Monogamy in the 21st Century (I)

Monogamy in the 21st Century (I)

Written by Alfonso Elizondo


One of the most disturbing questions of the moment is why have both monogamy and life as a couple changed over the last 20 years. During this period there was a rise in divorce by mutual consent, marriage declined rapidly and sexually diverse couples became legal leading to an unprecedented revolution in the history of human civilization. According to sociologist and professor, Eleonor Faur of the NGO-IDEAs, we must examine twenty-first century ideas about love, desire and power that need to be discarded in order to achieve a happy life in this century.


Eleonor Faur says that in the legal domain and in cultural terms, the idea of a couple implies a contract between two people. But these contracts are much more fragile than in the past and are intertwined with a tension in the field of ideas. The ideal of romantic love not only became out-dated, but also became more demanding. Currently this ideal assumes that love, passion and communication between the couple and the family must be sustained, in addition to sharing the finances of both without giving up the individual projects of each of them.


Faur says that those who are now nostalgic overlook ‘marriages in the past’, especially those who did not experience them and who are missing a past that like all ‘lost paradises’ never existed. In today’s world, more is demanded of a couple than previously, in terms of compatibility with one’s own independence, with work, with other related issues and even with individual happiness.


According to Faur, this is probably due in part to the cutting of their living expenses, the legality of divorce and the actual possibility that women can support themselves without having a husband. Moreover, in the present world everything is chosen out of personal desire and not according to material, religious, social or moral needs.


For her part, Isabella Cosse, an independent researcher at CONICET (Support Personnel Council) and UBA (University of Buenos Aires), and author of the book Pareja, sexualidad y familia en los años 60 [Couples, Sexuality and Family in the 60s], explains that the double standard of morality that characterizes the treatment of these issues makes it very difficult to understand the changes that have taken place throughout history. Cosse points out that in 1940 almost one in three children was registered as a natural or illegitimate child. This allows us to understand the limits of monogamy in the recent past.


Cosse agrees with Faur’s diagnosis in respect of the following data: Currently, the number of households with children being raised by women has increased – from 18% in 1994 to 26% in 2005 – while single-person households have increased from 14% to 16.5% over the same period. There has also been a fall in the number of those who never had that experience. In other words, there has been an increase in the number of people not living as a couple, as well as in the number of those who have never had a couple relationship. Cosse says that there is no depreciation of the social value of living as a couple, but a greater expectation about what it should offer, or less tolerance for discomfort or dissatisfaction with one’s partner.


On this same subject, Emily Witt’s book Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love explores how we can think half a century after the ‘summer of love’ and the utopias of free love. Among other practices, Witt considers ‘polyamory’ and questions the differences between this new lifestyle and that of ‘mainstream’ sexuality, and she believes that right now we are not living far from that new reality.


According to Witt, the ‘average’ resident of a city in the 21st century, of whatever gender or sexual orientation they may be, is likely to spend several periods throughout their lives having brief, consecutive, or simultaneous sexual relationships. Perhaps the term ‘single’ is the one that best fits that person, but it is an experience that does not resemble at all that of a young single woman of the 1950’s, who lived with her parents and had a non-existent or clandestine sex life. So Witt says that in the last few decades what has changed is not the way of life as a couple, but the way of life outside the relationship.


Addendum: I will continue with this subject of monogamy in the next instalment.