Whoever invented monogamy should be shot. I mean, only being able to have sex with one person for the rest of your life just isn’t natural, is it? Surely sex is one of life’s great adventures: something that grows and blossoms like a flower; something to be shared and then discovered anew with different people. T.S. Eliot once said we measure out our lives in coffee spoons. But isn’t the truth that we measure our lives by the quantity and quality of the lovers we’ve had? If you only manage one or two dull, uninspired bed-mates in your life it’s all been a bit of a failure, hasn’t it? Ah, but what about love, I hear you say…
When I was in my 20s I discovered at least one truth about love. It happened one night in a pub in Bradford when a mate turned up with a “girlfriend” we had never seen before, a woman he had met and was now “living with” in London. When she had slipped to the toilet he blurted something out: “Jane is really great. I love her…but I’m not in love with her”. Ah, there’s the rub. The difference between the two is paramount, Hollywood even. The question is then, how do you stay in love with the same person for donkey’s years? Doesn’t passion always turn to routine and couples turn into something more akin to brother and sister? Surely sex is a spark, an electric rush that is ignited by novelty, secrecy, newness, naughtiness.
In Brazil it is quite common to meet middle-aged couples who have been together since they were at school. Admirable, you might say – enviable even. No horrid break-ups to go through, no cringing jealousy to suffer, just a long solid slice of togetherness. Sweet. But hang on a minute – don’t they ever fantasize about sleeping with somebody else? Have they managed to shut their eyes to any tempting, sexy beings who pass their way? Or have they conditioned themselves to stop fancying other people, to think about something else, to have a cold shower and read some poetry?
It’s a funny world. Now we have realised that monogamy is a shibboleth of organised religion, a dictate of the church – a lie no less – why don’t we just put it all behind us and start having multiple partners? Well, some brave people tried that in the 1960s – open marriages they called it. Didn’t work. Why? Because somebody got jealous, somebody’s ego just couldn’t handle it. In the end open marriages became normal marriages again, only with somebody else. Our romantic love has to be focused on one person only. It just isn’t possible to love two people at the same time. Or is it?
When I was in my 20s (again), there was one unforgettable Christmas in Bradford when I found myself in the delightful and unrepeatable position of having three women on the go. Perhaps I was just a scoundrel, I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that I loved them all in my own way. If I had been forced to choose one it would have been very difficult. I was lucky, though. If a woman has several partners she gets labelled as loose – tarnished in some way. When a man does it he’s a stud, a kind of hero, someone to be envied. Funny that. Perhaps that goes back to the bible, too.
Of course, when you get older you have children and then you are responsible for a family; the goalposts have changed. The family is something sacred, hallowed turf from which it is scandalous and disreputable to stray. But that’s only because we accept it as such. There is nothing “natural” about the family unit because there is nothing natural about modern society. Indeed, the family unit can be seen as an incredibly conservative institution, something that fits nicely with the individualism and materialism which prop up capitalism. Perhaps that is something we just have to live with “for the sake of the children”. Nobody wants to be the first to start a revolution, or try another open marriage.
So, the greatest challenge in life – fidelity – is one we just have to accept, along with rotting teeth. We have to constantly stop and check ourselves from going a step too far with someone we fancy because we are married or “spoken for”. When we, the faithful, get to the end of our lives, I hope we can look back with great pride and self-righteousness; I hope we will say “we didn’t succumb to temptation, we didn’t give in”.
The former Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, was asked near the end of his life if he regretted anything. “Not enough sex”, he said. As he had been married and had several lovers in his time, I suppose he meant “not enough sex with different people”. You see, love and sex are wonderful things, but there’s just not enough of them in our lives.
“Speak for yourself” I hear you say. Well, in writing this I seem to have learned at least two things about myself: 1) I fall in love too easily; 2) I’m a coward.