Boy likes girl. Girl likes boy. Boom, it's done. Seems so simple right? Yeah it seems that way, 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.
Now, as with all of my posts, I was inspired by something that happened to me personally.
So before we dive in, let me tell you a little story...
I recently had a fling with this guy I met through mutual friends at a party, and the second night we hung out, he came over while I was 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-
My immediate chain of mental reactions were as follows:
1. Screw you.
2. I'm not close-minded.
3. Am I close-minded?
4. Am I missing something here?
5. Is monogamy this unrealistic practice that's been pressured upon us by society?
And so this quest to figure out whether or not monogamy is a thing of the past began.
I didn't just want to vent my personal beliefs on the matter, because I really wanted to dive into the topic.
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.
The purpose of this post isn't to make some world-changing discovery. It's to offer opinions and discussions from all sides of the spectrum, for a (hopefully) thought-provoking conversation. At the end, you can make whatever conclusion you want.
1. From my friend currently in an open marriage:
Would you have considered yourself monogamous prior to engaging in the open relationship? Not since I was 16 have I been monogamous
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 who ever we what, 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.
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 sounds 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."
2. The Idea That Open Relationships Are Like Friendships:
I also randomly recently met two young girls in Spain, and over dinner, we started discussing relationships and this topic came up.
An interesting point was brought up: one girl explained that while discussing this idea with her friend who engages in open relationships, it was described like friendships.
"You don't have just one friend who fulfills your every need, right? So it's like that. There's someone who gives you your emotional outlet, physical, spiritual and so on. It doesn't always have to be sexual."
She was also told that sometimes, just the notion of having the opportunity to roam within a relationship is all the person needs. They don't necessarily go out and hook up with a bunch of people, but the idea that they CAN'T is what makes them stray. So this eliminates that whole debacle.
4. 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. 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 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. That’s an innate thing, that you’ve had that you can’t explain, that you haven’t been taught, maybe you have. 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 its 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. Doctrine is taught on top of that from religion and society and whatever else, the specifics of it, but, and there’s data that supports this, even babies as little as 3 months old can recognize empathy, express greed. 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 engrained, it’s certainly built on by society, but there’s something engrained 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. That’s not you reacting to, ‘Well my fifth grade Sunday school teacher said that blah blah blah.’ That’s just being like, ‘You hurt me.’ That sense, at least some component has to be biologically wired, because that’s what innate means. No one taught you that. 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 prarie 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.
But for the sake of this post, the biggest take-away is the 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 tells 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 because then I get to get my rocks with whoever. 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 engrained feeling that we have that has to be at least in part biologically driven."
5. My Conclusion
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 my innate jealous behavior. 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 they asked them all sorts of questions about life, happiness and money and goals and sex and found 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: