Even though monogamy is mandated throughout the Western world, infidelity is universal.
Anthropologically speaking, Barash contends cultures around the world fulfill their social commitments in monogamy but not their biological commitments, which is more inclined toward polyandry.
In short, when adultery happens—and it happens quite often—what’s going on is that people are behaving as polygynists (if men) or polyandrists (if women), in a culturally defined context of ostensible monogamy. Adultery, infidelity, or “cheating” are only meaningful given a relationship that is otherwise supposed to be monogamous. A polygynously married man—in any of the numerous cultures that permit such an arrangement—wasn’t an adulterer when he had sex with more than one of his wives. (As candidate Barack Obama explained in a somewhat different context, “That was the point.”) By the same token, a polyandrously married Tre-ba woman from Tibet isn’t an adulteress when she has sex with her multiple husbands. Another way of looking at this: when people of either gender act on their polygamous inclinations while living in a monogamous tradition, they are being unfaithful to their sociocultural commitment, but not to their biology.
In a paper published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers propose that the impact of sexually transmitted diseases may have started pushing humans toward monogamy during the agricultural revolution, when social groups began to grow in size to hundreds of individuals. The culturally imposed reinforcement could have taken hold even though the individuals involved would not have been aware of any longer-term survival benefit to their group over many generations.
Monogamy as an early safe sex device? Seems so unsexy.
I could have written all those fucking 7,8,9 or 100 ways to save your marriage articles. I tried everything I read for decades.
How many relationship “experts”, writers and doctors preach honesty and openness? How many times in 20 years have I opened my heart to her, told her my hopes and dreams, listened to hers, answered her most probing questions about what turned me on or off, what she needed in bed…I tried. It was so hard to be honest, despite her insisting. I didn’t want to hurt her. I knew my words would hurt her. The truth hurts.
What she didn’t tell me, probably didn’t know herself was that she couldn’t handle hearing what she wanted to know. Early in our marriage she would ask me about my fantasies, first like it was a game, like she was being cute about it. And when I refused to tell her, she got irritated and moody.
But I was embarrassed and it was hard to talk about. It was extremely uncomfortable and felt a little dangerous, like exposing my weaknesses. After a while I think she was driven by this thing, this idea of something I was holding back from her, and demanded to know what I fantasized about–she wanted it in the name of honesty. While it was important to be honest, I also knew some things just needed to be kept to myself. I resisted hard.
But she was clearly disturbed about me keeping something from her, so I gave in. When I told her some of the things I got off on masturbating in my younger days…and occasionally afterward, she got quiet, then distant and then hurt. I watched it happen, the changes cross over her face like a quick moving time-lapsed eclipse.
She wouldn’t talk about it for a long time. And when she did, she tearfully confessed she couldn’t do what I wanted. She didn’t like anything that might be painful and then it got so messy because I told her I didn’t actually want these things from her, which was the right thing to say but she took it wrong like I wanted it from someone else or didn’t think her capable; it broke down from there into silence and brooding anger.
Just one of the many breakdowns and resentments that collect and heap up over time.
Be open and honest. Right. How much is too much honesty? Not enough? This is the person I chose to share everything with, who I counted on to build me up not tear me down for what I think or say. I always felt she was on my side and wanted what was best for me. I still do. But there is a slow but steady growing crack widening in us we can’t seem to repair.
There were other misunderstandings that ended in injured feelings, both of us shut down and protective of our own. She casually mentioned one too many times that the company should give me more time off, more pay, more respect, just more of… what? What SHE wanted? Was she defending me or looking out for her own interest?
It’s degrading to be reminded you don’t make as much as you should or have as much as you deserve. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t work there. There’s a sense of how things operate, something she couldn’t know. And for someone so sensitive, it’s downright insensitive not to know how that burns.
Now I sound like her with the mindreading. She should know…I should know…No, I should have told her how that humiliated me. Not angrily but calmly. But then…I’d been burned so many times by that whole honesty thing before.
My head just spins with this shit. No wonder so many of my college buddies weren’t too keen on getting married any time soon, preferring sex, partying and freedom. Funny, how I judged them then as shallow. Maybe they in their blind denial intuited the danger, all the pitfalls of relationships going long, going stale, expecting too much, tolerating too little…I just chalked them up to chickenshits. But maybe they were right.
And yet I couldn’t imagine life without her. Too painful. The struggles you suffer and overcome, my dad described as the ups and downs of marriage: “it ain’t easy but it ain’t that hard either.” Yeah? Seems pretty damned difficult sometimes. It’s fucking hard!
Then again, it’s harder to give up…until there’s nothing to give up, like knowing when you’re bested or outdone, checkmated. There’s no point in trying. Until then, you just keep figuring it out.
Salon’s Betty Andrews confessional about being an Ashley Madison girl may be disregarded as a disguised public documenting of her infidelity, her exploits, the Ashley Madison world, and the failure of monogamy for those who are wired for insatiable sensation-seeking, but I believe it is more a testament to a new style for an old theme—so many themes, actually: cake and eat it, self-sabatoging, avoidance, brazen dishonesty and crass conformity, to name just a few.
In reflecting on my proclivity for infidelity, I can only describe it as a kind of sensation seeking — the addictive quality of falling for someone new — and a propensity for self-destruction — reinforcing pathological defense mechanisms. Sure, there’s the sex. And that part is great, sometimes even amazing. But for me, it’s not about a secret kink, an insatiable sexual appetite. or not getting enough attention at home. It’s the novelty of someone else. The intensity. The escape. The possibility. The falling …
I used to call those serial daters, the thrill-seekers aka commitment-phobes. But add in the desire to have it all–the comfort and safety of marriage peppered with the spice of the new–and you have a dream life, right? Or you have someone who likes complications that appeal to the brains who love teasers, puzzles and risk, juggling all those balls to keep them in the air–husband, kids, lover(s), job, secrets, etc.. And ultimately to be alone, not so much without a partner or choices due to burned bridges, though that is a risk, but more so due to dancing yourself into a corner.
My insatiable appetite, not just for the sex, but for the whole confusing mix of physical and emotional feelings, persists. Maybe it’s the escape from real life. The exploration of something new. The thrill of falling for someone else. But ironically, there’s also a very isolating quality to infidelity. There is no one to talk to about it all, to reflect on my actions, to process the big picture. I can’t talk to my lover about my husband. I can’t seek advice for marital spats or discuss fertility woes. And I can’t talk to my husband about my lover. I can’t brag to him about the amazing sex, or cry to him with the heartbreak that is being involved with a man who loves someone else. None of it makes any sense to me yet, and the secrecy draws me further, not closer, from the people in my life. In my search for excitement, romance, connection and intimacy, I’m as alone as I’ve ever been. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the point.
In a perfect world, we would all know ourselves enough each to say, “I am thus and so should be true to myself, choose someone who can accept me for who I am” and be brave enough to act in accordance with the statement. But the question arises: Would Andrews seek the others if her husband accepted her dalliances? Or would that take away some of the lure of seeking lovers in the first place? The deep-seated need to be alone, as Andrews remarks, may be the motivation for maintaining infidelity practices, and she suspects or knows it. So long as the cost-benefit analysis weighs in favor of the benefits, she will continue to feed her need to be conflicted and between worlds–or someone finds out and gets really hurt.
I believe the lure is more insidious; it’s about being someone other than who you are. That is what cheating allows, the fantasy of being someone’s “all I ever dreamed of or all that I don’t have” It’s easy when there is really not all of your skin in the game, so to speak–for either. Affairs allow you to be what you are not in your main relationship–and that is the fun, just like Halloween or costume parties. Pretend. And much needed release for being so much of what you are not for someone else.
“I feel that the biggest benefit to having a relationship that allows for others is that you never have to worry about being everything for someone,” said Skye. “We get to love each other and be with each other, and we get to love other people who are special and important to us in other ways.”
Salon’s article “How Open Marriages Really Work” is refreshingly candid about choice and the nature of relationships–that monogamy is not for everyone. Though polyamory is tossed about quite a bit, I think that label imposes a false sheen over the article that aims to shatter the accepted notion that people who do not do monogamy fall into another label, namely polyamory.
Always one to shun labels, I felt a little compartmentalized by that term, even while the article indulged many scenarios where open marriages were either fallen into after initial monogamy or chosen at the outset. In all cases, the catchwords are honesty, openness and love. However, brave is the overall impression I get.
Yes, it takes honesty and ability to articulate jealousies, desires and needs. Some couples felt jealous of the outsiders but later located the source as something missing in the primary relationship that caused the jealousy. If they spent quality time together, either or both were okay to go off on a date with others. But speaking up and facing fears–of loss, jealousy–takes guts.
I was pleased about the mention of some open marriages that are not acknowledged but known by both parties as well as all shades in between complete openness and shadowy closeted. Having enjoyed monogamy for many years before my relationship opened up, I appreciated the nod to necessity as well as choice. Some couples cannot complete one another intimately and so rely on others to do so. And if both agree to any given arrangement, it works, for however long it works. I suspect child rearing years are different from before and after those times. Once again, fluidity.
Monogamy is tough. It is what most of us believe we want, but in truth, most of us do not, not always. I love the options open to the mature who can agree on their relationships from phase to phase, time to time. We are not static beings and neither are our relationships. But more importantly, it is rare to find someone who can be all things at all times for another. Not even the Stepford Wives worked out so well.
Now, if people could just stop being threatened by others doing it differently than they do…what a wonderful world.
What do I think about the Ashley Madison come Josh Duggar (a name I first heard yesterday) “scandal”? Not too much. Surprising coming from someone whose blog is themed on the mistress in that word’s narrowest and broadest sense. But I have written a lot on the subject of infidelity from all sides, and much boils down to the same recurring ideas:
People get hurt–are hurt–and that saddens me. Luckily, counseling resources for the infidelity-wounded exist. Some have called those hurt by infidelity, victims, like the wife of this Duggar, publicly humiliated by someone who apparently spoke out in defense of “family values.” A shame, but the story often unfolds as more complicated than good guys and bad guys, abusers and victims.
People are not honest. Relationships survive on honesty, an ongoing practice that most are not dedicated to but expect from others.
America’s hypocrisy and sexual dysfunction fosters dysfunctional relationships. It is no secret that what we say what we want is not what we want–or do. I featured this article from The Daily Beast before, but it reports the unsurprising facts and bears repeating:
As Pew reports, extramarital affairs are generally condemned worldwide but the U.S. still seems to be uniquely moralistic about them. In fact, most major developed nations in the world are more accepting of infidelity than the U.S., including Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Spain, and Japan.
In France, a mere 47 percent of adults find extramarital affairs unacceptable, which is less an endorsement of their practice and more a reflection of a widespread refusal to think of it as “a moral issue.” In America, sex is a moral language by default; abroad, less so…
All this being said, Americans’ sexual words do match up with their sexual actions in some special cases. Fifty-seven percent of men and 65 percent of women approve of having babies outside of marriage, although CDC estimates show that only 40 percent of all births are to unmarried women. Divorce rates appear to be on their way down in the 21st century while acceptance of divorce has been steadily increasing.
But these are some of the only realistic moral attitudes in a country where sexual attitudes and sexual behavior tend to be dissonant. And although this mismatch might be mystifying in and of itself, the probable reasons behind it are not: the United States has the largest population of Christians of any country and is one of the only deeply religious wealthy nations in the world. That math—like most Americans—does itself.
This time by Salon.com’s Anna Pulley in the article 4 Reasons Humans are so Bad at Sexual Monogamy, which faults our natural proclivities and our ancestors. According to Pulley’s resources, we humans crave variety, get bored easily (especially women with sex) and hear the call of our collectivist primal ancestors who lived, parented and copulated communally. Her cited resources are a few notable books on the topic, including Chris Ryan’s Sex at Dawn, a synopsis of which you can find at Ryan’s site among other of his projects, to bolster her brief scan of the huge monogamy balliwick.
In the end she echoes a call to action I myself have made on this site–more tolerance and less dysfunctional belief when it comes to sex and marraige.
To say we are bad at monogamy isn’t an indictment of monogamy in general. Of course, people can and do succeed at life-long monogamous arrangements. Non-monogamous arrangements aren’t inherently better or worse than monogamous ones. And yet, just because we are monogamous with one person doesn’t negate the fact that many of us are still and always will be attracted to other people. As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer put it: “One can choose what to do, but not what to want.” We’d do better as a culture if we could exercise a little more tolerance, acceptance and honest discussions around sex, desire and marriage, and try to be less rigid in our idealistic views of monogamy.
Here’s to delightful surprises! May your lives be full of them.
A toast of good cheer I have made many times, sober or not, today I toast a special anniversary–mine.
I married my charming good friend 35 years ago. I loved him then, one of a couple of jackass kids we were back in 1980. Flippantly striding through college campus defying accepted authority and unearthing sacred ground, we were irreverently youthful. So when he asked me to marry him for a practical solution to an impractical problem of late registration and the French military, I did. After all, he was my good friend-sometimes lover. I did love him.
To this day I am unsure of the depth of our love–even if he loved me–to what degree or intensity. It did not matter. We galavanted through the crazy years together as a pair. And when my car blew up and my job went south, I moved in with him, only to move out nine years later and then move back in 6 years after that.
To our sometimes amazement, sometimes knowing nod, we have lasted this long together, through the soaring and sinking. To our surprise, we built and destroyed things together without destroying each other. To no one’s surprise, we have tried our best to be good friends, lovers, parents, children, siblings, friends and citizens of the local and larger world we inhabit.
Even more surprising than our lasting is our having met in the first place. What were the chances that we would meet at Golden West College in Mrs. Strauss’ World Literature class and start a conversation, me, who never initiated conversations with anyone, whispering that first opening line: “Where’re you from?”
I was an awkward, self-conscious, earth-shoe-wearing 18 year old poor student with visions of backpacking through Europe some day and a sucker for an accent, while he was a suave, self-assured, French-accented European of means with a late 70’s expensive shoulder-length haircut, collar-less shirt and American boorishness critique. We were caricatures of Romantics–righteous anger, cynical disdain and ironic amusement–back then.
When I married him, I was aware his eyes turned for delicate boned petite beauties with eyes the color of the sea set in sand-polished skin while I adored tall, dark-haired brown-skinned rugged bad boys who seldom smiled. I was a tall, clunky hippy, a brown-eyed brunette with freckles who hugged her knees into her chest while conversing in wild waves of gesticulating hands. He was fair-haired, small-framed metro with polite manners and a sense of decorum.
Somehow we found our meeting. Somehow we have survived the mountain of small frictions of daily living atop the chasm of disappointment, misunderstanding and alienation that one human being can produce in another. Steadiness steered us through the rocket ride up and back as it does now.
We share a steadiness, a vibration like the P wave of the electrocardiogram, where the spikes are measured against the dips to tell the story of a heart’s patterns and rhythm. Call it history, maturation, transcendence, or regeneration like severed nerve endings in the brain organically reaching out and reconnecting, we share a communal past and an ongoing present. We grew up together.
To my daily delight, we survive days that lapse into years. We co-exist, unconsciously in each other’s often silent presence puppeteering the motions and emotions of two people conducting a marriage, a family, and a life as we wander through moments, sometimes colliding, clashing and crashing, other times melding and mooring, uplifting upon the same softly rocking sea of a cul de sac world we look out to sitting on our lawn chairs in the sunny warmth bathing our suburban front porch.
There is peace in constancy. I am surprised to write that, me, whose constant throughout my kick-ass twenties and thirties was the belief that contentment was a fate worse than death, a killer of creativity and therefore life. Without the itch, the striving, I thought, there was only collapse into the hum of the daily, the numbing hum of contentment. But constancy is not always contentment.
The average, the mean and the median are constants, not so much as compromise but as perspective. The sum total of existence is the graph of heart palpitating thrills of victory measured against the torpor of stultifying loss. Quality of life, in retrospect, is calculated by that range of emotion, the depth of terror and rage against ecstasy and bliss. My husband-partner-mate and I have reached, stretched the limits together, and so have bonded, grown neurological tendrils of connections in the doing.
And we stumble over and with each other still, amazed that we awaken to yet another shared morning, that we grew two healthy, happy humans despite ourselves and manage to move through time and space as we do–mindlessly mindful of the beat that syncs us, he sometimes the high and me the low while other times he the wide and me the far. Wondrously, unexpectedly, we make it–together.
Happy Anniversary, to you who will not read this tribute to endurance. If you did, however, you would find in this lovely duet, a surprise akin to our own song. Cheers!
credit: http://i2.wp.com (No, this is not my family; it’s just weirdly entertaining, kind of like my marriage)
April 19th is my wedding anniversary. In four days I will have been married 35 years–to the same man. Though we have an open marriage, enjoy physical intimacy no longer, I consider our marriage meaningful and committed. We have created and continue to raise two incredible human beings while caretaking two others safely through their twilight. Barring unforeseen calamities, including death, I see no reason for our marriage not to last.
Perhaps my years as a divorce attorney fueled the longevity of my marriage. Witness all day–so many days–to so much grief and acrimony, the willful and unwitting destruction of lives small and big, I avoided arguing when I came home at night. The running joke was always, “If we argue, I have to charge you,” while glancing down at my wrist to the non-existent watch timing billable hours. From clients to opposing attorneys, court clerks, and even my own staff, I was argued out by the time I got home and wanted conciliatory peace. And we did live peacefully in those days, most of our days, for the most part.
My marriage has not been without huge dips in the fairly steady, even road. There were times of grave disappointment and betrayal, cheating and lying, exasperatingly long periods of financial deficits and child rearing disparities. Though most of the big ticket items to tear at the seams of a marriage were little or non-issues for us–religion, in-laws and politics–there was still enough shared life to rend our lives into separate camps, feeling isolated and alone, the union itself contributing to that loneliness, for me anyhow. I confused belief in our couplehood, being on the same team, with sameness. I thought we should never be at odds to such an extent that we bring one another down.
Yes, we have laid each other low at times, blew out our ugliest selves at each other, guts a’spew, but we have also propped each other up, been the very scaffolding of each other’s lives at other times. My husband rescued me in my lowest days and shared in my greatest moments too. And I suppose that is the crux of it: we share history. The one thing that is nearly impossible to divorce is history. Observing hundreds of divorcing couples over the years, I believe that is deepest cut–slicing away the shared past. Many divorce tears shed are in mourning a communal past.
Concluding from my own marriage, those who can simply last–endure disappointment, suffer patiently and hope daily–are those who benefit most from marriage. My husband loathes change and I inherited blind optimism, which provides some of the glue of our togetherness. But apparently additional factors contribute to marital success or failure, according to Woman’s Day and its 10 Surprising Divorce Facts: parental influence, education, location, income, religion and age at marriage.
If your parents’ marriage lasted, you’re college educated, enjoy a substantial income, are Catholic or Protestant and don’t live in Alabama, your marriage is likely to last, surprisingly. I have never lived in Alabama. My parents have been married for 61 years, which would explain my 35-year marriage but not my sisters’ three divorces between them, one of them having lasted only one year–twice. But it would explain my brother’s 29-year marriage, my one sister’s 23-year marriage before it went south, but not my still another sister’s never having been married yet in her 44th year.
So take it for what it’s worth, an “ah, that’s interesting” reading that may supply your ten minute coffee break with entertainment. This short fact list provoked in me a pondering over the definition of marriage: What makes a marriage? What makes a good marriage? Longevity certainly is not the litmus test for quality, though one might assume so. People can be unhappily married most of their lives.
Trite as it seems, a good marriage consists of two people with realistic attitudes about the institution specifically and human beings generally. My marriage was a convenience in its inception but grew into the shapes it has taken over the years: love, family, loyalty, convention and the inverse of all of those too. Perhaps the lack of expectation going into it explains in part the “success” of my marriage. Unfulfilled expectations did not root itself in the initial contractual arrangement. Certainly they arose organically as my husband and I developed expectations over time.
Perhaps it’s because we didn’t believe in the institution as much as we believed in each other. Marriage formulas or divorce statistics abound in the news and in the confines of counseling offices, but ultimately, the unique chemistry and conversing, the melding of two people’s lives, people harkening from separate beginnings, nature and nurture, are the core components of the mysterious making of a marriage. Each marriage rises and falls accordingly. Belaboring the obvious? Yep.
Curious about the love-relationship labels beginning with the prefix “poly”? Here is an amusing and informative Youtube video to answer some of the basic definitional distinctions between polyamory, polygamy, polyangyny, and other polys. Enjoy.