The problem with monogamy – Part 1

Hi dear friends,

Today I start talking about monogamy. And the first thing I want to say, is that it’s not natural.

Yup, you heard me.

So let’s do it. Let’s touch on one of the things that many of us are not allowed to talk about. How incredibly tough is this thing called monogamy.

Here’s a disturbing thought: monogamy is a legal and moral concept adopted around ten thousand years ago. It stands in stark contradiction to our true nature. So yeah, it has quite a few obvious advantages in today’s society, but it also makes our lives very difficult.

Agreed? Yeah. By those of us who have been in a committed relationship for more than a few years.

In recent years, new voices confirm what we have long suspected: monogamy is unnatural. It’s not natural for fish, reptiles, birds, it’s not natural for mammals, primates and also for humans.

Studies show that in nature, life-long, exclusive partnership rarely exist. Even in animals that were long viewed as sexually monogamous. I hate to break it to you guys, but even swans are not exclusive. They have a steady partner, but they cheat. Often.

Prairie voles are monogamous, but that’s because they lack a certain chemical in their tiny little brains. Their cousins, the woodland voles, mate like crazy with every member of their species.

For anyone who wants to read about it, you should try the excellent book, “Sex at Dawn” (talks about dawn of humanity, not morning erection), by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. This team of husband and wife state that only a tiny number of living creatures are truly monogamous. More interestingly, they contend that until the beginning of modern agriculture, about ten thousand years ago, humans were also not monogamous; they were serial monogamists. Which means that they changed partners every few years.

And that is contrary to most everything we were ever told.

This surprising, blunt and provocative theory says that our true nature stands in striking contrast to our social requirements. That we are not built to stick with one person our entire adult life, and that’s why monogamy is doomed.

Think about it. Now that women can leave a marriage and divorce rates skyrocket, isn’t it a little like serial monogamy?

Ohhhh…. Fine, that might make some sense…

So let’s explore.

According to scientists that support this theory, this is what happened to us:

Up until ten thousand years ago, we were not monogamous because it made ​​no sense from an evolutionary standpoint. For survival, nature prefers a strategy of mixing genes for as large a variety of specimens as possible. Genetic diversity improves survival rates: the more there are different individuals in the population – the higher the chances that some of these individuals will survive when living conditions will change. This is true for flowers, fish and humans. If this person or this flower cannot survive, then another person or another flower will. The wider the gene pool – the better the chances.

You know, evolution.

And for genetic diversity, it’s best to have babies with as many partners as possible.

Consequently, our brains implement this strategy with their chemistry. The desire we feel for our partner wanes after a while, and we might feel desire for a new person. If our desire for our original partner continued at the same level, we wouldn’t want to switch – and that’s bad for human survival. So our brains turn off the desire, and often, reignites it for someone new. Essentially, our brain says to us – a new genetic picture! Yay!

From a survival of the species standpoint, this makes sense.

So when does desire turn itself off? When our offspring is old enough to join the other kids, and doesn’t need us to feed and carry her.  At that point, Mom and Dad can go their separate ways, and find the next partner to produce the next child. Perpetuation of genes – completed.

And this takes about four years, that’s what the scientists think.

How many of us lose that special wow for our partner after about four years? A lot of us.

Our brains fit the tribe life, where serial monogamy was practiced, up until ten thousand years ago. In the tribe it worked, because we shared responsibilities for all the children and all the adults and no one had private property.

Unfortunately, our brains haven’t changed much since. In evolutionary terms, ten thousand years is too short a time for a major change.

So we were left with a brain that doesn’t fit our times. This is what it tells us: feel desire → fall in love/lust→ have a child→ raise her until she can survive on her own → lose desire for your partner→ separate→ feel desire for a new partner→ have another child. Repeat. This cycle is serial monogamy.

This theory explains a lot about us. It explains why at some point in our relationship, our partner no longer takes our breath away. No longer fills us with wonder and bliss and colorful butterflies. It explains why we can keep our hands off him and why we might look at another person and fantasize about having sex with him.

So is serial monogamy the preferred strategy for both males and females? Scientist say it is.

You know the ‘men spreading their seed, women nurturing the relationship’ theory? Well, it’s patriarchal bullshit. The leniency towards philandering men because ‘it’s in their nature’ is an invention of men in a men-controlled society. Same with the concept that it’s not in women’s nature to ‘cheat’ therefore it should not be tolerated.

The wonderful anthropologist and human behavior researcher Dr. Helen Fisher, wrote a fascinating book called “Why We Love”, in which she argues that when it comes to cheating, there is no difference between men and women. In the tribe, she says, the best strategy for both sexes was serial monogamy accompanied by ‘affairs’. That is, on top of the serial monogamy, there were parallel sexual relationships with others, for all kinds of benefits like extra food and protection, more boosting of egos, and such.

So for my first post on the problem with monogamy, what I want to tell you is that if you feel attracted to others, if you feel that your desire for your spouse is not what it used to be, if you don’t understand why you feel so different from what society tells you that you should feel – then you should know: you are normal.

 

I have lots more to say about monogamy, so mosey on over to the next post. And as always, ask questions, write comments, yell at me. Whatever you need.

 

Have a great one!

Callie

 

 

  8 comments for “The problem with monogamy – Part 1

  1. October 21, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    I’ve never personally had a problem with monogamy. You can call bullshit on that all you like, but it’s nothing but the truth. However, I know the majority of people do (and I simply don’t understand this, so maybe my brain is wired differently).

    Even if the science is correct, how does serial monogamy fit in with the rest of our societal conventions? Who takes the kids? When does the child see the other parent? Is it week about or only on weekends? If week about, this limits where the separated parents can live (i.e. both have to be close enough to the school). What about the financial consequences of serial divorce? While women with careers can afford to divorce, this still isn’t the majority of women, and many women are badly affected financially by divorce. What about child support? Who pays it, how much, and for how long? What if the other parent DOESN’T pay it? How much time and money do you spend in court trying to get it? What about the stress of legal agreements around custody, fiancial arrangeents, property divisions, child support? How do you buy property if the relationship has a finite lifetime? And does that mean you have to move house every four years if neither partner can afford to pay the mortgage alone or if the property must be sold to give each partner back their capital?

    What about the stress of raising one or, god forbid, more chldren on your own. The evening hours with two kids on your own are a nightmare (even more so if you have a career, and serial monogamy appears to be premised on the notion of having one in order to be able to financially support it). My husband travels for work, and I have the kids on my own for two days. I have to get up at 5am to get them to daycare by 7am to catch a train that gets me to work late. I leave the office at 4 to pick up the kids by 5:30pm. It’s straight home to do dinner (which I mostly pre-prepare the night before) with no time for me to eat, then bath, and straight to bed. If I’m lucky both are asleep by 7:30pm. If I’m unlucky, the baby starts screaming while the 4yo wants her story and throws a tantrum when I have to leave and both are asleep by 9pm. Somewhere in there I have to feed myself, and we haven’t even gotten to cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry. I don’t know that I could even stay ahead of the bare minimum of chores if I had to do that every day of the week. There’d be no downtime. What does that do to stress levels and overall health?

    And then of course there is the fact that children are more likely to be abused by a step-parent than a parent by birth (yes, the latter happens as well, but the former occurs more often).

    Yes, parents who divorce have to deal with all these issues, but (they hope) only once. Doing it every four years is a totally different kettle of fish.

    We might be wired for serial monogamy, but we have not built our society to suit.

    • Callie Gold
      October 30, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Hi Ciara, (love your name!)
      You raise a slew of execllent questions connected to the aftermath of divorce.
      Here in Israel, there’s a pretty good system in place – both in legislation and in case law that answers most of these questions.
      Mostly, my clients spend about half and half their time with the kids, everybody’s economic welfare goes down for a few years, the kids do okay after a short time if the parents don’t kill each other fighting and don’t drag the kids into the fight, and life goes back to normal (usually with new partners – and more kids from the previous round). I’m not saying it’s easy or perfect, but because there is NO choice and everybody has to go on with their lives, they manage to do it. And they live close to each other. Because they love their kids. And sometimes the courts force them to live close by. Believe it.
      And for people who don’t pay – the system here reacts pretty fast with fines and seizure of property and jail. Child support is one of the better enforced kids of debt.

      This is the true evolution of monogamy in recent years: people learn how to move from one marriage to another – and still stay good parents. And there is no stigma anymore. Some classrooms have a third of the children going to two different houses, depending on the day of the week.

      Again, this is seriously complicated, and I deal with it every day with my clients when we build their agreement, but they NEED to do it. They truly need to divorce – or stay miserable for the rest of their lives. And I respect that.

      So is it easy – NO WAY. But is it necessary sometimes? Yes. Imagine if you were forty, looking at a horrible marriage for the next forty years and then – death…

      I do try very hard to help them make their marriage work. But in some cases they don’t want to. They have had ENOUGH.

      So are we ready socially for serial monogamy? definitely not as much as we should be. Perhaps here in Israel we’re a little more ready, because it’s a more socialist country (just a little). But more and more women are DONE suffering. And they walk away. So society better catch up.

    • calliegold
      October 30, 2014 at 9:26 am

      Hi Ciara, (love your name!)

      You raise a slew of excellent questions connected to the aftermath of divorce.
      Here in Israel, there’s a pretty good system in place – both in legislation and in case law that answers most of these questions.
      Mostly, my clients spend about half and half their time with the kids, everybody’s economic welfare goes down for a few years, the kids do okay after a short time if the parents don’t kill each other fighting and don’t drag the kids into the fight, and life goes back to normal (usually with new partners – and more kids from the previous round). I’m not saying it’s easy or perfect, but because there is NO choice and everybody has to go on with their lives, they manage to do it. And they live close to each other. Because they love their kids. And sometimes the courts force them to live close by. Believe it.
      And for people who don’t pay – the system here reacts pretty fast with fines and seizure of property and jail. Child support is one of the better enforced kids of debt.

      This is the true evolution of monogamy in recent years: people learn how to move from one marriage to another – and still stay good parents. And there is no stigma anymore. Some classrooms have a third of the children going to two different houses, depending on the day of the week.

      Again, this is seriously complicated, and I deal with it every day with my clients when we build their agreement, but they NEED to do it. They truly need to divorce – or stay miserable for the rest of their lives. And I respect that.

      So is it easy – NO WAY. But is it necessary sometimes? Yes. Imagine if you were forty, looking at a horrible marriage for the next forty years and then – death…

      I do try very hard to help them make their marriage work. But in some cases they don’t want to. They have had ENOUGH.

      So are we ready socially for serial monogamy? definitely not as much as we should be. Perhaps here in Israel we’re a little more ready, because it’s a more socialist country (just a little). But more and more women are DONE suffering. And they walk away. So society better catch up.

      • October 31, 2014 at 2:42 am

        Oh, I have no issue with divorce (been there, done that). Would I want to do it again? No. Would I if I HAD to? Yes, but I’d rather avoid the need to have to…. I certainly wouldn’t want it to be the societal expectation.

        It sounds like divorce there works pretty well. Not so great in Australia. My brother doesn’t see his two eldest kids, even though he has court orders. He would need to go back to court to have them enforced, and it’s money he just doesn’t have. There is no good system of enforcing compliance. Too many divorced parents don’t have amicable relationships and use and abuse the kids to get to their former partner. Sad but true (also essentially what has been done to my brother). It’s the rare couple that just gets along and moves on. A friend of my husband’s had his former wife move 5 hours away with their son. He has been trying to move closer, but he hasn’t been able to get a transfer with work (due to internal politics basically). So he’s stuck (there isn’t really any other employer for his role). There’s a system of child support payments whichoften isn’t fair, and more often than not Dads lose out in the child war with Mums (not to suggest it doesn’t always go the other way).

        I actually had a great conversation on this topic on FB that came to some neat conclusions about the fact some people like monogamy and some people don’t. Really what needs to happen is that people need to be having conversations (before marriage) about their important expectations for the future (sexual orientation, do they want kids, is this a marriage for life or a few years, is it an open or closed relationship) so that people can pair up with people with the same expectations.

        After all, while monogamy may not be natural, humanity does an uncountable number of unnatural things. Monogamy works for some people. It is no less unfair on someone who prefers a long-term monogamous relationship to be forced into serial monogamy than it is for someone who prefers serial monogamy to eb forced into a long-term monogamous marriage.

        I’m pleased to hear my response inspired you to write more 🙂

        • calliegold
          November 2, 2014 at 9:56 am

          Hi Ciara,
          Sorry for the delay, getting ready for book tour – so crazy busy !

          One of the inevitable results of women’s financial independence is their ability to divorce (and still feed themselves and their kids). Is it natural? Nothing is natural if you ask me. But as you say, that means nothing! We keep changing so rapidly that nothing truly is natural other than our body functions 🙂
          One of the things our courts do here, is forbid parents from moving too far away from each other. But we’re a tiny country so it’s easier. I can see how difficult it would be in Australia, and also an infringement on constitutional rights of freedom.
          I’m so sorry about your brother – it sounds really horrible!

          I absolutely agree with you as to deep and comprehensive conversations before marriage about expectations! As a matter of fact – that is what I do with my clients – yes, I have some clients that come before marriage to work out issues.

          I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for close to three decades and it works for us, and obviously, it carries many benefits that are incredibly important like security, friendship, support, child rearing capabilites and many more.

          SO I think we agree for the most part ! you from Austraila and me from Israel – both sides of the globe – how wonderful!
          Take care,
          Callie

  2. Tom Striker
    November 3, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    So glad to read this post. Always thought I was the odd one as a serial monogamist with frequent, but loving, affairs. This explains a lot, and, from an evolutionary standpoint, makes sense. Looking forward to the next post in this series.

    • calliegold
      November 5, 2014 at 7:37 am

      Thanks, Tom!
      Will post the next one next week

      Callie

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