Long before today's internet and it's ability to connect us, it was in some ways easier to be monogamous. Today, there is this trend - good and bad - of people thinking there is an endless supply of other opportunities at the click of the mouse or the swipe of the screen.
So how have trends like 'instant gratification' and the 'swipe' affected mate choice? And, how do they affect the value of commitment and monogamy?
The bottom line is that most of the trends we see are a good thing. How can you say that you say? Well, to me all of these trends, even going back to the increase in divorce is a reflection of the increasingly authentic and transparent world we are creating. Yes, it's chaotic and yes it's painful. But it's what you get when you go from 'following the herd' or 'what we've always done' versus what truly works sustainably.
It is true that it's hard for some to be monogamous, even when their best intentions are to remain so. Research shows that women now stray in numbers near that to men. Why? I guess the proof is that, given the opportunities that come with being in the workforce, all people are the same. In the past men probably strayed because they were out in the world, and had more opportunities, where women were home tending the home front (or fires, as I like to say).
Hence the jokes about being the 'milkman's child' or the 'mailman's baby'. So see even then some women strayed, while daddy was at work.
And I've known plenty of women over the years who say they don't care if hubby strays, they just don't want to know about it. Is that unhealthy or wise!?!
Since women have entered the workforce it is no surprise now that most affairs are with a co-worker. Eek! Then again, if we look at the animal kingdom, it seems monogamous couplings are...oops...rare. While our brains are supposedly more sophisticated than other mammals, we are still - deep down - animals too....hahaha.
And therein lies the rub...
I see it in the LGBTQ community, particularly those of us who are, shall I say, more 'traditional' (yes!). Many lesbians have a HUGE issue with infidelity. I know it was a big one for me, when I was in a relationship. I was raised and feel deep down that the security of someone I can come home to and puts me first in their life very reassuring and well, I thought, healthier than other options. And I likewise was there for my partner because to me 'double standards' aren't fair either. And, I know that when you are in a relationship where you don't feel number one it can be anxiety-provoking for many.
In the old days, people strayed and you 'just didn't talk about it'. Today more couples talk openly about their desire to have a 'more open' relationship. I would say this is much healthier than going behind your partner's back, unless you have what they call a 'tacit' or, unspoken agreement like I mentioned above.
I hate to stereotype but I have more gay male couple friends who have agreed to be honest about their non-monogamous ways with their partners, much more than the lesbians I know. Especially so for my 'left coast' friends (I know stereotyping again). Again this sounds sexist but men tend to be more sexually-focused so it makes sense that they would be more open to more openness in the sexual aspect of their relationships as well.
Interesting isn't it? I guess I was raised in the some golden era, where we were taught to be civilized. This IS the era my parents believe as 'normal' as well. But then in their era, there is/was a lot of secretiveness going on. People would believe: do and not tell your partner because it would 'hurt' them.
So just what is 'more civilized'?
As girls especially we were taught to value monogamy so it's no surprise that so many of us have a negative association with it's opposite: non-monogamy. Or as gay blogger and pundit Dan Savage calls it: 'monogamish'.
I also wonder with some open relationships if it's the man who insists on having the second female in the relationship (or talks his girlfriend into it).
I should interview my colleague Joe Kort on this one. His expertise is sexuality and all of this interesting stuff. Remind me if I forget, as soon I'll be launching my podcast!
Do We Expect Too Much From Ourselves and Our Partners in Relationships?
In an ideal world I would say: Perhaps one of monogamy's flaws is that it encourages an 'ownership' mindset. A possessiveness. But is that really unhealthy? I say two people having a thriving relationship is hard enough. Then again, in some open or polyamorous relationships I hear - especially from women - that the companionship of the other woman is a plus. Not necessarily the sexual component but the friendship.
Then again let's ask: Why won't a straying partner who does so because they say their other half doesn't fully fulfill them first ask themselves: "but have I truly given my partner a chance to meet more of my needs?" and "have I truly tried to make it work or am I avoiding things/ taking the easier way out?". It takes guts to admit one is a part of making things work, is it not?
Well maybe if you are really alarmed how relationships are changing, then consider this: at least people are still getting together! I know small comfort for you.
I do believe people with minor children should be more responsible about their straying. This goes for those who are married and raising kids. Wouldn't it be nice if those couples could find a way to not damage their children in the process? However, being a young parent especially is a vulnerable time for couples.
And for all couples enough research has been done by researchers/clinicians like the Gottmans to identify what we need to do to sustain a relationship one wants to stay committed to.
Why can't we as a society agree to provide couples more support to succeed? Oh yes, that's right: we are a country where we have to figure everything out on our own.
As Dr. Phil loves to say: "Well, how's that workin' for ya?"
I recall the suggestion made by a former (female) German president Gabriele Pauli (love her name by the way). She calls it the 'Seven Year Solution' and says all marriages should run out like a contract at the end of year seven, giving the couple time to explore whether to continue or not. I believe that should definitely be an option upon commitment.
The bottom line for me is that when I am helping someone DECIDE who to make a commitment to I am helping them to identify what their non-negotiables are and to look for a 'fit'. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't have some non-negotiables, recognized and expressed (or not).
The problem with the image of 'forever love' is that people change, over the lifespan. Who you are at 20 is not who you are at 40 or 50. That's why some call your first marriage today - if entered to in your 20's - a starter marriage.
I've spent a lot of years single now, after spending most of my young adult years - until about 45 to be exact - in committed relationships. I've chosen to stay single since then and, while those relationships taught me TONS about myself, being single has taught me other lessons too. I highly recommend singlehood, it's not the pity-party you may think it is, by the way. It's definitely one way to avoid the inevitable dramas that sometimes come from being coupled.
MORE TO COME...