Monogamous marriage is unromantic. Not my words but the words of actor Hugh Grant while promoting the movie Florence Foster Jenkins.
As he told radio host Howard Stern:
I can see the lovely aspect if you marry exactly the right person — your best friend and it’s cozy and it’s lovely. But, people make so many mistakes. Do I think human beings are meant to be in 40-year-long monogamous, faithful, relationships? No, no, no. Whoever said they were? Only the bible or something. No one ever said that was a good idea. I think there’s something unromantic about marriage. You’re closing yourself off.” tweet
Then he chatted up the benefits of having affairs, admiring the French and the Italians “who are very devoted to their marriages … but it is understood that there might be other visitors. … that’s what keeps marriages together.”
It would be easy to toss off Grant’s thought; after all, he’s never been married although he’s had some high-profile long-term relationships, like with actress Elizabeth Hurley, and has two children with Anna Eberstein and two with Tinglan Hong.
So why even listen to him?
Well, because celebrities matter evidently.
Celebrities affect change
According to a new study, celebrity culture “is enormously influential in changing norms and has a very wide reach.” And as much as you make like or loathe celebrity culture — I unapolo-
getically fall in the loathe category — it is normalizing alternative ways of being.
For example, look at how it has impacted the way we feel about single moms.
Sociologist Hanna Grol-Prokopczyk analyzed nearly 400 issues of People magazine over the decades to see what, if any, impact came from featuring single moms on the cover — from Goldie Hawn to Melanie Griffith to Sandra Bullock to Madonna to Angelina Jolie (although many of them were partnered at the time). What was clear, she determined, was that celebrity pregnancies helped destigmatize childbirth outside of marriage:
Celebrities typically did not apologize for getting pregnant outside of marriage. But the family model also changed over time. The early model dictated that you should marry by the time the baby is born. By the mid-2000s that had changed, and it became widely acceptable in the celebrity world to have a child without marrying first.” tweet
That all sounds great … until you realize the magazine has only featured white, wealthy women having or adopting babies on their own. If you’re a poor single mom of color, well, I don’t think People or anyone else is lauding your situation. In fact, you’re probably still being stigmatized and judged, and pressured to just get married already by conservatives, no matter what celebrities are doing.
And there are still some who’ll be upset by People magazine covers featuring single moms no matter what because they believe that kind of media coverage is glorifying single motherhood.
We don’t hold men to those same standards, however. Just look at how Donald Trump, a celebrity by virtue of his reality TV shows before he ever became the GOP presidential contender, is treated. Trump has five children from three marriages — which is OK as long as you’re white, wealthy and privileged, as write in the Washington Post. “Imagine the public response if either President Obama or Hillary Clinton had children from three different partners. That would have likely barred them entirely from high-level politics,” they write. Indeed!
Making non-monogamy the norm
But getting back to Grant — the father of four from two unmarried partnerships, but also white, wealthy and privileged. Will his outspoken views on monogamy, marriage and affairs affect societal change? Let’s get him on the cover of People espousing that and let’s see. I would hope so; I believe we should be questioning monogamy, marriage and our complicated beliefs about infidelity. But I doubt it.
Mo’Nique has been candidly talking about her open marriage to hubby Sidney Hicks — which was her idea — for awhile (and kudos to them; the controversy over her announcement led them to start a podcast, Mo’Nique & Sidney’s Open Relationship). And while the Academy Award-winning actress has appeared in People magazine several times, she was never on the cover for her views on the benefits of an open marriage. And that’s exactly why Mo’Nique should be plastered across the cover of People magazine.
I can see “the problem.” Oh, she’s a woman. Oh, she’s a woman of color. Oh, she’s a woman of color in an open marriage. Oh, she’s a woman of color in an open marriage that was her choice.
This is not going to fly.
Which is too bad, because if celebrity culture can indeed change societal norms, then we need role models like Mo’Nique on magazine covers like People to normalize open relationships and Hugh Grant to normalize the idea that “40-year-long monogamous, faithful” marriages may not be the ideal.
And, while we’re at it, hopefully promote the idea that you don’t have to be white, wealthy and privileged to benefit from changing societal norms.
Want to learn how to individualize your marriage? Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.