I’m not interested in finding the ‘one’.
I want to find the 3, 5, 10.
Let me explain.
For me, monogamy is dying. Slowly choking on its own promises of happily ever after and fulfillment from a single soul, which is an overbearing and unfair expectation to place on any person at any given time.
Let me clarify further.
There are different types of monogamy: social, emotional, physical.
From Wikipedia page on monogamy: "According to the Ethnographic Atlas, of 1,231 societies from around the world noted, 186 were monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry."
Out of 1,231 societies surveyed, 15% are monogamous. That leaves 85% of the world in a different space than our large, conservative society where it seems an imperative to only mate with one human for your adult life, despite the more than 50% divorce rate of the United States.
Let’s go deeper.
Physical monogamy is defined as: the practice or state of being married to one person at a time, OR the practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner.
Essentially, promising that your physical body can and will only belong to one other human during the span of your commitment, usually via marriage, sometimes through a relationship. The promise that your body will only touch one other body during the duration of your decision to have a bond either through word or a state sanctioned ceremony.
Let's get to the center.
Emotional monogamy. The notion that one person can provide for you everything that you need to feel emotionally secure and heard. But can anyone person do this, and the better question, why rely on one person to do so?
So, here the heart: I no longer have a desire for emotional monogamy. Physical monogamy? Maybe. But are the two intertwined? Possibly, or not at all.
Let me rewind.
I had a conversation with a lovely friend recently that cemented my desire to detangle myself from the notion that one person could provide for me what I have been taught to seek from romantic relationships. In describing her current relationship, she commented that she no longer sought emotional validation from the constant person in her life, with whom she happened to have an open relationship, and where they were present in each other’s lives an average of one day a week. Instead, she has learned to seek her emotional affirmations from a variety of sources, sourcing out her needs to a multitude of friends who could support her in various ways, and her happiness shone. A light bulb went off. I recently find myself divorced after a ten-year relationship, one where I clearly had entwined all of needs into expectation that my ex-husband could meet ALL of them, because, you know, our culture of monogamy, and specifically, the familial culture I have been raised to follow.
My grandparents, who I admired, had a relationship that I would now categorize as ‘complicated’, with my grandmother being a teetotaler Catholic, and my grandfather an alcoholic, depressed, likely philandering, atheist. When I reflect, I recognize that there was ‘love’ between them, a very complex adoration weaved by the expectations of society and the times in which they lived. But superseding the love, in my current view, would be the trauma that resulted from some of the lifestyle of addiction and hurtful choices that were often made by my grandfather and placed squarely on the shoulders of my grandmother. Yet, she rarely complained, bottling up all her tension and disappointment, and teaching me, unconsciously, that it was better to keep the hurtful aspects of my life private and to myself. Now, looking back, I wonder if she had confidants, or people who helped her navigate such rocky terrain, but I suspect not. It was merely an expectation that relationships carry enough emotional generosity to fulfill whatever needs were required, although I surmise many fell short, with women bearing the emptiness of those disenchantments.
But this conversation helped me realize how ridiculous that ideal was, both for my ex-husband and myself. The notion that one person could possibly fulfill all the emotional aspects of who I am, deep and rich, yearning and content, was laughable, especially considering the gradual dissolution of my marriage. Why should I even want to seek such gratification in one source, when he was not prepared to meet those needs in their entirety, as it was an impossible task?
I am so many women from day to day, hour to hour, minute to minute. Should it not make greater sense then, that those women, each her own distinct person with her own distinct needs, would require emotional validation that would differ? Shouldn’t I need a collection of support that would change and transition according to my needs?
And if I need this for my emotional self, what about the corporeal? Is it truly advantageous to be engaged physically with a single person for a point of time? What is monogamy if nothing more than us slowly tightening the noose around our many selves, hoping that they will merge into what we hope will be one? But if that one cannot hold us all, then how can we hope to breathe, or survive such physical poverty?
It’s not easy to seek such emotional support outside of a traditional relationship. Jealousy typically rears its ugly, misshapen head. Those who are not providing the support being sought often feel that they are somehow inferior, being unable to fulfill all the aspects necessary for wholeness. It takes a person of specific maturity and security to feel comfortable allowing a person with whom they have a commitment, even if tacit, to seek a validation they might not be able to provide. But I posture that this is what we should all be striving for: the notion that we can all find what we need emotionally, even if it doesn’t fit in the nice paper bag of what we consider a typical partnership.
As for the physical, I think this is a question of preference, and security. Are you invulnerable enough that you would feel comfortable in a relationship where you knew someone else might have access to the same physical intimacy you share with someone? Or does that thought make your blood run cold? Do you seek variety, because monotony stifles you? Or are you content with reestablishing a constant, deeper reconnection with one person in the hopes it will sustain and delight?
My personal logic purports that physical monogamy might be better sustained if emotional polygamy is employed. If you can love a multitude of people in different ways, and they show you the same care and attention that meets your needs to be a self-sustained, happy individual, wouldn’t it make sense that if you have a greater connection with a sole individual, that it would allow for increased intimacy? How free would you be to give yourself in your entirety to one person if you have been given so much in numerous, alternative sentiments?
Or maybe not. Perhaps seeking emotional validation in many places leads to hunger for greater experience, greater possibilities. Maybe we are all insatiable, but some of us are just more advanced at controlling such desire without feeling the same deprivation and loss.
Regardless of whether the physical merges or diverts from the emotional, such heart support is an essential part of our human survival. Studies of attachment in babies show this clearly: we need to feel loved, to feel close to our species, in order to become well adjusted, human adults. But like infants, maybe it does not have to come from one source, but can be provided by many. I believe it is more important to receive what is suitable in the realm of love, rather than only receive it from one person who may not be capable of actualizing our myriad needs within its bounds. In that regard, we might be nothing more than babes, seeking what we require from wherever we can find it provided best, and we should honor the needs of such primal infancy, even if polygamy is the path to satisfy.
you run into your ex-husband at the grocery store as he shops for Thanksgiving, as you shop for Thanksgiving, and it hits you, the full emotional wall that this is the first ‘post-divorce’ family holiday, his cart full of what he will cook in your absence, your cart full of what you will cook in his. it is not that you miss him, rather the void of the collective unit, knowing you will spend it without your youngest children, that this fracture will be felt to the marrow of your bones. you check out in separate aisles, ignoring that you ever loved each other, and as you walk to the car with your ten year old son, you briefly feel water attempt to collect in your eyes, but you refuse to cry in front of him and have him bear that burden, so you blink the back the woe. you arrive home, put away the groceries, feed the kids, change into exercise gear, pop in headphones, and lay out a mat. your body begins to warm as you move, as you roll every joint, head to toe, preparing for the workout ahead. then the real challenge begins, and you are deadlifting steel, lunge, squat, press, plank, scissors…repeat. repeat. repeat. until sweat rolls over inch of your body, collecting in dips and valleys, your cheeks flush and rosy. you feel your muscles pull and shove, stretched and taut, squeezing out all the sorrow, liquefying your grief, leaking it out of every pore so you can wipe it away.
you begin to feel lighter, stronger, powerful. your mind collects a list of all the things you are grateful for in this moment: losing fifty pounds of gathered gloom that you used as physical protection from the emotionally stifling marriage of the past ten years, the muscle you have built in its disappearance, how beautiful you feel in your own skin for the first time in...?
the workout is over, and you are breathing deeply, inhaling rapidly, feeling your lungs expand, the pang of your well worked tissue emanating in waves, the reward for your endurance, the payoff for moving forward. you take a bandana and swipe at your forehead, swabbing the watery heartache that you have expelled, proud he no longer induces your tears, instead becoming the origin of your sweat, the source of the grit you never knew you had until he was gone.
It sets off alarms
gives off a chemical trail
from my groin
I get waved aside,
and she clinically explains
how she will violate my
the safety of all
those around me
She puts her hand in my waistband,
rolling past my belly button
then sweeps in lines
across the private triangle,
down the inner thigh,
first the front,
then rear, repeat
As the backs of her knuckles
rake across my jeans
I think of all the fingers
that have swiped my cunt
in a similar fashion
I channel all the women
who have felt the same,
whose bodies recoil
come without consent
They test my hands
she tests her hands
still it registers as unknown danger
She takes me to a table,
asks me if I prefer a
for when she explores me
I shake my head ‘no’
Do it in public,
in the light of day,
where everyone is forced
to watch your hands
sliding across the
hills of my breast,
the slope of my groin
the curve of my legs
I want nothing of
Finally, my pussy is cleared as a ‘danger’
Perhaps it was my body’s
a powerful reminder of
all the babies I will never touch,
or the scent of the first time someone
inserted themselves into
my body and heart,
or the times when men
carelessly scratched at my interior
or forced their way into
my most sacred space to
desecrate it from
the inside out
Perchance it’s just the weeping
of my vagina
for all the times
men sought oppress its nature,
beyond their grasp,
a magic they
It will never
belong to them,
its untamable energy refusing,
no matter how much
they will it,
to sit in the corner and
just, “be quiet”
Don’t they know by now
it’s where we stash our power
where our supremacy sits
how it galvanizes us
the goddesses we are
This organ refuses silence
I am not here to fulfill your needs, desires, pleasure, and fantasies
You cannot own what you do not understand
You cannot take what isn’t yours
You cannot take what isn’t yours
You will not take what isn’t yours
But possibly, my snatch secretly plots
while I sleep
building bombs out
of its juices, static electricity
and sheer nerve
because it’s smart, this pussy
it knows exactly
how ready we are
for this world
fashioned by men,
sculpted from female flesh
and our anguish,
how ready we are
to have it blown
Fog fascinates me. Thick, rolling, my overactive imagination conjuring witches and werewolves running through its white tapestry. I love its descent, how it magically climbs from forest and sky, and just lays itself upon the landscape like a lover, comfortable touching every curve and opening. Something about its supernatural quality speaks to my heart about trust, and longing, and understanding that the world can’t always be our interpretation of what we want it to be.
There is something to be said about trusting in mystery, and having faith when you can’t see around every corner. I once heard a shaman speak about what it felt like for him to awaken from the ‘dark night of the soul’, and he described it as running through a field with his eyes closed, arms splayed to his side, trusting that the way before him was open. I both love and fear walking in the fog, particularly at night, hearing noises echo and bounce, their origin hidden from my view. The allure to wander into its ivory cloak is powerful. It makes my pulse quicken, my senses become heightened, and I feel this otherworldly connection to a part of me that often lies in shelter, because as a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, the notion of unpredictably is so hard to swallow.
As I reflect on my journey as a woman, I realize that (and if you know me well, you hear this frequently) ambiguity is something that I have come to despise. In a world where culture still leans to whisper in our ears subservient, conflicting messages of how we should be, look, act, fuck, and live, I feel that it becomes of even greater importance that I understand decisiveness, can look it in the eye, and choose with dignity and ferocity. It has taken me 41 years to arrive in a space where I can feel, with a whole heart, that I am who I am, and if you don’t like my look, what I represent, how I live, or who I love, you can pretty much fuck off and go your own way, and we will both likely be happier for it.
Imagine that constant conflict, wanting to know and feel the stability of having a path that lies clear before me, and feeling the yearning of wanting to be enveloped in the unknown. It is so hard for my heart to let secrecy be a part of my life’s magic, because I was taught that secrets are for holding onto to moments that thrashed and scarred me from the inside out. It is so excruciating to trust in things that are obscure, when it such things that have damaged your soul the most. You’re left feeling like the internal compass of your instinct is forever broken, and that you are incapable of reading people for who they are: can you really sense good? Can you see the bad coming, when it was so obvious yet allusive before? Can you read another soul and see them for who they are, and trust your gut without constantly questioning that voice along the way?
It hits my relationships the hardest, both platonic and romantic. I don’t do well with friends who are fair weather, because I am staunchly loyal and lucid. And I struggle with indecisive lovers, because I am perspicuous, and the notion of balancing more than one person in an amorous association is out of the question for me. I don’t compartmentalize and parcel my emotions, spreading myself across multiple hearts. If I offer myself to you, it is everything I have to proffer, and I will share it without hesitation. I give my all, body and soul, and just don’t know how to offer less.
I don’t know how to be when things are equivocal, and the road ahead is covered in a thick, white gauze. I am captivated by its mystique, and terrified by what could happen along the way. Sometimes I question why I feel such devotion: what wouldn’t I give to descend into the fog, allowing my twisted intuition to guide me, allowing my heart to blindly lead the way? What wouldn’t I surrender to be a woman whose soul could be that free, who could afford the luxury of ambivalence? Yet, I recognize that my capacity for feeling is directly proportionate to what I devote. The more that I relinquish of myself to one person, the deeper I dive into the catacombs of my own passion. There is no superficiality. Each joy arrives wrapped in bliss, each ache is a knife that brings its own remembrance. I do not stretch myself in bit and pieces, parceled out slowly and carefully depending on the recipient. I could not bear to tear my soul apart to spare my heart. Anything except the totality of all I am feels counterfeit. The fog is merely water disguised as mist, and how it smolders in the light of my sun.
I hear my daughter before I see her, can hear the breathlessness before she appears, the attempts to take huge gulps of air that will not move into her body. I hear her sister ask if she’s okay, and I rush around the corner, meeting her as she stumbles the last step, her body begging for oxygen. It is the sound of someone trying to breath underwater, when the lungs cannot be filled but the body still wants more. It is as deafening as a scream and as quiet as a whisper.
I remember Sacajawea, the weight of her tiny body in my hand, how she folded up like she was back in the womb. Her fur was velvet, the hair tickling my palm as I carried her. She was grey and ivory, with light colored eyes that shone with curiosity and joy. She was beautiful, kind, and loving. She would leap up behind you and curl her torso around your neck, her paws digging gently into the shoulders, giving a light massage as she purred. She would settle in this way, like a muffler, warming the spirit, spreading love.
I slap her back, turning her head to the floor, folding her body in half, trying desperately to dislodge whatever it is that has cut off her air supply. The gurgling continues, and I can feel her energy without having to look at her, knowing that there is only so long that the brain can sustain without oxygen, only so many seconds that it can sit in depravity before its cells begin apoptosis, bursting and dying from their own longing.
I remember the rasp that emanated from the kitten’s throat, like someone grating basalt on steel, her breath sucking in and out in gasps, hearing the air whistle, her neck dangling where once it sat strong, tiny patches of blood seeping from undetectable wounds. How we pulled her from underneath the rocking chair, the one she always wanted to lie beneath, this time acting like an inefficient guillotine to her vertebrae, merely fracturing but not severing.
Her lips start turning blue, there are strings of saliva beginning to drip from her pouty lips as her small chest heaves and fights for what it needs to survive. I wrap my arms around her waist, placing my fists below her rib cage, pulling in with as much force as I think she can take without breaking her. I yell to call 911. Over and over I force my palms into her diaphragm, and every time I am unsuccessful, I get a moment of dread where I smell death, and I beg and plead in my mind, “Please don’t take her like this, not in my arms.”
We take Sacajawea to the bathroom, her blood leaving tiny circles on the wood stained floor, gently setting her body on the counter top. Everyone is high, and no one knows what to do. It’s a Sunday, midnight, in a tiny New Hampshire town, and the nearest animal hospital is about an hour away. The kitten’s breath takes on a new heaviness, and tiny, red bubbles froth from one of her wounds. Her neck is broken, she is beyond repair.
I continue to pump into her body with my fists, and with every thrust, I am forcing every ounce of love and memory into her belly. A collage of memories float through my mind in succession, unstoppable: her birth, the feeling of her tiny, infant body as it warmed my chest, the heat of her body when she crawls into bed with me still, seeking comfort and heat, wrapping her lanky arms around my back, hugging me close. I begin to calculate the time: how long until 911 can respond? How long until she might lose consciousness? How long until…
The kitten is going to die. It is inevitable. Her breath tells us this in shallow gasps, but she seems determined to fight until she can draw no more. Watching her is excruciating. A decision is made that her suffering needs to end. Her owner collapses on the floor in grief and tears. Her sister, the one who was sitting in the rocker, eyes her from the doorway, water collecting in splashes on her shirt. That leaves me, and my friend Adrian. He volunteers to take the kitten to the river. I offer to go along for support.
Again, over and over, my palms plunge into her midsection. Over and over, I am met with silence when I want to hear the sharp intake of air. She is drooling more, strands falling to meet the floor, encapsulating soft, pink candy specks that stain the tile in darkness. I look to my left and see my older son, standing helpless, not knowing what to do or how to be. I move my head forward and my older daughter and younger son have both called 911 and are speaking to dispatch. I hear bits and pieces float by my ears, “my sister…choking…she’s 6…come…”
We crawl down the slope to the river bank, Sacajawea wrapped in a plaid scarf, slipping over the rocks. The air around us hangs in a humid shroud, and we can hear crickets as we slowly place our steps. Softly murmuring, the Contoocook River flows at a clip, meandering and pausing upon the shore. We reach the water’s edge, and the kitten is still managing to breath, still wanting to live. Adrian unwraps her from the scarf and holds her body above the water, preparing to plunge her underneath. His eyes fill with tears, and he blubbers like a baby. He repeats, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” The kitten, sensing his hesitation, begins to gurgle, the suck of the air more and more labored, and attempts to issue a horrendous, sharp meow. She is suffering.
My arms are feeling tired and ineffective, and I worry I might break her ribs. I muster another heave, and this time, I am rewarded with the sound I am longing for: sputtering. I hear her breath move into her throat in a hoarse whoosh. I am still not convinced she is breathing, so I pump again with my fists, and she coughs, spit falling from her mouth onto the floor, air permeating the lungs. I ask her, “Can you breathe?” and she nods ‘yes’. I tell the older kids that she’s okay, and to call off the emergency dispatch. I envelope my daughter in my arms and she bursts into tears, big droplets pouring down her cheeks, allowing the fear of death’s specter to weep from her body. My muscles begin to shake as I hold her, the adrenaline racing through my veins, sweeping every inch of my body. I lift her and take her into the kitchen, inspecting where fists pounded into her flesh, taking a paper towel from the counter to dry her face and the spittle from the corners of her mouth. Her eyes look straight into mine, and I see how intertwined my own mortality is with her being. I feel the invisible strings between my heart and hers, the ones, that if severed, would leave me as fatally wounded; the ones, that if snapped, would bust me, too.
Adrian sits on the rocks with the kitten in his lap, his face buried in his thick hands. I gently lift her body, so fragile and light, because I cannot bear the wailing another moment. I walk carefully and steadily to the water, bringing the kitten close to the river’s surface, reflecting the dark night and an opal sheen from the moon. I hear her inhale one more time, then I sink her body, breaking the skin of the water, her body thrashing out of instinct, but barely moving. I feel tiny jerks, bubbles rising to the surface where her mouth sits below, the twitches lessening and slowing, until her body issues silence, and the water’s surface is again smooth and untouched. In that moment, I feel her energy rise, like a jolt that makes my hairs stand on end, and then it’s gone. She’s gone. I wonder what Sacajawea sees in her last moments. My face? Her mother’s? The moon? Hot tears crease my cheeks as my hands sit submerged in the icy water. I hate that she died cold. I carefully float her to the surface, wrapping her soaked body in the scarf, as if it matters now. I hold her tiny body, hugging it next to mine. Then I place her back in the river, letting go, watching her become one with the current, watching the river continue to move despite death at its doorstep.
I contemplate dimensions, slits in the fabric of time and space, all the tiny choices we make every second of every day that draw us closer together or further apart. In my dreams, I see Sacajawea’s eyes turn to stone, the luster dulling as her spirit exited her form. I wonder if there is another outcome in the universe, or several, all running alongside each other like television channels playing different programs at the same time. In this one, she is dead. In another, does she pass from old age, a grown cat, in the arms of her owner? In yet another, has she never left her mother, curled up next to her abdomen? Perhaps she herself is a mother, has a litter of kittens, and she is introduced to the same pain I taste in watching my children grow.
I see the eyes of my daughter, panicked and frantic, desperate to breathe. I think of the same parallel moments, that maybe in another path she has exited the world, and I am left to hold her still body in my arms, watching my heart shatter into slivers so tiny it will never be repaired. I feel my heart clench around itself, creating a barrier from the thoughts that persist as I toss and turn, because to face them feels like a burden I can’t bear to hold.
Why do we love anyone with depth if the pain of loss can reach into so deeply that we feel scooped out from the inside, as if we are empty? How is it our hearts can bear to reach out and intertwine with others, if the potential cost of watching them leave in a thousand different scenarios, is our own wholeness? Are our elastic hearts capable of stretching enough to hold and carry pain to the point they explode? How do you keep your heart at arm’s length, distancing joy and love, and still feel human? How do you forsake love, continuing to move through the world, without choking on your own loneliness? How do you say no to love and manage to breathe?
I can’t bear the thought of losing her, and I can’t stand the notion of not loving her. If I tasted her mortality, I might shatter into microscopic shards, never fully picking up all the pieces to have a full heart. But if I guard myself from emotion and love, I turn to impassive, cold stone, and my heart suffocates a tiny bit each second.
Here is what I know:
I would rather be broken.
My heart yearns to breathe.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...