The Illusion of Monogamy

“I don’t believe this, Liz!” said Ashley, staring at me, clearly upset. “I think Kyle might be cheating on me!”

Funny how the threesome she’d had with her boyfriend and another girl hadn’t bothered her, but his meeting up with some co-worker behind her back at a festival we’d attended with him did. Even funnier would be her confession two months later that she was meeting up with an ex-boyfriend at a hotel downstate; she wasn’t sleeping with him, she insisted, she just needed some attention, but of course her boyfriend didn’t know about this trip.

Sometimes I feel like the only difference between so-called good girls and myself is their ability and willingness to lie, even to their closest friends, to save face. The cheating men do is often out in the open, careless and easily able to be found out, or even right in front of their girlfriends’ faces in the case of a consensual threesome. Girls on the other hand do their cheating in the dark, unable to tell anyone for fear of losing the man they’re with.

It’s insanity, I tell you. Monogamy is an illusion, a fake social contract that I suspect was designed by men so that their women would stay good under the bounds of their so-called mutual agreement of monogamy while they ran off with whomever they pleased. That’s not to say that girls don’t cheat, of course — they do — but they at least know they need to keep that shit on the down-low because no man is going to forgive that behavior even as they’re supposed to be forgiving of his supposedly uncontrollable male sex drive.

The common refrain I hear when people are offended by their partner cheating is that they can’t believe they’re not enough for their partner. I hear this even in cases of mutual cheating like that of my friend Ashley. Apparently it’s fine and dandy for her to run off with an ex-lover because it doesn’t mean her boyfriend’s not enough, but she can’t stand the thought of him sleeping with someone else because clearly that means she’s not enough.

Can you imagine a world where people could be honest with each other about their sexual desires that fall outside of the bounds of their relationship? A world where wanting to sleep with someone else didn’t mean you didn’t love you primary partner, merely that you were human like all the other humans out there and had sexual urges that didn’t fall neatly within the bounds of monogamy even though we wish they did? Where everyone wasn’t terribly insecure and didn’t assume the worst when their partner wanted someone else? I can, but it would take a new type of human being, one is secure in herself and in her relationship with her primary partner and could withstand not being the only apple of his eye. After all, if couples have more in common than just wanting to fuck each other — if they have mutual values and hobbies and life goals — then why is sex still considered the most important thing they have together?

The biggest barrier is men, not women. According to one survey, 76% of women would forgive her man for cheating, while only 35% of men would forgive his woman for cheating; what this means is that only men have to actually follow the rules in a monogamous relationship. I don’t pretend to understand why so many women are willing to forgive a partner they know damn well wouldn’t forgive them back; maybe get some self-respect, ladies? I can’t help but picture a world where everyone who’s been cheated on woke up tomorrow morning and knew about it; that would create a whole new world, one perhaps where women would stop agreeing to “monogamy” in order to makes their partners happy. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, after all. Even though people try to claim women are naturally monogamous, our evolutionary history suggests that’s bullshit: we would not be here as a species unless some women had born children by multiple fathers because there wouldn’t be enough genetic variety for us as a species to survive. Furthermore, even though women are indeed more selective when it comes to sexual partners than men, women still have a biological urge to seek out the best genes possible for their offspring, meaning even if a woman has a steady partner, a guy with better genes than him is still going to be irresistibly attractive to her. Now that we have the means to prevent unwanted children, we should theoretically be able to behave as we please without the consequences of the past, but we as a species have not caught up to the new reality created by this technology, not by a long shot.

The end result is misery. I know too many couples who are dissatisfied with their sex lives or constantly suspicious their partner is cheating on them even though they themselves are cheating on their partner to think that monogamy really works for most people. For some reason we still feel the need to live up to an ideal portrait of monogamy passed down to us from the past even though it doesn’t work. Can people not think for themselves? Or would people just rather continue to cheat in the dark and tell themselves their partner isn’t doing the same? Perhaps most people prefer the fake “happy” illusion of monogamy to an honest and open relationship; all I can say is they deserve what they get in that case, because people who don’t have the ability to be honest with themselves about their and their partners’ desires are people who of course aren’t going to be happy. We act like children about the realities of sex rather than confronting it like adults, so we end up miserable. We expect our partners to be superhuman and only want us even though we don’t only want them, and then we wonder why we’re unhappy. It’s not a mystery, people. For most of us, monogamy is an illusion; perhaps it’s time for the illusion to end.

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