I recently shared food with two women who both cheated on past lovers and felt pain about their conduct. Both now live candidly in non-monogamous circumstances and feel better for the change. I know non-monogamous men who feel the same way. These people made moral judgements. Let’s not fear making such judgements, after all, we make them constantly when we weigh choices in terms of better or worse. Let any such judgement consciously invite criticism if some contrary fact or reason eludes us in our unavoidable blind spots.
The impulse toward being truthful allows ourselves and others more realistic choices. And what would we call freedom without choices? Remember allowing people access to the facts might cost us a pleasure that we would otherwise enjoy. Someone who risks losing something desired for integrity’s sake also safeguards another person’s choices. Let me state it unambiguously. Honesty signifies a higher morality than the contrary. Anyone who embraces cheating and simultaneously pours disapproval on open non-monogamy makes a mistake in their moral judgement.
Rick Broider wrote an article in which he questions the cultural tendency to treat cheating as both bad and as morally superior to honest non-monogamy. I occasionally run into the same hypocrisy discussed by Broider (e.g., someone pays monogamy their deference, while cheating). These folks not only avoid truthfulness regarding their own sexuality, but they also slap sincere non-monogamous people with blatant disapproval. Some openly non-monogamous people perpetuate the moral oxymoron by withholding their moral views to maintain tranquillity with their monogamous peers. Below I discuss how the desire to avoid uncomfortable controversy treats monogamous people like children.
In his article Why Do Monogamous People Support Cheating Broider writes about flirting with a new woman. He also speculates about why the woman, who knew he had a girlfriend, felt okay with cheating, but flatly rejected him for being frank with his other lover. Broider follows the story with a moral question.
“…why would it have been okay if I’d been cheating?”
Prior to his moral question, Broider writes
“I tell this story not to let poly folk feel morally superior to mainstream monogamists…”
We should avoid confusing two elements in Broider’s above statement. One point is egoistic superiority, it concerns what an person thinks about himself or herself. The other element concerns the differences between truthful non-monogamous folk and self-styled monogamists, these differences involve conduct and its impact on others. I think Broider mistakenly blended these two elements. A monogamist might argue the people who cheat can’t be called monogamous. I am specifically referring here to people who believe or profess the superiority of monogamy ignoring the fact that they cheat or would cheat given a good opportunity. Many mainstream monogamists cheat, a fact made more clear considering discreet online dating and prostitution.
The desire to understand and share the truth appeals to our moral sensibilities. That impulse toward truth deserves esteem, especially when someone is willing to miss out on some pleasure for the truth’s sake. This impulse toward truth should not be confused with egocentric superiority. Again consider the so-called monogamists that cheat to satisfy desires and contrast this conduct with non-monogamous people who tell the truth and like Broider, risk losing a satisfaction. These different actions, when judged by the same standard, have a different moral value and one is superior. Broider’s question exposes the double standard. We see a similar moral mistake if we look at a sexually honest woman who consequently endures the disapproval called slut shaming. Contrast the truthful woman with a liar rewarded with respect in the midst of similar sexual conduct.
Unfortunately some of us can’t publicly share our views because of some danger e.g. we come from an orthodox family or we live or work in such an environment, still let us not act-as-if the higher moral standard does not exist. We should value those who challenge the status quo. Moral questions often polarize people. However, the desire to avoid controversy should not outweigh a moral question. Let’s not forsake a higher moral standard to avoid offending monogamists because this treats monogamists as inferior, as if these poor children can’t handle our judgements or honesty. If, when talking with our non-monogamous friends, we treat forthright non-monogamy as morally superior to cheating let’s not have a double face for people who disagree. Non-monogamists currently face a significant and often disapproving majority but this fact is not an argument against non-monogamy. Every social change for the better began with a minority.
I ask “is honest non-monogamy better than dishonest monogamy?” My answer is yes!