As someone once said, “Monogamy is too cruel a rule”
While I can’t call myself a romantic anymore—life gets in the way sometimes, you know?—there once was a time when I believed that two people sharing one love was the strongest and most beautiful thing humans were capable of. I thought, if two people could come together and stay together despite everything and anything, they were superhuman.
Then I hit high school and my friends started getting cheated on. And every time a celebrity’s digressions were headline news, my mother would utter something along the lines of, “That’s normal; the important thing is he never has a mistress, never a full-blown affair.” Then, of course, I had my own experiences where the term “exclusive” had—unbeknownst to me—fine print that stated, “unless I’m drunk and/or horny and you aren’t around.”
Needless to say, I’ve had my run-ins with third parties, whether through stories or personal contact. I started thinking, “Maybe this really is how things are.”
Alas, ladies and gents, gather around; apparently, monogamy really ~isn’t~ the norm and humans weren’t built for 1:1 relationships. And before you get high and mighty, why not give me (and science) a little listening to?
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The animal kingdom
Did you know that only 3% to 5% of mammal species are known for lifelong and monogamous bonds?
Wolves, for example, start mating at the age of two and, from there, start growing their pack (usually with a new litter ever year). Beavers also give the good name of monogamy some prestige as they are said to put in as much time maintaining their relationships as they do fixing up their dams and lodges—they even co-parent the kids. And fighting the good fight for long-distance relationships are Bald Eagles, who fly solo during winter and migration but always reconnect with their mates during breeding season (for at least 20 years).
A history lesson
According to Professor David P. Brash of the University of Washington (and author of several books on sex, evolution and infidelity), monogamy itself is a recent societal creation. And if you take a look at humanity’s history; he does have a point.
Older kings, for example, had a wife, yes, but they also had one or two other women who he could visit in the evenings. And not only was this known the kingdom-over; the women of these extra-marital affairs reaped the benefits of their intimacy with the ruler. And before you say, “Sure, but that was the ~king,~ of course he could do that!” here’s a little statistic for you: 80% of early human societies were polygamous.
The search for the best offspring
There is no shame in choosing our partners based on what they can offer our offspring/s—whether physical, financial or genetic. When it comes to men, biology has them wanting to “spread their seed” (I hate that term), which leads them to want multiple partners. On the other hand, women want their offspring to be the best that it can be, which sometimes means “experimenting” with different partners.
Social monogamy vs. sexual monogamy
Okay, this might be getting too specific already, but it’s what the experts say!
Social monogamy is defined as “the ability to share a one-on-one relationship based on social norms: living together, nesting together, foraging together and having sex together.” On the other hand, sexual monogamy is exactly what it sounds like: when one is exclusively sexual with another.
The reasons may be different, but the consensus among experts seems to generally be the same: humans weren’t made to be monogamous; our genetic makeup and basic instincts seem to point in the other direction. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
Look, truth be told, I am a believer of monogamy—even with all the above. I am in no way saying that cheating on someone is right; not when you’ve agreed to be with each other and not anyone else. Just because something isn’t “natural” to us doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of it; just because we weren’t built for it doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Monogamy is still something we can very much expect and demand from our significant others. Unlike many other animals, humans are able to do the “unnatural.”
So if monogamy is what you want, ask for it and be ready to provide it. Otherwise, be honest about an open relationship—it works better for some people—and don’t feel weird about it.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver