DISCUSSION: Kipnis & This American Life

In Laura Kipnis’s polemic, she describes love as a series of prohibitions and, generally, “work.” In Dan Savage’s section of the “Monogamy” podcast, “Love and Happiness,” he discusses the rules non-monogamous couples employ to make things “work.” Consider the way both of these texts navigate the relationship between “love” and “work.”


How does Laura Kipnis define love? How do you? Why?

5 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: Kipnis & This American Life

  1. In her essay ‘Against Love’, Laura Kipnis defines love as ‘a form of emotional life…based on subjugation.’ She believes that (monogamous) romantic relationships are restrictive, and that the expectation of ‘eternal love’ between a married couple is doing more harm than good, especially when the couple feels like there’s no passion between them anymore.

    I do agree with Kipnis that the concept of fidelity between monogamous couples is incredibly taxing, both emotionally and mentally. But I don’t think ‘love’ itself should be blamed.

    Love is just a feeling of attraction and desire between two or more people. It comes and goes in waves. In an ideal world, people should comfortably choose whether they want to stay in a relationship or go off with someone else whenever passion disappears (whether due to burnout or something else).

    Though I have never been in love, I feel like relationships work out best if people can be honest and comfortable around one another all of the time. There shouldn’t be any shame in saying, ‘I don’t really feel as enthusiastic as I used to when I’m with you- is it alright if I step away from you for a bit and recover from my romantic burnout?’

    And I think that’s where I and Kipnis differ in our views of love. Kipnis believes that the whole ‘being forced to be together even when there’s no longer any romantic spark’ will always be a part of love, whereas I feel its because of society’s current expectations for (monogamous) love. If we could gradually change those restrictions and expectations, I think we’d all notice that love will become more satisfying.

  2. Many people face problems and obstacles in their relationships that often time were never anticipated. From small arguments with each other to issues as big as being unfaithful. The key factor that holds relationships together and really decides whether or not a relationship is going to survive and prosper or end in divorce is communication. It isn’t some secret technique that only a small fraction of couples are aware of. Most everyone knows that communication is important for being open with one another and being honest about everything within and outside of a relationship. But sometimes subject matters become muddy and difficult territory to navigate, such as monogamy. Many relationships are monogamous but I’d imagine that this topic is one that many couples would just assume is a rule from the get go. And it isn’t until one or both parties have violated this unwritten rule that hearts are broken and people everywhere are completely shocked.

    As time goes on, and the world is becoming more accepting of the different kinds of love, it is important that we transition with the time as well. This includes being more open to topics such as monogamy and being comfortable talking about them. Monogamy doesn’t always work for everyone. And societal norms often look down upon any relationship that is not monogamous. But love is a powerful force and can take us by surprise and suddenly change the way that we feel about people or things or what have you. Being open and communicating about our feelings about one another and the other people in our lives can allow for more relationships to be saved and even for minds to be changed in regards to something such as monogamy. Who knows? Maybe if one communicates their thoughts on this matter before committing something against their partner, they may see that they are in agreement with each other and can change the structure of their relationship before disaster strikes.

    (This is all rambling^^)

    Laura Kipnis talks a lot about society and how love is built into our lives and how this changes how we learn to love and what we know it to be. Ultimately, she equates love to happiness. If you aren’t as happy as you were expecting, is it really love? My definition of live is quite similar. Love is a feeling, not a construct. It is what makes you smile and what makes you completely change the way you act because you are so incredibly drawn to something or someone. In this respect, I believe that relationships have a strong potential of becoming prisons for people. This is because love isn’t something that is constant. Attractions shift throughout your life. It is momentary or can last for years and a relationship locks you into one particular thing, in a monogamous relationship that is. I am not for or against any kind of relationship, but I just think that there is no way of knowing what something really wants for the rest of their life since emotions change every second of the day. And what is needed to make you truly happy often changes and new things need to be added to satiate your feelings.

  3. Kipnis sees love as something of a piece of fiction, created and persisted by the public at large, without any substantial connection to realty. In fact, she believes that most of the parameters of a stereotypical marriage exist solely because of that disconnect with reality. Throughout the article she builds to the idea that all modern lovers, or at least the ones who have submitted to the institution of marriage, have stockholm syndrome; we are all pleasantly agreeing with and supporting our capture while simultaneously recognizing that we are being held captive. Love is abusive because it inherently involves the destruction of our autonomy and sense of self. However, I find this view of love antiquated, even verging on blatantly pessimistic and close minded. Reading the article felt equivalent to reading an editorial written by a member of the far-right. Open marriages and relationships are becoming normalized, and [mostly] gone are the days where marriage was an unconditional submission to obey. I find that my conversations around love today center on the understanding that one person alone cannot provide everything another needs, and finding a way adjust to that. Compromise, not control.

    I also find her idea that people in today’s society can never be happy without getting married or finding a long term partner to be antiquated. As time progresses I find that society is become more accepting, even supportive, of finding meaning in life from another source. Be it people who chose to adopt without finding a partner or people who have dedicated their lives to activism, self-fulfillment looks different today than it did two or three decades ago. That’s not to say that society and popular culture aren’t still obsessed with love, they are. It’s that love has become one of many several paths to reach happiness. Society is loosening the restraints.

  4. On This American Life co-host Ira Glass states that “most of us are very hesitant to believe that any kind of non-monogamous relationship can work.” In this assertion Glass speaks to the overarching belief in our society that open relationships are something to be ashamed of. Despite the fact that roughly half of marriages end in divorce, we continue to operate under the belief that once married, one’s spouse is expected to be their sole sexual partner for the rest of their life.

    Reading Laura Kipins’s “Against Love” and listening to This American Life’s “Monogamy” made me consider the idea that non-monogamous relationships might actually be healthier and more sustainable sustainable than monogamous relationships. Kipins refers to adultery as a “referendum on the sustainability of monogamy,” suggesting that we are naturally inclined to be adulterous rather than monogamous. In “Monogamy” former Colorado governor Roy Romer described his marriage in which he had an outside relationship that his wife knew about as “a very strong relationship, solid.” Kipins’s description of just how painful and unnatural monogamy is combined with Romer’s description of his happy and successful open marriage made me realize that there is such thing as a healthy non-monogamous relationship. As co-host Dan Savage points out later in the podcast, in order for a non-monogamous relationship to work, communication as well as clear rules and expectations are vital.

    While I am not sure how I personally would feel about being in a non-monogamous relationship, I now have a new perspective on them and believe that they have the potential to be healthy and sustainable.

  5. In the eyes of Kipnis, love has evolved into something that become essentially idolized by the public, giving off the impression that monogamy is the only appropriate way to pledge your love to someone. Anyone who isn’t able to fully “give themselves up” to another person is deemed immature. When did these societal norms come about? In our society there is an underlying belief that non monogamous relationships are shameful, deceitful, or just plain wrong. Kipnis maintains that love can often create a sort of prison, forcing people to stay in an relationship long after its expiration date, simply because it’s deemed by society as “the right thing to do”. Although the relationship might not be making you happy anymore, society has conditioned us to try to continue to work at the relationship to avoid feeling like a failure. In my opinion however, sometimes relationships just don’t work out, no matter how much you work at them.
    After listening to “This American Life” I started to realize that non monogamous can actually work if they are rooted in strong communication and trust. Personally, I think that within love and a relationship, should ultimately be happiness. If the person you are with isn’t making you happy, you should communicate that, and then figure out how to move on. I agree with Caroline’s comment that there shouldn’t be any shame associated with taking a break from someone or expressing the fact that you aren’t happy…it’s just part of life.

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