Alternatives To a Standard Relationship – Free Ebook

To a greater extent than we perhaps realise,
when it comes to what sort of relationships

we are allowed to have, our societies present
us with a menu with only a single option on

it: The Monogamous, Cohabiting Romantic Relationship,
usually served with a Side Order of Children.

To be considered remotely normal, we are meant
to develop overwhelming emotional and sexual

feelings for one very special person, who
will then become a combination of our best

friend, sole sexual partner, co-parent, business
associate, therapist, travel companion, property

co-manager, kindergarten teacher and soulmate
– and with whom we will live exclusively

in one house, in one bed, for many decades,
in substantial harmony and with an active

tolerance for each other’s foibles and ongoing
desire for their evolving appearance, till

death do us part.
But what is striking, for an arrangement supposed

to be entirely normal, is just how many people
cannot abide by its rules. At least half flunk

completely, and a substantial portion muddle
along in quiet desperation. At best, only

around 15% of the population admit to being
totally satisfied, a thought-inducingly low

figure for a menu option vigorously claiming
universal validity.

In our societies, those who can’t get on
with Romantic Monogamous Marriage are quickly

diagnosed as suffering from a variety of psychological
disorders: fear of intimacy, clinginess, sexual

addiction, frigidity, boundary issues, self-sabotage,
childhood trauma etc. We powerfully imply

that someone might be psychologically ill
if they don’t want to keep having sex exclusively

with the same partner, or seek to spend every
other weekend apart or want to develop a close

friendship elsewhere.

But there might be another approach, this
one drawn from the pioneering work of advocates

of gay rights, namely that any taste or proclivity
must by definition be acceptable and non-pathological,

except in so far as it might hurt the unwilling
or unconsenting. From this perspective, while

many ways of life might be different to society’s
presently preferred option, it cannot be right

to judge, correct, amend and seek to re-educate
all those attracted to them.

With this in mind, the menu of love we should
use starts to look very different. Aside from

Romantic Monogamy, all kinds of alternative
ways of living could be devised, including

(to kick-start a list):
The Parenting Relationship A union oriented

first and foremost towards the well-being
of children, where parents are free to form

unions with other parties, once the welfare
and security of off-spring are assured.

The Separate Spheres Relationship A union
which understands that no two people should

ever be expected to be in total proximity
night after night – and respects the role

of certain kinds of privacy in contributing
to emotional well-being and a robust sense

of self.
The Yearly Renegotiated Relationship A union

which is accepted by both parties as having
only a one-year assured lifespan, after which

it must be re-negotiated but without any presumption
that it will necessarily be so or resentment

if it is not – a source of insecurity with
surprisingly fruitful and aphrodisiacal side-effects.

The Love-or-Sex Union A union which recognises
the difficulty of fusing love and sex in one

couple, and makes the possibility of dividing
the two, and seeking fulfilment from alternative

sources, non-tragic, unshameful and predictable.
In love, we accept an absence of choice that

would be intolerable in other areas of life.
We consent to wearing a uniform that cannot

possibly fit our varied shapes, and without
daring to make even minor moves to assemble

our own wardrobe. All our collective energies
go into creating astonishing varieties of

foods, machines and entertainments, while
the entity that dominates our lives – our

relationships – continue in a format more
or less unchanged for the last 250 years.

It would be a genuine liberation if, whenever
a new couple came together, it was assumed

that they almost certainly would not go along
with the romantic monogamous template, and

that the onus was therefore on them to discuss
– up front, in good faith and without insult

– the arrangements that would ideally satisfy
their natures. Extra marks would be awarded

for innovation and out-of-the-box schemes
– while protestations of satisfaction at

the standard model would raise eyebrows.
Once upon a time, male offspring of the European

upper classes had only two career options:
to join the army or to join the church. Such

narrow-mindedness was eventually dismissed
as evident nonsense and eradicated, and the

average citizen of a developed country now
has at least 4,000 job options to choose from.

We should strive for a comparable expansion
of our menus of love. We are not so much bad

at relationships, as unable – presently
– to understand our needs without shame,

to stick up politely for what makes us content,
and to invent practical arrangements that

could stand a chance of honouring our complex
emotional reality.