Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honour and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?
There are some topics in life that I love to discuss with my mother, it never ceases to amaze me how different our views are considering we are only one generation apart, but like everyone, we are a product of the cultural environment in which we were raised. One such subject is marriage, and even more interesting, monogamy. She commented one day about how she had watched an interview with a married couple and how the wife openly admitted that although she loved her husband, that after thirty years of marriage, she was no longer ‘in love’ with him, and furthermore, when asked if she had the choice would she marry him again? She replied “No”. Scandalous!
It got me thinking about life, relationships, and the institution of marriage. I sometimes feel that we are conditioned from such a young age to think a particular way about certain topics that we fail to truly examine our own position, and something as celebrated as marriage deserves a lot of independent thought. It’s also worth mentioning that I myself was getting ready to walk down the aisle, so it’s not too surprising that marriage was on my mind, and you can’t exactly reflect on marriage without also considering the concept of monogamy since the two go hand in hand, or so we’ve been led to believe.
Like it or not, in the past, marriage was the answer to a need for social order. It was a political agenda between families who wanted to advance socially, and merge their assets. A business contract, the purpose of sex was to produce an heir while love and passion were reserved for friends; it rarely existed between husband and wife. Marrying for love is a relatively new concept, and so is monogamy.
When it comes to most topics in life, Chris is my first stop for an outside opinion. The topic of monogamy was no different. “So how long into our relationship would you say it was before you started picturing other girls during sex?” That one caught him so off guard he burned his hand on the cooker. Sitting and rubbing burn cream into his skin, I continued the conversation. Nervously mumbling and avoiding my eyes the entire time, he reluctantly admitted that it wasn’t until after we moved to Korea that he found himself feeling attracted to other girls, “They were just so, kind of, you know, well, em…exotic looking”. He looked up at me briefly making eye contact, “Sorry” he said. Calm down, Chris. Take a breath, I think it happened to me around the same time. I remember feeling completely freaked out the first time I was attracted to someone other than my husband. The angst and confusion that followed were palpable, and I questioned my entire relationship, “What does this mean?” “Do I not love him anymore?” “Do I love him less?” I was tortured. Then someone told me something so simple yet brilliant that not only did it make me feel better, it made me re-evaluate my entire opinion about relationships. What did they tell me? Oh yeah, that it is totally, completely, and utterly normal. Phew! Since then I’ve done a lot of research on the topic of relationships and the science of sex appeal, and as a result, I no longer freak out if I find myself attracted to another man.
Here we go, the science behind sex appeal in a nutshell. Nature created all life, and the purpose of that life is to reproduce. We are just as much biological creatures as aphids or elephants, and although we possess a conscious overlay of culture and intelligence, deep down we are driven by the same basic goal as all other living organisms; reproduction. Science tells us that the more genetic variety in our off-spring, the better chance of survival, so although you may think your romantic feelings and attraction to another person is spontaneous, in actual fact, it’s simply the result of all five senses working together to play match-maker with the goal of producing strong, and healthy off-spring.
However, all of that considered, I truly love Chris. I love being in a relationship with him, coming home to him every night, even things as monotonous as sitting in and watching television on a Friday night; I couldn’t imagine sharing all of that with anyone else, so what gives? Social monogamy refers to cohabitating for the sake of companionship. For humans, sex is not enough! We need mental stimulus and companionship. A man or woman who seeks sexual gratification from multiple partners but still comes home every night to their spouse would be considered a social monogamist. Scientists consider social monogamy more natural among humans because our need to belong is so innately ingrained that the feeling of acceptance by another person can actually be strong enough that we overcome a range of mental issues. Really it all boils down to the survival of the species. We do what we need to survive.
If you’re reading this and thinking that science has just provided the perfect excuse for cheating on your partner, then you’re wrong. This blog post is not designed to justify infidelity, or to encourage promiscuity. I simply want to highlight that feeling sexually attracted to someone other than your beloved is natural, and not something that needs to call into question the validity of your entire relationship. Our biological quest for the ‘perfect mate’ doesn’t end when we meet someone and fall in love. Nor does it end the second we stand up in front of our family and friends and exchange wedding vows. All relationships start out the same way, lusty and exciting. We call it ‘the honeymoon period’, and those first few months are the best. Over time that passion slowly begins to wane until one night instead of tearing each other’s clothes off, you find yourself falling asleep in front of the television. However, once you’ve reached that stage, hopefully, what you’re left with are more long lasting attributes such as love, trust, honesty, and mutual respect.
I don’t believe that monogamy is natural in humans. I do believe that it is a way of life, one that we consciously choose. It’s worth saying at this point that none of this means I believe that every person in a monogamous relationship spends their life fantasizing about other people; some never do. I just don’t hold myself, or Chris responsible when we feel attracted to other people. Fifty years is a long time to spend with one person, how can you be expected to never feel emotionally, spiritually, or intellectually connected to another person? In saying that, the great thing about being human is our ability to exercise self-control, and our own cognizance means that we alone are culpable for our actions, so if you cheat on your partner, biology is not to blame.
A few months ago, I stood in a church in front of my friends and family and vowed to love Chris forever. I promised him not only my love, but my fidelity, and I made that pledge fully aware of the consequences. I have consciously chosen to lead a monogamous life with the man I love, and of all the things in life I want to achieve which is a long list including publishing a book, completing a masters, becoming a world class baker, and learning all the words to Home on the Range; it will be the success of my marriage to Chris that I will feel the proudest.
As far as mum and I are concerned, our opinions about marriage are pretty uniform. It was monogamy that really highlighted the generation gap. Where monogamy is concerned, I air on the side of science.
“I don’t understand, how could you have sex with someone you don’t love?”
“Seriously, mum? You can have sex with someone you don’t even like”.
Come back on Tuesday 12th April for the next blog post: Food is Not Just For Eating