The language of monogamy: revisiting our approach to relationships

Major shifts in thinking require major and minor changes in language usage. The presently shifting attitudes towards gender and sexual preference are marked by the words and phrases used to discuss them.

An example would be gender inclusivity-themed memes – these memes demonstrate, usually though cartoons, that if you can’t concretely pin down a person’s gender, it’s not a big deal. A further example of attitude-formation through language use is often practiced when someone we don’t know very well speaks about a partner – we don’t box them into compulsory heterosexuality and we initially say “he or she or they” until the person identifies their partner as one or the other, or both, or neither.

Changes in the way we speak about relationships, sexual or otherwise, have been moving more slowly than the above examples. The language of compulsory monogamy still seems the norm in our conversations about partnerships, dating, and friendships.

In my dissertation, among other subjects, I analyzed the representation of compulsory monogamy in some films by Carlos Reygadas and Catherine Breillat. In a number of blog posts, I’ve also discussed the language and ethics of monogamy and non-monogamy.

The aim of this Arthur column is to provide examples and suggestions that exemplify and/or combat the colloquial words and phrases of compulsory monogamy, much in the same way we’ve been attempting better communication in gender and sexual preference discourse.

But this space is not limited to my own words. This is a space open to any and all written and artistic submissions on the subject of language and relationships. I encourage written submissions of up to 250 words and artistic creations sent in .jpg format to [].

Authors and artists may discuss and present their personal experience(s) with compulsory monogamy or take a stab at developing new words and phrases to improve our colloquial language around and about relationships. Your submission may be published under your name, a pseudonym, or anonymously. This is also an ongoing project with no deadline.

There is something experimental about this column then. No word, phrase, experience, suggestion, or complaint is without merit. Your column may be complex and the suggestion for a new word or phrase may be years away from entering popular consciousness. Your column may also border on common sense and could be implemented with ease.

So what might a submission look like? I’ll get you started with an example that falls into the latter camp.

The suggestion or request to bring your partner to dinners, social gatherings, events, and parties is common.

The invitation always means well – a significant other is welcomed into spaces because they are significant. There is the social compulsion, and pleasure, to couple and participate as coupled.

We know, however, that our relationships and interactions are more multifaceted than the conventional practice of having significant other in tow (even for the monogamous person – the monogamous individual may want to bring a friend or an extra-monogamous date/lover to a social event).

Our colloquial language could reflect this truth by implementing inclusive language, exemplified in this everyday utterance: The invitation “Bring your partner to X” could be exchanged for what is either a simple addition or a mouthful: “Bring your partners” or better, “Bring one or more of your partners, lovers, dates, or friends.”

The simple exchange of words in the above invitation recognizes the gamut of intimate relationships. Perhaps an individual would like to bring both of their partners to a dinner or bring dates to a routine social gathering. Indeed, this simple transition in language may aid us in treating our lovers like friends and our friends like lovers.

With this minor shift in language we can hopefully build a more honest and rounded understanding of how our relationships function. This one small suggestion, by simply adding an “s” to “Bring your partner,” is one minor push back against the non-inclusive language of compulsory monogamy.

I look forward to a variety of written and artistic submissions!

About Troy Bordun 61 Articles
I’m a recent graduate of the Cultural Studies PhD program. My research includes contemporary film, film theory, and the history of moving-image pornography. In addition to writing for Arthur, this semester I’m teaching in the Cultural Studies department (Intro to Integrated Arts) and Continuing Education (Writing Short Film Scripts). I also work at the Trend (come say hi!), among other small jobs as they come up.