The Legacy of Monogamy

It seems an appropriate time to talk about relationships, in both specific and abstract terms. I need to do more research before I can substantiate any of my theories, ideas or concerns, but this will be a useful launching point.

Like governments, economies and technology our social framework has undergone tremendous upheaval over the past century. We are truly a species in transition, having spent millenia operating under survival conditions our species is now able to live to a hundred years old with reams of free time to whittle away at various diversions that are no longer linked to our survival. Sports, television, even driving across town to work at a factory producing blenders – none of this is essential to survival. Yet, our minds, bodies, even the social framework of our lives is formed around that one single thing, survival. It is no longer necessary, but it persists.

Humanity is no longer natural. We’ve taken ourselves out of the jungle almost entirely, but for all our rationality and reason we are still hardwired for the jungle lifestyle. Social systems exist to compensate for our natural, primitive urges in order to promote the survival of the tribe, or the survival of dominant tribe members.

I need to do more research, but there is plenty of evidence that monogamy is a relatively new (2000 years old) concept in human society. Modern statistics bare this out revealing that one in ten children was sired by a different father than they thought and the Florida Supreme Court just set a precedent that a cuckolded father still had to provide child care payments to his ex-wife even though the child was proven not to be his – they claimed that infidelity is so widespread he should have known the possibility existed.

Many animals are known to be non-monogamous, particularly birds. How many of us have never cheated on a significant other? How many of us can claim we haven’t been tempted? If we were truly meant to be monogamous we wouldn’t get such urges would we? Clearly we’re predisposed to having multiple partners, right down to the neurons in our brains.

In the latter half of the 20th century and here in the beginning of the 21st there’s a growing sense that there’s something wrong with our relationships. Divorce rates and through the roof, people are getting married later, serial monogamy seems to be the a priori way of life. Or is it? Its easy to reminisce about a golden day when people got married and were forever faithful, but a quick glance at the history books will reveal just as much tomfoolery in 1897 as in 2007.

I think the difference was one of permissiveness. Social taboos were much stronger in the day, so if someone cheated it was covered up. For sure nobody got divorced over it, that is unless it became public, then it was required that a divorce and social shunning ensue. In the 20th century this artificial system of repression and control began to collapse and in the late 60’s we saw “Free Love” paraded around as its opposite alternative.

Since then we’ve taken the idea of pre-marital sex, casual sex, true love and serial monogamy and ran with it, but we’ve maintained the old world mindset of finding one true love, marriage and monogamy.

Back in the day marriage had nothing to do with love. It was a legal and financial arrangement between clans, tribes or families designed for political or financial gain. This continued up until very recently when marriage suddenly became about something called “love.” Indeed today marriage for financial and political gain still happens, but much, much less frequently.

So what the hell is love? Is it lust? Is it friendship? Is it some mysterious force that comes out of sappy fantasy films?

My belief is this. Human beings are capable of love in many different forms and to many different degrees. To think that one single human being can fulfill all the needs of another human being is sheer lunacy. We are not naturally monogamous beings, that is simply what society has expected of us for the past 2000 years. It served a useful purpose in terms of population control, political and economic alliances. Today however that purpose is played out.

We’re playing on a new field now. A field where resources are no longer scarce, we have birth control, politics and finances are rarely a matter of life and death. This has freed us to behave in new ways, ways in which we used to behave in the jungle or dancing around the maypole. Sexual and emotional freedom are upon us. We no longer need to feel shame for our feelings or desires. But…

But though we have a brand new field in which to play, many of us try to play by the old rules and expect things to work the way they did before. They won’t. Your grandparents probably got married before they were twenty. They were forced to work together to create a home and a family under harsh conditions. Sleeping around and exploring other relationships wasn’t an option in their world. Monogamy was important for them to survive. But today things aren’t the same.

Most of us will date numerous people, live with one or two partners before finally deciding to settle down and get married. This is new territory for most of the human race, our old institutions and traditions are no longer relevant – they can’t help us through this. We need to slow down, be thoughtful and find our own way through this.

I believe that we are polyamourous by nature, that we are not only capable of being in relationship with multiple people in our lives, but that we need to be. When we set arbitrary boundaries between ourselves, particularly when we do so silently we can’t help but hurt ourselves and those around us. If we deny a fundamental part of ourselves then we hurt ourselves in the process and those around us.

How many of you have felt strong feelings for someone, but stopped yourself from exploring those feelings because you or they were “attached” to someone else? Who’s to say that you wouldn’t be more valuable, more healthy if you pursued all of your potentialities instead of just one?

Would it be easy? No. We’ve forgotten the tools to make this work, if indeed we ever had them. We need to invent them anew. But that’s no reason not to take the wheel and give it a try, to strive to be all you can be, for yourself and the people around you.

I’m not currently in a polyamourous relationship, nor have I been for any significant period of time, but I’m open to it and would like to pursue it more in the future. It feels right to me, much moreso than serial monogamy where I have to pretend that one person is perfect for me. There is no such thing.

More to come as I do more research. Its great to listen to peoples’ opinions and anecdotal experiences, but hard science is what gets me behind something.

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