As the eldest male in an Indian family, Dhruv Dhawan says he’s always felt the pressure to one day marry. The Mumbai-born, Vancouver-based filmmaker was close to proposing to his longest-term girlfriend back in 2008 when he found himself being very honest with himself.
“I realized that I was not sure whether I could commit to this vow of monogamy, and I had no intention of living a life of lies either,” Dhawan says in an interview via Skype from Dubai, where he spent most of his childhood and where he was attending the Dubai International Film Festival. “Why is it that romantic love is something that only exists in the singular while other loves exist in the plural? It’s a very, very difficult question. Leaving biology and ethical issues aside, are you going to cause hurt to the other person? Every man and woman who’s ever been cheated on says it’s never the sex that devastated them; it was the betrayal and the lies.”
Dhawan never did pop the question to that former girlfriend, and he admits he’s cheated on past partners. Then in 2011, he fell madly in love. He doesn’t want to lose his current girlfriend, but he says he’s still not convinced that monogamy is for him.
Having studied cultural anthropology and film, Dhawan decided to delve deeper into timeless questions surrounding sex, love, marriage, monogamy, and infidelity by making a documentary that will confront the very issues he’s grappling with. Why Knot will combine interviews with researchers and Dhawan’s own experiences to explore instincts, urges, morals, jealousy, betrayal, and fulfilment.
Among the experts who weigh in in the film are psychologist Christopher Ryan, coauthor of the book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality; Dossie Easton, a psychotherapist and coauthor of The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures (second edition); historian Stephanie Coontz, who wrote Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage; and evolutionary biologist David Barash and psychologist Judith Lipton, authors of The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People.
Barash and Lipton explain in their book that “aspiring monogamists” are going against deep-seated evolutionary inclinations. “Thanks to recent developments in evolutionary biology combined with the latest in technology, there is simply no question whether sexual desire for multiple partners is ‘natural’. It is,” the two write. “Similarly, there is simply no question of monogamy being ‘natural’. It isn’t.”
Perhaps Ryan best sums up the inner struggle Dhawan is facing in Sex at Dawn. “Deep conflicts rage at the heart of modern sexuality,” Ryan writes in the book he coauthored with Cacilda Jethá. “Our cultivated ignorance is devastating. The campaign to obscure the true nature of our species’ sexuality leaves half our marriages collapsing under an unstoppable tide of swirling sexual frustration, libido-killing boredom, impulsive betrayal, dysfunction, confusion, and shame....And how many of the couples who manage to stay together for the long haul have done so by resigning themselves to sacrificing their eroticism on the altar of three of life’s irreplaceable joys: family stability, companionship, and emotional, if not sexual, intimacy?”
In order to complete the film, Dhawan is seeking crowd-funding, appealing for donations via Indiegogo. The project is part of his master’s degree in film production, which he’s pursuing at UBC.
He’s hoping to travel to Brazil to document the Canela tribe, which believes in “partible paternity”. The term describes the idea that all men who have intercourse with a woman during her pregnancy share the biological fatherhood of her child. There are said to be several geographically separated groups in South America’s lowland forests that share this belief, and it may exist in some indigenous peoples of New Guinea, among other parts of the world.
Dhawan also captures on film the views of ex-girlfriends as well as his own parents and siblings; he interviews polyamorists too. But he insists he’s not making the film to advance any particular cause.
“I don’t want to advocate at all for anything,” he says. “I have things I want to do in my life, but I don’t want to force my beliefs on anyone else. I’m not out to change the world. But I want to make sure my relationship is a good, ethical, loving relationship where I can feel whole and complete and my partner can too.”
He does, however, hope that the film will break the silence when it comes to the taboo subject of polyamory.
“People should at least be able to talk about it,” Dhawan says. “When I first tried to bring up the subject with my girlfriend in 2008, there was no language to even discuss it. I know it sounds idealistic, but I hope that infidelity will be a remnant of human history. I really do. I don’t know why we have to lie to the most important people in our lives.”