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Monogamy Is Not the Problem

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I'd like to give a shout out for monogamy.

It's really been maligned of late, called "unnatural" or worse -- hegemonic and bossy. It gets blamed for infidelity and divorce. Oh the Terrible Societal Pressure of Monogamy! the naysayers tut tut. It's so very difficult, they sigh, as if monogamy was some high-maintence diva demanding the right sort of mineral water. It's just impossible to meet the ridiculous expectations of monogamy!

Poor monogamy. Some find it freakish. "We did not evolve to be monogamous," the critics cry, pointing to hedonistic bonobos and walruses, the Hugh Heffners of the animal kingdom. Don't you want to be one of the fun animals? Who's left with monogamy? Wolves and swans, that's who -- pretty creatures known for their savagery and aggression.

Monogamy, I'm sorry you've gotten a bad name. For what it's worth, I think you're cool. Hurrah for the faithful! Three cheers for the same ol' same ol'!

I know it's easy to dismiss me, a happily married, squidgy, middle-aged woman. Oh god, you would like monogamy. You probably have dial up. What other dorktacular, old school things do you enjoy? LP records and butter churning?

Maybe you think my husband is pussy-whipped because he's faithful. If you do, please tell him that to his face -- he's a pick-up truck driving, "law and order liberal," Texas trial lawyer who owns a gun. I had one of the other kinds of husbands once, the unfaithful kind, and I much prefer this one, thank you.

Clearly, I lack the sophistication and edginess to be polyamorous. If you're polyamorous, I wish you all the best. Please enjoy your swingers parties in your shag-carpeted, sunken living rooms. Negotiate your open marriages, use protection, and rock on with your bad selves.

I just have one request -- quit beating up on monogamy. Monogamy is not the problem. Let me introduce the real villain, the culprit behind infidelity and divorce -- entitlement. Yes, entitlement, otherwise known as narcissism, selfishness, or "I need a few months living alone in Spain to find myself."

Entitlement has unfairly framed monogamy for infidelity for quite some time and I'd like to set the record straight.

1. Cheating is about the thrill of being dishonest. To "cheat" you need an agreement to renege on, namely monogamy. There's no frisson of danger in openness, no illicit sexual high to chase. A recent study "The Cheater's High: The Unexpected Affective Benefits of Unethical Behavior" by researchers at the University of Washington, the London Business School, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania show that cheaters feel happier after cheating. Why? They feel superior, more clever than the people they just chumped. Screwing around feels awesome, so long as you're short on empathy. You know who's empathy challenged? Narcissists.

There is a power dynamic inherent in infidelity. The cheater wants all the perks of a committed partner, and the excitement of messing around on the side. The secrecy is about gaining advantage. You commit all your resources and I'll just feign reciprocity. Cheaters don't want a level playing field. It's about control and entitlement. Cheaters give themselves permission to cheat, because they deem themselves more deserving than the chumpy people who play by the rules. (Rules the cheater agreed to, of course.)

2. If polyamory is "natural," so is heartbreak. If we've "evolved" to screw around, well, we're also wired to be jealous and suffer heartache when we are abandoned. Where's all the talk of how unnatural it is to bond with other people? Gee, we should really stop doing that. This whole trust thing is really overrated.

Murderous impulses are also human, and felt very keenly after one's been betrayed. When the cuckolded husband clubs his wife's lover with a baseball bat, they can each claim they "evolved" to be this way -- one to screw around indiscriminately, the other to react in a murderous rage. Let's see how those arguments go over in the court of law.

We didn't evolve to do a lot of things -- farm, use indoor plumbing, wear lederhosen. Your Darwinian urges are no excuse for behaving unethically. Can we put this tired argument to rest already?

3. Monogamy is not difficult -- honest conversations are. You're not good at monogamy? Stay single or find a polyamorous arrangement. Things not working out in the marriage? Speak up and make it work or get out honestly. Unless yours was a shotgun wedding, no one forces you to commit. Lost in the "monogamy is so hard" argument is personal choice. Don't agree to be someone you aren't.

Oh boo hoo, the pressure. Your parents want grandchildren and your girlfriend is obsessed with Say Yes to the Dress. Find your backbone, son. Don't be a farce registered at Macy's.

And if you agreed to this monogamy thing and changed your mind? You're not doing anyone any favors by unilaterally deciding to betray them. Let them go live an authentic life without you.

This article originally ran at Tracy Schorn's blog Chump Lady.