“Thou shalt commit adultery.” Because of a printer’s error in the 1805 edition of the Bible, this commandment suddenly dictated philandering. It soon became known as the wicked Bible. But the human animal seems cursed with a contradiction of the spirit. We search for true love, find him or her, and settle in. Then, when the spell begins to fade, the mind begins to wander. As Oscar Wilde summed up our plight, “There are two great tragedies in life, losing the one you love and winning the one you love.”
Mr. Wilde was a genius, and he met his match in Helen Fischer, an anthropologist who used his quote so eloquently in this passage from her book, The Anatomy of Love, which explores mating, marriage and why we stray.
The Capacity to Love More Than One
Despite the absurd amount of strategic editing, lack of real conversation and jealousy towards contestants’ age, I still look forward to The Bachelor like my guy friends anticipate Arizona Cardinals football games.
Over the past couple weeks fans watched Bachelor Ben tell two of the final girls that he loved them. I could only imagine the horror and disbelief that many viewers felt. It was as if the Superbowl ended in a tie with no indicator if one team might win.
Two women can’t win. How can he love them both?
But I wondered, “How could he not?” Two hot girls with whom he shares chemistry confessed their love for him. If that’s not enough, the exotic locations and once-in-a-lifetime shared experiences provided enough dopamine for the brain to maintain a romantic high long after “After the Final Rose.”
I was proud of Ben for openly sharing his feelings – a reminder to be vulnerable and upfront.
The Definition of Monogamy
“Helen Fischer’s book defines monogamy as being married to one person but not sexually exclusive,” I told my cute standup classmate shortly after exiting my Uber. He was leaning against the alley wall along with a group of other aspiring comedians hoping for their name to be called for Open Mic – while I secretly hoped my name fell out of the hat.
The reason for me sharing this information with him?
- Not because of the glass of wine I drank on the way over
- Not because he’s in a long-term relationship
- And not because my interest in him was piqued somewhere between his dry Catholic School jokes and story about LSD microdosing
The topic of monogamy is something that constantly fuels my thoughts, as well as a great deal conversations with friends and Uber drivers. However, each time I sit down to write about the topic, the magnitude of feelings, facts and anticipated reactions stunts my ability to fully articulate thoughts concerning it. Not to mention, I have very little first-hand experience.
When he mentioned in one of his standup sets that monogamy isn’t natural, I knew he was like me. He questions romantic love versus companionate love and if the 7 year itch exists. Or is it really 4? How do you know that you’re supposed to be with one person? But what if you never meet someone else?
These are all questions that will be explored in upcoming blog posts, but before the details and caveats of monogamy can be further discussed, a definition must be established. Because I think that Helen Fischer says it best, I will use the passage from Anatomy of Love below.
This is important to remember: the word monogamy is regularly misused. The Oxford English Dictionary defines monogamy as “the condition, rule or custom of being married to only one person at a time.” This does not suggest that partners are sexually faithful to one another. Zoologists James Wittenberger and Ronald Tilson use the term monogamy to refer to “a prolonged association and essentially exclusive mating relationship between one male and one female.”
But fidelity is not central to this scientific definition either. They add, “By ‘essentially exclusive’ we imply that occasional covert matings outside the pair bond, (i.e. ‘cheating’) do not negate the existence of monogamy.”
What is Monogamy Though?
Recently a friend of mine called describing extramarital encounters that she and her husband experienced and had agreed upon. In the wake of them, she was somehow calm and confident in her relationship but still sought my opinion about the situation.
- Is monogamy synonymous with fidelity? No
- Is monogamy sustained romantic love? No
- Is monogamy the norm globally? No
- Is monogamy a result of humans’ innate affinity for pair-bonding and reproducing? I think so
While I wish I could say I didn’t stare longingly at my classmate, drink too much wine at the show, force him to dance with me and accidentally invite him over to “chat about monogamy,” I did.
The idea that monogamy does not always entail complete exclusivity can cause the same uneasiness as the capacity to love multiple people, my friend’s affairs and my feelings towards someone who’s taken. And they all share a common thread. At the end of the show, trip and night there was that one person.
Monogamy for my cute classmate is dancing but going home. Monogamy for Ben is the final rose. Monogamy for my friend and her husband will be figuring out what works for them now that they have won the one they love – whether that means other partners or not.
Monogamy for me? I’m not sure yet. One of my girl friends recently met an awesome guy who shares similar opinions on love as the two of us. In his texts about his sincere feelings towards her, he described what I hope someday I can make monogamy mean for me instead of being paralyzed by fear:
Really caring about somebody is a huge payoff in itself
I’m willing to take the risk
I have a lot of faith in the ability of our souls to guide us through the gray areas
If you experiment with another woman and man and fall in love and move on from me, I would be crushed, but I would be ok and it would be beautiful.
Because, yeah, it does scare me, but being scared isn’t a good reason to not move forward.