Thoughts on Monogamy


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I have come to believe that  I have some “nontraditional” views on monogamy.  I’ve mentioned things here and there throughout lovesexandmarriage, but I’ve decided to put it all down in one spot.  It came across my mind the other day when I was talking to a woman I know about her marriage.  She and her husband are in a bad place.  They’ve been married for six and a half years, and things are worse now then they’ve ever been.  There’s a lot of trust issues going on. She said something along the lines that if she knew marriage was going to be this hard, she never would have done it.  I commented, without even thinking, “It’s because it’s not natural.”  She looked at me questioningly, “What do you mean?”

Damn.  Here you go again, LSAM, putting your foot in your mouth.  See, this girl, she’s rather conservative.  A stay at home mom.  Very religious, almost fundamentally so, having just recently been “born again.”  She lives in a traditional household.  Her husband is a farmer.  It’s breakfast at 8, lunch at 12, dinner at 5.  The house, the kids, the laundry, dishes, groceries, etc, all her responsibility.  Very 1950ish.  So I knew I had to tread lightly here.  “Well, I don’t want to offend you with my thoughts on the matter.”  She promised me that she wouldn’t be offended.  She said that she “envies” M and I, because we have such a “great” relationship.  I told her that we, too, have our own problems and issues, but that we work very hard at our marriage.  And that we’ve almost lost it before too.  Marriage is hard.  It takes work.  It takes biting your tongue and giving up some of your own goals and desires.  Compromising on things for the benefit of the relationship.  I said that I’d never do it again though, if things don’t work out this time…

Because I believe that monogamy is not natural.  And here is why.  We are animals.  We are primates.  And most primates do not mate for life  (Gibbons, which do, tend to be the exception).  As a matter of  fact, less than 5% of the animal population on Earth are truly monogamous.  Now, some primates, and many other animals, form relationships.  Some of them have, for lack of a better term, partners.  This is referred to as Social Monogamy, but they still are not sexually monogamous.  They partner, they may rear their young together, but they do not stop having sex with others.  It just doesn’t happen.

And the few animals that do mate for life, such as swans, they don’t cheat.  Hell, if a Black Vulture begins to act promiscuous, the other vultures, not just his mate, will attack him.  This is the main thing for me.  If we’re designed to mate for life, then cheating would not exist.  Or it How long were you with your partner before you first cheated would be a rarity.  But that is not the case.  Cheating happens.  All the time.  I know a lot of people who’ve cheated.  A ton.  And I probably only know about a very small percentage of the infidelities that are going on (and, just in case you’re wondering, most cheaters don’t get caught.  Six out of ten cheaters think they completely got away with it).

It’s hard to actually find a concrete number of people who cheat.  For married couples (because this data is easiest to find), it seems to range somewhere from as low as 11% to as much as 60% depending on what you read.  The higher percentages consider that many researchers feel people are still lying, even in studies, afraid to admit to cheating.  And keep in mind, these statistics are for people who are now married, not people who have already divorced.  My assumption is if you included this population, the numbers would be significantly higher.  But that is just my thoughts.  The fact remains that people cheat, and they do it often.

I believe that humans have evolved in such a way that we form attachments, we “fall in love,” for a brief period (about 5 to 7 years).  This occurs because a human child takes so long to become self-sustaining and so much effort has to go into rearing in those first few years.  Ask any single parent; they will tell you.  It’s exhausting.  Now imagine doing that in a world  where you still have to forage for food, hunt for meat, find shelter, protect yourself from the elements and predators.  With only one parent, the chance that a human infant would survive to the point that they could reproduce is slim to none.  But add in a second parent, and suddenly the ability to survive increases exponentially. **I think this is a mutually beneficial thing, from a biological point of view.  And I think both partners are designed to do this.  I know there is a lot of talk about men spreading their seeds and women trying to protect their offspring for propagation of the species and all that, I think this is fundamentally different.**

But by the time a human child reaches the age of 4 or 5, they have learned how to walk, how to communicate, how to feed themselves.  They no longer need the aid of two parents to survive.  This is why I believe people “fall out of love.”  And think about it.  People talk about the “7 year itch.”  I had always heard that “the fifth  year” of marriage is always the hardest (it was, thus far, in  mine, and interestingly enough, it was also the 7th year of our relationship).  It seems more than just coincidence to me.

So what does this mean to me?  To my marriage?  Really, I don’t know.  I understand it.  I get it.  I’d still be pissy (really pissy) if I found out M cheated.  But it would be easier if it was a drunken

Marriage in America in 2010night out, some random person compared to an affair.  I wouldn’t be happy.  And one of us would definitely be sleeping on the couch for a while.  But I don’t think it would break up my marriage.  I think we would get through it, if we tried.

I remember M and I laying in bed one night. (Quick back-story:  M and I lived together as roommates, became friends with benefits, and eventually moved forward, got our own place and got married.  This conversation took place shortly after we got our own place).  I said that if he was ever thinking about cheating, that I would like him to talk to me about it, preferably before it happened.  I thought if I understood what was going on before it happened, then it would be easier to accept.  Even now, I still believe that.  I am not necessarily opposed to a somewhat open marriage.  M and I do not have an open marriage, and I’m not even suggesting that we should.  I’m simply saying that I can definitely see the benefits of one, as long as it is done with honesty, trust, and respect.  (And I’m not glorifying here, I know it can also fuck up relationships.  But that’s a whole different subject).

I don’t know.  I think I lost the point I was trying to make.  Hell, I don’t know if there was a point.  I’m just saying, we live in this world and we have these ideals.  And they’re fucked up.  They are against our biological make-up.  And yet we judge people, we criticize them.  We feel guilt, shame, disgust.  I think we’ve set ourselves up for failure…

26 responses to “Thoughts on Monogamy

  1. Interesting post. As much as I long for a monogamous relationship, I totally agree with you. Humans aren’t designed for monogamy. I’ve never thought about the fifth and seventh years of marriage in that way, but I think that’s a valid point. Wow.

  2. Another great post.

    I think Penguins are also monogamous, but I didn’t know Swans were too. Interesting.

    There are said to be a future extra terrestrial race called the Pleiadians, who are not monogamous. Apparently in there society, if one person in a one-on-one relationship decides to break-up the relationship, it’s seen as a good thing, rather than a bad thing. They’re said to be a poly amorous species, and supposed to be our ‘future selves’. So this could back up your point here that perhaps we’re heading to a future where society will be based around polygamy, rather than monogamy.

    However, I also think there are some exceptions to the points you make, for some Couples have excellent marriages with the need or desire to cheat elsewhere. In some situations I think this is down to them being a perfect match from the start, the same maturity levels when they first got together and they have progressed on the same path.

    I think cheating usually occurs when both or one of the persons in the relationship have entered a different path and thus it creates problems. Plus, I also think Cheating comes down to our Reptilian brain, the oldest part of our brain that is the core of reproduction and survival. I think Cheating occurs mostly down to this part of the brain and can be triggered by the need to spread your seed.

    The points you make about raising a child is great too. There is no ‘need’ on a basic level for the parents to stay together. However, I also think that the role of a ‘Father’ has been lost in our society and that the acceptance of Single Mothers trying to play both roles is severely damaging. I’m digressing.

    Great post, plenty of food for thought, I can see you and M having an open relationship in the future. Have you ever discussed Swinging?

    • Most species that form relationships are polygamous, and even many cultures have supported polygamous pairing.

      Cheating happens for so many reason, I don’t think it can even be generalized. Of course there are people in bad marriages, people who are unhappy, people who aren’t getting laid enough. But I think that there are people in perfectly fine relationships that still cheat. I know people who cheat all the time, but couldn’t tell you why they do it.

      Out of curiosity, if cheating, “can be triggered by the need to spread your seed,” how can you explain it in women, in general, or even after menopause?

      And no, other than FFM threesomes, we have never discussed swinging… Yet.

      And it’s a very interesting perspective you have Loki. Definitely things to think about. Thanks for sharing!

  3. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you’ll love ethnographer Christopher Ryan’s book, “Sex at Dawn,” which is a cultural history of monogamy’s roots in our culture’s shift to agriculture (once there’s something to inherit, in a society where women cannot own property, men get very interested in controlling women’s sexuality to ensure that the people who inherit his property are indeed his genetic offspring).

    Ryan debunks the “monogamous birds” myth by digging into the actual studies of animals that those claims come from (the animal researchers actually claim that the animals are pair bonded while they are raising a particular nest of hatchlings or penguin chick, not for life; journalists writing for newspapers misread the studies, leading to a widespread myth about monogamous animals. The animals we are descended from, of course, have never been monogamous. Nonetheless, we’re not sprinting across the savanna anymore, either, so the idea that our ancestors were or were not monogamous doesn’t really cut much ice with me; our ancestors didn’t wear clothes or watch TV or engage in representative democracy, either).

    @Loki, your argument would make more sense if studies of the children of lesbian and gay couples didn’t turn out to be just as well adjusted as children of straight couples. It’s not about gender, it’s about resources. Two parents have more money and time than one parent.

    I’m always interested that in the wake of infidelity, some people are more disturbed that a partner would cheat for “mere sex,” while others are more disturbed if they sense their partner had an emotional bond with someone else. LSAM, I think you put your finger on the thing to be truly upset about: lying and concealment.

    I’m in an open marriage — and the thing that makes it work is that we don’t do anything without everyone’s knowledge and consent. That includes the partners of anyone we’re dating, too — I never date anyone who is cheating on their partner.

    • Studies are not full proof. But you also make a good retort. There will always be exceptions to the rule.

    • Damn, Lily… You’ve got me backed up until May in reading materials! But this sounds very interesting, so I’ll definitely check into it.

      Also, during my research for this post, I, too, found that many “monogamous” creatures are not truly monogamous. Very few are. Even animals that mate for life tend to cheat. They have DNA tested different “siblings” only to find that the bonded male is not always the father. I understand your argument against what are ancestors were doing, since we live in such a different world now, but I think it is hard to fight our natural instincts and pulls. But that’s just my opinion.

      And I think your philosophy with your marriage is fantastic. And would help to eliminate unneeded drama.

      As always, thanks for commenting!

      • Pfft. If you’re going to read one book about monogamy and its discontents, read Esther Perel’s “Mating in Captivity.” It’s a lot more practical than Ryan’s magnum opus, and I thought it was fascinating. It’s a quick read, too, so you can get through with your backlog by April Fool’s. 🙂

        • I’ve heard of this one before. I’ll have to see in B&N has it. If not, it’s off to the library (except that I actually had to order Screw the Roses as they didn’t have it for my nook and one of my friends from college works at the library… Oh, well!

  4. I was raised Christian and the entire premise within that religion and most others is monogamy. Is religion just a way to keep people in line, oppressed, etc?
    I cheat. Mentally, verbally, and physically, but it tends to keep me more interested in the status quo at home. I like to provide, hunt and forage so to speak, and I like the idea that I have a tight friendship at home, but the cheating is secret, not open. So in that respect is it dishonest? Or is it the other issues in my life that cause me to reach out to other women like this?
    I like post; it gives me reason to look at my own life and whether I need to change.

    • Trip X, Do I think that religion is just a way to keep people inline, oppressed? Let me sum it up with a quote from Karl Marx: “… Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again… Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people… The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” Like opium, religion does not fix anything, just makes you feel better about it for a little bit…

      Sorry. I’ll always take the opportunity to throw in a philosophical quote! Do I think religion is meant to keep people inline… Abso-fucking-lutley. And let me speak for what I know… I will say that Christianity is meant to keep people inline. That’s why there are so many damn rules, regulations, etc. I’m Catholic, so I get to confess and then all is better. Yeah right. If there is a god and he is judging me based on my sexual preferences, fuck him anyway.

      Let me ask you, Trip… Do you feel it’s dishonest? Are there problems at home that are making you look elsewhere? Or do you just like playing around?

      It’s not up to me to say if it’s dishonest or not, wrong or not. I’m not here to judge. I have my own skeletons in the closet. But I am interested to see what you think about it yourself…

    • The most populous relgiion in the world isn’t monogamous.

      • Ok. I’ll bite. What’s the most populous religion in the world, because, according to google (yes, I just googled it), it’s Christianity (@ 33%, followed by Islam @ 21%, non-religious @16%, Hinduism @14%, etc…)

  5. Great post … I did one a while back about why being Poly is more natural. Sexually monogamous relationships are actually the least likely yet are the ones that humans revere. I personally feel like it all stems back to economics and not instinct, but that’s just me.

  6. Many of the 5% monogamous creatures chat. Swans who are famous for having the one mate are regularly seem with other swans. Monogamy doesn’t make for a good marriage or relationship. Other things do, like communication, trust, interests and respect, but we can have those with more than one.

    I agree with you. religion was invented to control.

    • Great comment Kate. And you are 100% right… communication, trust, interests and respect (and don’t forget sex… great sex has to be there too 🙂 ) are what makes relationships and/or marriages work. It doesn’t matter how “monogamous” you are if you don’t have these things.

  7. Cheat, not chat. LOL maybe they do that too.

  8. I completely agree with everything you said, LSAM. And Lily, thanks for explaining the origins of monogamy. It doesn’t make it any more natural, but it does help to understand it.

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