Recently Fabrizio Chiesa sat down to watch an early cut of our new documentary Monogamish. It sparked a very interesting debate -the film seems to have that effect on everybody– about what it takes to be able to sustain a relationship (monogamous or not). Bringing decades of Buddhism study and practice, here is some of what Fabrizio had to say:
“If you don’t try to deeply know yourself, to see how conditioned you are, and how most of the time you are not really acting but just reacting, if you never trained yourself to observe your emotions and thoughts, to see how compulsive and repetitive they are, and you never tried to unroot the negative ones, then you will never be able to have a stable and healthy relationship — and monogamy will feel like a prison. Your relationship with your partner will always be conditional on how well he or she caters to your needs and wants. In the same way that we tend to alternate moments of self-loathing with moments of self-adoration, we do the same with our partners. More so even, we keep projecting on our successive partners our own frustrations and humiliations. When you’ll be bored with yourself, you’ll be bored with them. And when you’ll want to hurt and sabotage yourself, you’ll hurt them.
Gandhi said that he truly learned the meaning of non-violence in his marriage. He meant that if you do work on yourself, you may find the following:
• The less egocentric you become, the more generous and kind your love becomes, and the more you want to allow your partner to be fulfilled — in any way, including sexually. You may even offer your wonderful lover to a friend who you think would benefit from his/her attentions
• The deeper you understand that everything changes constantly, the more equanimity you will have if the relationship evolves, and goes through unsettling stages. You know that the tough times will pass too.
• The more you know who and what you really are, the less you’ll be afraid to be alone. Therefore the more you’ll be able to love another human being without losing your center, without betraying your true self. The less afraid you are to be dumped, the less you’ll be inclined to make pre-emptive strikes.
• The more you learn to trust your life, with all its inevitable disappointments and contradictions, the more you can accept contradiction from your partner, and deal with it skillfully.
The relevance of this argument in relation to the subject of the film is that, in my experience, only emotionally and spiritually mature people can have an occasionally open relationship without inevitably losing their partner’s TRUST.
Trust about what?
Trust that your partner is sincerely committed to you, and will stay with you through good times and bad times. It’s a protection against the hazards of life: women with children need that trust obviously, but also anyone who can/will get old, sick, poor, depressed etc. etc. THAT is the real purpose of marriage and family. Nowadays divorcing is so easy that marriage doesn’t really protect anyone very much. These days, stability has to come not from the fact of officially becoming a couple, but from the partners themselves. From their conscious moral commitment.
From what I have seen over the years, people who preach about and impose on their partners open relationships, no matter how eloquent they may be about the philosophy behind it, do so for fundamentally selfish reasons. They want some stability for the down times, but also excitement in the high times. More importantly they want to keep their options open, and keep experiencing the thrill of ego-boosting seduction. Contemporary Western society which promotes both self-affirmation and the myth of romantic love encourages this kind of attitude. It’s a consumeristic, opportunistic, A.D.D. approach to human relationship. Romantic love is the most possessive, jealous and impermanent form of love; it’s all about “taking care of me and my needs, using someone else that seems to fit my fantasy”. When that person reveals who she/he really is and doesn’t respond to “my needs” anymore, I break up. And society will no longer judge me for this.
If I am in a swinging relationship to begin with, let alone a polyamorous one, it will be even easier to leave that main partner who has become a burden. The “polyamorous community” has tried to deal with this problem by making up a set of rules (uh oh, here we go again), a little bit like the rules at swinger parties: when your main relationship is in trouble, you should abstain from seeing other sexual partners — unless you decided to break up — until the problem is resolved … Sounds great, but no one really follows those rules when they become too uncomfortable or inconvenienced. Who’s going to enforce them anyway? Not the church, not the government, not the neighbors. And your friends most of time will just say whatever you want to hear.
The basic element that allows TRUST to be preserved within a relationship, while also permitting a certain amount of sexual freedom, is the quality of the feelings that the partners have for each other. How much are you willing to sacrifice to make your beloved happy? How selfless is your love? How emotionally mature and self-mastered are you? What are you doing to generate loving-kindness in your heart instead of just pretending to love? How much do you cling to your partner out of fear?
We truly believe that:
• If both partners in a couple really aspire to make the other person happy, the right compromises about sexual exclusivity can be made. That means that one, or both, could allow the other to have occasional sexual encounters with third parties when it’s not the self-defeating repetition of a compulsive craving, but rather something that will truly make your beloved happy, and strengthen your friendship. That freedom to explore will have been offered to the partner out of love and trust, not fear and bartering.
• It is much better to be unattached than to be attached to the wrong person. But a committed relationship to one partner (if we are so lucky to find a compatible one) is a very profound, fruitful experience that makes us grow like nothing else does. (The African-American therapist began to point to this truth in the film.) It gives us the stability we need to pursue our callings. It also forces us to develop equanimity and determination. It actually helps us to discover our strength while experiencing the changes, the ups and downs, the whole journey of the relationship.
• In the end, our life is nothing but an ever-evolving net of relationships. The one we have with ourselves is the principle thread. The second one is the one that connects us with our partner. The quality of our life will depend on the quality of those threads, and all the other relationships we create.
The debate of monogamy versus other types of arrangements cannot be had in absolute terms, because it depends so much on the individuals involved in each relationship. It’s like different realms of existence for different levels of consciousness. If you are needy, self-centered and possessive, you will create a different mode of relationship than if you are emotionally and spiritually mature. The type of relationship we create mirrors who we are, and therefore changes with time as we evolve.
This PSYCHO-SPIRITUAL angle on the debate about monogamy is essential in the era we live in, because as church and state don’t really impose structure anymore, we need to find our own personal truth, and suitable models for relationship.