1: My intention is not alienation here. I run the risk of deeply offending most of my target audience for an idea piece such as this. I’ll do my best to be gentle with you if you do your best to be gentle with me. That being said, my intention *is* to disrupt tidy packages. Gently aggressive systemic agitation.
2: I don’t know how to write on a subject like this without it coming across as pretentious. Perhaps I just am.
3: It might be too “stream of consciousness” (and therefore too unrefined) for some. I could re-write it in a more polished way… I suppose this is where style comes into play. I’ve been writing in journals on the internet for around 12 years or so and I still feel like I fumble in the dark with it. I don’t feel I’ve truly found my stride yet. I hit it from time to time, but balance is still frequently lost and I topple. Anyway… Here’s the piece:
Here’s something I just can’t understand. The prevalence and dominance of monogamous relating between humans.
My unlearning of the beliefs of the damaged dominant culture began at 13 years of age with the discovery of punk rock. Critical thinking skills were undoubtably the most valuable thing that punk could have given me. Perhaps most succinctly summed up in these Crimpshrine lyrics,
"Question everything I’ve accepted without thinking,
ensure that I have a basis for what I believe in.”
It’s that simple. I don’t do something just because that’s what everyone else is doing. I ask myself if it serves me/others/the planet/et cetera well. I ask myself if I can imagine a better way to do it. In a whole big chunk of cases, there most certainly is a better way for me to do things than the ways that have been presented to me.
I have to admit that the whole “think outside the box” cliche gets my eyes rolling every time. For whatever reason, I find it cringe-worthy. OK, articulate here Rambles… don’t just say, “Oh, it makes me feel weird.” That’s somewhat of a cop-out. Do the work.
OK. The cliche frustrates me because it feels so played out. It feels like a meaningless platitude incapable of igniting the critical thought it suggests one to carry out as action. It doesn’t lend itself to actually subverting the way we are taught to behave in this culture.
Largely, the way we are taught to behave is to be obedient and imitate. The culture I was raised in is really fucking into obedience and imitation. I believe a message that may more accurately cut to the point (in lieu of “think outside the box”) would be “disobey.” Although… disobedience is somewhat defined as opposing orders and that is not necessarily the whole of the intent here (though, it can be part of it). It does not have to be a “going against” as much as taking another direction entirely. Rather than struggle upstream against rapids, break out of the mainstream and fork off into an entirely new stream. Perhaps “disregard” would be a more precise verb for the bill?
I think this can also just come back to the whole practice of questioning everything. Think creatively.
Disobedience may come with connotations of teenage idealism for some who may have been more radically experimental in that era of their life. If, however, maturity is defined by replacing idealism with pragmatism and rebellion with complacency… then every punk rock song about never growing up is absolutely true. My definition of maturity is certainly not one that advocates complacency and abandoning ideals. It’s something more along the lines of having accumulated many life experiences and had made many, many mistakes that can be learned from.
The options presented to us as acceptable ways to live our lives are appallingly limiting. There are infinite ways we can choose to live. That is such an exciting prospect to me. Yet, the dominant culture teaches that only an inconceivably select few ways of going about this existence are valid. This goes well beyond the way we lovingly relate to each other. For the sake of this rant, however, I loosely restrict myself to speaking of this as it relates to relating.
I, for one, am not willing to live my life solely by imitating. I’ll concede that we can learn by observing examples of what can be achieved. This is a valid way to progress. I’ll not, however, grant this method exclusive privileges as a way to learn.
A method that could be called, “fumbling in the dark” is equally valid and, I would argue, immensely underrepresented in the present paradigm.
I actually don’t think this method of learning can be promoted enough as far as creativity goes. That’s what it’s about. To act in any way that is not simply imitation, one must fumble in the dark.
I watch my 11 month old daughter learning to navigate the world. She has to fumble in the dark constantly. The way formal education is set up from grade school onward seemingly wrings this skill out of people and replaces it almost exclusively with imitation (this is largely a systemic problem and not the fault of teachers). We could perhaps more descriptively call this imitation method the consume/regurgitate method of learning. From my own experience with the consume/regurgitate form of learning, it does not lead to actual understanding.
So the way we learn and develop, I believe, has a pretty profound impact on the lifestyle choices we make for ourselves and specifically (for the sake of this piece) on the ways in which we lovingly relate to each other.
I want to know: why are non-monogamous models of romantically relating so scant in this culture?
Is it because there are so few representations in popular media? Because Hollywood and TV networks only present non-monogamous models as super fringe, usually prone to failure, and only as the result of some defect within the characters practicing it? Think about it. Just how much do those representations shape your view of relationship normalcy? I know that they shaped mine for a long while until I took the time to deeply examine my views.
There is nothing inherently natural about romantically relating in a monogamous manner. It is just culturally normalized. The book “Sex At Dawn” does an excellent job of demonstrating how monogamy is actually more the aberration in the natural order of things than is non-monogamy. I can’t recommend it enough.
What is at the heart of this bafflement of mine? It seems to me that a great number of those practicing monogamy could be much better served by other relationship models. Yet, somehow, monogamy always wins as the only realistic model.
I am not saying that there is not a large segment of the population that monogamy serves very well. There most certainly is a segment of the population for whom monogamous relationships are an ideal model.
I don’t know what the statistics are but I’m willing to take a wild guess that the percentage of folks practicing monogamous relating models in the Western World is somewhere in the high 90’s and those practicing non-monogamous relating models is somewhere in the low single digits. This is what I just cannot simply accept as the way things are.
While those truly served well by monogamy exist, I cannot easily posit that this segment of the population is in the high 90’s (and conversely, that those served by non-monogamy is in the low single digits).
It follows that there are a very large number of folks out there who are practicing monogamy whom I can only speculate are only doing it because they don’t know that any other options exist. Or they do know that another option exists, but that that option is commonly known as “cheating.” Again, I don’t know where to find statistics, but the number of people who cheat while in monogamous relationships is seemingly very high.
If all those who felt inclined to cheat in their monogamous relationships could simply be entirely open and honest about their desires, both to themselves and to their partners, then this would greatly increase the number of folks better served by non-monogamy.
In addition to this number of potential non-monogamy practitioners, there are certainly many others who have thoughts of being not faithful but the desires are never acted on. Were it an option for these people to have relationships outside their monogamous partnership without ending it and hurting their partner, however, I suspect that they would also probably jump on board.
It seems to me that having been schooled in the consume/regurgitate model, folks carry out their social lives in ways that mirror the social lives of others they have observed. If one has never seen other relationship models in their community and they have been socialized to imitate, they behave in a monogamous manner.
Why do I care? Why should I feel the desire to proselytize polyamoury?
There’s the self serving rationale that more folks practicing polyamoury expands my potential dating pool, which I see as a good thing.
Then there’s the issue of visibility. More diverse ways of romantically relating to one another can only serve to benefit the larger culture. Having to hide any part of your identity, which you would rather not, always sucks. There are various contexts and reasons to be closeted about being non-monogamous. The fewer of these contexts that exist, the better. I believe one way to minimize these contexts is by increasing awareness of the issue.
So this is one of my small attempts to incrementally increase the cultural awareness that monogamy is not the only option. You know at least one person (me) who is polyamourous. It is functional. It is fulfilling. It is REALISTIC.
*I wrote and posted this a few months back in my LJ which is mostly a “friends only” journal. I wanted to more publicly post this but thought that I should further refine it prior to doing so. Alas, being primary caregiver to a 10 month old affords me little time for such indulgences. So in the interest of not letting the best be the enemy of the good, I release this, sans any further edits, to the public.*
I had a *huge* breakthrough last week while hanging out with my partner. It was just some tiny jab she made at me in jest. But it pierced deep. Right to emotional scar tissue. I could so physically feel it. She struck a nerve. It’s true. It’s literal, not a figure of speech. These scars are in my neural tissue. But before I describe the cause of these scars, I’d like to describe how I perceive their structure.
I have this theory, you see… I don’t know what the present evidence suggests. This is based solely on anecdotes. A hypothesis. I’m not a neuroscientist, nor a researcher. But I do possess a nervous system and my nervous system physically interacts with other nervous systems on a daily basis. In all interactions, to be sure. But I think specifically here of my work with massage.
Why do memories pop up for people receiving massage? Deep in your forearm, in the neural tissue surrounding your Extensor Carpi Radialis Brevis muscle (for instance). Through pressure, heat and intention I stimulate or inhibit these nerves and through this action latent memories are triggered and brought to the forefront of your consciousness.
So my theory is that our entire nervous system and not just our brain hold our memories. It’s all an extension of our brain. It is not implausible. We don’t know everything about nerves. Science still has much more to understand. My experience suggests to me that this, or something closely akin to this is actually happening.
Outside of massage, I’ve experienced this extracerebral memory store while attending a 10 day vipassana meditation. Buddhists have a concept of something called a Saṅkhāra. Which, to my understanding, could be otherwise phrased as “constructed ideas.” A part of the practice of vipassana is doing full body scans. I like to conceptualize this as a kind of self generated MRI scan. You’ve probably seen a video of an MRI flowing up and down a human body. Vipassana teaches one, among other things, to do such a scan, only with one’s conscious perception.
While learning this technique, my mind thought,
"Well, obviously you can do this. Where ever you have sensory nervous tissue, you can consciously perceive." With some amount of practice, this technique became perfectly natural.
Interestingly enough, the moderator/facilitator of the meditation would not answer any of my questions I had which related the practice to the nervous system. I think he may have just viewed it in a different way. My own consciousness is tied up in what I understand of my nervous system, and I cannot experience anything without the understanding that every sensation and perception is coming to my awareness via my nervous system. It is my body’s filter for everything internal and external.
While doing these body scans one can encounter “blockages,” where one seemingly becomes stuck and unable progress the scan. The buddhist theory goes that these blockages are Saṅkhāras or “volitional formations.” So what else could this be but an arrangement of neurons connected to each other in a manner that may or may not serve us well? I propose that these neural circuits contain much of our unconscious memory.
One encounters these blockages and then an emotion or memory or what-have-you makes its way into one’s conscious perception. As far as I understand the buddhist thought on the matter, one is to let these thoughts and emotions bubble to the surface (so to speak) acknowledge them, but not hold onto them or self identify with them. To release them. Once a blockage has been removed, one can continue with the scan until more blockages reveal themselves.
I understand this process as neuroplasticity at work. Re-wiring one’s nervous system so as to iron out the kinks that do not serve one well. If one has old painful/traumatic memories they can manifest themselves as physical tension/pain. I see this regularly in my work as a massage therapist.
And so with this theory in mind, back to where I started. My partner poked fun at me and it directly hit a Saṅkhāra/emotional trigger/Maleficent Neural Network. And with the feeling of this, I pleaded, “Don’t. Please Stop. I can’t handle that. I’m going to…” And a ball welled up in my throat and the waterworks started.
I was bullied at various times throughout elementary and highschool. This bullying has had a pretty profound impact on the way I am in the world. The way I interact with others, the way I inhabit my body. I’ve never really conceptualized myself as a survivor of trauma. But I’ve begun to see that that conceptualization has the potential to be a step towards truly healing the scars that have been left behind by the trauma I’ve sustained.
My body is riddled with emotional bullets. They’re tangled nerves holding onto memories of vicious verbal and emotional attacks by children and adolescents with a keen sense for identifying vulnerability and jumping on it.
I hold back from saying so much so often because of the fear of attacks. So many thoughts, jokes, insights go unexpressed because I’m “shy.” Which, in my case, is to say that self expression in many of my formative years was met with ridicule and I learned to keep my mouth shut. I’m so slow to open certain aspects of my true personality when I’m around new people. I find myself after being in a relationship for almost 20 months only now being open with certain aspects of my personality.
I took my conscious awareness directly into the wounds and a painful, painful release occurs. Almost unable to breathe until it becomes absolutely essential for survival. Clenching and releasing simultaneously. Fully inhabiting those Maleficent Neural Networks. It felt like what I’ve seen as Hollywood representations of what an exorcism looks like. Relinquishing conscious control of my nervous system, let my motor nerves do what they will. I’m undoing a Maleficent Neural Network. Severing synapses. Axons aligned with dendrites for years are being told to relinquish their affinity for each other.
This is an intense experience for the body, but it is therapy. It is undoing damage. I hesitate to call it “non-invasive surgery” simply because there is no cutting with a surgical instrument in the traditional sense. Here the mind serves as scalpel. “Cutting” is an approximation since on a physical level the connections of an Maleficent Neural Network are never actually touching. “Sever” seems a term which more precisely portrays the operation.
All of this to say, I’m making progress. Both in my healing of past trauma including the present day effects of said trauma, and in my conceptualization of the process at play.
I don’t want there to be such a profound disconnect between my represented facade and my true self. I want to express my true self at all times, unhindered by this learned fear of doing so.