Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is monogamy realistic?

It troubles me how cheaters have busted out left and right in the headlines over the past year. Celebrities such as Tiger Woods and David Letterman, and our esteemed (ahem) political leaders such as John Edwards, Mark Sanford and Eliot Spitzer have challenged and ultimately broadened my view of fidelity and human nature. Have we become a society of people who more than ever wallow in instant gratification, shallowness, self-indulgence and self-absorption? Or am I naive to think that humanity hasn't always been so lacking in boundaries?

When it comes to relationships, what are the realities of modern life?

In an age of hookups, friends with benefits, online dating, and growing life expectancy is it still reasonable to expect people to pair up and stay monogamous until death do us part? I think it's within the realm of human potential, but it seems to be an easier practice for some than others. I often wonder if serial monogamy may be more pragmatic... a situation in which people move from one committed long-term relationship to another and choose partners for different reasons at different stages of life. For some though, even serial monogamy seems to be too restrictive.

The expectation that one person should be our everything might be unrealistic given our day and age. The 1970s introduced the concept of "open marriage" in which couples stayed married but were free to date other people. More recently, polyamory-- the practice of having romantic relationships with multiple people at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of all involved --has been getting a lot of attention.

I’ve heard polyamory described as 'poly-agony' because of all the work you have to do to maintain things. I know a lot of people who have a real problem with seeing their significant other carry-on an intimate and romantic relationship with another person, but some say they don’t. It’s been explained to me that the ultimate goal in polyamory is for everyone in the polyamorous group to live together, that it isn't about having affairs, that it's really about the ability to be open and loving. I’ve read that researchers studying polyamory estimate there are more than half a million polyamorous families in the United States. On the other hand, people seeking shorter, more secretive dalliances these days have more opportunities than ever, especially when there is involvement via the Internet.

It’s no wonder many people believe monogamy is completely on its way out. I wonder about the depth and frequency of monogamy not being honored in practice... I wonder about the real statistics. I wonder if monogamy will soon vanish even as a social convention or ideal; an ideal that may depend upon ones culture, religion and geography.

I’ve seen it reported that Americans have a harsher view of infidelity than people residing in practically any other country… that Americans are too surprised by infidelity when it happens and that we enter into marriage with unrealistic, high expectations about human nature. Whereas the French by contrast are as hopeful about staying faithful as Americans when they get married, but if one of the spouses has an affair, they are able to accept it as something that can happen over the course of a long marriage.

Generally, Americans think if an affair happens, it's the end of the story, the fairy tale has been completely shattered, the person isn't the person we thought they were. The knee-jerk reaction is to get a divorce or split up. Other cultures may possess less of a sense that the person who cheats is a terrible human being or that cheating is a marker of a person's whole character.

Power, wealth and fame are also well-known aphrodisiacs that attract lots of potentially new sexual partners, an issue with which typical couples may not have to grapple. The famous and powerful may look outside their marriage with a sense of entitlement or with an urge to continue the consistent adrenaline rush that their fame brings them. They may need the attention, passion and excitement in their relationships and may have more of an inclination, opportunity and resources to stray.

Human beings may not be wired to stay faithful to one partner for a lifetime, but we can make a conscious decision to do so; a choice that still comes with powerful emotional, biological and economic benefits. I believe there are definite rewards to a monogamous relationship. A committed, monogamous relationship affords us the important ability to count on our partner, taking comfort that they are by our side and a stable constant in our life as we are in theirs. 

We all need a safe harbor. Being devoted to one person and sharing a special loving relationship with them is what it's all about. I think that we would be better off to avoid living our lives like an episode of The Wild Kingdom and make choices in a different way than other mammals. We can think through the consequences, because the consequences of infidelity and lack of commitment to one person can be huge.

Click here for additional reading:

Monogamy Unnatural for Our Sexy Species by: Christopher Ryan

No comments:

Post a Comment