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|The New Monogamy - Page 3|
The key to these arrangements, and what makes them meaningful within the framework of emotional commitment, is that there can be no secrecy between partners about the arrangements. The fidelity resides in the fact that these couples work out openly and together what will be and will not be allowed in their relationships with Party C, and maybe Parties D, E, and F. To couples engaged in the new monogamy, it isn't the outside sexual relationships themselves, but the attendant secrets, lies, denial, silences, and hidden rendezvous that make them so destructive to the marriage. Rightly or wrongly, today, many couples consider that honesty and openness cleanse affairs, rendering them essentially harmless.
But how does this actually work in practice? Does "being honest" solve all the problems arising when an outside person is brought inside the marriage? Are these couples just kidding themselves, while trying to have their cake and eat it, too?
The Monogamy Contract
Partners who define themselves as a couple (as opposed to two people who happen to hook up now and then, or who engage in what are understood to be short-term affairs, or "friends with benefits," as they're sometimes called) inevitably come to some kind of contract about monogamy—explicit, implicit, or both—whether they fully realize it or not.
The explicit monogamy agreement is what's said or committed to out loud by both and defines the partnership's overt rules, which usually forbid outside sexual and/or romantic involvements until death—of one party or the marriage itself. An explicit monogamy agreement can be a marriage vow that generally assumes and sometimes articulates both a personal and legal vow: we pledge our troth to one other person, not to one other person and whomever else we might individually fancy over the years.
We generally take this explicit contract very seriously, regardless of whether we break it at some point—we believe in it, even if we don't necessarily maintain it. In several polls researching adultery in different cultures around the world, reported by Pamela Druckerman in Lust in Translation: Infidelity from Tokyo to Tennessee, more than 80 percent of respondents indicated they thought infidelity was wrong. Of those who admitted to having been caught cheating, a majority said they didn't think of themselves as the "cheating kind." Apparently, even when we're committing infidelity, we don't like to think of ourselves as the kind of people who'd commit infidelity. In that wonderful capacity for double-think so characteristic of our species, we can be unfaithful while believing quite sincerely that unfaithful is what other people are. When we make an explicit vow to be monogamous, we fully intend to keep it, even though many of us don't.
However, the implicit monogamy agreement or understanding between the couple is different from the spoken, explicit monogamy agreement and may never be discussed at all. Often based on cultural mores, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), traditional sex roles, family background, and personal moral values, the implicit agreement may never be openly visited before the commitment ceremony, or even after. Indeed, each partner may hold a different, even opposing, understanding of what the agreement is, and different expectations about the commitment each has made. For example, implicit monogamy agreements include, "We promise to be faithful until one of us grows tired of the other," or "I know you won't cheat, but I probably will," or (traditionally a woman's vow) "I'll be faithful, but you won't because you're a guy," or "We'll be faithful except for a little swinging when we go on vacation."