I am an avid read of the ‘gutter press’ and of ‘erotica’, and I confess, despite being very popular reads, none of them are going to win the Booker Prize. They’re my guilty pleasure. How will the girl and guy get together? In how many different ways will they screw up before that point? Is there a twist, a secret? How awesome is the sex, what’s the kink? And can I guess it before the author directly tells the reader? Like Rom-com’s we all know the ending, but it’s the journey that we enjoy.
The journey is fun, fuels my imagination, but it’s the final ‘happy ending’ of monogamy that annoys me. Mostly I resent that after this fun journey the ending closes down and shuts the door on the exploration. Indeed often the subplot or subtext to erotica is the ‘quest’ for this happy ending, the search for a ‘happy ever after with the perfect partner’. However during this quest or journey, there are often hints at alternatives: at multiple connections and varied delights with people not just with bodies. The journey eludes to the idea of continued sexual self discovery as being the fantasy we can aspire to. But the ending pulls us back from this, having opened the door a fraction so we can peer inside, it’s slammed shut and locked by the fairytale ending of monogamous ‘Prince Charming’. This is not to say you can’t carry on exploring with your Prince Charming – but the fairytale tells us that the particular point of discovery, the perfect moment/kink that the characters have reached to trigger the marriage/happy-ever-after is the ending and therefore needs no further journey (sequels not withstanding).
This ending is not only the preserve of badly written erotica, monogamy remains the ‘fairy tale’ ending we’ve all been sold in the West in so many formats and institutions. Other societies do not necessarily conform to this, and a cursory glance at Western histories show the existence of multiple forms of human relationships. Marriage as we know it today in ‘the West’ is largely a Victorian middle class construct, and we should not therefore be surprised with the baggage it brings with it. It is then that the idea of adultery became normalised as ‘sinful’ . In that era male homosexuality became illegal, but lesbianism not – because in the UK at least no one wanted to explain to Queen Victoria what two women might do together. Prior to this, marriage was the preserve of the elite, done for politics and money, not love, and no-one was actually expected to remain monogamous. Yet the repackaging of marriage for the masses by the moral guardians of the Victorian period as the cure for industrial decay and colonial decline has lead to generations of guilt, shaming, and bastardising when monogamy doesn’t work out. So today, the failure of the (monogamy) system is seen as a failure of the individual – a failure to commit, a failure to love anyone but themselves, a failure to to love at all. To my mind however, this isn’t individuals failing, this is a system failing by forcing folks to accept a ‘once-in-a-lifetime-one-at-a-time’ deal constructed by a bunch of Victorian middle class prudes.
The consequence is that monogamous fairytales reinforce the norm that meaningful sex, emotional commitment, and soulful fulfilment can only be felt once, with ‘the Right One’. This sets us all up for failure: the Neo in the Matrix movies, ‘the One’, will come to save us, ‘the One’ will make our happiness, ‘the One’ will fuck our minds into oblivion, ‘the One’ will never let us down. And so when the inevitable happens and ‘the One’ reveals ourselves/themselves as human too, makes a mistake, or cannot fulfil every one of our dreams, desires or needs, our quest to seek ‘the Right One’ must start again. Now of course in reality we don’t abandon ‘the One’ immediately, in reality we all ‘work through’ our failings and troubles, but usually the point is to help them/us clamber back up onto the pedestal of ‘the One’.
Now I am sure, there are readers here, who will say, but my monogamy works just fine, don’t diss my relationship, and you’re right – awesome!! That’s brilliant. There are others who dream of a monogamous happy ever after and you deserve your dreams – do not give up on them, do not let others tell you what to aspire to or how to dream and love. The point of this piece is not for me to tell you how to live your life or love in your life. The purpose is to suggest monogamy is not the only way, and maybe you shouldn’t be quite so hard on yourselves if that isn’t quite the ‘happy every after’ future/present you’re experiencing.