Photo Credit: Getty Images
Artillery Row

Toxic monogamy

Why exclusivity has become a dirty word

In the discourse of social justice and self-care, “toxic” operates as a moniker for hidden harms. The label serves to stigmatise widely accepted social conventions like “masculinity” and, now, “monogamy”. An anonymous Tumblr post lays out the charges against our “toxic monogamy culture”, including “the idea that commitment is synonymous with exclusivity”.

Crusaders for kindness have in their sights the hurtful implication that someone’s life is deficient unless it revolves around a traditionally realised romantic relationship. They have unleashed the full force of condemnatory rhetoric on “monogamy” because it defines a type of relationship that has become increasingly difficult to attain for young people (and difficult to maintain, for older generations) not so much from sour grapes, as a less charitable interpretation might have it, but because its inherent exclusivity smacks of the boogeyman “discrimination”. If not everyone can have it, then it cannot be championed as an ideal, or enshrined as the fulfilment of earthly happiness.

There is no poetry, only a sordid or at least scandalous confession

The irony is that social justice crusaders are themselves responsible for promoting this idealisation of monogamous marriage. The SJWs don’t realize it, but they are not attacking a relic of patriarchal oppression or religious superstition. “Toxic monogamy” is the by-product of the progressive movement to redefine marriage.

Sherif Girgis, an associate professor of law at Notre Dame, prophesied this very shift when he took to the debating circuit in the lead-up to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision Obergefell v Hodges. Since his arguments (as exposited in What is Marriage?) did not win the day in court, they have largely slipped from public consciousness, but give him the credit due for forecasting the political and social climate we find ourselves in not even a decade later: 

“This vision of marriage, that says what makes it different [from all other relationships] is intimacy, actually makes the world a little bit more atomistic, a little bit more lonely because it says to anyone who isn’t married for whatever reason…you have to settle for less. That reinforces the stigma, it reinforces the difficulty of making it through this world without a partner.” 

If you redefine marriage as not a child-bearing union but simply the most intense of all emotional bonds, he warned, it will subordinate every other relationship.

Not only the redefining of marriage, but the sexualization of other relationships has contributed to the erosion of platonic social bonds so much lamented by the people whose ideals are responsible for unravelling them. In previous eras, an outpouring of sentiment and affection even physical affection signalled sincerity and depth of feeling, not necessarily sexual attraction. The Bible’s iconic best friends, David and Jonathan, “kissed one another and wept with one another…” (1 Sam 20:41). David writes of their relationship, “Your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26). The comparison to romantic love acted by analogy. See for example the metaphor “love is stronger than death”: it relies on the assumption of unlikeness in order to draw our attention to the singular characteristic held in common. If the two were equivalent, then the rhetorical device would break down.

For generations indoctrinated with Freudian psychoanalysis and queer theory, such passages can mean only one thing, however: homoeroticism. There is no poetry, only a sordid or at least scandalous confession. We prove our own moral superiority by ferreting out our predecessors’ clay feet those sly dogs let slip their queer inclinations, despite professing morals to the contrary. 

Today’s readings simultaneously affirm that we are not only wise to them, but better than them, in embracing the perverseness that our ancestors tried to conceal from us. The self-congratulation and underlying voyeurism are nauseating. More significantly, the sexualisation of interactions that were once barred from being interpreted as innuendo, has effectively reduced friendship, mentorship, even familial affection, to a sham. They are facades that we can peel away to expose the Freudian workings underneath.

Now that the Woke have taken Dr. James Xavier’s x-ray vision eye drops (seeing through everything until they can see nothing at all), they blame Burke’s “decent drapery” for smothering the healthful enjoyments of human life. Having built their false idol, they turn on it in outraged injury and tear it down — all the while blaming its crimes on their neighbours. This is what comes of privileging radical ideas for no reason other than for their subversiveness. When you make an ideology of vilifying and dismissing the past, it isn’t long before you find yourself gnawing your own tail.

We no longer promote self-sacrifice on behalf of others

Applying “toxic” to “monogamy” betrays the rapid advance of a movement that made its first inroads in society through appeals to neutrality and tolerance, exposing its insatiable appetite for social upheaval and disruption. First they demanded recognition for outliers and exceptions, through activism like the early LGB campaigns. Then they insisted on the normalisation of these irregularities (not all children have a mother and father, so schools must correspond with their “carers”; not every couple is married or opposite sex, so introduce your gender-neutral, non-committal “partner”). Now they have launched an outright attack on traditional behaviour, against those patterns of life once urged to co-exist alongside alternatives and aberrations.

The mission creep is not just a factor of trying to stay relevant by unearthing fresh sources of outrage. It reflects a fundamental shift in social perception. Part of the blame belongs to the well-intentioned awareness campaigns that seemed so benign, all the while gobbling up state contracts and creeping into school curricula.

The epidemic of victimhood, particularly the suggestion that someone could be victimised by a loved one without realizing it, has seeded our society with suspicion. People have come to believe not only that all relationships are at risk of abuse, but that many relationships are abusive by nature. This perception activates the compassionate, even maternal instincts of millennials: they leap to the defence of the faceless, vulnerable individual in the name of health and well-being. Commitment, exclusivity what once embodied the ideal of romantic relationships, has become a threat. We no longer promote self-sacrifice on behalf of others, but self-defence against the oppression of the other.

Whatever other objections one might raise against this war on normativity, it must be admitted that it is unsustainable. Perhaps, after years of conditioning otherwise, it seems debatable that one can equate “normal” with “healthy” or “better”. To appeal to a less controversial norm, consider the marketing wars over processed foods. The manufacturers of products like margarine presented their concoctions as healthier, cheaper alternatives to the antiquated and unimproved choices of previous generations. 

With time, these claims have proved false. In seeking to disrupt the bedrock of society with their social innovations, the SJWs can only succeed in alienating and displacing the behaviours practiced by the majority of people they cannot rewrite human nature.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover