Thoughts on monogamy: Is 'forever after' even a thing?

2013-11-17 06:00

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Is ever-after type monogamy outdated?

Is this social construct best reserved for penguins and fairy tales?

I mean, between them my parents have had more marriages than I have fingers on one hand.

I have dabbled in long-term monogamy a few times, bar the paperwork and picket fence and the meringue dress, that is.

I got engaged once. And then disengaged, in the manner of an inverse rugby scrum: “crouch, pause, touch, disengage!”

Some break-ups are like shrugging off a bad rash, others like losing a fingertip. Then there are those that leave a gaping hole where your heart used to be.

The best break-ups are steep learning curves, indulgent slippery slopes, well lubricated with whisky and tears.

Leonard Cohen said it well: “You know my love goes with you as your love stays with me, it’s just the way it changes like the shoreline and the sea / I’m not looking for another as I wander in my time, walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme.”

Divorce? Gosh – break-ups with added bureaucracy, I cannot begin to fathom the sheer hell.

During a recent trip to Thailand I met a shameless practitioner of polyamory.

It was fascinating. Basically, he was bonking his way through Southeast Asia, very respectfully, while keeping in touch with his troupe of girlfriends back home in San Francisco.

He was in his early 30s with a seven-year-long failed (but faithful) marriage under his belt.

After a few tall, cold Singhas he admitted, however, that he has met women for whom he would cross back to the dark side of monogamy, and even reconsider marriage.

As someone who fairly recently emerged from a dalliance with medium-term monogamy, I have questions on compromise and deal-breakers. So, most oracles preach that compromise is king in the land of “I do”.

But when is enough, enough? When do you acknowledge that the deal is broke, that this ain’t working.

When do you pack your lipstick and dignity and elope to the land of “I don’t”?

The other day I was bubbling in a jacuzzi overlooking Cape Town with BFF Keith when word arrived of my cousin’s pending betrothal.

She just got engaged to a friend of my first boyfriend; the first “love of my life”; the guy I dated for years as a student.

The full horror of the situation hit me like a face-brick wall in suburbia. I nearly choked on a mouthful of lemon-scented tap water.

Words were exchanged during this particular break-up, as with most. “You’re just like your parents,” he shouted.

“You’ll never be satisfied!” It stung. He had been the fortunate spawn of parents who adored one another, until death did them part.

Ex-beau has since done the paperwork and picket fence, marrying a gorgeous talented radio personality, who looked splendid in meringue.

Now, nearly a decade later, I will presumably face Mr and Mrs Ex at my cousin’s wedding. Enter Bridget Jones.

While I harbour no residual feelings apart from well wishes and vicarious joy, the fact is that I am, well, unattached.

Could he have been right all those years ago?

Well, my mom has had a partner for years now.

She overlooks his rugby habit, he her three crazy daughters, four cats and general neurosis.

My stepfather has had a long-term girlfriend for about a year now; she’s lovely with a great book collection.

My biological father has been married to his third wife for a record-breaking decade now; she is a formidable woman and possibly deserves a medal for perseverance.

So, there’s that.

Are humans perhaps wired more like foxes than like penguins? Foxes are faithful but switch partners every few years.

The romantic in me would love to believe that forever-after between the right two people could be a thing.

Another BFF, Jurg, winks knowingly: “Ja, who knows what happened after Muriel’s Wedding, nè?”

Writer Alain de Botton offered succinct words: “We pay a heavy price for our squeamishness about being alone.”

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