First and foremost Lynn Jamieson, author or Intimacy, Negotiated Nonmonogamy and the Limits of the Couple” seems to by put off by the hegemonic discourses surrounding “the couple.” She states that “‘living as a couple’ remains the ideal domestic state for most adults although some questions the security of this ideal” (35). Her study of nonmonogamous couples thus exemplifies a deconstruction and analysis of “coupledom” and similarly marriage, and allows for a critical approach to the notion of identity and autonomy in long-term relationships.
It is important to note that most of the studies Jamieson quotes here (and the interviews she compiled) are from the
Jamieson interviewed four couples (two heterosexual and two homosexual) each had different experiences with nonmonogamy. All the nonmonogamy, however, was negotiated and consensual. Interestingly, Jamieson relates Giddens’ discussion on the “pure relationship” and “confluent love” to nonmonogamy in terms of “intimacy disclosure.” According to Jamieson, Giddens would seem to agree in saying that a healthy “pure relationship” is one that enables self-development while simultaneously sustains the relationship all the while continuing a dialogue. Jamieson points out that the majority of nonmonogamous relationships are done with deceit, lies, and secrets thus making it a point of contention automatically- (I must admit when I hear of nonmonogamy I automatically assume a cheating heterosexual, middle-aged man). It is the communication between the nonmonogamous couples that Jamieson interviews, however, that makes big difference.
Although I agree with Giddens on the importance of communication and egalitarian relations, I’m not sure he necessarily had in mind the variety of nonmonogamy Jamieson uncovers. The experiences of the interviewees show a more complex reality in which self-disclosure to build trust was not always the way it went. Some couples, for example decided to not share anything while others had open relationships with all lovers. Additionally, while the majority of nonmonogamous couples distinguished between “secondary” and “primary” relationships, other individuals treated two partners more or less the same (53). Does then the negotiated terms trump complete self-disclosure, trust, and honesty that Giddens seems to argue for? Or would these negotiated terms be included in his definition of a “pure relationship” even if the negotiated agreement included recognized-deceit?
Jamieson’s discussion of nonmonogamy and all its different manifestations, nonetheless returns to his intrigue of the notion of “being-a-couple.” He states about Gidden that “His [Giddens’] openness to the possibility of nonmonogamy does not envisage any challenge to being-a-couple as the most sought after type of relationship in adult life” (41). I am confused as to whether Jamieson thinks that seeking coupledom is wrong and that we are socialized to feel like that is the ultimate key to happiness (which I think to some extent is true) or whether our obsession with finding the one hinders our capacity for a number of sexual, emotional relationships (i.e nonmonogamy). Perhaps Jamieson thinks that monogamous obstructs personal growth and autonomy or sees nonmonogamy as a “badge of autonomy.” On page 42 she states, “the stability of the couple was typically given priority over individual autonomy and identity, particularly by women” (42).
Do people seek relations outside of a committed relationship to seek autonomy, though? I’m not convinced that that is the correct way to find autonomy. Instead, I think that having nonmonogamous relationships are perhaps a way to trick an individual into thinking they are autonomous. Where I don’t necessarily think that nonmonogamy is a bad thing, I’m afraid we may be missing the real reasons why people seek other relationships. Is it because they are unhappy with a relationship they are in? If so, maybe they should leave it. On the other hand, can any one person fulfill another’s every need? Maybe not- but isn’t that was friendships, coworkers, etc. are for? If a partner is not satisfied sexually shouldn’t a dialogue about sexual needs preclude an assumption of nonmonogamy as solving the problems (I think Jamieson would say yes to this one). Do people once having a stable relationship really develop “their identity through other sexual relationships” (53)? Additionally, why do we as humans have certain inclinations toward wanting to feel “special” or validated by others- or to have a “special relationship” with that special someone? Maybe that has larger societal implications as well.
In her conclusion Jamieson states “how people are ‘doing intimacy’ in the context of nonsecret negotiated nonmonogamy helps to clarify the range of theoretical possibilities of building trust and intimacy in sexual relationships, of sustaining couple relationships and of developing alternative sources of support for a sense of self to being-a-couple” (51-52). I think this is good way to think about the possibilities of relationships. Perhaps this means expanding our vision of what we deem appropriate forms of intimate expression and relationships (we even see a diversity of experiences with nonmonogamy in fairly similar social situations). I also think it emphasizes the importance of open communication and egalitarian discourses in relationships. Lastly, for me to be a “feminist heterosexual women” I don’t need a man to make me feel successful or worthwhile, but I also don’t need to single (or nonmonogamous) to feel independent, so perhaps Jamieson or society, for that matter, needs to expand what we consider autonomous and self-sufficient.