Monday, February 05, 2007

Speaking to Post-monogamy

negotiations between
members of hook-ups

I was listening to Austin City Limits and the band that came on was called Rilo Kiley. I'm culturally backward enough that they were new to me. Since I was working, I listened with only half an ear. Toward the end of the set they sang a song that I started to notice the words and then the words haunted me. I had Tivoed the show and rewound and relistened to pick out more words. Google provided the full lyrics. The song was "Does He Love You?"

The song tells the story of with two women who are close friends. One moves away from California, finds a man with whom she gets pregnant and marries. The second woman writes and in the correspondence reveals that she, too has met a man, but that he's married. The gotcha is that the married man is her friend's husband. The non-California woman doesn't know the California woman has snaked her man, but she does hear her husband on the telephone promise to leave his wife and goto California. She, in turn, calls her California friend, not knowing her role in the tragedy. I've done the lyrics poor justice, you should read them for yourself.

The eternal triangle: the stuff of a thousand stories. As I thought through the lyrics and thought through the mindset and culture behind the lyrics. My first thought was, "polygamy would solve this problem (while creating several new ones)." A more serious thought had to do with the impermanence of marriage in our society. Singles don't lightly enter into marriage and seem to spend extended period of "hooking up" before they do. But when singles do marry, their unmarried peers float around like free radicals that might disrupt the marriages that do form.

It's common to think that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and that this younger generation is all fouled up, then reflect fondly upon the virtues long ago. "Ah, the good old days, when men were men, and women were property." In my youth, the Women's Movement asserted that the patriarchy's institution of Marriage was hopelessly sexist and the Liberated woman would do well to avoid it. Society compromised and the no-fault divorce became popular and one was honor-bound to leave a marriage that interfered with one's self-actualization. Or maybe you should ignore a marriage if your special someone is already married.

It seems this is the mindset when I read the lyrics of "Does He Love You." Hook up if it's useful. Hook up with someone else if things change. In the song, the lyrics are from the perspective of the women. The male is depicted as moving from mating partner to mating partner so as to spread his seed as widely as possible. This thinking is post-monogamous.

The result is a an extended series of negotiations between the sexes that are completely alien to old fogies like me raised in a monogamous culture. But the negotiations are a normal consequence of people taking a utilitarian approach toward life and relationships without the constraint that marriage be permanent.

My daughter came back from college over the weekend. She's become disenchanted with her church and trying others. She's annoyed with the pastor who's from a broken home and who seems to make a focus of that brokenness in his or her ministry. "Enough of the sociology already, let's hear some bible teaching." What a great daughter I have. Conversely, I've heard a lot of folks complain that Bible-teaching churches ignore social problems like divorce.

I think that something in the middle is needed. We can't ignore the post-monogamous character that contemporary society has taken on. In fact, we should pronounce judgment upon it, condemning what the Bible condemns and remaining silent where it is silent. The Bible has aspects of it that are pre-monogamous as we see in the family life of the Old Testament patriarchs. It also depicts aspects that are decidedly monogamous, such as where Christ asks the woman at the well to bring her husband. We should see the societal brokeness and the commonly broken homes around us through the lens of the Bible's depictions of such arrangements.

Having difficulty with step-mothers and step-fathers? Or not getting child support from that deadbeat dad? What did Hagar do? and how did God say that she should be treated? Or take that story about Onan. Everyone thinks God disapproved of him because of his sexual practises, but given the larger economic context within which he acted, I think it had more to do with God disapproving of his cheating his brother's widow of her inheritance. I think that the Bible's Old Testament has a lot of useful information about how families behave outside a monogamous culture.

People do become disenchanted with monogamy and respond by doing things that have consequences as sure as Isaac Newton dropping an apple. The Bible takes a dim view of those who treat their spouses as disposable or fungible objects. This has something to say to our society about common practices like "the starter wife" or the mid-life crisis "spouse upgrade." These are economic considerations. There are other, emotional considerations to be minded, particularly when children are involved.

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