point.

    I’ve been cheated on and I understand the devestation it can bring. Believe me, I’ve had my heart ripped out and torn to shreds by the betrayal of a partner. And I also have a special contempt and anger that I feel for high-powered men in monogamous relationships who publicly betray their wife. It’s painful to watch and more painful to live.

    Having said that…what you say here about polyamory doesn’t ring true for me. This part in particular:

    “I’d even take it further and take a stab that the people posting about how monogamy is unnatural are not likely to be (yet) on the receiving end of the fact that there are some restraints on how egalitarian hetero polygamy can be in a society that hasn’t yet achieved full feminist status.”

    and this:

    “As we’ve talked about on other threads (see comments 37-50 here), statistically, hetero men as they age have more access to same-age and younger women than do hetero women. Women are rewarded more for youth/mainstream decorativeness and men for perceived stability/security. Therefore, over time, were more marriages to be open, men as they age would have more access to multiple partners, women would not. ”

    I live in Seattle, and there is a large and active poly community here. And I haven’t seen what you describe. The median age of a polyamorous person is probably about 40. Typically after trying monogamy for some years and finding it doesn’t work for them is when people will try polyamory, it also takes some nerve to go against societal norms. And these things become easier as people age. I’ve found people who practice polyamory to be the unusually accepting of others. Accepting of style, body type, and yes…age. I don’t see much ageism in polyamory. Less than in mainstream culture for sure.

    I would never hold polyamory up as a means of avoiding getting your heart broken from a cheating partner. Not enough people are wired for it for it to be preached on a wide scale. Whether monogamy is natural or taught, it is the norm and is what most people expect in a relationship. It’s what they want and what they need.

    But reading this post made me feel that even with the “not being judemental” disclaimers interspersed throughout, it was actually fairly judgmental of a lifestyle that you haven’t actually experienced. And I see this a lot…”Polyamory isn’t for me, but if it’s for you, great!” followed by some judgemental sounding comments.

    Poly really has nothing to do with Edwards or anyone else cheating on their spouse. It’s too bad that some poly folk take advantage of the publicity around something like that to ram polyamory down everyone else’s throats like a cure-all. And it angers people and I believe that is where posts such as this one stem from.

  4. Bether
    August 12, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Whether the Edwardses had an “arrangement” or not is none of our business; certainly, both John and Elizabeth have commented about the difficulties the affair has caused in their family, which would lead me to believe that they, in fact, did not have any kind of open marriage.

    I would like to clarify a point, which is that polyamory traditionally does not condone lying and cheating, regardless of whether the relationships involved are monogamous or not. Most of the polyamorists I’ve encountered, both online and in real life, and including myself, hold honesty in the highest regard. In that case, lying to your wife about sleeping with another woman is deplorable regardless of whatever “arrangement” exists.

  5. Sara
    August 12, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Thanks, octogalore, and anonymous, for getting it right. Edwards is a twit, all signs point to the fact that this affair was a horrible betrayal of his wife, and casting it in light of “maybe they had an AGREEMENT” is lazy and cowardly.

  6. August 12, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    When I was engaged, I couldn’t turn around without reading something about a happy, lifelong, and faithful marriage being impossible. Hell, so far I l*like* monogamy quite a lot, which has surprised me a little. It’s a little difficult (being part of a liberal, young crowd), but I’ve been able to shelter my faith in my relationship from the cynicism people excuse their infidelities with. I’ve begun to really resent the constant implication that anyone who remains faithful to their partner is a naive, square dupe.

  7. Jen
    August 12, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    A-fuckin’-men Octogalore. If the revolution comes and everyone wants an open marriage, please count me out. Not everyone is polyamorous, and from what I’ve read about the Edwards scandal, it’s pretty clear that his perceived need for free sex outside the marriage was never articulated to his wife. Which, in my opinion, makes him an A-grade asshole.

    Furthermore, running for President with a scandal minutes from blowing up is pretty darn selfish. Whether or not you or I agree that his adultery is relevant to his electability, imagine this story breaking after he got the nomination and helping McCain get more votes. I also submit that the primaries might have not dragged on as long as they did if those that voted for Edwards knew of his infidelity and wanted to, instead, vote for Obama or Clinton.

    Edwards not only betrayed his wife, he ran with the image of a doting husband that was not true. I do not have any respect for adulterers and liars.

  8. August 12, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    Ok here goes…It is not a matter of maybe that had a poly lifestyle so much as the fact that from the outside we cannot know the inner workings of any marriage. There is a tendency to blame the affair on the person that “cheated”, however there are always events that occur before the affair that both parties are active participants of that usually lead to the affair. It is easy to rail against the one that sinned and set up a good/bad dichotomy but relationships are never that simple.

  9. Thomas
    August 12, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    As a longtime Edwards backer, I am disgusted. What a piece of shit.

    There is no indication that they are poly; their comments are inconsistent with that interpretation.

    I’m not a fan of the idea that every marriage should have the same rules. My spouse and I sat down and worked out the rules we both wanted to live by, and I think everyone should be able to do that. But I also think it is fair to expect people to honor their commitments, whether it be to fidelity or to honesty or just to discretion. Edwards failed all three of these.

    There are people who are poly and make it work, or who have some other arrangement such as a “package deal” rule to play with others together but never separately. I think the people who can make these arrangements work are relatively few, but more power to them. However, I’m pretty convinced that it can only be done with honesty and respect.

  10. Rachel II
    August 12, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    Damn it! I hate opposing arguments that persuade me. This is going to give me a long, long pause.

  11. August 12, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    the15th — Thanks! Wow, that really made my day.

    Neko Onna — awesome post. Good point about the Pandagon discussion; I have no idea why he was perceived NOT to be a hypocrite.

    I think the reasons why polyamory benefits men over women are so apparent to me b/c I’ve been in a number of male-dominated professions and have seen how this plays out. Men not only have more perceived power-to-attract between say 30-70+ (whereas women get a window between 20-40).

    But they are usually also out of the house with more situational access as well. Percentagewise, women have majority childcare duty, which for obvious reasons is incompatible with fun rendezvous. I’ve seen men — of varying income levels — take advantage of all these factors (sometimes with me, and even when their 20-something, but hearth-and-home-bound wife was younger and blonder.

    So it’s kind of distressing when some 20-something or 30-ish women talk about how natural polyamory is, because some if not all of the stakes may be against their long term enjoyment of this naturalness.

  12. August 12, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Whoever these dreamworld people are who are talking about how wonderful polyamory is and a cure for All These Problems, they’ve clearly never encountered the distress that poly people have when they are cheated on.

    It happens.

    Anyone who starts up a conversation about relationships with “Such and such relationship type is unnatural” is a fool at best, and someone with an axe to grind most likely. Given that my immediate response to such nonsense is to want to club the speaker with a clue-by-four until they stop blathering inept evo-psych, I should think that some people would be glad that others don’t follow through on their immediate “natural” impulses….

    (Meanwhile, for cranky poly activist pedantry, I consider “the poly lifestyle” to be about as appropriate a phrasing as “the gay lifestyle”, with pretty much identical connotations. For future reference.)

  13. Julia99
    August 12, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    I don’t think traditional marriage is particularly good for women, either. So, for me, it’s kinda like arguing over which is/would be less bad for women.

    “Therefore, over time, were more marriages to be open, men as they age would have more access to multiple partners, women would not. ”

    I’m not sure this would be true. I think there’s something to the whole “cougar” phenomenon.

    “What about Elizabeth Edwards, what about Silda Spitzer? Women who’d given up meaningful, profitable careers to support their husbands.”

    This part is hard for me. They made that choice. A choice feminists have been warning women about for years. Which brings me full circle to my point about traditional marriage not being paricularly good for women.

  14. August 12, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Thank you.

  15. August 12, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Bether – I agree that polyamory does not condone lying and cheating, definitionally. As you can see in the post, I take no issues with it on an individual level. My problem is with bemoaning that a man who cheats is suffering from society’s norms, when right now, mass departure from those norms would benefit men much more.

    Renee – no issues with the fact that we cannot second-guess the inner workings of others’ marriages. My issue is with the idea of feeling sorry for guys who cannot act on the instinctual desire to be polyamorous.

    Also, while we can’t second guess others’ marriages, I don’t think deception is typically a reasonable response even where there is contributory negligence. The circumstances in which that’s OK probably exist but, IMO, are pretty few and far between.

    As a former stripper, many of the married-guy propositions (to do more than lapdance) I got were not typically because the wife was unsupportive or not sexually interested. I did hear a number of excuses, but many times the idea was just to take a new car on a test drive. Or, after the guy had pressured his wife to stay home and bear the brunt of the childcare/housework, he often found her less interested in breathlessly hearing about his business exploits and fulsomely praising them than a woman who wasn’t cleaning his dishes and changing his kids’ diapers. I guess that’s not “that simple” but I don’t find it all that compelling.

  16. Blunderbuss
    August 12, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    I’m gonna have to disagree, Renee. Yes, both parties are responsible for the state of the relationship, and maybe even the ‘wronged’ spouse might have been majorly at fault for driving it there. But cheating is still a wretched thing to do, and having a bad relationship isn’t a good excuse. If you’re unhappy, talk it out, seek counciling, or leave. Sleeping with someone else is only going to make things a thousand times worse, and the cheater is utterly to blame.

    That said, WORD to this post. I’ve seen before how some poly people shrug about news of cheating and say “I’m poly, so I don’t care/understand.” Yes, well, the reason we call it ‘cheating’ is because someone broke the ‘rule’ of a monogamous relationship, that being ‘be faithful’. However, heaps of poly relationships have rules of their own, like always practicing safe sex, the primary partner always coming first, letting partners know about the existance of other partners, the ability to veto, going sailing is something special only two lovers do, etc. If someone in a poly relationship blatantly broke one of these rules repeatedly and destroyed that trust, wouldn’t that also be cheating? And wouldn’t that also be hurtful? Anyone in a relationship can be betrayed, regardless of the nature of the relationship itself.

    (Of course, I am fully aware that I can be utterly corrected here.)

  17. Marle
    August 12, 2008 at 9:33 pm

    I’m totally a poly person, and I don’t really think monogamy can work for a lot of people (I won’t say that it’s unnatural, but I don’t really think unnatural should be an insult since I like so many things that are unnatural, like computers and toilets and soy mutilated into looking and tasting like something completely different). But, that said, if you believe monogamy doesn’t work for you and you’re married or want to get married or have a very committed relationship, then you have an obligation to tell your [future] spouse/partner. Really, letting your partner think you’re monogamous when you’re totally not (or won’t be as soon as you get the first opportunity) is crazy shitty. If you feel like monogamy is stifling and not practical and horrible and whatever, then I’m completely there with you. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to be an adult and talk to your partner about it, and that doesn’t mean you can make promises you can’t/aren’t willing to keep.

    I also see the male privilege problem with poly, and it sucks. There’s a lot of things that don’t get egalitarian in hetero relationships. But, I choose poly because there’s no way I could be monogamous with my husband for as long as I want to be married to him (for the rest of our lives). I also choose poly because I’d rather know if and who he’s sleeping with, instead of always wondering. I guess I’m just a pessimistic person on infidelity, and assume it’ll happen either way, and I’d rather know than not.

  18. August 12, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Dw3t-Hthr –thanks for the tip re “poly lifestyle,” will avoid that phrasing going forward.

  19. August 12, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Octogalore, I agree with almost everything you’ve said. I take issue with one thing, which is your characterization of polyamory as primarily benefiting mainly men and women under 40.

    Polyamorous people often have meetups where like minded individuals get together in coffee shops or food courts, or pick a place that’s not too expensive, and talk about the stuff that interests them, from polyamory to coffee to organic farming. I’ve been to quite a few of these meetups over the years, with a number of different groups, and the thing I’m always struck by is how many of both women and men attending the groups are over 50.

    I would argue that polyamory requires, to be functional, a kind of stability and maturity you don’t find often in the younger set, and the successful, long term relationships I know are between people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Men and women alike.

    Other than that, Octogalore, I largely agree with you, if not with many of your commenters. I guess my big button on the whole issue is that the terms of a marriage agreement should be between the people making it. Any desired change of the agreement has to be discussed, and abided by by everyone involved. Cheating, in other words, is defined by breaking the marriage agreement, whatever the terms are.

    Elizabeth Edwards has been pretty clear that there was no polyamorous agreement between her and John. She was also *very clear* that she feels like neither of her nor John has a duty to the American Public to explain how they’ve resolved the situation.

    And she was very clear that we have no right to make their situation into a platform to promote our views on men, women, family, feminism, and the whatever else we can use it as an allegory for.

    These are two human beings with unique lives and situations and they know each other and themselves and their strengths, weaknesses, reasons, and convictions better than any one of us, the noisy masses. John and Elizabeth Edwards are not allegories.

    Let this “issue” die. Let the people it really involves resolve it the way they want to.

  20. August 12, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    Julia – “I don’t think traditional marriage is particularly good for women, either. So, for me, it’s kinda like arguing over which is/would be less bad for women.”

    Good point. I think the distinction is that in trad’l marriage, women have more power (not complete, but more) to make it egalitarian. We can make choices, as you say, that will enhance our economic parity so we have more leverage to control task sharing and decision-making. What we cannot control to the same extent is patterns of attraction. It will take more collective economic power on the part of women than individual women can control to change the woman-decorative, man-provider patterns. So yeah, traditional marriage, for right now, is more likely to be egalitarian for a woman as she ages.

    “I think there’s something to the whole “cougar” phenomenon.”

    Have you ever seen a “cougar” who’s middle aged, bald and heavy? Doesn’t the typical “cougar” look like Samantha from SATC? Have you ever seen a guy with a young babe who fits this description?

    I plan to be a cougar (albeit still married hopefully) in ten years, but I’m not kidding myself. I’m willing and able to invest in a trainer (which I have now) and also botox if I need it going forward, and I have good day care so I have time to work and also put in elliptical time to stay a size two. These are all privileges that I own, and I don’t support a system that would harm women who do not, where men do not need such things to realize the benefits.

  21. Lisa
    August 12, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    “There is a tendency to blame the affair on the person that “cheated”, however there are always events that occur before the affair that both parties are active participants of that usually lead to the affair. It is easy to rail against the one that sinned and set up a good/bad dichotomy but relationships are never that simple.”

    I believe the “events” you are referring to here Renee were Elizabeth Edwards giving birth to four kids and then becoming a liability by getting cancer. Whatsername just made John Edwards feel good about himself, so he could forget all his troubles…AND DOESN’T HE DESERVE TO FEEL SPECIAL?

    Julia99 says: “This part is hard for me. They made that choice. A choice feminists have been warning women about for years. Which brings me full circle to my point about traditional marriage not being paricularly good for women.”

    These are fighting words: They made a “choice” which is reinforced in our society by pretty much every example that came before them. Women (lots of them feminists, GASP!) have been having children for, like, ever. It’s probably not going to change too much in the near future and, while I don’t know much about it, having children outside of “traditional marriage” is not likely to be much different…someones got to raise them chillin’s.

    P.S. Polyamory sounds like WAY too much work (for me).

  22. Bether
    August 12, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Octogalore, I’m sorry if it came across that I was trying to correct you personally. I am perhaps a little sensitive to comments that poly people don’t care about cheating, and I was not responding to you, but anticipating comments from others. Probably I didn’t phrase things properly.

  23. August 12, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    @Octagalore

    My issue is with the idea of feeling sorry for guys who cannot act on the instinctual desire to be polyamorous.

    It is not about feeling sorry for the supposed cheater it is about realizing that from the outside of a relationship we really don’t have the right to assign blame. We may say that the cheater is liar and intentionally deceitful but what preceded the deceit. Was the cheater lied to about something fundamental to them, was there an extreme breakdown in marital communication?
    Deceit and a lack of communication regularly lead to divorce and yet socially we do not discipline this behavior. I submit that an affair is problematic because it involves sex and society has history of controlling sexual behavior to promote institutions like the traditional family and the marginalization of women.

  24. Julia99
    August 12, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Lisa, if my words were fighting words, I’m hoping it’s just because I was unclear. Because I agree with what you wrote in response to my words 6,000%.

  25. Octogalore
    August 12, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Eclectic Hedonist – I can understand how many practicing polyamorous people are mature age-wise.

    My concern though, is that if it became a societal norm, folks without the stability and maturity would take advantage, with more of these gender-related themes playing in.

    Renee – I agree that there may be actions that precede the affair (the legal theory of contributory negligence, law geek alert). But my point is – not all the time. I’m not talking here about the Edwards or any specific marriage, but on average. More cheating is done by men percentage-wise, and a certain percentage of that is not justified by other behavior. Even with a breakdown in marital communication, deceiving the other person is in most cases not a legitimate solution.

    Certainly in many ways, controlling sexual behavior to promote traditional institutions is misogynist. But I don’t think that’s apropos here. If we were trying to regulate “sex” that was equally chosen by men and women, OK. But seriously, we know that more men have time, access, money, perceived power=aphrodisiac, to access affairs, and that the shoulder-candy phenom that affairs provide is more societally beneficial to men as society now exists. So any argument that would defend affairs is not, IMO, going to line up in a way to benefit women.

  26. LC
    August 12, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Octagalore, good post, Thanks.

    While Eclectic Hedonist is right than many “Poly” meetups and such have men and women who are older, the “Oh, you’re a new 19-year old woman who came by, well, we’re poly, so it is ok if you sleep with me” from all the men who flock down on the new meet is practically a poly stereotype, Poly people are still very much part of our current society and so many of the same pressures and dynamics apply.

    Dw3t-Hthr, I am so stealing the “poly lifestyle” observation. Thank you, I’ve been looking for a pithy way to make that point for a while, I’m also with you on the “unnatural” relationship stuff, the ones who talk about jealousy like it is something they’ve evolved beyond also annoys me a fair amount.

  27. August 12, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    I’m probably just missing something here, but as a poly person myself, I’m not sure that believing that monogamy is “unnatural” follows from or leads to not being able to understand the heartbreak of having been cheated on. A betrayal of trust is a betrayal of trust, and we bleed just like you do.

    I don’t have anything smart to offer otherwise, but I thought I’d point you to this post by pepomint on polyamory, feminism, male privilege, etc. since it seems to be more relevant to the point you’re making about who benefits from polyamory.

  28. Alexandra Lynch
    August 12, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    In some ways, monogamy is a lot easier than polyamory to “do”, as applied to an individual couple. Our whole society tells us how to be monogamous. They tell me to worry when he comes home late from work, or for him to be suspicious of how I spend my days home alone, for us to be suspicious of cross-gender friends, etc. It’s a lot harder to decide to do something else and have to create your rules from the ground up. Of course, sometimes you don’t have any choice but to take the harder option, which was where we were.

    Guys like John Edwards are why I don’t have sex with married men any more, unless I’ve heard from the lips of his spouse that there is an arrangement in place of some form and it’s okay with her. Cheating is cheating, poly or not, and as someone who responded from the heart to some of Edwards’ policy points, I’m very profoundly disappointed in him. But he is human, and as humans, we all fuck up. I hope that this all works out to the greater good.

  29. Octogalore
    August 13, 2008 at 12:39 am

    sara no h. — thanks for the link. It’s interesting as far as it goes, but passages like the following:

    “While there are no statistics on this (to my knowledge), from my experience within polyamorous communities, it seems that women are just as likely to succeed in polyamory as men, however you may measure success (number of relationships, depth of relationships across partners, length of relationships, ability to manage multiple relationship situations). Poly women can and do participate fully in this form of nonmonogamy, whether that means going to sex parties, simultaneously dating multiple genders, having more than one husband, or what have you.”

    (1) are anecdotal

    (2) do not clarify whether by “poly women participate” this means “poly women who are 50+ participate equally with men of similar age

    (3) do not clarify whether, if polyamorous relationships become more accepted, this might be exploited such that many would take on the configuration of older-man-has-more-leverage, even if they do not now (which frankly, I doubt — as above poly commenters have stated, poly relationships take place in the same worldly context that monogamous ones do)

  30. Octogalore
    August 13, 2008 at 12:42 am

    Alexandra Lynch — I’m not sure monogamy is harder to do, and I am sure that monogamy does not come part and parcel with suspicious of cross-gender friends.

    I think discussions of which is harder to do, followed by the claim that one is taking the harder path, are unnecessary and also, since one cannot live in others’ shoes, unreliable.

  31. LC
    August 13, 2008 at 12:42 am

    sarah .n.o. I’m probably just missing something here, but as a poly person myself, I’m not sure that believing that monogamy is “unnatural” follows from or leads to not being able to understand the heartbreak of having been cheated on. A betrayal of trust is a betrayal of trust, and we bleed just like you do.

    Of course (although I would be surprised if you have hung around poly groups and not encountered the “we are too evolved to have jealousy or possession issues” thing). I think in this case they are referring to the people who have come in and said that we shouldn’t blame Edwards because monogamy is unnatural so really is is surprising he cheated? (At least, that seems to be the origin of the post to me.)

    And Pepper usually does have interesting things to say, and I completely agree with his “poly is not necessarily feminist” comment (even though he uses poly in a much narrower term of nonmonogamy than most people, I think)

  32. Jack
    August 13, 2008 at 12:50 am

    I think Edwards is an ass. Don’t think I was defending him. He broke a promise to his wife. But still, don’t deny human nature. Men and women are just different, and it’s biological, not socially taught.

  33. August 13, 2008 at 1:47 am

    I see what you mean about the post, Octo. If it’s worth anything, it’s one of his shorter ones; I’m sure he explores the topic in more detail somewhere else. And if not … well, maybe we should poke at him to write more :) It’d still all be anecdotal, of course, but I don’t know of any hard data (read: statistically-viable studies) that exist on poly communities because we’re only just now coming into mainstream consciousness – and not necessarily in ways that we’d like to be part of that consciousness :P – so that might be the best we have for now. Adding to said anecodotal evidence, I’ve actually seen more women than men of pretty much all ages in the poly communities I’ve been privy to (which isn’t much, mind … back to the drawing board with the observational data, heh).

    LC, ooooooooh. That makes more sense, and yeah it’s pretty insensitive to the feelings of the wronged party to be all, “I told you so.” Yeesh.

    And Pepper’s also got a post up on inclusion vs exclusion that talks about the ways in which he and others in the poly/nonmonogamous communities use language to frame behaviours – I agree that he’s got a very specific definition, but given the power of language and the drive among most polyfolk to be very clear about what we mean when we say things … well :) If you like reading big theory-heavy things with fancy words like “discursive” I’d recommend that post of his.

  34. Matthew Pridham
    August 13, 2008 at 2:17 am

    Octogalore:

    “sara no h. — thanks for the link. It’s interesting as far as it goes, but passages like the following:

    “While there are no statistics on this (to my knowledge), from my experience within polyamorous communities, it seems that women are just as likely to succeed in polyamory as men, however you may measure success (number of relationships, depth of relationships across partners, length of relationships, ability to manage multiple relationship situations). Poly women can and do participate fully in this form of nonmonogamy, whether that means going to sex parties, simultaneously dating multiple genders, having more than one husband, or what have you.”

    (1) are anecdotal”

    Aren’t your arguments to the contrary, i.e. that polyamory will prove to be detrimental to 40+ women, by and large, anecdotal themselves? If the statistics state that men have more access to aphrodisiacal stuffs like power, money, etc., then shouldn’t the crux of your argument be that the prevailing sexist culture/power structure is the problem, and not polyamory? It seems to me that here, in this blog we’ve seen plenty of testimonials from 40+ poly women already regarding their vibrant love lives. Are they anecdotal? Sure, but ya wanna just write their stories off as abarrations?

    I agree that it could be hard for middle-aged and elder polyamorist women. Our society is still so youth-obsessed that many women, including most of my 30 year old peers, fear passing even 35. That is a problem that should be addressed on every level. But they are not alone in their situations. When I was a 22 year old polyamorist, let me tell you: I found that males are on the other side of that unhappy equation. In my 20’s, I found most females entirely uninterested in sharing or being shared. My wife was the only exception I found for years. And many other young poly males can attest to this too. Young and poor polyamorous males don’t look like such a great “catch” to many young women, many of whom are still surfing high (very understandably) on their newfound erotic freedom and power. The entire structure of gender understanding and the locuses of power will have to hange over time for any of this to be anything like fair.

    Some of us polyamorists believe that a more widespread (but certainly not universal) polyamory will help this larger Sexual Revolution actually take place.

  35. August 13, 2008 at 8:05 am

    In my 20’s, I found most females entirely uninterested in sharing or being shared.

    Maybe it’s that language. “Being shared.” Certainly rubs me the wrong way and implies that the person being shared isn’t the one making the decisions about who to be shared with. How about “being non-monogamous?” Granted I’m not poloyamorous, but they really do strike me as two completely different things.

  36. CBrachyrhynchos
    August 13, 2008 at 8:11 am

    Yeah, in my experience non-monogamy was a bigger pain in the ass. A lot more jealousy and a lot more demand to try to “process” the whole shebang in an attempt make everyone happy.

  37. Julia99
    August 13, 2008 at 8:30 am

    Octogalore, those are good points about cougarism. I think more and more younger men are seeking out older women. But, I also think you’re right that it’s mostly the SATC, Samantha-esque cougars they’re going after. Which is an impossible standard for most women.

  38. August 13, 2008 at 9:01 am

    AnnaArcuturus, your response to the same remark kicked my response’s ass. Just saying, love it.

  39. LargeMarge
    August 13, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Oy, “being shared??” That particular turn of phrase is so rife with awful implications I don’t know where to start. Wait, yes I do: talk about a manipulative thing to say! Everyone learned in kindergarten that it’s selfish not to share, or even to be reluctant to share. Hearing this description of a willingness to sleep with a variety of wonderful people sounds like, “Now, now Anna, you know it’s rude when you don’t share the pussy with Sammy and Joey. Your pussy is there for everyone to play with. Now let Sammy have a turn and lie back to think about what you learned today.”

  40. Gidget Commando
    August 13, 2008 at 9:56 am

    I’m a 40+ poly woman and a cougar–and I think John Edwards was a disloyal, privileged ass.

    Monogamous or polyamorous or anything else, being a decent human being requires you to be honest about what you want and can or can’t bring to a relationship, and to honor your commitments to your loved ones. I’ve met a few poly people who swear going poly is The Solution For All Ills, but most of the poly people I like think they’re full of it. Edwards failed the decent human being test on this, big time, regardless of his status as mono, poly or other.

  41. LargeMarge
    August 13, 2008 at 9:01 am

    PS A couple times in memory I was approached at events with a BDSM presence and asked if my partner “shares.” It took me a minute to work out that they were referring to nubile little me, the toy at hand. When I rebuked the creep, I was smirked at “he will, when he wants to play with someone else’s.” For the record, I don’t trot around in fetish or bondage gear, rain or shine, I’m in T-shirts, jeans, and sandals. There is not a jot on me that says “sub” or “slave.” I’m vanilla through and through. These events were also not BDSM or alternative lifestyle dominated, they were religious.

  42. August 13, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Matthew: “If the statistics state that men have more access to aphrodisiacal stuffs like power, money, etc., then shouldn’t the crux of your argument be that the prevailing sexist culture/power structure is the problem, and not polyamory?”

    That actually IS my argument (but thanks for telling me what it should have been). Where here, pray tell, have I said polyamory in and of itself is the problem? I first said I have no issues with any consensual, safe arrangement, including polyamory, and then said that set against the societal backdrop, polamory would be disadvantageous to women as they age. That should read to you as a critique of the said backdrop, and therefore a critique of those who would bemoan older powerful men’s limitations given that situation.

  43. CBrachyrhynchos
    August 13, 2008 at 9:58 am

    LargeMarge: LOL I had an similar experience when my dominant when I was non-monogamous took my strictly at-a-distance same-sex crush as permission to set the wheels in motion for a scene that would be primarily for her benefit. IME there is a fair quantity of latent heterosexism/homophobia in the whole swinging scene based around the implicit belief that same-sex relationships can be safely sandboxed as just casual fun on the side.

    The fact that I had to argue my position that I just couldn’t do that without significant levels of emotional intimacy and trust was the beginning of the end of that relationship, and its left a very bad taste in my mouth when it comes to non-monogamy, and the ways in which straights appropriate queer sexuality for fantasy material.

  44. Thomas
    August 13, 2008 at 11:12 am

    AnnaA, Cara and CB, Amen!

    I’m considered a gadfly in some kinky circles because I criticize some of that stuff, especially, Anna, the kind of entitled-ass top (and I keep saying I see it moslty with hetboy exclusive tops, though friends I respect say they see just as much nasty entitled top shit from het women and queer male and female tops — my experience is anecdotal, but it is what it is) drives me batshit. They are just as clearly modeling women as property as Warren Jeffs and his FLDS cult of women-owning.

    I tell my kids to share: to share their toys, to share their snacks, to take turns on the slip’n’slide. One shares property. People are not property — so we keep saying, though we act in so many ways like some people are.

  45. August 13, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Cara and LargeMarge — good catch, it is certainly interesting that the “shared” language was applied only to women.

  46. LC
    August 13, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Thomas, an AnnaA, Cara, CB – Amen indeed.

    I’ ve actually tended to refer to those people as “Dominant Ass-hats”, but yeah. I think it is more common in het male tops, but the human capacity for being an asshole is pretty limitless. The passive-aggressive “you’re not being generous enough” if you aren’t sleeping with me or my friends or whatever is another annoying habit I see.

  47. zingerella
    August 13, 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Yeah, the whole “well, if people would just be poly, everything would work and we wouldn’t worry about politicians’ infidelities” nonsense sets my teeth on edge.

    I’m poly. I’m in my 30s. I’ve been monogamously married. I’ve had my heart broken in both poly and monogamous settings.

    For me (and I make no claims to speak for anyone else), poly is about preserving my own access to choice, and about making choices that work for me and for the people I love. It’s not about “solving monogamy,” or being “more evolved,” or even about having a lot of sex (if I just wanted a lot of sex, I wouldn’t bother with the whole committed-non-monogamy approach. I’d just have a lot of sex.) I don’t know how poly will work for me when I’m in my 40s or 50s, after I’ve had a kid, or when life happens, as it inevitably does. That’s not the point. It’s working for me, right now, and if it stops working, then I’ll change my relationship model to something that does work.

    I might even try committed monogamy, again. Or celibacy—I hear that simplifies matters.

    While I would like to see polyamory become more socially accepted, I don’t think I need to belittle or attack traditional monogamy for that to happen. I want a world in which people are free to chose the relationship structures that work for them. Period. If monogamy works for you and your partner as a freely chosen relationship of equals, more power to you! If a free-sex commune works for you all as a freely chosen net of relationships of equals, hey, great.

    And none of this is relevant to the Edwards family’s problems, really.

  48. August 13, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    I will be 51 next month, NOT a size two (size 12), recently approached by a (weird, ok, but still!) young man in his late 20s, who took me for my mid-30s. I think this is a matter of style as much as anything. (We had previously talked about the same bands, after all.) But I was thinking: as the ages “blend together” more and more, through botox, weight-lifting, aerobics, surgery, anti-oxidants, fashion and fitness fanaticism or WHATEVER it is… you just can’t tell people’s ages anymore. People don’t “dress” their ages; a young Baptist missionary in my neck of the woods dresses just like the preachers 4 times his age. Very young women/girls try to look more sexually mature. I know a guy that bench-presses an alarming amount, and he’s almost 60. He dates women who have no idea he is over 40.

    Etc.

    I think the age-mystery is the only way to liberate women, as per my example above.* Maybe smudging the boundaries will do it, as smudging all the other boundaries (ethnicity, religion, race, gender, nationalities) is usually a good idea. People then start to question it’s importance as a marker. That can only help older women, IMO. However, I have to say I don’t like this recent phenomenon of ALL sexual older women marked in a special sexxee category of “cougars”–some of us are ordinary women of an indeterminate age, whom some people still find attractive and/or interesting. (I don’t even wear make-up, for example.)

    And: another great post on ageism and women, Octo. Your posts about Hillary were the best I read on the net. I find myself missing her campaign because your writing was so great. (No OTHER reason, though!)

    Also: Agree that the poly people are less ageist, seem more willing to consider various kinds of partners. I think this is possibly because self-worth is not tied to ONE person and that person’s status, as it unavoidably is in a monogamous union.

    *To his credit, the kid did not freak out when he found out that he and my daughter are the same age. But his eyes did sorta go *pop* like he was worried about himselfand his judgment, poor thing!

  49. August 13, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    A quick point on “sharing” – I’m a bit of two minds about casual use of the term. On the one hand, it’s really simple shorthand, and one I frequently use to joke about the open status of my relationship (i.e., “Go on and flirt with him, you know we like to share!”). On the other hand, it does imply a very squicky sort of sense of ownership/control, which very much goes against why I identify as polyamorous in the first place.

    I think it’s going to just be one of those terms that you can use in select company, where others share your understanding in using the term, and one you probably shouldn’t drop casually to people you don’t know.

    Also:

    I want a world in which people are free to chose the relationship structures that work for them. Period. If monogamy works for you and your partner as a freely chosen relationship of equals, more power to you! If a free-sex commune works for you all as a freely chosen net of relationships of equals, hey, great.

    Word. :)

  50. August 13, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Wow, Daisy, thanks!

    I’m not surprised the young dude found you attractive and young looking since you are both!

    I totally agree on the cougar terminology, I think it perpetuates the notion of the sexual, older woman as scary, predatory. And most “cougars” aren’t going exclusively after younger men, and many times the men aren’t that much younger. Samantha dated men of all ages.

    I think the way out for women is economic parity rather than age mystery, though. Age mystery relies somewhat on the ability of some women to mask age through having more money and free time. I don’t know that it gets at the underlying issue of women being perceived as playing a more decorative role.

  51. August 13, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    You know, my understanding of cheating is breaking the rules, hence how one can cheat at cards, on a test, things like that.  So of course it’s possible to cheat while in a poly relationship.  All it takes is breaking the rules.

  52. anonymous
    August 13, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    I was the one who wrote the comment sara no h, and I agree with you 100%! I didn’t mean to imply that anyone who was non-monogamous couldn’t understand and I apologize if it came off that way. I simply meant that to the people who were talking about how people weren’t meant to be monogamous in the context of this relationship- which from the statements made by both of the spouses appears to be a closed marriage in which only one person was having sex with someone else without the consent or knowledge of the other person.
    As far as my comment, in the interest of full disclosure, the reason that I remained anonymous is because I have been the spouse finding out that her husband had an affair and it sucked. It’s been 8 months or so since the woman’s husband called me to tell that his wife and my husband had been seeing each other. I read through emails where he complained about me for things he never told me, I read emails where he asked if they could have sex without condoms, where they planned for her to come over while I was out of town, when he snuck away from work to fuck her while I was home with our children. When I ended up with a raging infection because of his having sex with someone else, I asked him if it was possible he had an STD and he flat out told me no. Instead of talking to me about his issues and concerns, he talked to her. All the time this was going on, I watched my husband slip further and further away, spending less time with me and our children, and I tried everything I could think of to just get him to talk to me, just tell me what was going on. It literally felt like I had been stabbed in the heart- and it wasn’t the sex. It was the betrayal, it was what he said, it was that he chose spending time with her over time with his family, despite the fact that he works so much we barely get to see him. So I guess I just get really rankled when I see shit like “well, but monogamy isn’t natural”. Ok, but even if you believe no one can be monogamous, they at least have the obligation to let their spouse know and let them make the decision if it’s ok with them. I have no desire to be in a poly relationship and would’ve liked the opportunity to decide that for myself, rather than having him decide it for me. It’s probably why I get equally pissed about “well, we don’t know why he did it, what the relationship was like, etc..” It doesn’t matter- no one should have the right to lie and sneak behind their partner’s back.

  53. August 13, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    anon, thanks for commenting and sharing some context. That’s a lousy thing to have to deal with. And it distinguishes very clearly between making judgments about polyamory and making judgments about justifications of cheating behavior on the grounds that polyamory is more “natural” than monogamy.

    I just noticed Katherine’s comment above — Katherine, sorry it took me so long to do so. I am sorry you felt I was being judgmental about polyamory. I’m actually not. I believe you that those who get into it have done so in a thoughtful way and may be less likely to be ageist than the population as a whole.

    My concern was not “polyamory is ageist” but that if it became the norm, rather than something that now requires some thought and experience before people adopt it because it ISN’T the norm, it would play out in our particular culture in a way that is disadvantageous to women. Not because of inherent issues regarding polyamory, but because of inherent issues regarding our culture and its treatment of women as we age.

    I hope that helps to clarify a bit where I am coming from.

  54. August 14, 2008 at 12:30 am

    It doesn’t matter- no one should have the right to lie and sneak behind their partner’s back.

    I totally agree with you here, and my heart goes out to you (truly) for what you’ve experienced. Betraying someone is just about the worst thing you can do in my book; I’m definitely of the “the deepest circle of hell is reserved for betrayers and mutineers” school.

    And I also totally agree that no matter what kind of relationship you’re in, you owe the folks with whom you share your heart and your bed the clarity of upfront, honest, forthright etc. communication, especially regarding your expectations of one another and your responsibilities to the relationship. Lies, in my opinion, are at the heart of any betrayal – the actual act of breaking faith with the relationship begins the moment one is dishonest with one’s partner, and anything that happens after that is just insult to injury. At least, that’s how I felt when one of my partners cheated on me; it wasn’t so much the business of what he’d done, but that he’d felt the need to lie about it, and to continue on with me as though nothing were wrong at all, to drift away slowly into the arms of this other woman who had overnight become his confidante and soulmate, leaving me wondering what I did wrong … yeah, I feel you. It’s shitty and for all that I wish they’d never gotten physical, it was the transference of emotional intimacy and the dishonesty in his behaviour with me that killed our relationship.

  55. August 14, 2008 at 12:11 am

    I believe the comment above yours, as well as the post itself, clarifies pretty darn clearly that nobody here including me is equating polyamory with cheating. The context, which is clearly linked to, is a critique of the defenses of Edwards based on the unnaturalness of monogamy that appeared in comments to Lauren’s and other posts about Edwards. As can be seen via the comments of Dw3t-Hthr, Bether, Eclectic Hedonist, and pretty much every other person here who is or has been non-monogamous, this seems to be pretty clear to others.

    You know where to find me if you have any further issues to discuss about this, but I’d appreciate a little closer reading before accusations about anyone putting you in a box.

  56. LC
    August 14, 2008 at 1:18 am

    I want a world in which people are free to chose the relationship structures that work for them. Period. If monogamy works for you and your partner as a freely chosen relationship of equals, more power to you! If a free-sex commune works for you all as a freely chosen net of relationships of equals, hey, great.

    Word. And all things in between.

  57. Metonym
    August 14, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Rather than just hypothesize about how women might do with the ‘poly standard’, why don’t you look at what’s already been written about it? Elizabeth Sheff and Amy Wilkins are just two examples of people writing on this, both sociologists who take a critical feminist approach to the lives of polyamorous women.

  58. zingerella
    August 14, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    Indeed, LC. I didn’t mean to create a false monogamy/free-love commune dichotomy.

  59. LC
    August 15, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Zingerella, didn’t think you were. (Tone not always the easiest thing to convey on the internets.)

  60. Matthew Pridham
    August 15, 2008 at 4:35 am

    Just a note: I meant “sharing” in the sense of someone who is in a committed (polyamorous) relationship “letting” someone they are involved with be involved with someone else. Regardless of gender. When I wrote “sharing or being shared”, the “sharing” bit refers to the women in question “letting” their lover be with someone else. Hence, sharing. Not “sharing” their own sexuality. “Being shared”, sure, has a tone of patriarchal ownership, but the women I am/have been involved with have all used that terminology interchangeably, though we all use, I suppose, a slightly ironic tone that doesn’t quite come across in cold print. I also suppose I should use handy “quotation marks” around every term which could be possibly taken the wrong way.

    In so far as this has been honestly misunderstood, mea culpa, but I have the distinct feeling I was willfully misinterpreted. Notice, that in a comment several words long, and aside from a brief note from octo actually addressing my concern about her argument, those four words were all ya’ll latched onto. I completely agree with sara no h. that this is a word (sharing) which can be misunderstood if spoken/written in the wrong context and with no clarifying statement. If it had not been buried in plenty of other text clearly outlining my real stance, I would even feel abashed. As for not using it, I question this tactic. The word “pussy” is still employed largely by misogynists and troglodytes. Yet some folk around here don’t seem scared off by it. Is there, perhaps, a Committee For the Rehabilitation of Contested Terminology that my friends and I should submit “sharing” to, in order to avoid this sortof juvenile mud-slinging happening again?

    Disregard my comments as you please, but when you engage in parsing such as this, you show no regard for civilized discourse. I wrote my stupid little comment thinking this was a haven for third-wave feminist discussion, not second-wave Stalinist nit-picking. Making out that I am pouting because “Sally” didn’t “share her pussy with me” makes me so livid my hands are shaking. Score your cruel little digs as you please, but you are not making any progress in any real struggles.

  61. August 15, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Matthew, your privilege is showing. “Being shared” and this business of “letting” are triggering words of physical and sexual abuse for women. That’s standard issue language for abusers, and the fact that people you know use those terms without that intent does not universalize the experience. So, get down off your high horse.

  62. Q Grrl
    August 15, 2008 at 9:28 am

    “I wrote my stupid little comment thinking this was a haven for third-wave feminist discussion, not second-wave Stalinist nit-picking. ”

    The third wave wouldn’t exist without the ground-breaking conciousness raising of the second wave. There is a long history to civilized discourse that buries women’s ability to define adequately and for themselves the linguistics of sex, sexuality, and womanhood. If women react strongly to your personal choice of words it is because of the word, not you. What you are facing is, at its root, a disagreement about meaning, not intent. If you are venturing into a context with which you are unfamiliar, it is an inherent risk as well as a lesson in subjectivity. What results from the discourse is not a dichotomy of rightness or wrongness, but a test of your willingness to learn.

  63. August 15, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    Finally, someone with enough courage to state the truth! Young women need to wake the – up and realize that someday they will be among the Red Hat Society, while geezers will be gawking and many a time getting younger women. I have nothing against the Red Hats and have accompanied a female relative on a few outings, but it depresses the hell out of me when I look around. I know more older single women with absolutely no prospects of a companion (forget about spouse). And these are the women that were cheated on and from the 1950s mentality that marriage is for life. Many of them are bitter as hell (and not about Obama.)

    Granted women do outlive men, but I see more widows than widowers. Men seem to rebound really fast, meaning they will marry quickly.

  64. August 15, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    I just wanted to add that pop culture and media figures do promote ageism against women. If anyone caught Bill Maher last year around the Spitzer affair he offensively came out and joked that these women were too old. I can’t find the youtube clip, but I am sure it is there. I am also not particularly a fan of any comedians interpreting old heavy set women. Some comedians like Edie Murphy interpret both men and women, but I find humorizing certain female characteristics plays into gender bias.

  65. other orange
    August 15, 2008 at 3:09 pm

    a haven for third-wave feminist discussion, not second-wave Stalinist nit-picking.

    Ah, delightful. Because nothing says “Stalinist” like a bunch of women who wanted equal pay and access to reproductive health care.

Comments are closed.