Living under affective starvation.

I don’t think I’m saying anything new if I say that monogamy is a constant source of vexation for most married couples. It’s also a bromide to point out that half of marriages end in divorce, and that a successful marriage is one that ends in death. These are all accepted facts, but who ever talks about ending monogamy? In our societies, that’s a bizarre position at best.

Monogamy is historically founded on a right to ownership of men over women, and is based on the irrational belief that a person can love one person, and only one person, for the rest of their life. Not only is monogamy an integral part of the Patriarchy, but it is a laughable, hollow lie. That’s why it’s a profound failure.

The alternative, according to most people, is cheating, especially men cheating on their wives. But this is a stupid alternative, since cheating is hurtful. We know this is a social construct, since there are cultures where cheating is not considered hurtful, but we do not live in such a culture.

And then there’s Dan Savage’s “monogamish” bullshit: that we should prop up the lie of monogamy by tempering it with some cheating, as long as that cheating has been agreed upon as acceptable by both members of the couple. Of course a sex-positive porn-supporting gay man would come up with a cockamamie idea like that; besides, he knows what sells.

Because women are more likely to need their spouse’s financial support, cheating has typically gone in their disfavor, which is why radical feminists generally oppose opening relationships up or attacking cheating as a social construct. I agree with the argument, and therefore that can’t be the way to go either, or at least not before we have an egalitarian society.

One obvious solution is homosexuality, but I don’t want to get into the whole “political lesbian” controversy, so I will let lesbians talk about their own experiences and solutions, and talk only about heterosexuality since that’s what I know.

Monogamy is undesirable, but under societies with roughly even sex ratios, polygamy and polyandry are both raw deals as well. None of these traditional arrangements are a solution to the failure of monogamy.

My first principle is this:

We should be suspicious of any attempt to codify or standardize human relations (whether sexual or otherwise).

I think this can be seen as a corollary to Chomsky’s Principle (that we should by default treat all hierarchies as unjustified unless they can be shown to be justified), insofar as we live in a world of hierarchical institutions and that human relations, especially sexual relations, cannot be dissociated from that fact.

So when people tell you that their defined and codified sexual arrangement (*ahem* BDSM *ahem*) is desirable and justifiable, that should raise a red flag right away.

Now, I am not saying that we should reject any such attempt no matter the evidence presented; what I am saying is that we should be suspicious by default and refuse to accept it unless evidence is presented.

But let’s go beyond this and make the crucial observation that we live in a starvation economy. Yes, I am aware that the concept comes from the book The Ethical Slut, and I do not endorse this book (while I see no value in monogamy, I don’t think run-of-the-mill sex-positivity is a valid answer either), but I think there is a lot of truth to this concept.

Basically, the concept of the starvation economy is that we live in a social context where our relations are so rigidly codified that we have to make do without a lot of support, affection or sex that we would otherwise have. A person can only be your family, your friends, or your sexual partners, there’s not really any in-between. Sure, you can pay for sex, you can pay for someone to listen to you, and nowadays you can pay for cuddling services, but there are serious emotional, financial and ethical reasons not to use those services.

What we’re talking about here is artificial scarcity, similar to capitalism. In capitalism, most exchanges must be quantified with amounts of money, therefore the quantity and distribution of money provides the rationing mechanism under capitalism; through this mechanism, most people can’t consume as much value as they help produce.

Likewise, under our relational system, most people can’t get as much affection as they are able to provide to others. We are stuck pursuing sexual relationships because they are our main means of access to affection, and there are limited numbers of possible sexual relationships because of monogamy. We do not recognize this as starvation because it’s normal, and normality does not trigger any alarms no matter how fucked up it is.

This is my second principle:

The current codification of social relations creates affective starvation.

I don’t really have a solution to this state of affairs, but it seems to me that destroying marriage and the family structure would be a good start.

8 thoughts on “Living under affective starvation.

  1. ellahawthorne100 September 9, 2014 at 06:41

    Shulamith Firestone has some interesting ideas about changing the family structure from nuclear family to group home, and from changing marriage licenses to “contracts” that only last five years and then have to be renewed. Those are some interesting concepts.

    • Francois Tremblay September 9, 2014 at 14:20

      In the Subgenius, we already have temporary marriages. :)
      I’m afraid they are not legal anywhere, though… but it is a great idea!

  2. Heretic September 9, 2014 at 13:15

    I’m surprised having children wasn’t mentioned as a huge reason why many marriages are doomed to failure. Women aren’t allowed to cheat not only because they’re their husbands property but to ensure the children they have are their husbands and continue his bloodline, carry his last name. And the work of chores and childrearing (plus probably working two or three jobs) falls on their shoulders to occupy their time and energy, especially for poor women (upper-class women can screw the gardener or pool boy while the nanny takes care of the children). Women aren’t in the mood for sex when they’ve spent all day cleaning up after children and then the husband’s excuses for cheating and prostitution come in: “my wife has gained weight and has stretch marks after having children” “my wife is never in the mood for sex anymore.” Gee, ya think? Boo fucking hoo, asshole!

    Perhaps my biggest gripe with monogamy is that apparently sharing affection with someone is tantamount to cheating. There are STILL people who (not even Muslim) believe that men and women cannot be friends without sex eventually happening between them. But I still think polygamy (now rebranded as polyamory) is a way of hedging women.

    It’s ironic that polyamory is (from my experiences anyway) so encouraged by people who are already married – wanting multiple sex partners but without letting go of the benefits of (heterosexual) marriage, and it tends to be one partner why is poly and tries to convince the other. They then have the gall to claim that “everyone loves each other equally” when they have a primary partner they’re married to! Or there are johns encouraging prostitution as a way of holding on to their failed marriages or avoiding accountability in relationships. How about not getting married in the first place, if it can be avoided? And not having children? I’ve been a fan for a while of If it can actually happen, then it won’t be just privileged people who can avoid marriage.

    I have to wonder if living together is such a great idea either because couples share and invest in things together that make it so difficult to extricate themselves (this is only increased with marriage). I have friends who as soon as they start shacking up only go on double dates and group parties ever after (this and getting married happens when they’re in their 30s) . Their social lives are effectively killed, but I suspect it’s because the females are seen in relation to their male partners as always “we” and “us.”

    • Francois Tremblay September 9, 2014 at 14:27

      I definitely agree that the marriage privilege needs to be either destroyed or given to everyone. That would be a good first step.

      As for having children being bad for marriage, as an antinatalist and childfree I’m not gonna disagree with you on that one. :) Yes, having children would be an incredibly big stress on any relationship, I would think. Having a child makes their lives not only unhappier, but makes it less desirable to divorce as well, forcing them to stay unhappy long term.

  3. L June 26, 2015 at 04:02

    The next time someone in my family starts asking me about why I’m not married, I’m just gonna send them to this article
    I feel like sooo many fairytales end with “they got married and lived happily ever after.” As grown ups, we still buy into this idea: that living happily really can’t happen without a lifelong commitment to one person.

    If anything, this focus on marriage seems to cause a lot of misery: we have to spend a lot of time competing for mates and getting someone to put a ring on it, we have to stay in unhappy (and sometimes dangerous, abusive marriages ) because we made a commitment; friends no longer matter b/c you have a husband/wife; we have to deal with the judgement that comes from getting divorced and “failing” at marriage and etc.

    As a woman, I would love to see less of a focus on marriage/romantic relationships as an important goal (esp in kids/teen literature that is geared towards girls).

    What do you think of just open relationships ( not the Savage mongamish) or friends with benefits? Or short-term monogamous relationships where the relationship does not have any elevated status because it includes some sexual element?

    • Francois Tremblay June 26, 2015 at 08:58

      I agree entirely! And I think all of those relational forms are better than what we have now. Especially the short-term relationships, that’s very Subgenius of you. :)

      Open relationships are a great idea, I think, as long as both parties trust their partner. Trust, I think, is the primary factor…

      • L June 27, 2015 at 02:40

        It seems as though lots of people are already rejecting lifelong monogamy by delaying marriages, legal separations and getting divorced. (I may be wrong about this but isn’t divorce more common on a global scale-not just in place like the US and Canada?)

        Until we really change how we think about sex, I think women are going to continue to favor marriage not only for the financial aspect (which you mentioned) but because they don’t want to be treated like sexual conquests or trophies. My feeling is that if more women felt that their romantic partners respected them as human beings, then they would not push for marriage or long-term commitment for sexual stuff to happen.

        When you say in the article that you see no value in’re referring to marriage or long-term monogamy, right?

        • Francois Tremblay June 27, 2015 at 03:41

          Basically, yea. I see no value in the concept that two people decide that they alone should fulfill their partner’s affective and sexual needs. It’s just delusional thinking.

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