We don’t have the language to reflect the diversity of connections we experience. Photo: Getty
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Isn’t it time we admitted we’re all a bit polyamorous?

Monogamy is rare, no matter what we might tell ourselves. We need a new currency of commitment.

Back in April, Helen Croydon’s New Statesman article entitled “Screw The Fairytale” sparked quite some heated debate from vociferous defenders of the ideal exclusive lifelong partnership. I too have faced occasionally challenging and often fascinating questions as I have toured my comedy show posing the question: Is Monogamy Dead? Yet I’ve come to realise that so many of us define fidelity along emotional rather than sexual lines, it becomes almost impossible to say with authority that anybody at all is monogamous... unless we can read minds.

I conducted an anonymous online survey as research for my show asking what behaviours would be considered infidelity. 73 out of 100 respondents thought that falling in love with someone else with no sexual contact still counted, 31 per cent selected staying up all night talking to someone else, while a scary 7 per cent decided that merely thinking about someone else was unacceptable. How you would police this I don’t know.

Perhaps the only way to remain truly faithful would be to lock yourselves into a sealed box and both stay there without interacting with any other human beings. Yet this would be torture. Human connections are the lifeblood and oxygen that aid our emotional survival. Even the most fleeting kindnesses and flirtations with strangers enhance our wellbeing. These brief moments of love feed our key relationships. Three and a half years in, my girlfriend and I might not always find it easy to generate huge sexual energy in a vacuum on our own. But if we go off into the world and connect, communicate, flirt with and enjoy other people, become energised by them and then come back together, our passion can still burn strongly. Other people act as our kindling. Love breeds love. It isn’t a finite resource that we need to hide away in the attic.

I asked my ex, now good friend, if she would ever have an open relationship and she said, “no, I don’t think I could do that” then after a pause and a smile, “but what about love affair friendships?” She went on to describe an impenetrable fortress of female friendship, her own group of best mates who’d known each other since school and had supported and loved each other through almost all of their lifetimes. They sounded far more bonded to, and in love with one another, than their respective husbands. It struck me that we don’t have the language to reflect the diversity and breadth of connections we experience. Why is sex the thing we tend to define a relationship by, when in fact it can be simple casual fun without a deep emotional transaction? Why do we say “just friends” when, for some of us, a friendship goes deeper? Can we define a new currency of commitment that celebrates and values this? Instead of having multiple confusing interpretations of the same word, could we have different words? What if we viewed our relationships as a pyramid structure with our primary partner at the top and a host of lovers, friends, spiritual soul mates, colleagues and acquaintances beneath that?

This isn’t a million miles away from the central ideas of polyamory – consensual multiple loving connections, some sexual, some not, in a myriad of combinations and hierarchies. It was a new word and world to me, yet when I interviewed a few polyamorous women (meetings had to be scheduled months ahead due to their ridiculously hectic romantic and social diaries) it struck me that they weren’t behaving so differently to anyone else I knew. Yet instead of shrouding some of their most intimate connections in secrecy as many of my “monogamous” friends have to, boundaries and priorities were honestly negotiated and declared.

Perhaps holding our hands up and owning the fact that we are all indeed a bit poly would be a solution to the growing problem of serial monogamy. Fuelled by a tech revolution where new phones and gadgets replace old every year, our thirst for novelty has never been more capacious. We need the new thing now. And what’s more – we can get it now. This impatience spills over into our romantic lives via dating apps, instant messaging and social media. Finding a new lover to replace the one we’ve become a bit too familiar with becomes as simple as ordering a pizza. Among my own lesbian peer group, rapid serial monogamy is endemic and it is typical to “upgrade” your partner every few years. Just take a look at the civil partnership dissolution rates which are twice as high for female couples as they are for gay men, who more typically negotiate a sexually open relationship yet stay emotionally faithful for longer. But breaking up with such regularity is a disruptive lifestyle bearing huge costs, both financial and emotional, as one or both partners lose their home, extended family, children, friend networks and beloved pets, not to mention the relationship. I’ve been through it and witnessed all of my dearest friends go through it. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone of any gender or sexuality. This unstable system is far more potentially damaging to any children involved than a setup including several happy, fulfilled adults in control of their own destinies. I’m not saying that we have to lose sight of traditional structures and units but maybe celebrate that friends can be family too. Or as the writer Armistead Maupin puts it, “logical” families instead of strictly biological ones.

So what if instead of serial relationships one after the other we had parallel ones running alongside one another? Would this improve the odds of some of our key partnerships lasting? The mathematics of probability would say “yes”. As a child I was warned against placing all of my eggs in one basket. Yet as a grown up, I’m being told to do exactly that. Yet the real conundrum here is that none of us are really doing that anyway. So why pretend that we are?

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The Secret Civil Servant: Let’s hope cabinet followed the civil service formula on Brexit away day

 Though it’s probably best if they skipped the trust exercises.

It’s enough to make your blood run cold. 

“And before we get started, I want everyone to take a post-it note, and I want everyone to write down what they personally want to achieve from this away day. When you’ve done that, please come and stick them on this whiteboard for discussion.” 

Every Civil Service Away Day adheres to a very strict formula. And regardless of how categorically useless it was, afterwards everyone is duty bound to say what a roaring success it was and what a lovely day they’ve had, just like the couple who have narrowly missed out on the speedboat on Bullseye. 

The talk around the cabinet Brexit away day suggests they stuck to this winning format, subject to a bit of fine tuning.

To start with, there will be the obligatory ice breakers, which nobody has ever enjoyed. Considering the various tensions, it’s probably best if the cabinet skip the trust exercises or Chequers will end up looking like a dressing station at Rorke’s Drift.

It is important to remember that anybody doing anything at an away day is automatically granted the title “facilitator”, and everything they do on the day, no matter how mundane, is an act of “facilitation”. It’s not clear who was given this job for the cabinet, but I imagine it was probably Gavin Barwell. 

There will then be an introductory address by the Big Boss. This will focus on strategy, ideally containing little or no actual substance. That will pose few problems to this administration. No doubt the ambition will be somewhat greater, with whole conversations without discernible content whatsoever, just a mixture of non alphabetic sounds, semaphore and exhalation all carefully minuted by a mime artist.

A question and answer session will usually follow, when the most ambitious members of staff will try and ask the most tediously self aware question, to raise their profile. The worst are usually young career focussed men, who may even introduce themselves before embarking on their question. 

I like to call these people, “wankers”. 

This, however, can be occasionally fraught with danger: at a recent departmental away day, a system had been set up so that participants could submit questions which would appear on a screen beside the panel. What they hadn’t realised was that questions could be submitted using any name they wished. By the time Sir Anthony Hopkins asked for the fourth time which was Sir Tim Barrow’s favourite Spice Girl, the chair couldn’t bring the session to a close quick enough. 

It’s unlikely the PM will hold such a session, lest she have to tell a number of cabinet ministers to facilitate off for repeatedly asking if they can be Prime Minister.

After that, the day will be split up into breakout sessions. These will be themed and are usually split by interest such as policy vs strategy, or delivery vs implementation. Ideally these will make no sense, go on too long, and be led by a really evangelical individual who while technically speaking English, will be a real struggle unless you’re up to speed on your reputational dispositives. That should work just fine at Chequers. As with civil servants, I imagine there are a number of ways to split the cabinet's attendees. Plotters vs The Deluded could work neatly, or perhaps  Cake vs Eat it.

The cabinet's away day was rumoured to include a separate session led by various ambassadors and experts on EU member states. I’m sure we can all agree,  increased cabinet-level understanding of European perspectives will come in very, very handy once we activate Article 50.

Then it’ll all have been done for another year. Time to make a quick getaway to the pub for the obligatory post away day drink, otherwise Gavin Barwell will lose the deposit he paid on that function room at The Jolly Taxpayer. 

Let’s hope some consensus is reached. Early reports already suggest it was a roaring success. I’m not holding my breath. There were rumours that the meeting wouldn’t be allowed to conclude until key agreements had been reached, a bit like a governmental equivalent of Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome. What with David Davis’s reference earlier this week, it’s good to see that the franchise has finally become recognised as a significant political blueprint. 

Regardless of the decisions that are or aren’t reached this week at Chequers, it’s unlikely that when Jim Barnier shows us the mystery prize, it’s going to be a bespoke free trade agreement with all the trimmings. Commiserations, Prime Minister. Let’s see what you could’ve won. 

It doesn’t really matter. We’ve had a lovely day. 

The author is a civil servant in the British government, writing anonymously because Gavin Barwell probably won’t find any of this funny. While based on real events, parts of the above are embellished for comic effect.