You like them. They like you. Boom, it’s done.
Seems so simple right? Yeah it did, but as our culture and society continues to move forward, the ideology of traditional life concepts seem to change ―and monogamy is on the forefront.
Before we dive in, let me tell you a little story…
I once had a fling with this guy I met through mutual friends, and during one of our rendezvous, we were watching Vicky Cristina Barcelona (I was inspired by my then-upcoming trip to Spain). In the film, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson’s characters engage in an open relationship with each other.
“Do you think that really works?” I asked him as we watched.
“Seems to work for people.”
“Yeah, but I don’t understand how you can really love someone and be OK with them being with someone else.”
“That’s just jealousy…I don’t believe in monogamy.”
Boom. Reddest of all the red flags, right? Right. Did I take the sign and back away? Of course not.
Oh, I’m just casually hooking up with this guy, who cares if he’s monogamous or not…
But the usual happened ― I actually started to gain feelings, he started to back away, everything was in disarray. And then, we were half-kidding-but-actually-venting-true-feelings during a text conversation when he proceeded to tell me that I was “close-minded” for believing in monogamy.
The desire to find out if there was any truth to his (rude) statement sparked my quest to figure out whether or not monogamy is a thing of the past.
So I talked to a lot of people about it. I talked to friends who still believe in being faithful, I talked to friends who are in an open relationship, I talked to a friend who’s in the science field for the nitty-gritty biological premise of it. Here’s what I got...
1. From a Friend Who Is About That Life:
Do you ever find yourself wondering/questioning/getting jealous? The only time I get jealous is when I’m not secure with myself, meaning my body. If I’m not comfortable with the way I look then I have a tendency to be more jealous.
What do you think are the benefits of an open relationship? There are no secrets. We know the rules and you stick with them. Each couple has to agree with what they are comfortable with. If not it will not work.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions? That we can just sleep with whoever we want, whenever we want. That’s just not the way it works.
Do you ever think about going back to a strictly monogamous relationship? No it just doesn’t work for me.
Do you believe monogamy exists? I think it can for some people but to be honest I feel it is very difficult to do.
Have you ever struggled with the idea of an open relationship? And if so, what helped you accept it? No this was the best option for me. I didn’t know how to be monogamous.
2. From a Friend Who Is No Longer About That Life:
Another friend of mine engaged in an open marriage for seven years, and although he states that wasn’t the reason for the relationship not working out, he tells me that he’s decided to be in a strictly monogamous marriage now.
“Been there done that. Happy to have experienced it, but like threesomes (every guy’s fantasy until they actually have one) , they sound great on paper, but in actuality, it is and can be very complicated. If you don’t mind the sensitive nature of that type of relationship, it works for many.”
3. The Scientific Side of Things:
Fairly Obvious Disclaimer: None of this is absolute. This is just what we know so far from what we’ve been able to study. And FYI, studying this specific type of science in humans is extremely difficult.
I decided to talk to a friend of mine who is an Associate Professor of Neurobiology because I felt like people’s arguments in favor of being in a non-monogamous relationship almost always stem from a scientific standpoint. We’re animals, it’s not natural to be monogamous.
OK, we know that the male species is hardwired for genetic diversity, so the instinct is to fertilize as many eggs as possible (in other words, to have lots of sex). But we’re not exactly animals.
And perhaps monogamy is a state of higher evolution with the right person?
I brought up that concept with my friend at the beginning of our conversation, and voiced my difficulty understanding it because I don’t feel the need to engage in that behavior:
I’m single and I still don’t mess around.
“And why do you think that is?”
I just have no desire to.
“Right, so there is something innate inside of you that says that’s wrong...If you imagine yourself in a monogamous relationship and say your partner cheats on you, that feeling of inherit wrongness is not taught. That innate feeling that it’s wrong is something all humans have. So humans from the time that we’re born have a sense of right and wrong. That is not taught.”
She continued, “All you have to do is look at kids, and we talk about kids like aw they’re so sweet and innocent. Kids are not sweet and innocent. They are greedy, they lie, they take things, and we look at that and go, ‘Oh that’s just their natural animal nature because we’re all animals.’
“But then if you turn the table and do it to them, watch their reaction. They immediately get pissed. Not because you’ve taken something that they need for survival, but because they feel wronged. Animals don’t work that way. Animals work by a completely different law—law of the jungle, whatever you wanna call it. Humans work by a moral law, which is completely different. It doesn’t exist in the animal world. So, to say that humans are the same as animals is a problem, because we’re not. We have a different operating system. Is there overlap? Absolutely. But humans have a sense of morality that I would argue is ingrained, it’s certainly built on by society, but there’s something ingrained that makes us different. It’s the same reason that kids naturally want their parents to be together. Or you naturally feel wronged if someone cheats on you... We are wired to want certain things, expect certain behavior and expect to be treated a certain way. The problem is that part of biology is a lot harder to study.”
Much harder to study in humans, but has been studied in animals. Voles, to be specific.
Voles are a type of rodent, and the prairie voles in particular are a type of species that form pair bonds for life. Now, I’m not gonna get too deep into the science behind everything because trust me, your brain will explode (especially when talking about Argenine vasopressin and Oxytocin and the different alleles that can make a sequence differ in a way that could potentially be an argument behind why some men cheat. Oh yeah, interesting stuff).
So, for the sake of this post, the biggest take-away is that humans operate on an innate moral code.
“I think we’re kinda hardwired for both, but the benefit is as humans we have a choice to select our behavior according to social constructs,” my friend told me.
“The difference is, the people who say I don’t believe in monogamy, will argue that monogamy is a social construct. And that argument is different than saying we’re hardwired to expect a person to be faithful to us. It’s easy to change the rules when it’s self-serving behavior. It’s easy for me to say I don’t believe in monogamy, I only want an open relationship because that’s self-serving to me. But when the roles are reversed and someone does it to you, you cannot help that feeling of being wronged. And that implicitly means that you are not operating under a social construct, because if you were, you’d be able to look at it logically. It’s natural to feel that way. It’s natural to want your parents together. It’s natural to feel jealous. It’s natural to feel guilt. That’s not something that can be taught. It can be increased or decreased based on life experience, but that initial feeling can’t be taught, and we know that because children have it.”
She adds, “Here’s what I think, that guy who told you that he doesn’t believe in monogamy, that wants open relationships, if you were to get into a relationship that he said was open and had a relationship with someone else outside of that and he knew about it, he would get jealous and upset. And that is the innate human response that we have. That’s not a social construct, that’s not someone telling him you should be upset. That is an ingrained feeling that we have that has to be at least, in part, biologically driven.”
As for my own stance on the matter, which may not come as a big surprise, the open relationship thing is not for me.
No, I haven’t tried it, but I have no desire to. Maybe it’s my intense loyalty to everyone and everything I love. Maybe it’s my tunnel vision. Maybe it’s the Oxytocin receptor from the rewarding center of my brain. Whatever it is, I just don’t see that as a healthy way of handling a relationship for me. So do I believe in monogamy? Yes. Do I believe it’s natural to be tempted and have a desire to have sex with other people? Yes. But the difference is I don’t need to act on those desires, because it doesn’t fulfill me.
And I’m not alone. A psych paper that’s actually published in The Journal of Economics (link below) surveyed 16,000 adult Americans and revealed that the ideal number of sexual partners in a year for happiness is 1.
But look, I’m not knocking anyone who participates in an open relationship. If it works for you, more power to you.
I just know that for me, I need something stable, secure and exclusive. It’s not an outlandish concept, but it can be difficult. Temptation comes in various forms daily, even more so today with a potential hookup just one swipe away. But does that mean I have to say goodbye to the thought that I will be able to find a man who is down for me and only me? Does that mean I’m close-minded? Does that mean I’m reaching for an unattainable goal? I certainly don’t think so.
I’m just looking for an old school love in the new age. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’ll be worth it when I find it.
For those who do want to read more on the scientific aspect, here are some reading materials offered to me:
This post was first published on The Problem With Dating.