Are we truly a species meant to practice monogamy or is society trying to enforce an outmoded way of life? The topic has puzzled many — after all, the idea that two people can stay in love forever seems farcical when the media bombards us with shocking divorce stories.
Generally, monogomy is defined as the practice of marriage to one person at a time. As you likely noted, this leaves room for divorce (which occurs in nearly 50% of marriages in Western cultures), so you can marry again after a sanctioned separation and still maintain “serial monogamy” with future partners. The other commonly used definition is “the . . . state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner.”
Human biology can make it difficult to maintain either sort of commitment. We’ve all heard the evolutionary argument that men are driven to have as many sexual partners as possible to propagate the species, while women are devoted to finding a constant companion to protect their offspring.
Then there’s the chemical process of relationship in the human body. Long-term love is not sustained by the mad rush we feel in the outset of a relationship, but rather by oxytocin, a chemical that helps us bond. Oxytocin, while pleasurable, does not deliver the same euphoria we feel in early love. So some of us don’t enjoy prolonged relationships because the love we feel at first appears to fade. This phenomenon is especially potent since pop culture would have us believe in perpetual romance.
In her article for Psychology Today, Isadora Alman proposes that we are on a bell curve of relationship tendencies. On one extreme are those who are entirely content with monogamy. They settle into a routine and see benefit in having a single partner. On the other end of the curve are those who prefer open relationships or many short ones. The majority of us lie in the middle, embracing a variety of romantic styles.
The bell curve theory seems to stand up rather well in modern Western culture. The staunch binary viewpoint that monogamy is good and anything else is plain wrong is fading. Some of us now openly choose to have casual, uncommitted sexual relationships; others are raising families alone, no longer relying on the traditional family structure for support. The Atlantic reports that single moms make up one-quarter of US households while single dads make up 6% — in total, numbers that have tripled since the 1960s.
There’s no question that humans can be monogamous. Of course we can. But do you, as an individual, want to be? Dramatic changes have occurred in the last half-century, and marriage is no longer the only certain future facing young adults, particularly women. The decision to have a monogamous relationship is based more on personal choice than ever. And if the last 50 years have seen this much shift in acceptance of alternatives, who’s to know what kind of new relationship forms we’ll see in the next 100.
Posted by Katharina Brown