Rosie Wilby’s new book Is Monogamy Dead (released 3 August 2017 by Accent Press) explores some of the biggest questions about love in modern times in a smart, accessible, humorous, compassionate way.
Using the narrative of her own relationship journeys, through a path she describes as “serial monogamy” (perhaps an oxymoron, the book implies) that feels very common to lesbian / bi women’s relationship patterns, Wilby considers the intricacies and complexities of love in the twenty first century. Using research, social science evidence, comedy set pieces and non fiction story telling combined in a perfectly balanced recipe for an enjoyable and informative read, Wilby sets out to answer some of these questions.
In particular the recounting of the visit to the lesbian sauna event, the sex party and whether or not lesbians should snog men, demonstrate Wilby’s clear talent for comedy nuance, playing with the relatable but confused protagonist, as well a definitive style to call her own.
This is twinned with a sense of pathos as we wind down the path of not one but two quite different but diminishing relationships, and more serious questions about how we view ourselves, what are boundaries and how to respect them and why we accept situations we aren’t happy about.
The problem is, there may not be any answers, or rather the answers may come in the form of more questions. “Is monogamy really what we are looking for?” and “What does love mean?” are perhaps the bigger question at play and adeptly argued.
I put a few questions to Rosie about the themes in the book and the writing process.
The book feels very much of this time. Do you think it could have been written 20 years ago?
Well, I wouldn’t have written it twenty years ago as they weren’t questions I was asking of myself at that time. It feels like monogamy was definitely the assumption for relationships in the ’90s. But I don’t think we ever really knew what it really meant and I don’t think most do now still.
The understanding of monogamy and relationships has changed even in the 4 years since I first wrote the ‘Is Monogamy Dead?’ show. At that time (and perhaps still now) there’s a defensiveness of the concept of monogamy and audiences are ready to be offended at the assumption of proposing alternative concepts. I had interesting altercation with Edinburgh Fringe Festival goers in 2013 when I was handing out flyers for the show.
However, Stylist magazine recently published an article which was 3 interviews with poly women. It seems like perhaps the concept is moving on from the freak show perception, as visibility of alternative relationship possibilities increases, this gives the opportunity to normalise it and redefine how we are monogamous.
Do you feel you answered the question in the way you anticipated? What were some of the more surprising things you found out in the journey?
I think I realised there is no right or wrong universal answer. It’s a very personal concept and we need to define it for ourselves. When I started the comedy show perhaps initially I had a hypothesis that polyamory might be the answer I was looking for, but as readers will see in the book, the conclusion for me was that redefining monogamy was closer to the answer I wanted.
I did also discover there is a huge variation between the hypothetical stance on monogamy and the actual practice of it, which is discussed in the book, using findings from a survey I conducted before I wrote the comedy show.
How did you find the process of turning stand up material, merging it with research and autobiography, into a book length prose? You also present some candid honesty about your own experiences. What responses have you had to that?
I found that the material I had for the original comedy show made it much easier to begin the book – it was probably harder to present it as a comedy show. It was almost a relief to write the book and expand on the content, and be able to go to darker or more serious places. I liked that there is also a lot of substance behind the commentary and comedy through the research I undertook. It was a good process.
The structure was heavily influenced by the Lambda writing retreat I attended last summer. In particular Sarah Schulman’s opening lecture which talked about non fiction as “the story of an idea”. It gave me a sense of narrative drive.
At the launch and I’m guessing elsewhere, people are turning to you as a sort of agony aunt! How does that feel? Do you have the answers? What is the answer?
Well, I actually ran a spoof couples counselling session at a BFI Flare event a few years ago. I had a corner to provide “therapy” as Doctor Love. What I found was that couples came to me with genuine problems. I was of course just giving spoof answers (which they knew in advance) using a fortune teller fish, my “boobies” graph and lyrics from the Jennifer Rush song The Power of Love. But interestingly the couples quite often said that this was more helpful than actual couples therapy they had attended. Perhaps laughter enabled them to relax and break down some of the communication barriers they had.
Of course I advised them to consider seeking genuine professional help should they want it. I have reflected that professional relationship counselling has probably had to change with the times as well. For example, how might throuples therapy work?
Are we to expect any more books from Rosie Wilby? What is next?
I am currently working on new project, a spin off from the book and comedy trilogy – a collaborative piece called The break up monologues. It includes guest performers telling their break up stories – lots of people sharing their stories and publishing them via a blog, podcasts, live shows and eventually an anthology. I am definitely interested in endings.
I am also keen to ensure that multimedia is a part of my projects as I have been inspired by some excellent examples.
I will write another book, but feel that the publishing industry might need to follow suit of the music industry and respond to commercial demand in new ways and how contributors are compensated in light of new platforms.