Saturday, August 14, 2010


monogamy. the qualifying prefix "mono" means one and the core part of the term, gamos, is a Greek term that actually means "marriage." indeed, the terms for husband and wife are gametēs and gametē respectively. the etymology of the term is not a matter of simple trivia. the practice of monogamy, as much as the word, has everything to do with marriage. this is true despite the fact that often the practice and the word are conceived of in terms of sexual partners: if you are monogamous you restrict your sexual activity to one and only one person. there are several reasons that monogamy, despite it's marital connotations, is understood in terms of what people do with their bodies. the most important reason, perhaps, is that we have made sex the very locus of value and significance in our romantic relations. but i am getting ahead of myself; we can return to this critical issue later.

even though people often intend the term to designate personal dedication to a principle of restricting physical intimacy to a single other, monogamy cannot strictly refer to a quantum of sexual partnering. if we tried to interpret "monogamy" as meaning "one sexual partner" we'd have to contend with incoherency consequent upon considerations of time and meaning. one partner? when? only one partner ever? certainly not: not only is virginity little prized when it pertains to men, few if any would claim that monogamy is not possible between two people when at least one of them has been sexually active with one or more other persons in their life. perhaps the sexual sense of the term is "one partner at a time?" in the strict senses of the terms, this is also not a viable configuration. one partner at a time would necessarily refer to one partner versus multiple partners simultaneously. few if any would imagine monogamy to refer to isolated discrete sexual encounters that involved only two individuals as opposed to a threesome, foursome, fivesome, or other orgiastic assemblages. no, monogamy in the sexual sense, refers to the complex notion of maintaining one and only one sexual partner over the course of an indeterminate period of time. this period varies in duration according to the whims of the two so involved. so the key variable here is clearly time. as we've already discerned, the span is not a single event nor is it all periods of time. so what, we might ask, makes a particular stretch of time distinct from other periods of time where sexual engagements with others does not count as non-monogamy? the period of time integral to the definition of monogamy is one in which a twosome initiate and subsequently enact a marriage whether ersatz (dating) or the genuine article (matrimony).

the institution of marriage, then, is merely the outward facing surface of the gamos, the truer marriage in which all people young and old participate when engaging one another romantically: an interpersonal arrangement that is ruled by an emotionally and psychically gripping constellation of beliefs from which the moral character of certain actions derives. it is this constellation of beliefs that i find lacking at best and the source of great suffering at its worst. from these beliefs arise contractual obligations, the structure of interpersonal dynamics, and the moral relevance of actions. and again i must ask, despite the difficulties that will inevitably befall me should i seriously pursue this inquiry, what if the very concepts that we use to imbue our relations with meaning, value, and significance, yield intense harms? is it worth reevaluating these concepts when such a task can only be done through a process of rending oneself from these grids of meaning that have thus far provided the very conditions of possibility for one's own values, identity, and aspirations? i have no conviction within me as strong and as certain as that which assures me that the long and painful process of tearing off my very skin is worth it as nothing is more important in life than love. yes, i will be utterly naked and exposed. yes i will be afraid. but the stakes cannot be weightier.

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