Posted by: LucidMystery | February 22, 2014

When I Googled “Monogamism”…

Google can be a dangerous thing. On the one hand, it can be valuable and provide a path to exactly the information I was looking for. Or…it can lead me down a rabbit-trail of baby animal pictures, quizzes about what superhero I should be, videos of college kids grabbing electric fences, anti-vaccine mommy blogs, the nutritional information to accompany my favorite Chipotle burrito (dear heavens, never visit that site!), or pretty much anything else someone’s imagination can dream up. Today, though, Google led me to thoughts I guess I hadn’t paid much attention to.

Let me backtrack. I read Matt Walsh’s blog pretty regularly. Now granted, I’m a bit more moderate than he is, so while I sometimes read his posts and think “YES!,” sometimes I read them and think “Eh, not sure about that, but interesting thought.” One of his older posts on monogamy in particular resonated with me pretty seriously, and ultimately started today’s rabbit trail through a Google Wonderland.

You see, Matt was defending monogamy. Defending a promise two people make to each other–a promise that recognizes life will bring challenges but brings a partner along to help navigate the obstacles. He was defending a relationship that, while occasionally painful, can ultimately bring more fulfillment and a deeper connection than any other earthly relationship can. What sent me to Google was the disdain some folks have for that relationship.

I simply Googled “monogamism” and “monogamy.” Here were some of the things I found…

“The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love, and the Reality of Cheating.”

“Scandals be damned. The goal of marriage, argues Dan Savage — devoted husband, proud father, sex columnist — should be stability, not monogamy.”

“Monogamism is commonplace. And it is bigotry. Monogamism is no more justifiable than racism or sexism or homophobia, and one day, it will be as reviled.”

“Polygamism and Monogamism: Why is Better?”

“Sex at Dawn: Why Monogamy Goes Against Our Nature…From testicle size to slutty ancestors, a new book explains what human history teaches us about sex and couples.”

“An estimated 90% of all bird species are monogamous.”

“Monogamy: Who Needs It? Scientists are still asking where monogamy came from.”

“The New Monogamy: Marriage with Benefits.”

I have a lot of conflicting thoughts on this subject. What do I think about monogamy? Does it really matter if people have different views of what monogamy is or what it should be? What are the pros and cons of polyamorous relationships versus monogamous ones? Does it really make a difference, anyway?

Before I begin spouting off my thoughts, yes, I am a Bible-believing Christian. Label me as biased (not that anyone isn’t.) Keep in mind, though, that I’m also an “academic.” This Monday (ack!) I’m defending my dissertation on wildlife population genetics. My doctoral qualifying exams were in physiology and evolution, so I’m not a complete nincompoop on the subject of human evolution and the history of hominid mating systems even if I have an idea of what I want my own relationships to be like. So…uh…I guess my conclusions will be from a blend of my faith and the natural world. Take from that what you will.

Well, with that disclaimer out of the way, now for my findings, thoughts, etc. From all the things I ran into while looking up the negative side of monogamy, there were a few general themes. 1.) Monogamy is not natural for humans. 2.) Monogamy is too much of a challenge to burden someone with. 3.) Monogamy is a lie anyway since infidelity rates are pretty outstanding. 4.) Monogamy doesn’t make me happy. The problem is that each of these arguments has a few serious flaws that stop me in my tracks.

1.) Monogamy is not natural for humans.

Ok…any argument involving the word “natural” drives me crazy. Since did something being a “natural” behavior automatically make that the optimal behavior? Lying, stealing, cheating, hiding, running away–those are all natural behaviors. Infanticide, tyranny, oppression, discrimination–those are naturally occurring. You don’t have to teach kids to lie. It’s completely natural. You have to teach them not to. And as much as I love MLK’s quote that you have to teach a child to hate, I’m sorry, but biologically speaking you do not. The inclination towards prejudice and discrimination is completely natural, but that does NOT make it right. So arguing that monogamy isn’t for everyone based on whether or not monogamy is “natural” a terrible direction unless we are operating off completely different platforms of morality (nature vs human ethics.)

Also, ok, I hate to go here; but if we really want to take a “natural” theme for all it’s worth, then human semen type demonstrates that at the very least, humans were “meant” to be monandrous (single male), if not monogamous. If you compare the mating systems and semen types of primates, the more promiscuous the “culture,” the…um…more coagulant the ejaculate. This supposed to be a form of sperm competition — block the runway so even if this female you just had an adventure with goes off and has another adventure with another male, that second guy’s sperm won’t make it to the uterus and he won’t reproduce. Bonobos and chimps, for example — pretty much everybody mates with everybody else (good golly, try taking a group of kids past the bonobo exhibit at the zoo. There will be questions.) Predictably, chimps and bonobos even have what’s called a “copulatory plug” where the semen basically solidifies into…well, a plug…to keep out male competitor sperm. Humans have nothing like that. Very little sperm competition because our “natural” state is a one-male mating system. The number of females, well, that’s debatable. But if I’m only gettin’ one male, uh, he’s only gettin’ one female.

2.) Monogamy is too much of a challenge to burden someone with.

Anything worth having or doing is going to be a challenge. Case and point, the last six years of my life have been a huge struggle. I’ve doubted my intelligence, my abilities, my life direction, heck even the point of my existence. On Monday, though, if all goes well, I’ll be granted the highest possible degree in science. There are so many doors that I will be able to open only because I’ve spent the past several years proving that I’m not a quitter and I can deal with the ups and downs of science as a career. When I think of what I will be able to do for conservation biology, for scientific literacy, for all of the students that may enter my classrooms…some ups and downs are worth the struggle in the long run.

Is monogamy a struggle? Ask me that if a shirtless Channing Tatum showed up at my door and begged me to have him right then and there. I’m sure it is. In my experience, though, temptations rarely arise in the form of unexpected, blatant sexuality dragging you into a velvet-silk-and-maybe-chains night of passion. More often than not, temptation arises subtly…that curvy woman at the office who is just such a great listener…and after a few months you notice her calming eyes…a few months later, her steady voice and charming demeanor…and a few months later, some forbidden magic suggests she understands you better than your wife ever did. Or flip that around entirely. This works exactly the same for men and women. Is a challenge then to say no? Of course it is! But the strong desire was preceded by months of innocent attachment, a slow build of a relationship. Could it be love? Of course. Love is both a noun and a verb. You may be helplessly attracted to someone, but you do have to choose to allow the growth of love. I suppose in this argument, which is better? A long, possibly bumpy road of a life-long commitment? Or the short staccatos of punctuated relationships starting and ending every couple of years, each heart break as acute if not worse than the one before?

The alternative is an “open marriage,” which is kind of an oxymoron, but whatever. A “married” couple who regularly has relationships with other people, and they’re honest about it. Would that work for me? Heck no. I guess honesty is better than nothing, but I can’t fathom the idea that the person who chose to be with me for life is say that because I don’t know exactly how to fulfill him sexually, rather than work on it with me, he is going to find that fulfillment somewhere else. (And come on now, how bad could “working on it” possibly be, hehe)

3.) Monogamy is a lie anyway since infidelity rates are pretty outstanding.

School is a lie because a lot of kids get bad grades. Beauty shops don’t exist because some people still have mullets. The gym is a lie because some have overweight members.

Come on, now. We already mentioned above that monogamy is rough. Are some people going to fail? Yes. Are some marriages going to be ruined because of it? Yes. Does that mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Dumb cliche, but hopefully no. Cultural acceptance of infidelity is part of the problem, but because some people fail, that’s no reason to denounce those who put work into their relationship. Even those who work at it may at some point fail. Last I checked, though, universities don’t close because some students never master quantum mechanics or non-linear algebra.

4.) Monogamy doesn’t make me happy.

A couple problems with this statement. We can start with the physiological. Our experience of biological happiness is subjective and hormonal; thus, when you say you’re “happy,” it’s not necessarily the same thing as when Sally says she’s happy. I don’t remember all the details of oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, etc, but essentially, our moods boil down to a chemical cocktail that our brains produce as a response to environmental stimuli. Stressed? You’ve probably activated the HPA axis, and your body is spitting out cortisol. Sleepy? Your circadian rhythm hit a certain point and melatonin has you wanting a pillow. Unhappy in your marriage? You or your partner, or you and your partner, are behaving in ways that trigger unpleasant physiological responses. Fixable? Probably. Easy? Not necessarily. Worth it? You tell me. The trouble is when you run around looking for novel ways to manipulate your biological happiness level. For example, porn addicts fail big time because they eventually lose the ability to be aroused in real life because they have become dependent on the dopamine fix from the visual stimuli of unusual scenarios. In other words, they lose the ability to find a certain aspect of “happiness” until the addiction is treated.

On the flip side to happiness is the Biblical concept of joy, something that is not dependent on surrounding circumstances. This is where I’m going to lose some of you, but if you have a spiritual side at all, I would appeal to anecdotal evidence that suggests those who have maintained monogamous, life-long partnerships are the ones who have that extra God-given joy…a feeling that isn’t dependent on your external situation. Again, joy is subjective. For me, it’s a peace, an inner strength, and a sense of hopeful trust. I don’t know how to win scientific arguments with that, but then again, I don’t really want to try. I do believe in humans as spiritual beings, and I do think there is more to our emotions than a mix of hormones. Just don’t tell my academic advisor that 😉

Sooo…what’s my point?

I guess…my bottom line is this: monogamy is not for me. In monogamy, you learn to know someone far better than is possible in multi-year or multi-partner relationships. Aren’t we worth someone dedicating their life to knowing us in that way? What are we teaching future generations about individual human worth when they see marriages collapsing? I’m not saying that some marriages don’t need to end. If you’re a woman with an abusive husband, I’ll even help you pack! But some things are worth fighting for. Rough patches won’t last forever if you have two people who genuinely want to make it work. That’s a big “if,” I know…but I at least want to say I tried at real love. Not Disney it-feels-so-good-I-might-sing love (though that will be part of it). The gritty, everyday, left-overs for dinner, the resolve, the protection, the security, the fights, the relief, the hugs and snuggles, the who-didn’t-replace-the-toilet-paper-roll, the grass that just won’t grow while the weeds just won’t stop, the Chinese take-out because our reservation was lost, the awful matching Halloween costumes, the old car with the flat tire–I want all that. I want the stories and memories, the good and the bad. And one life-long adventure buddy is the only way to get it.

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