Polyamory: the solution to literally everything!

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for True Blood up to the end of season 4, the most recent episode of Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Caprica.  The spoilers do not pertain to anything crucial to the content of the shows, but some people are incredibly spoiler-averse. Also, most of the links in this piece will lead to TV Tropes, so here’s a courtesy warning that if you click any links, you might lose an afternoon.

Sometimes, I shout at the TV. Scratch that. When I am watching TV, I am usually shouting at it at some point. Often it’s at characters waving around an idiot ball or a plot hole I could drive a bus through (and I’m terrible at driving) or a particularly egregious lack of research which leads to ridiculously bad made up science and nothing making a tiny ounce of goddamn sense.

I do not suffer fools gladly. Despite this, a lot of my shouting tends to be loudly offering solutions to a problem.

This week, I watched two TV shows which made me think. The first was Doctor Who, which featured two copies of Amy, one who, due to some magic timey-wimey that I tend to forgive Doctor Who for, happened to be forty years older. At one point, it looked like older Amy would be travelling with our regular characters, and Amy’s husband Rory was struggling to come to terms with having two wives. The choice was rendered moot by said timey-wimey magic. The second was the season 4 finale of True Blood, which saw the love triangle between Sookie, Eric and Bill come to a head. Throughout the season, there had been an exploration of the idea that Sookie was in love with both Eric and Bill, and both Eric and Bill were in love with Sookie. There was even a dream sequence in which the three worked out ways to make this relationship work. Unfortunately, this plot was not resolved in this way. Instead, Sookie decided, rather boringly, to choose neither of the buff, hunky vampires.

Both of these plotlines had something in common: polyamory was explored as a genuine solution to the issues at hand. In Doctor Who, Rory took the idea that he would have two copies of the same wife in his stride, and seemed fairly comfortable with the situation. It was only temporal paradoxes that forced him to make the choice. In True Blood, Sookie’s dream sequence displayed how happy she would be with the idea, and in a later scene in the finale, both Eric and Bill seemed fairly comfortable with feeding from Sookie at the same time.

Of course, mainstream TV is never going to actually propose that polyamory can be a good solution for these plotlines, despite the fact that it is. Being poly is, sadly, still a marginalised way of being, so it is still largely invisible in the mass media.

I can think of one TV programme I have watched in which poly characters are represented. In Caprica, Sister Clarice lives in a group marriage with several husbands and wives, in a house full of children from various combinations of the family. She sleeps in a large bed with some of her spouses. It seems idyllic, until it turns out they’re all crazy religious terrorists.

What we have is TV representing largely heteronormative relationships, and almost exclusively monogamous relationships. Tropes abound from this: characters having to “choose” which potential suitor they want, characters breaking up and making up to allow various permutations of the cast to hook up, cheating lover drama, and the nightmarish love triangle scenario. Drama springs from allowing shows to remain monotonously uniform in their portrayal of the default option of monogamy.

And here’s the thing: I’d rather do without all that drama. I do without that drama in my day to day life, and frankly, I’m sick of seeing all this “you must choose between him or me” bollocks on TV, when it’s perfectly easily resolved by applying poly principles and working out some easy way for everyone to be happy and loved up. I don’t want to see Buffy moping over whether she should choose the sensible, good bloke or the rakish bad boy. I want to see her killing monsters. I don’t want to see some sort of horrible quadrangle sexual musical chairs eclipsing all the cool blowing up robots in space.

For an example of how much better things would be if polyamory was actually visible on TV, I will rewrite part of the third season of Battlestar Galactica, in which two married couples, Lee and Dee, and Starbuck and Sam spent much of the season taking up vital screen time with their affairs.

SCENE: Officer’s quarters

LEE: Dee, I love you very much, but right now I am suffering from some serious unresolved sexual tension with Starbuck. You know that we’ve sort of been flirting for a while, but we never got down to it because she was engaged to my dead brother.

DEE: I feel a little bit upset by this, because I love you very much.

LEE: And I love you very much, Dee. Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.

STARBUCK: Damn right. I’m madly in love with my husband Sam, but I am also subject to this attraction with Lee. I think I’ve noticed Sam checking you out, Dee, because you’re very beautiful. By the way, even though I’m passionate about Lee, I have to say it’s nice how happy he is with you.

DEE: Thank you. Sam, is this true?

SAM: Yes. I am dull and uncharismatic, but I am also hot. I think your attraction to me is probably physical.

STARBUCK: I love you, honey.

SAM: Blah blah meh, I am so dull and uncharismatic, but I love you.

LEE: Let’s not forget that I’m a really annoying character.

DEE: Oh no! DRADIS says we have incoming Cylon raiders in half an hour!

STARBUCK: Are you psychically connected to DRADIS or something?

DEE: Yes. That doesn’t matter. In about half an hour, we’re going to have a huge epic space-battle.

LEE & STARBUCK: AWESOME!

SAM: Half an hour, you say? Time for a quick orgy!

END SCENE, CHARACTERS NAKED AND RUTTING

And that would have completely improved season three if all of the characters had just been honest rather than having an interminable few months of whinging about their marriages.

Of course, I do not expect to see any positive portrayals of poly relationships on my television in the near future. Consider how long it took for anything close to positive portrayals of queer people and relationships to appear: this 50-minute video showcases just some of the homophobic jokes that popped up in Friends over its run. For the time being, any poly relationship is doomed to fail: the mainstream media lags behind society, and society is only just beginning to learn of the possibility of loving and fucking more than one person.

For now, we’re stuck with monogamous TV, and all the rubbish tropes it brings with it.

Why I’m conflicted about gay marriage

Here is yet another story of bigotry against gay people: a gay woman went to buy a wedding dress. When the shop found out she was marrying a woman, they refused to sell her the dress. So strong was the force of prejudice that the wedding-industrial complex forgot its main motivation of making a profit from a woman perfectly willing to shell out a small fortune on a single-wear garment. Capitalism fail.

Despite this, public opinion in the USA is favourable towards gay marriage, despite a media-based wobble which made the public opinion graph look like the end of a cock. And, of course, you have to be a remarkable bellend to display such naked prejudice as to oppose gay people basic equality.

The thing is, I’m fairly sure I’m not a bellend, and I’m not sure I’m in favour of gay marriage. It is not because I do not think queer people are human beings who deserve equal treatment from society. In fact, I would rather see marriage abolished entirely, for everyone.

As marriage equality advocates have pointed out, it is not very fair that only a certain type of relationship is legally recognised: one man, one woman. However, the marriage equality movement tends to discriminate against other types of relationship. In their rush to point out that same sex marriages would not lead to the world ending, marriage equality advocates often fight against the slippery slope argument and say that all they want is for two people of the same sex to get married, and that anything else is wrong.

I think this is somewhat unfair, and discriminates against people who have loving relationships outside of the traditional monogamous framework. What of poly people? Marriage equality advocates do not care for three or more people in a relationship to put a legal stamp of approval on their relationships, using the same arguments against polyamory as those who seek to deny marriage to gay people. Why only fight for marriage between two people, when consensual, stable, loving relationships can be defined far more creatively?

Here, I suspect the “family” argument abounds: that one of the vital functions of marriage is for building stable families. Yet two parents seems somewhat arbitrary when one looks beyond the basic biological function of reproduction–indeed, even biologically, many children have more than two parents with the advent of IVF and egg and sperm donations. The only function marriage serves is to decrease the ways in which a family can be defined, maintaining the traditional nuclear family as the only way to live.

I have reached the age now where a lot of people I know are getting married, and I have been invited to a lot of weddings. I am not looking forward to this; it will be intensely hard for me to stay quiet when the vicar asks about any objections to the union when my brain is screaming “MARRIAGE IS A TOOL OF SOCIAL CONTROL AND HAS NO PLACE IN A MODERN FREE SOCIETY.” . I am not alone in thinking this: there is a rich tradition in believing in free love without state intervention. My imaginary BFF Mary Wollstonecraft was an advocate. And why should the state have any role in valuing some types of relationship over others? A relationship between two or more people should not be a concern of anyone but the people involved.

Those who advocate marriage while acknowledging the basic tenets of free love tend to defend marriage by saying that it is useful for two reasons: property inheritance and medical decision making–the next of kin status. Both of these problems can be solved without getting married, though. Next of kin status in hospitals is far more fluid than most people think: they tend to recognise “common law” partners, and it is possible to draw up “next of kin cards“, which are like organ donation cards and leave instructions for medical staff in case of unconsciousness. The rationale behind next of kin cards is that families are becoming far more diverse than those which are recognised by the state.

As for the rest, why can people in a relationship which looks to continue for the foreseeable future draw up legal documents together? People in same sex relationships who have been denied the right to legally marry have done so for years. An added bonus of this approach is that the documents drawn up will be unique to every relationship: far from the state-mandated, one-size-fits-all approach, there is an individual legal status for an individual relationship.

Perhaps this sounds somewhat unromantic when compared to a wedding. Here is another problem with marriage: it has been thoroughly co-opted by the wedding industry. Weddings are a capitalist’s wet dream: one day will cost the happy couple on average £18, 605. This cost includes all of the things that marketing has told us we must need or we are Doing Relationships Wrong, such as engagement rings and a big white meringue dress that can only be worn once. Rather than a simple signing of a legal document, which is what marriage essentially is, it becomes a big party where one has to do everything right in a certain order. Weddings reinforce the notion that marriage is the done thing; they make legally linking oneself to another person a rite of passage, rather than something which should be a matter of choice. They reinforce the default optioning of monogamy.

If some people in a relationship fancy throwing a party to show how in love they are, that is fine by me. Why should the party coincide with signing legal documents, though? Why should it also coincide with a pantomime of tradition and ritual, and a vast amount of cash spent which could better be spent on building a life together? You wouldn’t throw a lavish party costing tens of thousands of pounds to celebrate writing a will, or filing a tax return, would you?

Bringing in same sex marriage will not help bring about marriage equality, as marriage itself is so grubbily problematic. In the long run, those who are helped by the recognition of same-sex marriage are those in the wedding industry: suddenly, they have a whole new base of consumers for an army of single-wear suits and flowers that will die and a cake that nobody wants to eat because nobody really likes marzipan.

For real equality, we need to abolish marriage. We cannot have the state and the church dictating how love and families should look. For real equality, we need freedom from marriage.

In a world without marriage, anything is possible.

More Magazine, male-centred sexuality and kissing girls

Let me start by saying, I did not buy More magazine. I found it, and out of sheer curiosity, I read it. I sort of wish I hadn’t.

Imagine my horror, as a queer woman, a feminist, and a person with a tendency to get a little bit angry to be greeted with this article:

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

How would your man feel if you kissed a girl?

Apparently this is the most important issue in the world when it comes to discussion of kissing women. Whether it turns men on. In the text of the article, there is absolutely no acknowledgement that perhaps queer women may exist. Kissing women is, according to More magazine, exclusively something that women do in nightclubs “in front of an appreciative male audience”.

The article provides the opinion of two men. One man declares that it is “seriously hot” and that he “can’t help but fantasise about joining the party”. The other man thinks that it is “just attention seeking” and “ugly” and “insecure”. Both men are falling prey to objectification.

What is perhaps worst about this, though, is that no opinions of women are sought. From the title of the article and all the way through, how a woman might feel about kissing another woman is not mentioned at all. This is because, to More, sexuality is constructed as something which is entirely male centred.

The magazine is utterly riddled with such articles. A story about Victoria Beckham’s post-birth weight loss is framed as “POSH SHAPES UP FOR DAVID”. An interview with a pop star which largely discusses her music and her weight is titled “I LIKE MY MEN RUGGED”, as if that were the most interesting thing about her. A story about Cheryl Cole casts her as a passive bystander in the crossfire of a fight between two men. The horoscopes page provides horoscopes for “your man”, so the reader can discover whether the line up of stars will make her boyfriend a little grumpier than usual this week.

The phrase “your man” occurs repeatedly. More‘s construction of sexuality is entirely monogamous: you get your man, and that is who you have sex with. More provides a “position of the week”, which explains “what’s in it for him”. If you are worried about him cheating, it is perfectly acceptable to look through his phone. Beauty products and clothes exist to “wow your man”. The most important thing about a woman is “her man”.

There is no space in More for anything outside of this heteronormative monogamous relationship. You are either in one, or you are seeking one. Someday your man will come. Perhaps you can tempt him with a little bit of girl-snogging?

The picture of sexuality presented in More is as unrealistic for many as the position of the week, which starts with “stand on the edge of your villa’s private pool”. For many women, the heteronormative ideal is undesirable or unattainable: it makes women who wish for the heteronormative ideal feel like failures for being unable to “bag a man”, while queer women may feel invisible and marginalised. It is also bloody awful to suggest to women that their boyfriend is the most important and interesting thing about them, as this is categorically untrue.

Sexuality is so much more than impressing a man or pleasing a man. I do not expect a mainstream women’s magazine to provide good detailed advice on polyamory or lesbian practice (though it would be brilliant if they did). What I would like to see, though, is some acknowledgement that ultimately, one’s sexuality should revolve around oneself: not about “what your man might like”, but about what you might like or want. The things that make you feel sexy.

Perhaps that is kissing women. Perhaps that is fucking women. Hell, perhaps it is kissing another consenting woman just to turn men on. Personal jollies, rather than constant thought of existing solely in relation to men.

It is so thoroughly miserable that even a magazine targeted to women will maintain the patriarchal notion that a man’s opinion is the alpha and omega.

And this is why I am adding More  to my library of publications to burn.

How To Be A Woman: in which I review a book that I read

I have just read Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, a semi-autobiographical book which has been hailed as The Next Big Thing in feminism, and has received rave reviews from noted feminists such as Jonathan Ross and Nigella Lawson. On the back, it says that Moran “rewrites The Female Eunuch from a bar stool and demands to know why pants are getting smaller”. Overall, it seems exactly like something an angry feminist such as myself should despise with all of the burning fires of hell.

The short review is that I didn’t hate it. I only hated some of it, actually quite liked some parts, and the rest only left me with a bitter tinge of disappointment.

The writing style veered from engagingly, chattily conversational to annoyingly CAPSLOCKY and RIDDLED! WITH! EXCLAMATION MARKS! It is easy to tear through, in the manner of a sunlounger bonkbusting tome, and I found myself rather liking Moran: she has a good sense of humour and an honesty about her own flaws.

Moran is absolutely spot-on about some issues, and I found myself nodding in agreement in sections on pornography and lapdancing, where Moran argues that while there is nothing inherently wrong with fucking on film or stripping, but it is a problem with the industry. I also very much liked her discussion of what to call one’s cunt (Moran favours “cunt”, but was reticent to teach it to her daughters as it is still a taboo word), and her very frank account of her abortion and her suggestion that this is something we should talk about honestly and openly, and it is all right to feel good about having had an abortion. Moran also puts across good points about society’s expectation about how women should want babies, and this is not right, and not reproducing is perfectly all right, too.

This last good point, though, is sullied by a massive clanger. Talking about childbirth, Moran says:

In short, a dose of pain that intense turns you from a girl into a woman. There are other ways of achieving the same effect–as outlined in Chapter 15 [the chapter on abortion]–but minute for minute, it’s one of the most effective ways of changing your life.

Right there, Moran has declared that use of one’s reproductive organs is the only way to truly become a woman. This line of reasoning is a minefield: it automatically writes off the experiences of infertile cis women, of trans women, of cis women who have been fortunate enough with contraception never to find themselves pregnant. It jars with the rest of the book, the “anything goes” approach, yet it says it there as clear as day. Reproduction is the only path to womanhood. Before that you’re a girl.

When I read that paragraph, I considered rethinking my embargo on burning literature and setting fire to that book there and then. I decided to plough on. Perhaps Moran did not mean what I thought she had meant. Indeed, this is never mentioned again. I still cannot think of another way to interpret that sentence, though.

No other individual part of the book is quite so starkly, shockingly problematic: much of the rest of my issues with it lie in the tone. It smacks of privilege: an amusing point-and-laugh at the working classes here, a throwaway usage of ableist language (“retard”, “thalidomide pasties”) and fat-hating (Moran draws the distinction between “fat” and “human-shaped”) there, and a sort of vaguely patronising view of gay men as nothing more than arbiters of excellent taste in music bars. I prickled in rage each time I saw these.

This privilege also fans out into what is part of the central thesis of the book: that perhaps everything would be improved if we treated humankind as “The Guys” and sexism as “just bad manners”. For a woman in Moran’s position, perhaps this is possible. For many, it is not, and sexism is not dead, and is unlikely to be killed without confronting it head on. I take umbrage to her phrasing viewing everyone as “the Guys”, too, particularly as it jarringly occurs pages after I had been smiling in agreement at Moran’s acknowledgement that men are viewed as “normal” with women as the other. This hypocrisy goes unmentioned, perhaps unnoticed by the author.

The thing is, for much of the book, I was not angry. I was just disappointed. Firstly, Moran seems to have a confused relationship with feminism and feminists. She identifies as such, and, indeed, encourages her readers to identify as feminist as it is not a dirty word. This is laudable. Unfortunately, Moran seems to have a rather dated view of feminist writing, falling back frequently on Germaine Greer as though this is the only feminist she has ever read, and beginning statements with “feminists think”, then falling back on to a straw feminist trope. While Moran wishes fervently for more women to identify as “strident feminists”, the book itself is not particularly stridently feminist.

Most of the issues discussed in the book were very trivial concerns. An inordinate amount of space was dedicated to clothes and shoes and bras and knickers. Rape is given a cursory mention in one sentence somewhere. At no point in the discussion of whether marriage is necessary was it acknowledged that perhaps romantic relationships or traditional monogamous relationships may not be necessary either. The truth is, it all feels a little superficial: talk about handbags is favoured over broader feminist issues. For many women, after all, there are a lot of things more worrying than pubes or ill-fitting knickers.

Take, for example, a point where Moran recounts the story of having met Jordan and being struck by how obsessed Jordan was with selling things and selling herself as a brand. At this juncture, it seems like a fairly obvious place to segue into discussion of the relationship between capitalism and feminism. Instead, Moran just tells the story, then contrasts it with meeting someone whom she considers to be a genuine feminist icon: Lady GaGa.

I sometimes wonder if perhaps Moran knew she could have done this. Much of the book seems to be driving at good points which are never made. Perhaps the editor of the book cut all of the good bits out? Certainly, the editing of the book was poor; I noted numerous typos and the editor was very lenient about allowing all of the CAPITALS and ENHUSIASTIC! PUNCTUATION! to stay in. As I said earlier, I rather like Moran, and I wanted this book to be better than it was.

In the conclusion to the book, though, it becomes abundantly clear that Moran’s feminism–at least, as presented– is shallow, bourgeois feminism, concerned with consumerism: just don’t buy the things you think might be oppressive, is her message. I was thoroughly disappointed by this message. I had hoped for much better, much more. I had hoped for depth.

If this book is our generation’s The Female Eunuch, as it says on the back cover, we are well and truly fucked. The good news, is, I do not think we are. This book is not harmful, it is simply trivial, inconsequential fluff. It is something to read on holiday, and then forget about once the tan has all peeled off. Had the book ended with a list of other (better) feminist books and resources to check out, I would probably see it as a decent, readable, primer to feminism for those who had never thought about the issue before and may be inclined to learn more. It may have also been improved vastly by shaving out the patronising bits and replacing them with something vastly more substantial.

As it stands, though, it is just fluff. This book will not change the world, for better or worse. For that, I am thoroughly disappointed.

Kallistei: the curse of Eris

Eris, the goddess of discord and strife, was pissed off. The other gods were having a party and nobody had thought to invite her. Perhaps they had snubbed her; she had a habit of ruining parties by disagreeing with everyone and trying to start a fight. Nobody liked to sit next to the goddess of discord when all she did was whisper gossip into their ears. “Hera finds your hunchback repulsive, Hephaestos”; “Demeter thinks you smell a bit fishy, Poseidon”; “You are literally the only Olympian Zeus wouldn’t fuck”.

It pissed Eris off, being left out like that: a perfectly enjoyable night of low-level discord at a wedding, which doubled the fun. She had been planning on seeing just how much she could ruin the happy couple’s union before the marriage were even consumated. If they had only invited her to the party, perhaps she would have played nice and spent just one evening without deciding that the world needed more wars and it was her job to make that happen.

Eris thought hard about how to spoil the party for those bastards who excluded her. Something simple, something divisive, something that would fuck shit up entirely. Turning an apple over in her hands, a plan formed.

Catfight, Eris thought. A catfight so epic it will be remembered for thousands of years to come.

Taking a knife, she carved a message into the apple. One word, a few letters with the potential to bring down cities.

ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΗΙ.

The wedding feast was in full swing. Gods and heroes danced together, wine flowed. They did not see her there. Eris could have joined the party, but she was pissed off.

Eris lobbed the apple, high into the air. It tumbled, glinting gold. Heads turned skyward.

The apple landed with a bounce between three goddesses. Eris stood back to watch; a smile playing at her lips. They read the message.

Kallistei. For the fairest.

Aphrodite, goddess of love, declared that it must be hers. She was beautiful, she embodied passion and love. Surely it must be hers?

Cow-eyed Hera, the goddess of marriage, claimed the apple for her own. Her own marriage was a shambles: her husband Zeus fucked his way around the pantheon. They had never had the conversation about boundaries and limits. If they had, Zeus would not have heeded it, so Hera responded to his transgressions with vengeful wrath. Her insecurities led her believe that someone must see her as the fairest.

Even smart Athene, clever Athene, goddess of wisdom and warfare, fell prey to the apple’s message. Athene wished fervently that she were the fairest. She declared it hers.

To settle the dispute of who was most beautiful, the goddesses took what they believed to be the only democratic approach: they would ask a man to validate their beauty. They petitioned Zeus, king of the gods with a roving eye for beauty.

He refused. His relationship with his wife was fraught enough. Any answer he gave, he thought, would be wrong.

And so they chose a mortal man, Paris of Troy, who had a decent track record in settling disputes. The three goddesses agreed that he could judge their beauty and tell them, once and for all, who was the fairest, and who owned the apple.

Eris smiled.

Paris chose Aphrodite in the end. She had the power of enchantment and love, and promised Paris the love of the most beautiful mortal woman alive. The other goddesses bickered, knowing Aphrodite had played dirty. They were gratified as a war began. Athene returned to her rightful place, strategising over the Trojan war. Troy fell after a war of ten years.

Eris smiled.

The golden apples of the days of gods with human failings shift forms. They were, after all, only symbols of scarcity.

Yet the curse of Eris remains as potent as ever. Kallistei, emblazoned across this season’s must-have Louboutins. Kallistei, tattooed on the arm of the rock star boyfriend. Kallistei, vajazzled across a bald cunt. Divisive symbols, belonging only to the fairest.

We squabble, we beg men to validate our beauty, and Eris smiles.

Default options

Despite being the worst book about behaviour change ever written, Nudge has a point: people tend to pick the default option. If the default option is a plain digestive and you have to work a little harder to get a chocolate digestive, chances are, you’ll stick with the plain digestive. It’s still a digestive, after all. By manipulating the default option, one can manipulate behaviour. If one wanted to stop people eating biscuits at all, the default option would be a dry hunk of Ryvita, with hoop-jumping required for digestives, plain or chocolate. Fewer people would eat biscuits.

We are bombarded with default options. Everywhere we look, we do things without thinking.

Businesses know this, and have been capitalising on this tendency of ours. Open up a phone book. Count the number of companies with names such as “A1 Cabs, ABC Cabs, Aardvark Cabs”; the ones that you will call before you ever bother reading down. Consider how shelves are stacked, with the cheap goods at the bottom so the eye is drawn to the identical, yet dearer, products placed at eye level. Think about the last time you went to a supermarket? Did you buy the special offer chocolate near the till, just because it was there?

Not everything comes so naturally and so easily. Sometimes it needs some marketing to point out a problem people never knew existed in order to sell products: many beauty products are targeting ugliness that did not exist before an advertising executive had a smart idea. Removing most body hair has now become default and automatic for women. Make-up is sold as something which does not look like one is wearing any make-up at all. It is, after all, normal and natural for women to wear make-up, so they should paint their faces to make it appear as though they are wearing none at all.

Most of us swallow this without ever really thinking about it.

We then convince ourselves that we made the right choice, and that we consciously chose the product we did.

What it is, is control. We will unthinkingly purchase products not because they are better, but because they’re there and everyone else is doing it. There is not a readily visible alternative, and our big brains are used to taking shortcuts to get things done.

A lot of what we do is based on this. Take monogamy.

There is absolutely no good reason for monogamous relationships to be the only way to have a romantic relationship or to raise a family. None whatsoever.

Yet monogamy is the default. It is taken as a given that relationships should and must contain two people: no more, no less. It is visible in formal forms: always “partner”, never “partner (s)”. It is visible in invitations: “bring a plus one”. It is visible on Valentine’s Day: a restaurant with orderly tables for two set out.

Unthinkingly, we accept monogomy to be normal and natural. Everyone else is doing it. To reinforce this supposedly natural default, a little intervention is undertaken: the institution of marriage. Here, the state validates what it perceives as appropriate ways to love. In the UK, marriage is only available to a couple consisting of a man and a woman. It is not even open to monogamous same-sex couples, who receive a similar but different state-sanctioned seal of approval on their relationship.

Many people claim to have consciously chosen monogamy. When it is presented as the norm, as the default option, how is that a choice at all?

It is a conscious choice in the same way that the slightly pricier, equally inferior noodles you chose to buy was a conscious choice. Everyone else does it, it’s right there, it is sanctioned by external forces who do not present alternative options.

The default is as normal and natural as any other choice. Think. Beware the nudges.

Destruction and rebirth

Three years ago today, my destruction began. Nothing lasts forever.

Once upon a time, I was in a very long, monogamous relationship with a man. Including the agonising death throes, the relationship lasted a hair under five years.

Three years ago today, the death throes began.

I knew exactly what was happening, that the comfortable, happy reality I had inhabited for much of my life was falling apart around me. He was cheating on me; I knew with whom, I knew when it had began. I am not the most perceptive person, but this was blindingly obvious to me.

I decided not to rock the boat. I did not want a confrontation, then. I was afraid to let go and shake up everything that I knew.

For two months, I stayed in that relationship, insisting to all and sundry that it was just a rough patch.

I knew it was not a rough patch. I was afraid to let go. I still believed us to have a future.

It occupied my thoughts perpetually, the fear of change, the knowledge that I was all of a sudden cast off and thoroughly unwanted, unloved. I cried a lot.

He was miserable, too. He was afraid to let go.

It was never the cheating that bothered me. It was the lying, the sudden gulf that had opened up between us.

In the end, I had to know. It had turned to an obsession. I broke the last taboo of being a trusting lover and looked at his phone. I felt awful for that. It’s just not the done thing, is it? It’s what bonkers bunny boilers do, isn’t it?

So I finally confronted, by email.

I walked around all day with a weight sitting on my chest, frantically checking my emails for a reply.

I was afraid to let go. I fervently hoped I was wrong. Perhaps I would receive an email which told me I was wrong and featured a marriage proposal? Or what if I’d completely fucked everything by my confession of Going Through A Mobile Phone? Shit. I could have ruined it all by my refusal to trust.

None of this happened.

I had been right with my suspicions all along. We agreed to “a break”.

I insisted on a break, rather than a break-up.

I knew all hope was gone.

The mourning began in earnest.

I spent the best part of two months in my dressing gown, alternating between tears and numbness. My ashtray looked like a tar-stained porcupine. All the while, a vast knot of wretchedness wrapped itself around my guts. My body ate itself.

We were not even friends any more, me and him. The link was severed. We attended one last festival together and I have not seen him since.

The universe is riddled with cycles of destruction and rebirth. Stars bloat up and explode, spewing their innards out to create new stars, planets, life. Fleetingly-sentient blobs of matter die, and become new parts of life; maybe some blobs of their matter become sentient, too.

Having eaten my body, phase two began. I was an unethical slut.

I made sure I never fucked anyone I liked.

I had some blindingly good sex during that phase. I was still unhappy, albeit getting lucky.

It was a nebula; my new self was coalescing. I was disillusioned with monogamy; I just had not quite learned how to have functional, happy connections with other human beings.

I was a spinning mass. The star at the centre had not yet ignited.

When it did, it was not the dramatic, sudden explosion of illumination. It grew slowly; a phoenix egg incubating in smouldering ashes.

My reality, what I had accepted to be real, had been torn away. I reshaped my reality.

I am unfamiliar, now, with the woman who cried and held on. I see her as weak, even though she was not. She was working with the options that she had available.

I feel intense sympathy for people who have experienced being cheated on. It seems alien, though, that I was one of them.

Yet I am still that woman who wept and ate herself. I am still the woman who would not let go. It is all the same materials, just as we are all made of the remains of an exploded star. It is reconstituted into something different, yet it is all the same molecules.

Destruction and rebirth. I am grateful for it.