You have probably noticed there are certain activities—or “lifestyles,” if you insist—that tend to produce an excessive amount of insufferable disciples who tend to ruin social encounters by refusing to shut up about it.
They are vegetarians, vegans, marathon runners, cross fitters, socialists, libertarians, Silicon Valley bros, and people who pretend to know things about wine, among others. There is not necessarily anything wrong with belonging to one of these groups, but it’s still wise to avoid these types at all times if possible.
You should probably know about another group—or “cult,” if you prefer—that is poised to join the ranks of insufferable chattering social cliques.
Maybe you’ve heard of them—the growing number of adherents to “non-traditional sexual lifestyles” who have liberated themselves from monogamy. They probably also fall into many of the categories listed above, but soon they’re going to insist you hear all about their “alternative” sex lives. And who knows? In several years, being in a “traditional” monogamous relationship might be as socially backward as wearing gym socks with flip-flops.
Some proponents of “open marriage” or “polyamory” might see this as an apt analogy. They see monogamy as a physical act—like walking around with weird Ninja Turtle toes. Some have dabbled in the sexually non-traditional in an effort to save their boring monogamous marriages. Some have published their success stories on the internet: “My Husband And I Had A Threesome And It Saved Our Marriage.”
In case you were wondering, the term polyamory was popularized in the early 1990s by some hippie named Morning Glory Zell-Raveheart who, along with her husband, a self-proclaimed wizard, surgically engineered goats—“tortured,” if you prefer—by fusing their horns together to create “living unicorns” for the Ringling Bros. circus. I am not making this up.
Efforts to spread the gospel of “group love” are already well underway. The ink was not even dry on the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage before some pundits proclaimed: “Group marriage is the next horizon of social liberalism.” A few weeks later, VICE reported: “These five people are having a baby together.” Because why not?
As is the case with most of our unusual social trends, millennials are largely to blame. YouGov recently published a study that found millennials to be leading the charge against monogamy. Nearly one in five people ages eighteen to twenty-nine reported having engaged in sex outside their relationship with the consent of their partner; nearly one third expressed some degree of openness to the idea of their partner fooling around with someone else. Of course, this might not be a genuine reflection of millennial opinion; they might just be afraid of giving an uncool answer.
One millennial, Zachary Zane, lauded the YouGov study in a Boston Globe article titled: “What if we thought of monogamy as a spectrum?” Because if that’s how we’re going to approach things like gender, sexuality, and “news,” then why not everything else? The study asked respondents to rank their ideal relationship on a scale from zero (completely monogamous) to 6 (completely non-monogamous). Just 51 percent of millennials answered zero. For other age groups, the percentage was significantly higher.
In an effort to explain the trend, Zane makes some compelling points. “We’re a generation that grew up with divorced parents,” he writes. “We live in a generation of options. No longer are we confined to date the boy next door. With Tinder and all the other dating apps, we can find boys (and girls!) all over the world.”
This dynamic has sparked a “millennial sexual revolution” of sorts. The changing environment with respect to sex and dating and (to a lesser extent, so far,) marriage is impossible to deny. But it’s less clear that these changes, and the forces driving them, are worth celebrating. When it comes to online dating—“casual hook-ups with strangers,” if we’re being honest—one man’s “revolution” is another woman’s “apocalypse.”
Millennials can look at the high divorce rates among their parents’ generation and fairly conclude that monogamous marriage is flawed. Many have, judging by the declining marriage rates in recent years. But that doesn’t mean a more laissez-faire approach to monogamy will make us any happier, or be some “unicorn” solution to our modern-day sexual frustrations. It might turn out to be just another tortured goat.