By Tom Burns
Get a bunch of biologists in a room with people who’ve gone through a messy divorce and everyone will agree on one thing.
It isn’t, even if it feels like it should be.
Because we all WANT monogamy to be this perfect, pure thing. We take comfort in the idea that, one day, we will find our ideal soulmate and that one person will be EVERYTHING to us. Thanks to our flawless relationship, we will never be alone and never, ever have any unfulfilled desires or questioning feelings about our cute neighbor or the hot barista at Starbucks.
Unfortunately, the reality of… well, reality is that human beings aren’t biologically designed to mate with one other person for LIFE.
Don’t believe me? Look at the current divorce rate.
Or just talk to a scientist. In the words of a 2001 Salon article, “We are not naturally monogamous. Anthropologists report that the overwhelming majority of human societies either are polygynous or were polygynous prior to the cultural homogenization of recent decades.”
What does that mean? It means that, back in the hunter-gatherer days, men would procreate with one woman, she’d become pregnant, and then he’d move on to impregnate another woman. It wasn’t because he was callous or uncaring. It was because he was trying to keep the species going.
Now NONE of this means that we’re all supposed to be having sex with whoever lumbers into our field of vision whenever we want. Even if monogamy is inherently flawed, it doesn’t mean we should openly reject the idea of a committed relationship.
However, it does mean that we have to STOP treating monogamy as some sort of pious, rigid unattainable ideal.
We need to acknowledge that monogamy, like our sexuality, needs to have some fluidity.
Let me explain…
In her upcoming book, Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love, YourTango founder Andrea Miller tells a great story of how one couple found a way to stretch the limits of their monogamy without actually breaking their marital vows.
She’d spoken to noted psychotherapist Ian Kerner who told her about a married couple named Mike and Jane. Their long-time marriage was experiencing strain because Mike had expressed the desire to have a threesome with his wife and another woman.
Jane was extremely uncomfortable with the idea and, as a result, Mike felt sexually rejected by her. During counseling, the couple began an open dialogue about WHY Mike wanted to experience a threesome. It turns out his primary reason was that he wanted to watch another woman pleasure his wife.
Jane acknowledged that his desire was legitimate and that he shouldn’t be ashamed of it, but also confirmed that she wouldn’t be comfortable with that arraignment. In turn, Mike felt validated and felt like his wife understood his urges to bring another person into their relationship, EVEN IF she personally couldn’t consent to it.
But the acknowledgment of his not-traditionally monogamous desiresmeant EVERYTHING to Mike.
Andrea recounts the positive impact that their new open dialogue had on their marriage. She noted that, from now on, whenever Mike and Jane “went dancing, they would make the night adventurous by playfully flirting with other men and women without ever actually bringing them home. In the end, Mike never truly needed the threesome to be fulfilled — he needed the ability to have a judgment-free space with Jane to explore fantasies.”
That story is a PERFECT example of why we need to be open-minded about monogamy.
Mike and Jane’s marriage didn’t suffer because they acknowledged that they had sexual desires that went beyond their marital bond. In fact, their relationship thrived once they started talking about those urges openly and honestly.
No one is a bad person simply because they think about having sex with someone else, even if they’re in a long-term marriage. No one is a bad person because they simply bring up the idea of opening up the sexual boundaries of their relationship.
You’re a bad person if you break someone’s trust or lie to someone or purposely hurt someone you love.
But there’s nothing wrong about admitting that you have the same urges that our species has had for thousands of years.
It’s totally natural.
The “monogamy myth” is that monogamy doesn’t offer a couple any space to breathe, that monogamy is all about unquestioning devotion and self-sacrifice.
Even if it’s not natural, monogamy can be awesome, if you treat it like a living, evolving, imperfect thing… just like a human being.
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