The idea of a world without monogamous relationships terrifies most people. But why? Think about it: what is the status quo? Jealousy, infidelity and divorce are all rife, even with strong expectations of monogamy, which is an otherwise biologically unnatural and emotionally strenuous societal ritual. If you are not sold yet on that fact, let me tell you why.
Maybe I should soften my stance for a moment to clarify that I slander monogamy while fully believing in soulmates and love. At one point, I even considered myself a hopeless romantic. Everyone deserves to find a pure and true love in their life, but my greater common sense reminds me this is rarely the case.
It never made sense to me why romantic relationships are so complicated in comparison to other relationships. With our friends, we rarely experience rollercoasters of emotions or heart-wrenching breakups because we are not looking for a life-long, live-in partner. But with romantic relationships, we are.
A more important distinction: when we are making friends there is no expectation of monogamy. We can make and keep as many friends as we want without the looming threat of being unable to entertain others. On the contrary, monogamy in romantic relationships creates a rigid and unexplorable environment for people. And, to be frank, rigid and unexplorable is the last thing people need when it comes to our relatively uncontrollable sexual desires.
To elaborate, there is not a single animal species on our planet that is truly monogamous — only 3 to 5% of species practice some form of monogamy and even the ones that appear to practice it in its truest form have their slip-ups.
As a matter of fact, according to the Institute for Family Studies, “before Western imperialism, 83% of Indigenous societies were polygynous” because it was the best way for men to spread their genes to the most offspring possible. Over time, however, there was a shift toward monogamy due to the advantages of biparental care for human children. Still, monogamy was not about love but rather something like property or social class. It was not until the Enlightenment and the idea of the pursuit of happiness that monogamy for the purposes of love emerged. So, romance is somewhat of a new concept, a concept that we survived thousands of years without.
The bottom line is that monogamy is hard and we are not biologically built for it. Despite the human desire to be heard, seen and loved in a romantic lifetime partnership, our natural urges for sexual exploration are arguably stronger. Terri Conley, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, raises an important question by asking, “if we’re hardwired to be monogamous, why do we have to put all these restrictions on people not to cheat?”
For example, when we want to start seeing someone monogamously, we make a point of having the “exclusivity” conversation; when we say our marriage vows, we often make a point to discuss loyalty and faithfulness. It is almost as if we are overcompensating for something —
“something” being the unspoken fact that we are hardwired for non-monogamy. We would not need to say or do all of those things if monogamy was a truly natural phenomenon. I am not condoning cheating and I don’t think Conley is either. I am just stating the objective fact that unless you and your partner are the last two people on Earth, due to our animalistic roots, temptation is inevitable. And too often, temptation wins.
Even more unfortunate is how easy cheating has become. Access to apps like Snapchat, that primarily focus on marketing their disappearing photos and texts, has unlocked a sneaky new way to send provocative texts and pictures. With little to no trace of any of it, Snapchat, and even the internet as a whole, has become the perfect place to cheat. On a similar note, 20 years ago there was no such thing as going through someone’s Instagram following and seeing beautiful model after beautiful model. In short, social media has become a breeding ground for jealousy and infidelity.
The moral of the story is that monogamy and trust are hard to achieve in the world we live in today. Social media and technology create a new set of problems that range from jealousy at minimum, to something worse, like infidelity. Suffice it to say, our generation sucks, and I do not feel like writing some eloquent sentence to drive that sad point home.
It is clear that biological instinct has a strong hold on us, yet we live in a society that forces us to suffer from that hold, rather than embrace and acknowledge it. By forcing ourselves to practice monogamy, we are constantly experiencing a push and pull between following monogamous social orders and following the path that our biologies naturally lead us on. Hence, monogamy creates an unnecessary choice: to cheat or not to cheat. Without monogamy, this choice and the happenstance of making the wrong one would not exist.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying I want to practice polygamy, because I really don’t and probably never will (not to mention, marriage to multiple people is illegal in our country). Despite that, I think consensual non-monogamous relationships, otherwise known as open relationships, do work better than monogamy.
Proving my point, a study published in Perspectives of Psychological Science in March 2017 showed that jealousy was more prevalent in monogamous relationships than non-monogamous ones. The general idea was that without the threat or possibility of cheating, jealousy is no longer a factor in a relationship. But in monogamy, cheating is always a possibility and this is where it falls short.
With this looming possibility, finding love today is scary and close to impossible. More days than not, I simply do not want to do it; that is why I am writing this column. Not because I genuinely hate monogamy, but because I hate the people who make monogamy impossible to believe in. From my own experiences, as well as data that says almost 50% of people have cheated on their partners, things are looking pretty bleak.
With all that said, repressing our biological impulses will never serve us well. This causes us to become stuck in a perpetual cycle of what we should do versus what our biology makes us want to do, and that is unfair to both ourselves and the people we are romantically involved with. Thus, social structures would benefit from either a shift toward open relationships or a better understanding of how to establish boundaries in a relationship before something happens to go awry.
If anything, being open and honest about our interests and boundaries would create stronger communication and partnership. Such changes are necessary because (and I’ll say it again, there’s no way to sugarcoat it) monogamy is doomed.
Anna Trupiano is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.