AKIE BERMISS: Gentlemen, it is a fine cause to take up the argument against monogamy. I understand, I dig it, I commiserate: I’m with you. But, also, I don’t really think there’s much of an argument there. Well, I think its important that I state, out front, that I am a one-woman man. That is, I’ve never really gone in for polygamy. As a matter of personal taste. I can hardly keep up with one person in a romantic or sexual context, let alone several.
But what is the real argument for the modern anti-monogamist? It appears to be a concoction that is 2-parts male chauvinism, 1-part historical revisionism, and 1-part misunderstood Darwinism. And it usually goes some thing like this: Marriage is a faulty social-construct — monogamy was never taken seriously historically — look at the Bible, everyone man had a wife, plus a few mistresses — and prostitution is integral to our culture — look at how strong internet pornography is.
et cetera, et cetera.
If you’ve met one of these infernal dudes at a party or in a bar or, heaven forefend, on a long plane ride then you know just how long they can continue down that road. How many awesome examples they can produce to prove to you how right they are. Talking from the penis, I call it. And some pseudo-intellectuals have mastered the art of combining thoughtfulness and verbosity to make eloquent arguments for devious purposes. Of late, the Tiger Woods drama has left me subjected to all kinds of mind-numbing argumentation for why we should give the guy a break. Why monogamy isn’t natural. Why Tiger was just acting like men have acted since the dawn of civilization.
Well I just can’t get next to that. That’s got “talking-from-the-penis” written all over it. The most glaring error is how it calls upon the past as evidence of how things should be now. Never mind that, in the past, women were considered second-class citizens in many cultures. Or that men had so many sexual partners because they could. Because it was deemed proper for a gentleman to come home from work, have dinner, and then go out to a house of prostitution and get some jollies for the evening (there was not television back then, you see). Meanwhile, women had very few establishments where they could go to enjoy a roll in the hay at a reasonable price. Meanwhile, women who’d had sex before they were married were, in many societies, considered less-desirable. And women with too much sexual expertise or experience were considered unsavory types and likely to make horrible mothers. That women were expected to hold all the virtue and goodness for the family, as homemakers, while men could curse and spit and fight and screw with impunity because they were supposed to be that way. And, of course, never mind the pervasive effect such a society my have upon generations and generations of women seeking to eke out something worthwhile from an otherwise unsatisfying social predicament.
Never mind all those things… and this argument will rock your world. It’ll make you dump your girlfriend and pierce your ears and go out a screw everything that moves. Of course, it leaves women in the cold. Can they run around screwing every Tom, Dick, and Harry that catches their fancy? Most anti-monogamists will say, “Of course. Women can have sex too!” But they don’t really mean it. Their whole argument is set up to favor men getting all the action and women — giving it to them.
What it comes down to in the end is a matter of balance between biology and sentience. Almost any kind ethics, aesthetics, or philosophy is going to come down to finding the right balance (or the right balance for the occasion) between our bodies and our minds. And if you approach it that way the whole monogamy-is-an-aberration line becomes really flimsy. After all, so much of what we do as human beings is anomalous. From language to art to science. While we exist physically as flesh and fluid, we are imbued with a sense of wonder and a desire to understand the predicaments we’re in. And, not only that, but to affect change to our circumstances. While we may be descended from apes, we strive more than our distant cousins to make a place for ourselves on this planet (and, indeed, in this Universe). We have taken the concept of shelter and made it “house” and we’ve turn that, in turn, into “home.” We have taken the concept of thought, and turned it into ideas — those ideas have branched out into many directions: language, reason, philosophy, science (the idea that there is law governing ideas), story-telling.
And so it should be no surprise that when we encountered reproduction, we understood it not only as that but as an entity removed from desperate reproduction: sex. pleasure. leisure. And that we also abstracted the idea of reproduction into groupings that eventually became known as family. That, then, we understood the value of having a family in this modern world and reasoned that those from who the family is spawned should be, in some way, devoted to each other. Yes, and so while we may betray our inability to live by the strictest ideas and philosophies of culture when we sleep around and/or indulge in pornography — we’re actually reinforcing the idea of family and monogamy, counter-intuitive though it sounds. By allowing for dalliances to kick off that excess hedonism, we are showing that that kind of expulsion is necessary in order to preserve family structure. And what the anti-monogamists are actually are actually saying is that men are weak. And they can’t be trusted.
Now — that said — if someone wants to come out and say: family is an illusion, I could intellectually get next to that. At least as it provides us with some material for the brave new world of the future where families may, by necessity, be a little more complicated than: daddy. mommy. baby.
As per the argument that we shouldn’t be surprised or upset when men (or, indeed, women) sleep around while married — I don’t buy it. I agree, we shouldn’t be surprised. Because I agree, humans are pretty weak in the practical ethics department. But it doesn’t mean I should start arguing for why its a GOOD thing. That’s just nonsense. Plain and simply.
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: It’s very hip to hate on monogamy these days. The backlash against Tiger Woods for stepping out on his wife has given way to a back-backlash against the institution of marriage. Come on, it’s so outdated! Monogamy is unrealistic! People need variety! Life is like a sexy salad bar. We get sick of hard boiled eggs after awhile—we want to try carrots.
It’s difficult to fight back against such talk without sounding hokey and old-fashioned. After all, arguments in favor of marriage tend to involve scintillating ideas like trust and commitment, not to mention the provocative concept of sleeping with the same person for decades. Who wants to hear about how great it is to have married sex with the person you married? Not Penthouse.
While the wedding industry has exploded in recent years, and the importance of spending an outrageous amount of time and money to have the perfect wedding has become de rigueur, marriage itself remains shrouded in boring mystery. When it is discussed in books and magazines, it is often in the context of revival and salvation. Save your marriage! Spice up your marriage! Remember why you fell in love and married each other in the first place! It’s not particularly inspiring to the unmarried, nor is it a vote of confidence to the married. Of course, on the other side of the coin are countless books and magazine articles about how to find The One, which do not take into account the fact that eventually your relationship with them will likely need to be spiced up and possibly saved.
As far as I can tell, there are as many views on relationships and commitment as there are people. That’s what bothers me most when it comes to these kinds of ‘marriage is dead’ vs. ‘long live marriage’ arguments—there’s not a lot of nuance. I keep coming across editorials that are full of sweeping generalizations, such as Jay Michaelson’s article in the Huffington Post entitled “It’s Not Just Tiger: Monogamous Marriage is an Anomaly”, in which he claims that marriage “has never been taken seriously in the past, and is unlikely to work in the future.” Really, friend? Doesn’t that seem just the teensiest bit overblown? Michaelson goes on to blame feminism for ruining marriage by making it socially unacceptable for married men to visit prostitutes. The more I revisit this editorial, the flimsier his arguments seem. Moving on!
I certainly agree with the idea that traditional, monogamous marriage is not for everyone, and should not be the only valid relationship model out there. As long as people act maturely and responsibly, as long as everyone involved is open and honest, compassionate and understanding, there is nothing wrong with finding your own path in your relationships with others without having to feel judged. BUT!—If you lie, if you cheat, if you publicly and privately commit to a traditional, monogamous relationship, where there are certain implacable ground-rules, and then deceive your partner—that’s when you get a heap of scorn on your head. It’s not the cheating as much as the lying. Cheating; falling short of your ideals, being tempted, is human. Lying your way out of it so you can do it again, is cowardly.
Certainly marriage is not the sort of thing which should be taken lightly, involving as it does a pledge, often in front of many loved ones and sanctioned by a religious organization, of remaining faithful to each other until one of you dies. And if there’s one thing I hear the most often about marriage, it’s that it is hard. That makes sense! I’m sure it’s hard! On what planet does choosing one person and committing to share your life with them sound easy? Rewarding, yes! Often enjoyable—sure! But easy? Have you MET any people?
But you know what else is really hard? Winning the British Open. Just because something is hard, is no excuse. It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, or that it isn’t worth being done. I guess what I’m trying to say is, marriage is like golf. It takes a lifetime to learn, and thirty seconds to completely ruin.
TED BERG: Look: I am happily (and still rather recently) married. I am, and have been for a long while, monogamous and have no plans of becoming otherwise, well, ever. That’s what marriage is.
What follows is merely an argument I employed to bother girls in my freshman dorm social lounge, and quite successfully, I might add. It’s not something I’d advocate to justify any lifestyle.
But there is, I’m pretty certain, a Darwinian explanation for the societal double-standard Akie and Molly refer to. I’m not saying it’s fair, but it is, you know, science.
Check it out: We’ve been selected over millions and millions of years to be programmed to want to sew our seeds. If we weren’t, our ancestors would have stopped reproducing and we wouldn’t be here. That’s evolution, baby.
And if you think about it, how many times, in theory, can a man reproduce in a single year? I’ll have to check with Shawn Kemp, but I’m pretty sure it’s upwards of a thousand if he’s really working at it. Women can only do it once.
So it makes sense, from a purely Darwinian standpoint, for a woman to value a single committed man as her best chance to successfully reproduce and create an offspring that will itself grow up to successfully mate. For a man, historically — and I mean the way back when — he’s probably best off just spreading his seed as far and wide as he can and hoping some of it sticks.
And when you think, in purely stereotypical terms, of the traits the genders value in the opposite sex, this seems to ring true. Women are drawn to powerful alpha males who can protect their offspring, and/or committed nurturers who will gladly “put a ring on it.” Men want fertile-looking women with wide hips and big breasts in large quantities.
Again: This is not fair, and not good, and obviously there are times when societal norms develop precisely to counter ultimately harmful aspects of human instinct. Do not mistake me for the guy sitting next to Akie on the airplane. Plus, the human psyche is far too complex to be boiled down to such a simple, singular concept. Clearly not everyone thinks this way, or feels these same urges.
I’m just saying there’s probably an explanation for it.