For a number of years now, Rosie Wilby has made her name on the comedy circuit for bringing warmth and personality to her shows, as well as being truly thought-provoking. She is a firm believer in tackling difficult issues through the medium of comedy, and now she has used the same approach in her first non-fiction book. We here at culturised talked to her about the experience of becoming both performer and author and why she chose to textualise the ideas expressed in her stage show.

Is Monogamy Dead? places itself among a trilogy of Wilby’s latest solo comedy shows. The Science of Sex, Is Monogamy Dead?, and The Conscious Uncoupling (about which you can read culturised’s thoughts here) examine sex, relationships, and breakups in turn. Whilst the comedy shows use anecdotes, science, and comedy to serve the primary agenda of entertaining, Wilby’s first book acknowledges that, for her, there was “so much more to say”[1] than could ever be covered in a 50-minute live show. A more exhaustive conversation needed to be opened up.

The end result is an eye-opening, yet completely accessible, exploration of how monogamy can function – or not – in a modern relationship. Although the prospect of a 300-page non-fiction book about monogamy may seem intimidating or dry, the narrative style of non-fiction is affecting, funny, and ultimately thought-provoking. It is easy to forget sometimes, as Wilby shares experiences of some of her own euphoric romantic highs and devastating lows, that you are not reading a work of fiction. When asked about this, Wilby self-deprecatingly assures me that, to some extent, she always fictionalises her life in her work, but does try to be even-handed.

For Wilby, monogamy is the “monster happing and snarling at the heels of [her] happiness”.[2] She reached the age of forty, having had four serious relationships, but never being able to sustain one from medium term to long term. It may be surprising, particularly to a heterosexual reader, that Wilby links some of this struggle to her lesbian identity, shedding light on what it’s like to be a forty-something gay woman today. She discusses how the legitimisation of homosexuality has actually led to a diminution of pride and LGBT identity. She says “The systematic dismantling of my community has caused me just as much grief and trauma as any of my own romantic breakups. And this sadness has certainly played a role in my insecurities within my personal relationships. If something so meaningful can be whisked away so easily, then what is there to believe in?”.[3]

Wilby is keen not to be misunderstood on this subject, but tells me how, for gay women of her generation, the legalisation of same sex marriage was “like someone pulling the rug from under your feet”,[4] because they had spent their whole adult life assuming that a certain lifestyle was not possible for them, only to find out that it was. This all came at an age where to completely readjust expectations was extremely confusing. It is all too easy, as a straight person, and perhaps even as a young gay person, to take progress and change for granted. This is not something that is often discussed in the mainstream media, but is brought to light in Is Monogamy Dead?

Despite the fact that Is Monogamy Dead? comes from Wilby’s own, and therefore a homosexual, perspective, she still hopes that heterosexuals will relate to it too.[5] The extensive scientific and social research undertaken in the process of writing this book, as well as stories shared by acquaintances, makes this possible. There are stories of both straight and gay couples, both monogamous and polygamous, and the message is clear that “there’s no ‘one size fits all’ monogamy”[6]. The reader can find both practical relationship advice and emotional support in the pages of this book.

Returning to the day job, as it were, Wilby has used the process of writing is Monogamy Dead? and transformed it into two new comedy shows. The Conscious Uncoupling and Breakup Monologues both confront head-on society’s general tendency towards serial monogamy, being in one medium-term relationship after another. The Conscious Uncoupling is a solo show, similar in style to The Science of Sex and Is Monogamy Dead, whereas Breakup Monologues is hosted by Wilby, but features various special guests depending on the performance. She tells me that one woman even came to see it after seeing on social media that her ex had been on the previous evening[7]. The shows are the perfect way to reflect on the minefield that is relationships and breakups in a relaxed and fun environment.

Rosie Wilby is performing in The Conscious Uncoupling and Breakup Monologues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. Is Monogamy Dead? is out now in all good bookshops.

 

[1] Rosie Wilby, in discussion with author, July 2017

[2] Rosie Wilby, Is Monogamy Dead? (London: Accent, 2017), 2

[3] Ibid, 147

[4] Rosie Wilby, in discussion with author, July 2017

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.