When I first heard the Tiger Woods hoopla, I ignored it as just another gossip fest about someone famous. A few days later, I was personally dismayed when I saw Tiger Woods leading the headlines in USA Today while a story about four police officers being killed in Washington State was not as important. The officers, it was believed, were targeted while sitting in a coffee shop. This was only a headline with the story somewhere in the pages within while Tiger Woods possible infidelity had text on the front page and a bigger headline. Are the American people really so twisted in their reality that we care more about the, at the time, alleged infidelity of a sports super star then of the shooting of men who serve the public? People cry out in message boards about Tiger and his “immoral” behavior and barely notice the story of police officers being targeted in a shooting. I find this to be the sorry state we find our culture in and I wonder if this fascination with infidelity is the same reason people find polyamory so challenging.
This prompted me to take a look at the stories and rumors circling and find out what was being said. This revelation of Tiger Woods cheating falls on the heels of numerous infidelities by celebrities and politicians. Each time one of these stories hits, the media jumps on it like ravenous dogs. This is because people seem to have an appetite for gossip on infidelity. People are poised to name call and point fingers every time some celebrity we have put on an impossibly high pedestal does something wrong, especially when it involves sex. Since media is totally in it for the money these days it makes sense, sex sells.
In all of these articles and revelations of infidelity by prominent and apparently upstanding men there is harsh judgment of the men, their values, their morals and even their worth, but no one ever questions that there might be an underlying issue behind the constant straying. Despite what extensive and numerous studies have shown that our nature as humans is to stray, very few in the mainstream media raise the question of monogamy itself being the problem. If we look at some of the important and respected men who have shaped our history and even women, we find many are philanderers; Benjamin Franklin, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth I, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt to name a few. The empirical evidence has shown and continues to show that animals, including humans, are not monogamous. The constant headlines of infidelity seem to support this and yet despite all the data people are shocked and outraged. And no one in the mainstream appears capable of talking about this intelligently, especially the media.
In 2007 my family and I appeared on the Montel Williams Show about “alternative families”. The show consisted of a woman who was a porn star and prostitute, a family who ran a naturist resort and us. The audience was more challenged by polyamory and open relationships than anything else. I find this is often the case when polyamory comes up in the conversation. People will puff up and look indignantly saying it is just wrong. I actually understand this. Our culture has programmed us to believe monogamy = love = commitment and is the only valid relationship model, for many the only model period. Cheating betrays trust and hurts people in many ways. The gap that most people can’t seem to bridge is that polyamory is not cheating, it is not about deceit and it involves serious commitment. When you talk of polyamory as an alternative to monogamy many people only visualize cheating.
On a few occasions we will see mainstream media look at the issue and conclude that, despite the facts, monogamy is more desirable, more evolved and what we humans should strive for. We are given this skewed picture of limited choices; monogamy, cheating or staying single. Most people will pick monogamy since most people want to be with someone and want to be honest. There is little to no discussion or suggestion that there might be something else possible; a way of relating beyond monogamy and infidelity. Committed relationships in which people are honest and open to other partners, or polyamory, is not even part of most people’s thought process.
As a young woman I never considered I had another choice despite the fact that I was often in love with and seeing more than one person. In the back of my mind I knew at some point I had to choose one person and settle down. Anything else was not even considered as it never entered my mind that I could do something else. When I did finally come to terms with the fact I was not monogamous by nature and that I no longer would lie about it, I believed that it meant I would be single and alone. For me I preferred that scenario to monogamy or cheating.
If our society recognized another possibility, another option, how many people would choose non-monogamy? We have what has been coined “compulsory monogamy” in our culture. Monogamy permeates our literature, music, movies and education. Entertainment media is full of love triangles, jealous rages and unfaithful spouses that always end in pain and hurt for those involved. We even go so far as to make jealous rage an excusable reason for violence and murder. This all makes for dramatic stories and gossip but where would we be as a culture if people were given another image, another possibility? Would Tiger Woods have chosen something else if it was culturally acceptable? Maybe, maybe not, but at least it would have been a conscious choice. Can we truly judge a man or woman for seeking sex outside a marriage when we give no other choice and most people are not naturally monogamous?
Polyamory, open relationships and swinging can come in many different configurations but these relationships share something in common. They are about choosing what relationship configuration works for you, consciously and honestly. Infidelity is hurtful but this is more about betraying trust than about the sex. Infidelity can be sexual or emotional and can happen in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships. It is really about not being honest and lying about relationships outside a committed partnership. Unfortunately this happens often in monogamy because we as a society in general do not know how to talk about emotions, desire and sexual needs.
Polyamory and other open relationship styles do require commitment and agreements. People in these relationships need to develop skills in negotiating boundaries and agreements as well as communicating their needs honestly. It is important to understand and recognize that people change, needs change and renegotiation is important in growing a relationship. Monogamous relationships also need these skills. In traditional monogamy however people often make assumptions that their partner wants what they want and they never actually ask. As a result these relationships go into a kind of auto pilot of day to day routine and many times people negate their needs, fail to communicate and become resentful. While multi-partnered relationships can have similar challenges, it is less common and by the nature of dealing with many people, things usually go south much faster when people fail to communicate honestly.
What would happen if relationship choice was part of our cultural makeup? What if people learned to be honest and communicate their desires? I know an awareness of choices would have made a world of difference in my life and my feelings about myself as a young woman. Would the Tiger Woods of the world choose something different? I believe many people would, though not all. I know that some people would consciously choose monogamy and not simply default into monogamy. Other people would choose swinging, polyamory or some other arrangement. I know others would still cheat simply for the thrill of getting away with something. Having choices would not get rid of infidelity but it might reduce it significantly. Having choices would save many people from the pain and hurt of broken trust and/or forcing oneself to be monogamous when it is not ones desire or nature to be so.
My hope is that all this media frenzy over infidelity and cheating initiates a real dialogue and an awareness of relationship choice will begin to emerge. Of course I am an optimist looking for anything that brings attention to the outdated mind set of one size fits all relationships. We can accept that some people like to live in Manhattan while others prefer a Nebraska farm in the middle of nowhere. I believe we can learn to respect that some people want a monogamous relationship for all time while others might want to commit to a network of twenty lovers. Relationships and the choices we make about them should be as unique as the people involved and can be when made with awareness, honestly and communication.
I personally wish Tiger and his family find the solutions that are right for them. I do not think less of him or more for that matter. He is a great golfer and sportsman. His personal relationships and marriage are none of my business. I hope that we can move on and the media can cover something that really matters like the continuing casualties in Iraq or the challenges with American jobs going overseas. These are things are worthy of our time and consideration.