In her new stand-up show Rosie Wilby looks at why desire and love make strange bedfellows
BYLINE: Laura Burgoine
Is monogamy dead? Can you be happy with just one person? Stand-up comedian and radio broadcaster Rosie Wilby began asking these questions about a year ago when a lot of her friends’ lesbian relationships and gay male relationships began breaking down at the same time. In a number of cases the break-ups had to do with people having affairs or what Rosie describes as “people just getting to that stage of feeling the familiar suffocation of being with the same person.”
“It made me think about this whole compromise we make between freedom and the security of having a relationship and being with just one person,” Rosie says. It was this pondering that lead to the creation of her new stand-up show Is Monogamy Dead. As part of her research the Peckham local read a lot of books on the topic of monogamy and its alternative counterparts.
“Esther Perel [author of international bestseller Mating in Captivity] writes very compellingly about the conflict between desire and love. There’s this complete contradiction in that desire needs space to thrive but the relationship structure needs closeness. We all try and straddle these very different needs in a long-term relationship.”
A self-described ‘serial monogamist’, Rosie believes there’s something to be said for the kinds of open relationships that are more common in the gay male community than the lesbian community. “Up until recently gay people haven’t had children and family structures, so as gay people in same sex relationships we’ve been serially monogamous and then changed our partnerships every few years,” she explains.
“Lesbians seem to be a bit sniffy about gay men going off and shagging other people when they’re in an open relationship but the theory isn’t a bad one. I think if you have some kind of openly agreed situation with your partner –even if it’s not about having sex with other people, but perhaps just an acceptable level of flirting with other people- at least you’ve talked about it. Otherwise you just assume you’re not allowed to do anything ever and it feels really oppressive.”
Last summer while performing at Edinburgh, Rosie –who also hosts a radio show called Out in South London on the Borough based radio station Resonance FM- had a number of women approach her after her show, telling her they were in monogamist relationships with men but had an agreement whereby they could have other sexual partners, even though their boyfriends didn’t want to be with other women. “My mind was quite blown by that; maybe that’s the feminist movement at its peak!” Rosie exclaims. She draws on Daniel Bergner’s book What Do Women Want? in playing a role in changing commonly held beliefs. “A lot of people now seem to suggest that women might be the ones who struggle with monogamy more than men. We always thought it was men who needed to spread the seed but now it’s being found women struggle with is just as much, if not more,” Rosie says.
The process of writing the show has been an emotional one, the 43-year old admits. “I’ve always wondered if I could have talked more honestly to my partners, whether it would have lasted. If we could have taken a break, gone off and had flings or whatever we wanted to do and then come back to each other, perhaps the result would have been different?”
She continues: “Ultimately for me, being monogamous, as much as I tried –and I’m trying again now- hasn’t been successful. I’ve gone through lots of partners and it’s been heartbreaking and hard.
“As much as the idea of settling down with one person is compellingly attractive, and I’ve always been committed to partners I’ve been with and wanted to make them feel secure that they’re the only one for me, my only experience is that monogamy is a flawed model. I’m not sure what the alternative is?”
Rosie is performing her stand-up show Is Monogamy Dead at Canada Water Culture Space, 21 Surrey Quays Road, SE16 7AR, on Friday 28 February at 7:30pm. Admission: £10 / £8 concession. Phone: 020 8692 4446. http://canadawaterculturespace.org.uk/
You can also catch Rosie’s LGBT magazine radio show on Resonance FM, every Tuesday from 6:30pm-7:30pm. The new season commences February 18. http://www.outinsouthlondon.wordpress.com