The Cheating Curve. Are we less monogamous?

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The concept of monogamy has always fascinated me, partly because I was raised to believe that cheating should never be a deal-breaker in a relationship. There were conditions to breaking up because of infidelity, I was told.

Men cheat; it was never going to be a matter of if – simply when, why and/ or how. Occasional one-night stands were okay; affairs were not. See unlike women, men don’t engage in sex for intimacy; it really is just about sex. So can you be upset about behaviour that can’t be helped? This, of course, is open to various arguments.

CNN.com recently featured an article titled “Monogamy unnatural for our sexy species”. In the article, psychologist Christopher Ryan argues that there is “no reason to believe monogamy comes naturally to human beings”, as  “evolutionary forces have cultivated human libido to the point where ours is arguably the most sexual species on Earth”. Given that I don’t believe there is any biological precedent per se for monogamy, I think the essence of the ongoing debate about monogamy and the relevance of institutions like marriage has more to do with socialization and personal choice.

 

“As we grow older and are faced with the realities of what people are really like, we lose our idealism about love and relationships”

 

The media buzz surrounding cheating scandals involving high-profile individuals such as former President Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock makes it all too easy to assume, however, that as a species, we are becoming less monogamous. I would argue that it is the advent of women’s lib, coupled with the ongoing relaxation of social mores related to human sexuality, and the technological revolution that has brought the issue of fidelity to the forefront of public consciousness.  A random sampling of my Facebook friends echoed this view. One person also noted that, as we grow older and are faced with the realities of what people are really like, we lose our idealism about love and relationships, and this opens us up to being less monogamous.

I grew up hearing my mother and her friends complain about the seeming inability of men to remain faithful. My mother even told me that the act of cheating itself was not grounds for divorce. Divorce was only to be considered when your husband’s infidelity caused public humiliation to the family, or if he stopped providing for your children.

Meanwhile, the rise of smart phones and social networking sites like Facebook has made it even harder to hide one’s infidelity or relationship status, regardless of what someone’s profile says. Pictures and status updates really do whisper a thousand words, or in the words of one of my guy friends, “Social networking, blackberries, droids and iPhones will be the end of cheating!”

The traditional outlook, as espoused by my mother, has never sat well with me, mainly because as a modern woman I have never thought that I should depend solely on a man to provide for our children and me. Westernized, college-educated women like myself see no need to put up with any kind of behaviour that falls outside the marriage contract – drunken misdemeanours and cheating included. Sexually liberated women like myself are also aware of the struggle to remain faithful to our chosen partner, in the face of great, physical chemistry with someone else.

 

“Choosing fidelity for ourselves and demanding it of our partners may not be the most natural thing to do”

 

We get that choosing fidelity for ourselves and demanding it of our partners may not be the most natural thing to do, yet still we believe it is possible if we align ourselves with a partner who is as committed as we are to forging a successful union. My friends, male and female, all echoed this sentiment.

Admittedly, despite such optimism, I sometimes think that such a union is near impossible to create, given that it undoubtedly requires a level of communication, patience and understanding of another and self that is rare. I say this because in my opinion it takes not only maturity, but also an acute understanding of nature’s role (inclusive of hormonal impulses and evolutionary forces) in the mating process.

I consider marriage, committed relationships and monogamy to be as much a lifestyle choice, as my decision to forego soda, junk food and excess alcohol before a race. I get cravings at times for marble cake and potato chips, and I love rum, but I know that indulging is a choice that carries consequences – some more major than others depending on my fitness goals, and where I am in my training.

A happily married author, in speaking of her union, once wrote, “to stay married we’ll doubtless have to broker new deals, and newer ones after that… till death do us part”. As a working professional, amateur athlete, and aspiring author, I make deals with my clients, my friends and myself fairly regularly, and in doing so, I weigh the pros and cons.

Too often as people we forget that there is an opportunity cost for everything.  All actions have consequences, including the decision to cheat.  Choose wisely, and you’ll never be afraid to accept the consequences.

 

Dzifa Job

Dzifa Job is a freelance writer and the voice behind the blog Musings of an Empress (www.dzifajob.wordpress.com). Her writings have appeared in One Love Houston, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly In Sports, The Integrationist Quarterly, and Caribbean Axis. Dzifa is a graduate of Syracuse University, and holds a Bachelors degree in Public Relations from the Newhouse School of Communications. A Trini, living in New York, she spends her downtime writing, training for fitness challenges, and going on adventure vacations.

2 Comments

  1. Corey Gilkes

    July 17, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    “To stay married we’ll doubtless have to broker new deals and newer ones after that”

    That short statement is so important and yet so many people fail to do this or even realise that they have to due to the fact that in many reltionships, one or both parties evolve or conditions change. This was a good article to a point. I still found it wanting though; one of the main things I didn’t like was that overall it’s rooted in the assumption that (1) it’s only men who “horn” and (2) monogamy is even natural – notwithstanding Christopher Ryan’s comment – let alone the “moral” model for marriages and relationships.

    It can also said to be sexist: men don’t engage in sex for intimacy (and the reverse side to that coin, that women engage for emotional reason)? As far back as 1982 researchers like Lynn Atwater showed that women are just as capable of horning as well as engaging in emotionless sex while men can be just as capable of seeking emotional bonds. The social PRESSURES posit a different tale but that’s something else.

    Coming back to the first points, what caused me to type this response really were statements like “sexually liberated women…are also aware of the struggle to remain faithful to our chosen partner in the face of great physical chemistry with someone else.” That and the persistent use of the value-laden word “cheat” is what bothered me. It is very difficult for people to discuss such things as monogamy, non-monogamy, pre- and extramrital intimacy, hooking up and the “hook-up culture” open relationships and other aspects of evolving sexuality if we continue to use words that convey certain cultural ideas of guilt, taboo and sin.

    By and large monogamy and the closed/exclusive relationship/marriage is the approved model. It’s the best model for stable relationships, family values and is built around respect for one’s partner.

    Or so we’ve been led to believe.

    I’ve traced the origins of this model on the Trinicenter.com site so I won’t go into that too much here save to say that it’s a model that was developed as a way of soothing male sexual insecurities, economic considerations and also had to do with their contempt for women (who now seem to be the most vociferous champions of this model) and sex.

    I think at this stage we need to at the very least seriously re-examine and dismiss the assumption that monogamy equals morality. Some people CAN be monogamous and live very happy fulfilling lives, but most people can’t. And that is NOT necessarily because “dey wotless” or “weak” and “sinful” so we need to move away from these simplistic explanations. As Atwater showed in her book The Extramarital Connection, humans are very complex with varying tastes and preferences. It is unrealistic to continue to project the fairytale fantasy of “the One” the “soulmate” who has all the qualities one is looking for in a mate. That is the source of much unnecesary anguish for at least the last 300 years if so much. Equally problematic is the belief that marriages and relationships are necessarily entered into principally for love and are meant to be permanent. All that’s nice, yes, but these are actually recent phenomenons and many studies have shown that marrying for love is one of the main reasons why many marriages become divorces. There is no understanding that people do change physically, physiologically, intellectually, etc.

    What we need to do is not so much reject that model or that narrative but expand that narrative to accommodate equally legitimate forms of sexual/erotic/intimate interactions in keeping with people’s personal preferences and so on. Yes, it’s going on already but all that is being done under a cloud of guilt and beliefs that “hooking up” non-monogamy, open relationships, etc, are “immoral,” forbidden, naughty, etc. The exclusive monogamous model has to move over and other forms of sexual interation need to be (re)accomodated – as they were for thousands of years before the rise of patriarchy – if we are to get anywhere in this society.

  2. IAmWoman

    April 22, 2012 at 11:04 am

    The person who commented on this article should have wrote it! Great response

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