The gap between passionate, everlasting, all-consuming romance and meaningless rutting remains relatively unexplored by the publishing and film industries but, to paraphrase John Lennon, a great many people live in that gap. In real life, there is a superabundance of romance, friendship, partnership, sex and adventure to be had, and the truly terrible thing about shop-bought love in pretty packages is that it makes it seem that human feeling is a scarce resource. Which is just another reason why neoliberalism ruins everything.
In real life, human love is not a scarce resource. I don’t mean to advocate casual sex, housing collectives and late nights drinking bad vodka with bisexual activists as alternatives that necessarily work for everyone, though they’ve always done so for me. The point is that the three Ms – marriage, mortgage and monogamy – do not work for everyone, either, and there’s no reason why they should.
The people for whom Love™ works – and I really feel as if saying this might get me shot with heart-tipped Tasers by the love police – are in the minority. Now that we are not obliged to choose between celibate loneliness and yoking ourselves for ever to a person we may grow to despise, most people’s lives contain many important relationships, and sometimes those relationships fade or fizzle out. That may not fit in with the dominant ideology – that monogamous marriage is the only possible healthy way to live, love and distribute welfare benefits – but it’s a more accurate map of the human heart, which is not a cartoon symbol, but a complicated tangle of meat and blood.
The generation currently reaching adulthood in Europe and America is the first generation whose parents are as likely to have been divorced as they are to have been married or cohabiting.14 Being raised by a married couple is no longer the norm.15 No wonder increasing numbers of young people are exploring other options – polyamory, open relationships, extended circles of chosen family and fuckbuddies – and doing so in a way that’s fundamentally different to the free love experiments of the past. It’s as much about ethics as it is about drug-addled fuckfests though these are pleasant in their proper place.
Me, I believe in monogamy in much the same way as I believe in, say, cheese on toast. I’ll eat it, but only for very special people, and not for every meal. There are other interesting and delicious toast options out