How do we build the kinds of relationships we actually want when the vocabulary and cultural references we need to describe them don’t exist yet?
I’ve had 30 odd years of watching people cheat. The people around me, the TV shows, even coffee adverts.
Cheating is said to be bad but at the same time heavily normalised. I have cheated, I have thought about cheating. I read an article years ago about how it can save a marriage. I know how to cheat even if I don’t want to.
Cheating is easy. I know the feelings, the conflicts, and the challenges. I know what to expect to experience if I cheat. I know what the aftermath of cheating looks like. I can imagine the experience because I’ve seen it. I haven’t been taught how not to cheat.
I have more cultural references of how to have a fight with my loved one than how to enjoy the stage where two people who know each other really well nurture their relationship.
Society has suggested how to be monogamous. It’s given me rules to abide by to be a ‘good’ and ‘moral’ person but it rarely shows me that monogamy works. Fairytale romances show me the wedding – sometimes the children – but little after that.
Society doesn’t actually show us how monogamy works. I see the common trope of an older couple sat in silence as they eat at a fancy restaurant, often after children have flown the nest, returning home to a house that no longer belongs to a bank. I have more cultural references of how to have a fight with my loved one than how to enjoy the stage where two people who know each other really well nurture their relationship.
Occasionally, I’ll read about an elderly couple who died moments apart from each other holding hands, but these stories lack content – the gruesome and joyous details of how they stayed together so long. I’m sure many were happy but my references are too few to give me an idea of how to find happiness. More often I see the curmudgeon husband and his weary wife and that’s not the story I want for me.
I have no point of reference for how I’m supposed to feel – I have no stories either fiction or fact to draw upon and compare my thoughts to.
What’s difficult is not cheating. Being honest is hard. I have no point of reference for how I’m supposed to feel – I have no stories either fiction or fact to draw upon and compare my thoughts to.
One of the first words I learned when I started living as polyam was the word compersion. It means the opposite of jealousy – finding happiness in someone’s joy. Learning that word helped me make sense of why I wanted to stay up and hear about my partner’s first date, but I have so many other feelings that can’t be defined away because the words don’t exist yet.
Not having the words, the references and the experiences to understand what I feel leaves me empty and frustrated. I know it’s not loving more than one person that causes that, it’s the world I live in. And that makes me angry.
Because cheating shouldn’t be easy – love should be.
This piece was originally written on 18 January 2015.