Why can we love family members in such a natural way, whereas, as soon as we deal with a human being whom we did not grow up with, we start to cling jealously to them? How can it be that we never see love as a finite “good” when loving our parents, our grandparents, our siblings at the same time, but want to seal our and our partner`s love in an airtight container? And why, as soon as the first passion is gone, do we think that we are falling out of love with our partner, while we (at least in most cases) cannot fall out of love with our family members?
The concept of monogamy is pushed upon us from all sides – romantic novels, songs and TV series which proclaim that you have to search for “the one”, like he or she is the key to an algorythm which will solve all your problems, fulfill all your wishes automatically. The results of such thinking: high divorce rates, serial monogamy junkies and bad, very bad music and literature. Where people`s fervent belief in monogamy might stem from is brilliantly described by the German psychologists Lisa Fischbacher and Holger Lendt in their book Treue ist auch keine Lösung – Ein Plädoyer für mehr Freiheit in der Liebe.
Fischbacher and Lendt are of the opinion that a monotheistic faith can be one of the causes why people might fiercely cling to monogamy. After all, isn`t it written in the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, that God said to the people: „Thou shalt have no other Gods before me“? Growing up with that kind of faith in a jealous God, wouldn`t believers be influenced by this possessiveness in all parts of their lives? Interestingly, with the rise of the Christian church, patriarchalism was established, and men started to see women as their property.
There have always existed different love and relationship concepts parallel to the standard monogamy concept. Take for example the matriarchal communities: there, the woman can/could have as many relationships as she wants/wanted to. In the Mosuo culture in China, women and men flirt with each other during the day; if a woman is interested in more, she gives the man a ritual handshake, allowing him to come to her hut in the evening. The couple can agree to have sex one time, several times or a whole lifetime long – without any strings attached. Also the ancient Chinese daoists saw sex as something which could be beneficial to health and can be practiced with more than one person.
The kind of monogamous relationship which we practice today first came up in the age of romanticism when people started to reach for their ideal, perfect love partner. But wait – should we really blame the Romantics for our miserable 20th century love life? No, because the thing is: The Romantics knew that their ideal was just in their heads – whereas we all too often believe that our ideal is something „touchable“, is somewhere out there, independent of our minds.
According to Fischbacher and Lendt, the concept which seems to dominate the dating world is „AMEFI“ – „Alles mit einem für immer“, in English: „All with one forever“. You expect to be able to share everything with one partner, to be understood on all levels, in all of your facets, and for a lifetime. People entering relationships with that kind of – any – concept expect their partner to adjust to their imaginations and will terminate the relationship soon if the partner can`t „conform“. Or, which is also quite common, he or she will cheat on their partner – to find the parts which wouldn`t „conform“ to their ideal in another person. Fischbacher and Lendt call these parts the „unconscious of the relationship“.
Here`s one example: Lisa discovers that there`s a certain aura of melancholy about her long-time husband which she can`t cope with as she`s naturally rather a fun-loving person. So she starts an affair with Nate, the easy-going sales assistant in the grocery shop. From there, Lisa can take two directions: Either she questions her doing and reflects about the relationship to her husband (which can eventually end with her terminating the affair), or – which is all too common: she takes the honeymoon phase of the first few months with her sales assistant, the seeming fulfillment of her unconscious wishes, as a sign that „they are meant for each other“ and terminates the relationship with her husband. Only to find out a few months later that she`s fed up with all the „easy going“, „just smile“-attitude of her affair and somehow missing the broody, reflective phases of her former husband (which is now the unconscious part of the relationship).
Another important reason for why we tend to choose love partners who seemingly complement us: we are always reminded of our early childhood, of the intimacy of contact to our mothers/parents, the fearless, limitless identification. With every kiss, we reawaken the intimate bonding to our mother/parents, and, what`s more: we also awaken our potential desire to be a mother/father, for example when we tenderly stroke the partner`s hair. The craving for these primal sensations triggers one of our most powerful feelings: jealousy. Suddenly, we do not feel „whole“ without our lover anymore, imagining him being the one – the only one – to be able to fulfill our deepest childhood needs.
And this is the point where Fischbacher and Lendt are „making the cut“: it is vital for our relationships that we do not project all of our cravings on one person, but get conscious of the whole process and get a grip on our projections/imaginations before they run wild. Sometimes, the best way to do this is opening the relationship for other people. Fischbacher and Lendt say: Everytime we start an intimate relationship with another human being outside of the relationship, some of the energy of our „fling“ can flow back into our long-term relationship.
For this, we need to understand that our relationships are not static – and neither are we. Not even the relationship to ourselves, how we perceive ourselves, is static: We have different „relationships“ to our own ego (which has nothing to do with schizophrenia). Everytime we start a relationship with another human being, this person represents another way how we (can) relate to ourselves, how we can act out parts of ourselves which have come out of focus. And suddenly we might think: „Wow, how come I totally forgot about this playful side of myself?“
Some may say that this is a selfish approach to love. but isn`t it far more selfish to dump your partner as soon as you find out he or she cannot fulfill 100% of your needs?
Don´t think that you`ll have any „romantic illusions“ left after you have finished the book by Fischbacher and Lendt. But then again, if we get rid of the „illusions“, won`t there still be „romantic“? Just in another way that we are used to. Fischbacher and Lendt call this „Philophilia“ – Loving for love`s sake. Not to look carefully how to „invest“ your love on the basis of what you might get back, but to spread it around – because of the beautiful heights love can take you to: a feeling of unity, of communion, creative inspiration, etc.
Indeed, it`s the aim of many polyamorous people to learn to love the whole world, to integrate love into their day-to-day-life as an important item on the agenda. For this, it`s vital to understand that we might not always be that separated from the world and other human beings. The borders we errect around ourselves – to define our ego – are just in our minds, and it will do us good to lift them from time to time to let in a fresh breeze.
Some members of the spiritual scene say that our world is gradually drifting towards this new understanding of love, helping us to break out of a spiral we have been captured in since the beginnings of mankind. (Either that, or we plunge into it even deeper and eventually get wiped from the face of the earth.) Makes sense, because if you feel a connection to people and nature around you, you will stop killing members of other religions and cutting down so many trees. So much for what Ulla Hahn claims in her novel “Spiel der Zeit”: “You can`t make a revolution with people who are in love.” Yes, you can.