Jeff Schult asked me an interesting question on a comment on one my posts the other day and I've found myself musing about it while I washed my hair, went to war with the gophers eating my cucumber vines and otherwise went about my daily life. I figure the best way to exorcise this demon question is to blog about it. Then maybe I will win the war against the gophers.
His question was:
... implying, as it does, that statistically speaking, you've seen 1,000 open marriages, 999 of which were difficult to maintain and one of which was not.
... and also implying, with "wired that way," that perhaps humans are genetically disposed toward monogamy?
I'm not married or in an open relationship, so have no ax to grind, nothing personal to defend ... but in my life I've seen and experienced about as much or more evidence that we're NOT wired that way as I have that we are. Which leads me to suspect that we really aren't wired that way at all, since our non-monogamy comes bursting out of us despite every social construct we set up to corral it.
Which was a response to my assertion the 99.9% of us weren't wired to deal with our spouses/significant others having a sexual and/or emotional relationship with someone else.
It was an exaggeration for emphasis, anecdotal comment on my part. I certainly haven't known 1000 people in an open relationship. I'm adventurous and generally gregarious and outgoing but not to that degree. I don't know know how you could be unless you ran a workshop for people in that type of relationship. But I have known a few. I'm pretty non-judgmental and people tend to come out to me about all sorts of things because they can sense this.
Jeff seems to think that monogamy is something that is blessed by society and that we set up social constructs to keep people in that pattern. That it bursts out all over in spite of this. I'm not so sure. I think it runs much more deeply than that and that evolution has more than a little bit to say about why we end up in pair bonds.
As much as we humans like to think that we are above it all and not slaves to our animal brains...we are. Pair bonding makes sense from an evolutionary perspective when it comes to big brained creatures that have a long maturation process and require tons of resources to live long enough to continue the species. For the female of the species it means having help getting food and shelter for the offspring. For the male it means being sure you are providing for your own offspring.
Intelligence and societal advancement mean that those two things aren't really as important as they were way back when we learned to use tools, but in our hind brains they still matter. True enough that we aren't a wholly monogamous species. We like to go out and play with the other, or at least look at it and fantasize about it. But we aren't so comfortable with sharing our mate with someone else. Because sharing threatens our resources, I suspect. Or it would if we were still primitive.
So we get jealous.
And jealousy is really a pointless emotion. It doesn't stop anyone from dabbling elsewhere. All it manages to do is make the jealous person angry and miserable.
We have any number of serial cheaters in our society. Men and women who go out and have sex with someone else. Most of the time it isn't anything more than sex. They are still pair bonded to their spouse or SO. They'd never leave them in a million years. Because it is possible to be a sexual slut and still be emotionally monogamous.
So I have to sit and wonder exactly how useful our instincts are at this moment in time. We have birth control and abortion and those of us in the Western world don't have to fight for resources enough to survive. Sexual infidelity isn't nearly the threat it once was. And emotional infidelity is a much rarer risk because of our drive to pair bond.
Maybe in 1,000 years our instincts will have caught up to our technology. I wonder what relationships will look like then and whether or not we will have managed to rid ourselves of the propensity for jealousy. We also might have come up with a way to keep gophers off of cucumber vines.