Monogamy Isn't Realistic


Monogamy wasn't a "rule" until very recently. Hell, up until the mid- to late-1900s, it was expected of men to take on other women (or men!) for trysts. And in the colonial era? Oh man, don't get me started.
@2: Well, don't forget the women were still expected to be monogamous.
GREAT post, Dan. I agree 100%. I only wish you had a column in the NYT, or another widely read paper, because you' are one of the only rational, intelligent voices out there and more people than just Slog readers need to hear it!
Evolutionary biology correlates that are NOT associated with monogamy:

In humans (of course, these rules apply to other species),
-Body size differences between males/females = polygynous mating system
-Relative to the rest our our closest primate relatives = huge sperm count and huge penis size (sperm competition theory)
-Hidden menstruation by females keeps males guessing about paternity (ensures care by multiple males and limits infanticide)
-Our closest relative, Bonobos, use sex to maintain social structure and resolve disputes.
so what's the prevalence of non-honest non-monogamous relationships? Are there any numbers out there to support a contention that non-monogamous relationships are more honest? That's not snark, it's a real question since I think the long term success issue is really about honesty, not monogamy per se... because long term honesty is likely at least as tough as long term monogamy.
Thank you for the concessions and respect, Dan. I'm touched. ;)

You won't hear me arguing for or against monogamy. Both sets of my grandparents are about to celebrate 70 (seventy) years of marriage. One couple monogamous, the other was not. Both marriages successfully built a life together, survived WW II, raised families, and most importantly they consider themselves blessed to be with each other. Exclusiveness need not be some pillar or inflated into the defining status, mutual respect and agreement seems to be the key to determining if a marriage succeeds or not.
@6, rock on, kim. Thanks for cooling it out as usual.
To highlight one of Dan's Points... the last line of article: "there are lots of reasons that two people who cooperate are better off than one person alone or one person who is a cheat" Is offered in support of monogamy, but is not inherently about monogamy, but rather "two people who cooperate". Two people that may or may not be monogamous.
If monogamy were a natural aspect of humanity, sexual jealousy would not exist.
I view monogamy in the same way that I view religion--it works for some people (not all), and it provides a stability needed by some (not all). It's something you choose to do, and it is often difficult to healthily maintain.
But it is not natural in that it is not instinctual. If it were, mated humans would not sexually consider partners outside their relationships.
Monogamy should of course be practiced, even if it is faked, by the parents of young kids. Think of it. You're a little kid and love that your Parent x and your Parent y are loving and devoted to you - and to each other (even if Parent x is getting something on the side and is thankfully keeping it a secret). Let the kid have the serenity of two devoted parents who are also devoted to each other (whether true or not).
What value to the kid would it be to know about the infidelity? A worry about someone new coming into the picture or, worse, a misplaced guilt that the child caused a breakup.

Yes, you can argue that children are quite adapting -- and they are. but it’s it the job of parents to withhold as much pain and strife as possible?
Have you ever gotten therapy after your parents' divorce?

You always sound so bitter and childish about monogamy.

It's just another form of relationship.

I'm with you though on the whole notion about how stupid it is to build it up as somehow superior.....
Sure, monogamy isn't for everyone but to call it unnatural is incendiary. It's such a loaded and not-understood word anyway. I mean technically I'd be happy in what I would call a modified-monogamy relationship, because I'd want my partner present for extracurricular activities. Compared to most partnered gay guys I know in Seattle that *is* practically monogamous because so many partnerships are WIDE open. In most WIDE open relationships I have seen, one partner is begrudgingly indulging the partner with broader sexual needs to the detriment of their own happiness. I guess any happy non-monagamous couples and threesomes I have seen that are pretty happy are somewhere on the spectrum between monogamous and no-rules/wide-open and not at either extreme. I think when people read the word "non-monogamous" it is associated with the opposite extreme. Honestly Dan, my understanding from reading your column and books, the non-monogamy that you enjoy is also practically monogamous compared to most of the commitment-impaired guys I have dated here. I haven't been able to enjoy a dating situation where my partner will agree to any boundaries whatsoever, which I think are important in the beginning of the relationship when you are developing trust and the core of the partnership. Anyway, just my early-morning thoughts...
Are you talking strictly about sexual monogamy or just two people committed to each other? I think that some people can't sexually commit and boy does it cause problems (see Bill Clinton).

I've been married 26 years. (Yes, to one person, go figure.) It is a journey, kids, an ebb and a flow. Some of the journey you have no control over - life likes to shake you up that way. Some of it you do (like deciding whether to cheat on your partner). Even though I named Bill Clinton above, he and Hillary are still married. Is it a marriage I would want? Nope. I would have clocked him and walked. But no one really knows what anyone else's marriage/partnership/relationship is except the two people in it. You don't even - gasp - really know for sure what has gone on between your parents or grandparents.

Monogamy has many satisfactions. As Dan points out, there can be downsides. Have the relationship(s) that you want but if trust isn't part of the package, you will never be truly satisfied.
Dan, why are you no longer calling Terry your 'wife'?
Have you been demoted to bottom?
Excellent! I agree 100%. Dan, you're a genius. That whole "monogamous people should be able to marry" thing -- so clever! I haven't seen writing like that since the Cooper Point Journal when I was going to Evergreen 20 years ago. I know that kind of smarmy role reversal trick has been totally rhetorically ineffective for over 100 years, but you just keep on belting out those trite literary tropes. With a genius like you behind the keyboard, I'm sure all those idiots who don't agree with you will come around tout de suite.
What ever happened to each unto their own and mind your own fucking business? That goes for everyone.
Of course people in non-monogamous relationships can trust and depend on their spouses- they can depend on them to cheat.
The notion that one would "love" someone but stray because of sexual boredom is sad. Sex is not that hard and two people who really love each other should have no problem making it work. It speaks poorly of cheaters' maturity and life skills.
You can't really comment on something you know nothing about. It's like asking for rain in the Sahara. Savage really has no knowledge about real stable heterosexual relationships, he only can describe what he knows about and that is open relationships. While at the start sexuality is of great importance in order to get into the evolutionary function of reproduction as time goes by the needs also evolve into a more platonic realm. I've witnessed many older couples in monogamous relationships, to the point that it was quite common to see that as soon as one passed away it was only withing a matter of days that the other went to join them also. I guess if society is gullible enough to believe what gay men or any other who have given up on monogamy say (in order to push their own agenda to dismantle marriage) then you could see a decline in monogamous relationships in the future but for many past generations that has not been the case.

Only a fool goes seeking fruit and shade in an uprooted tree.
I appreciate that long-term, committed, non-monogamous relationships are possible and that they exist, but I wonder how many people are able to compartmentalize sex and keep it separate from its various attachments.

I consider my monogamous relationship healthy enough to survive non-monogamy, so that isn't a problem. But I can't imagine having satisfying sex without some measure of passion, something that resembles "love." I could do that a lot when I was much younger, but in middle age such pursuits seem barely differentiated from masturbation, something to satisfy a biological nagging.

The threat non-monogamy presents to committed relationships can be an issue of trust, as in the case of "infidelity," or stepping outside an agreement without prior permission, or it can be an issue of divided loyalties if seeking sex outside the primary relationship requires a measure of love (or maybe even just passion?) for other partners.

Maybe I'm a lesbian in a gay man's body. Anonymous hook-ups lost their appeal somewhere in my 20s or 30s. It's not that I object to non-monogamy, it's just that it seems like a hassle. It has a certain appeal, but I'm not sure how to make it work without fucking up the thing I want to keep forever.
@20: Dig in your wallet, Loveschild.

Every man you see there had a mistress. A couple of them had children with their mistresses. Lincoln had a male "cohort".
It isnt that I dont agree with you Dan on almost everything you have ever said, and I respect you not only as a writer but as a good person. And I understand there are plenty of people out there who will fight for the cause of monogamy and its good to have the alternate opinion heard as well. I just feel like there are monogamous couples out there who make it work wonderfully and there isnt anything wrong with wanting to look up to them, and hope to achieve that kind of relationship, even if you are still realistic about the possibilities that things may change down the road and concessions may have to be made. And I hope that those thoughts don't make me a backwards thinker or not open minded.
This is assuming that everybody maintains their status as a "sexual being". As people get older they may not be interested in sex and move on to other outlets such as volunteering at church, driving the kids to soccer, wearing those stretchy tight fitting mom-pants over their growing midframe, watching soaps on Tivo, etc.
I do not want to even think about people over a certain age having sex. Old sex is far more icky than gay sex. Obvious some still have a sex drive after 40 but please keep it in the closet.
Is wearing clothes "natural"?
Is writing "natural"?
Is indoor plumbing "natural"?
Democratic government?
Space travel?

We are different from animals because we can rise above (or descend beneath) our animal instincts.

We are capable of reasoning and can make choices.
We may give in to base desires, and in so doing limit our pleasures and achievements to the level of animals.
But to the extent we exercise self-control and discipline we can experience a higher level of achievement and joy.

The comparison to playing the violin or ice-skating is apt- anyone could learn to do those things on some level, and by practice and discipline become good at them, but if one gave in to natural desires not to practice and sacrifice and relied on innate instinct their level of success would be small.

People who follow 'natural law' in their personal relationships will endure minimum success, by any definition of success, to the extent that we discipline our behavior and tame the animal we will know more successful and joyous relationships.

It applies to all relationships- not just marriage.
For what it's worth, I've never had any difficulty being monogamous, but if there's one thing I've learned in my life, it's that we're not all wired the same.
To call monogamy an unnatural human trait sounds a bit like a scapegoat. There are countless "unnatural" trends that humans are famous for - working in tiny cubes, limiting our intake of food, working 40 hours a week, paying taxes, caring for our ailing parents, staying home on weekend nights to raise our children - trends that fuel a majority of human lifestyles that require a bit of additional motivation to accomplish. Many human choices are not "natural" and quite often are decisions we would not make without cultural and social pressure.

It is interesting that the article peers so closely at this particular trend and deems it unnatural while ignoring the multitude of other unnatural decisions that humans make on a daily basis. The word unnatural has a negative connotation and that's my beef. It's just one way of doing things, and yes, it requires a bit of motivation and focus, and if it's against the grain of human psychology, fine. But get off your high horse and recognize the countless other restrictive habits and hard decisions that you make on a daily basis and then explain why this habit is excusable.
Dan, for straight couples, deceptive non-monogamy is the natural order of things.

Heterosexuals are indeed meant to sleep around, but we're also meant to hide that fact from our spouses. The only problem with the Sanford marriage is that Sanford failed to effectively deceive his wife.

Honest non-monogamous straight couples certain do exist, and god bless them all, but they are the exception, not the rule.
We only have so much "special" to spread around in life.

If we share most or all of our "special" with a lifelong partner then that relationship will be very rewarding, rich and Special. (duh)

If we hand out bits and pieces of our "special" willy nilly it will lose a lot of it's punch and we will soon find not much in our lives is very special at all...
David Barash is a UW professor who, just a few years back, wound up on some conservative scare-list of "America's most dangerous educators." Or some such shit. Nice to see that he's still being consulted and published by credible news sources who actually find merit in his very good research.
@21: Who said anything about anonymous hookups?

Non-monogamy does not necessarily mean rampant promiscuity or anonymous hookups. Anyone who reads "Savage Love" knows that I typically don't smile on those sorts of assignations.
LC: You said: "You can't really comment on something you know nothing about."
And I laughed so hard I snorted my coffee up my nose! Too funny!!!!!!
STFU already, Dan. Your projection of your own lifestyle onto everyone else gets fucking tiresome. It's almost as if you're trying to prove something to yourself with all your polyamorous preaching.


You said it best. We're all different. Simple as that. And I'm not about to try and convince you, Fifty-Two-Eighty, that you must secretly be lying to yourself because you're comfortably monogamous. Dan might though.
Isn't it a little bigoted to claim that monogamy is unnatural? You're free to think that if you really want, but that doesn't make it true.

First you say "I don't believe that couples who make the choice to be monogamous should be discriminated against in any way"
and then you have "But the monogamous have to find a way to discuss their unnatural lifestyle choices that doesn't amount to an attack on those who made a more natural choice."

Calling our lifestyle choices unnatural DOES seem a little discriminatory.

You can take all the evolutionary biology you want to back it up, and claim we're 'supposed' to have multiple partners but evolution is all about change, just because we may have evolved as non-monogamist, doesn't mean we're supposed to be that way forever.

Furthermore, doesn't the argument of "it's unnatural" stand up against a lot of things you practice? What happened to your open-mindedness for people to do what they enjoy without being put-down because of it? I am so surprised this post came from you. =\

I'm sorry for the monogamous people who attack non-monogamy, I really am. I wish non-monogamous lifestyles were more accepted and embraced in our culture. But calling our lifestyle unnatural and touting yours as superior is an attack, plain and simple. You can fight fire with fire, but if you do, you'll have to accept you've become just the same as the people who try to discredit your lifestyle.
@31, I'm not disparaging non-monogamy or anonymous hook-ups. I'm just struggling to understand how people have made extramarital arrangements work. I know that they have, but I haven't personally experienced a workable arrangement. I don't know what it looks like.
@33: So you accuse Dan of projecting, but you turn around and do exactly that.

I love this blog so much.
"Monogamy Isn't Realistic"

Is maintaining a healthy weight "Realistic"?
More people fail at that than at making monogamy work for them.

Do we throw up our hands and say:
"Go ahead!
"Eat like a Pig.
"Sit on your Ass all day.
"Weighing 400 pounds is a more realistic expectation than eating a healthy diet and getting a little exercise..."
This screed sounds like a case of one of these:

Nice person being nice: You're looking great today!
Bitchy person being bitchy: Oh, so I looked bad yesterday?

Kaslow's comments about people feeling safer, more trusting and feeling "like they can depend on their partner" does not need to be interpreted as a slight on the non-monogamous. In fact, it doesn't need to be interpreted at all. It's a factual claim that can be either demonstrated or refuted by evidence.

A good followup question for Kaslow would be: what is the basis for these claims? Are there studies that show that people in monogamous relationships report these feelings?

Notice also that she didn't claim that they actually were safer, that more trust was justified, or that monogamous partners can always be trusted, so Dan's examples of failures in monogamy are not relevant.

An issue like this, without scientific evidence to back one's claims, immediately devolves into everyone projecting their own feelings onto others, and to what end? If you are the type of person who remains committed to your significant other, at least until the two of you break up (serial monogamy), then that's the type of person you are, and you should probably try to find a mate who is the same. If you are 'polyamorous' then you better find someone(s) else who is/are too. Why the need for sweeping statements about what is "natural" and what is "realistic"?

Dan will gladly dispense advice about being accepting of all manner of freaky kinks, but when it comes to expecting exclusivity from your main squeeze, that's not realistic? C'mon Dan... don't piss in my face and tell me it's a shower.

P.S. Why should I support gay marriage rights (marriage being the state's recognition of a committed, monogamous relationship) if you're going to declare to the world that you and your husband (in Canadian terms) openly flout the assumptions and expectations of marriage? Don't worry- I do support gay marriage rights, and I wouldn't stop because of one prominent anti-monogamy gay couple, but you might want to hold back your rhetoric a little until *after* Ref 71 passes.
This screed sounds like a case of one of these:

Nice person being nice: You're looking great today!
Bitchy person being bitchy: Oh, so I looked bad yesterday?

Kaslow's comments about people feeling safer, more trusting and feeling "like they can depend on their partner" does not need to be interpreted as a slight on the non-monogamous. In fact, it doesn't need to be interpreted at all. It's a factual claim that can be either demonstrated or refuted by evidence.

A good followup question for Kaslow would be: what is the basis for these claims? Are there studies that show that people in monogamous relationships report these feelings?

Notice also that she didn't claim that they actually were safer, that more trust was justified, or that monogamous partners can always be trusted, so Dan's examples of failures in monogamy are not relevant.

An issue like this, without scientific evidence to back one's claims, immediately devolves into everyone projecting their own feelings onto others, and to what end? If you are the type of person who remains committed to your significant other, at least until the two of you break up (serial monogamy), then that's the type of person you are, and you should probably try to find a mate who is the same. If you are 'polyamorous' then you better find someone(s) else who is/are too. Why the need for sweeping statements about what is "natural" and what is "realistic"?

Dan will gladly dispense advice about being accepting of all manner of freaky kinks, but when it comes to expecting exclusivity from your main squeeze, that's not realistic? C'mon Dan... don't piss in my face and tell me it's a shower.

P.S. Why should I support gay marriage rights (marriage being the state's recognition of a committed, monogamous relationship) if you're going to declare to the world that you and your husband (in Canadian terms) openly flout the assumptions and expectations of marriage? Don't worry- I do support gay marriage rights, and I wouldn't stop because of one prominent anti-monogamy gay couple, but you might want to hold back your rhetoric a little until *after* Ref 71 passes.
(sorry for the multiple posts... got a database error, and didn't know it had actually gone through)
Dan, the only person I see "tearing down" any lifestyle is you, at the end of the post. I support both the article, and your comments, right up until the end. The professor who said that most people prefer a monogamous relationship, for the reasons they listed, was merely reporting findings.

Would you argue that it is untrue, that the majority of people seem to prefer monogamy? And that those are their reasons, even if you think those reasons are false? It sounds like you're just angry that the article reported something you didn't want to hear. Normally you make a point about how journalists never cover both sides of the story, but in this case, you're just pissy that they did just that.

Admitting that the other side of an argument exists doesn't amount to an attack on non-monogamy, or poor journalism.
I agree with #11... monogamy may not be for everyone but it IS a healthy type of relationship for a rather large chunk of the population. That having been said, what children need growing up is stability. That stability can come in many forms and it is wrong for society to insist that the only stable relationship form be strictly monogamy and nothing else.

Yup, I'm projecting my own personal view that everyone's different. How closeminded, narrow and opinionated of me. I'm just doing it so that I can convince myself, naturally. ...Er, wait, no, that's what Dan does.
meh, to each their own. I would say that monogamy is more of the cultural norm, as it is practiced more around the world.

People keep on pointing out that men traditionally have fucked around on thier partners throughout history; true, but I think that has more to do with gender inequality and misogyny than any thing else.
Vegetarian diets are not part of our human evolutionary history, but I am a vegetarian because of the negative impacts to our environment from meat-raising. Monogamy may not have been part of our human evolutionary history, but I am monogamous because I love my husband and the family we have created. Sex is a VERY important part of MALE human evolutionary history, not so important a part of FEMALE human evolutionary history, but both genders enjoy it.

Many species of birds are monogamous.
Dan, I personally want to thank you for harping on monogamy so much lately. I'm enjoying reading everyone's reactions to it, and it's helping me sort out my own feelings about it. I've never believed in monogamy (and spent a long time miserably trying to practice it and always failing), and I'm realizing now it's because it doesn't work for me. Because it feels unnatural to me I figured that means it's just unnatural period. But now I'm coming around (thanks to all the people speaking up to defend it) to the idea that monogamy really does work for some people. I wouldn't have had my mind opened up if it weren't for you starting all these discussions about it.
David Barash and Judith Eve Lipton are awesome. I hope my partner and I end up half as cool as them at their age. Barash if a prof at UW--if you're a student there, you should definitely find a way to take one of this classes.
Speaking of commitment Amazon has 45 used copies of Dan's book "The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage, and My Family (Hardcover)" starting at 61¢.
"Skipping Towards Gomorrah" will set you back 33¢...

It's sad that monogamists can only defend their unnatural lifestyle choices by tearing down those of us who are in healthy, natural non-monogamous relationships.

Jesus Christ, you're such an oversensitive prat. Pointing out that most people prefer monogamy doesn't equal tearing down open relationships, except in your anorexia addled brain.

And open relationships aren't any easier than monogamy. It's difficult enough to consider the needs and desires of just one person.
Having experienced both types of relationships, I much prefer a monogamous one. I find the trust, respect and love created in a monogamous relationship is much more satisfying than any "natural" desire I might have to fool around. The best part is, contrary to what you might expect, is that it gets easier as time goes by. Eventually, I am sure, Dan will grow tired of the energy it takes to stay in the chase and will come to realize that, in this case, there is no strength in numbers. I look forward to reading his column when he comes to that conclusion.
@20: You say "You can't really comment on something you know nothing about."

And yet you are here, every single day, spouting off nonsense about gay men, gay relationships, gay this and gay that.

Is there something you'd like to tell us, dear?

He's attacking because he's trying to convince himself that his way is better. It's childish and sad, but whateva. His issue & he seems pretty insecure about it. Tune the guy out when he turns irrational, tune him in when he becomes rational again. Most of the time, he's damn good at helping others navigate their relationships... so long as their issues don't coincide with his own.
Stop imposing your gay anti-monogamy values on the rest of us.

We're perfectly happy with serial monogamy.
Just do what you want.

I mean... goddamn.

You can have the best of both worlds, though. Humans naturally long-term pair bond, but sexual exclusivity isn't historically part of that bargain and it doesn't have to be part of it now. You don't have to decide between exclusive marriage or a wild, swinging poly tribe or perpetual singledom. You can have a committed relationship that admits some outside contact. That's possible, I swear.

False dichotomies make me tired. All of you stop your stupid fucking black-or-white quibbling or I'm going to need to get some more coffee. Yes. That means you, Loveschild.
I was just swimming in my tank, minding my own business, and then this guy just goes soaring over my head on a motorcycle.

Was that Dan Savage? What the fuck was HE trying to accomplish?

yes, most birds are SOCIALLY monogamous, but they are NOT genetically monogamous (check out Tim Birkhead's work from 20 years ago). Male and females sexual strategies are often in conflict with one another.

Most mammals are polygynous. Monogamy occurs in only 6% of Mammalian genera (Devra Kleimann's work). It primarily occurs within some groups: rodents, primates, and carnivores.

@56 -- Yeah, I know it's possible, and I've heard or read about or read testimony from polyamorists or committed non-monogamists who claim it can work. I believe that. But I still don't have any idea *how* it works because I've never personally seen it work. And I'm interested to know how it works and what it looks like.

I know what "cheating" looks like, and it's ugly. I know about mismatched libidos, where the frustrated partner seeks extramarital sex with or without the other partner's permission. That's usually satisfying for one out of two people in the committed relationship, which often suffers or ends as a consequence. I know about partners who have a steady side interest with someone else, but remain committed to a primary partner who may or may not have any knowledge of the side interest. In the one case I know about, it "worked" okay only because the partners were willing to practice avoidance, both of the affair itself as well as the other partner's seething resentment. I know about "open" relationships where both partners are free to have sex outside the primary relationship, but I've never personally known about one where either partner's definition of "long-term" matches mine.

In short, I have a lot of personal knowledge about non-monogamous relationships that range from the merely disrespectful to the outright disastrous. And I've read about or heard about happy arrangements. I'm curious to know more about the happy arrangements. Something more substantial than "they exist." I'm sure they do.
Monogamy ISN'T natural. @58..Is that the study where birds that are supposed to Pair-Bond for life are observed "cheating"...BC there is a study somewhere that goes into this.

I have ALWAYS been in monogamous relationships, until recently. My recent SLUTTING OUT with a FWB may be helping my marriage. I am nicer to my hubby after a tryst with fwb...relaxed, satisfied and, etc.

Monogamy is unnatural. People have a hard time separating Love and Sex, but once you's a lotta fun
Incest is a natural mammal behavior.
Eating your own young.
Eating your own poop.
Is it "Realistic" to expect humans to avoid these Natural lifestyle choices?
Won't someone think of the children! Did you even think that the parents of young children might consider which adults they bring into their children's lives regardless of their relationship style? Being non-monogamous doesn't mean you bring everyone home. Just like a divorced parent won't introduce their child to every boy/girlfriend a non-monogamous parent has no incentive to introduce new partners to the kid. "Infidelity" isn't the right metaphor, done right non-monogamy is quit fidelous, it just might also be polyphonic. If one has long-term secondary partners it may make sense to introduce them to the kid carefully and appropriately. All the while stressing the familial support for the little one.

Getting over jealousy is hard work, especially if you've had bad experiences with it in the past, but... well, frankly, open non-monogamy frequently works just like cheating except that no one is being lied to and you can have a productive discussion about whether you're both getting what you need.

You read Dan's column or listen to the podcast? I'm surprised you don't have a pretty good picture of how at least some not-strictly-monogamous relationships function.

I guess the key as far as I understand it is a certain minimum amount of self-knowledge. You have to be realistic about what you want, need, and are okay with, and you have to know it well enough to talk to your partner about it... and, inevitably, you need the right partner, too. You can't have a functional open pair relationship unless both of you want it. Trying to create one with a partner who just isn't into it - not ready, not inclined, whatever - is like trying to hammer in screws just because you happen to have a hammer. You need to get a screwdriver or you're just going to make a mess and smash your thumb.

As I've said multiple times lately, I think monogamy and polyamory are both kinda awful, for different reasons. I have trouble seeing a middle ground that respects the type of connections that I care about. I agree with @56 about the black-and-white thing, but I'm pretty confused by the shades of gray.

Still. . . great post.
@63 >> "You can't have a functional open pair relationship unless both of you want it."

That's probably the ingredient I'm missing. I haven't known of any open relationships where both partners were equally accepting of the terms. One always wants it more than the other, and that seems to be as natural an arrangement as any I've seen.

Your point is taken; there is such a thing as the "naturalistic" fallacy, a variant of the "is/ought," and it is, in fact, wrong to suggest that something is right or acceptable based solely on the fact that it occurs in some form in nature.

We have collectively, consciously decided to eliminate the behaviors you mention from our societies. It is that very consideration, that deliberation, which makes us human. It would therefore be a betrayal of our highest principles, of the things which make us potentially more than the sum of our evolutionary parts, to lump together the harmful and the harmless, the destructive and the victimless, the obsolete and the potentially positive, with no further consideration than that some things are "bad."

We have contraception. We have stable societies. We have genetic testing. Strict monogamy is no longer justifiable even to ensure paternity (whether it ever was so justifiable is a different question), and so it behooves us to ask whether it is necessary for any reason at all. Many of us who ask this find that we can only answer "No."

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.
I forgot to add:

My wife and I were monogamous for 14 wonderful years. Then we decided to stop being monogamous. It has been another 1.5 wonderful years since then! We have done it both ways, and I can say that both can really work. But of the two, the non-monogamy way is more fun. I went 14 years without so much as kissing another woman, but frankly, I'm not sure I could have made it another 50. This way, I have my cake (a lovely, loving wife) and get to eat it too, all in the context of a loving, trusting relationship with my wife, and with total honesty.
@68 >> "...with total honesty."

I'm curious, ohthetrees, if you've ever developed affections for extramarital sexual partners, and if that topic is open for total honesty between the two of you. Like, do you develop a regular routine with one or two extramarital sex partners, or are the extramarital partners always short term only? Are there rules that you and your wife have agreed to?

If the question was put to you: "so, do you love her?" And if the answer was, "yes," would that be a totally honest conversation you could have with your wife?

Also, do both of you seek/find extramarital pleasures with about the same frequency of occurrence as the other? Do you talk about these encounters with each other?
that is such a lovely story.
(she started stepping out on you, eh?)
Of course I've developed affections for partners. I only sleep with people I like and think are attractive, so it is only natural. I wouldn't want to sleep with someone I wouldn't/couldn't feel affection for.

My wife and I usually have sexual encounters with other people together, as threesomes or foursomes. However, I do very occasionally see a woman on my own. My wife hasn't exercised the option to see someone independent of me, but she can if she wants to.

The above paragraph makes it sound like we are sleeping with a million people, but what it boils down to is together we see 3-4 couples regularly, and I see one or two women on top of that. Over time, we have become very good friends with several of them, and see them more often for friendship and activities than for sex.

I haven't "fallen in love" with anyone else yet, but if it happened, I would have no problem telling my wife, and I think she would be fine with it. The reverse would be more difficult for me (if she fell in love with someone) but I would do my best to embrace it if it happened. I think it is easier to avoid falling "in love" with someone if you allow yourself to feel lust and affection for someone, but don't mistake that for love. Love is a big jump beyond affection, and so far, I've only experienced it with my wife.

Frequency of extra-marital encounters is about 2X/month (well it was before my wife got preggers anyway). Honestly I'd probably do it more often than we do right now, but I want to make sure that the focus stays on our relationship, and that my wife doesn't feel like this new lifestyle is taking over our lives.
@69..In my marriage, we are able to have sex with others, but because jealousy is a natural human emotion, we try not to "throw it in each others faces".

He is fine with me sleeping with other men in theory, but knowing details would make him jealous/angry....I tell him some things, but not details out of respect for him.If he asks, I'll tell.
The emotional part is tough...sure you get "attached" to a regular sex partner, but not in the same way you do with your spouse.

Not saying it would work for everyone, but it works for us.
@Meat Weapon,

Some people try to set rules on open relationships about no attachment or no falling in love, that kind of thing, but it's really pretty damned artificial and as far as I've ever seen it doesn't work and it takes the fun out of things.

Chances are, you're going to get infatuated with someone if you want to have sex with them or if you do, in fact, have sex with them. Once you have experienced that a time or two, though, either your own crushes or your partner's, you start to figure out that a crush and a partnership - love, if you will - are different things entirely. A little crush never did hurt nobody, you know? Unless you freak out about it. Then, it hurts everybody.


You're a snarky shit, and you're wrong in detail, probably, but you might have more of a point than you even realize.

Some open relationships do start that way, generally when one partner doesn't even realize an open relationship is something they can ask for. It's tragic and stupid and pointless that this usually results in the detonation and failure of the relationship just because no one knew other, better options were available.

But yeah, some people don't even start thinking about non-monogamy until an incident of cheating makes them realize that love is not going to end forever, society isn't going to cast them out, and the universe is not going to implode if their partner has sex with someone else.

I've found that throwing a few threesomes or foursomes into the mix helps a lot with that lingering jealousy. Plus, they're really, really fun.

I guess that's less optimal if your husband is totally straight, though. Man, inflexible heterosexuality is so boring.
I read an article a while ago about a species of vole that actually is monogamous.

The first time they mate, certain chemicals in their brains form an incredibly strong memory and they never mate with anyone else until they die.

That doesn't happen with people, obviously, but I thought it was interesting.
Thanks, guys. I think I have a clearer picture now.
So are open relationships automatically defined as unnatural and unrealistic because they have an even worse track record of success than monogamy?
@74..I'd LOVE it if my hubby had bi-tendancies...I could even deal if he was a closet-gay (That would be kind of awesome)but he's not. Threesomes, I could get into w/ FWB, but not hubby.
so whose kid is your wife carrying?
I'd point out that non-monogamous people are not necessarily honest with each other either. That should be obvious, but a lot of poly people talk about it as though no lying ever occurs. It's still possible to cheat, by breaking whatever rules you've laid out for your relationship. The poly relationships I've been witness to (quite a few, including several of my own) haven't been any more honest than the non-poly ones, on balance.

I think monogamy is ridiculous, I really do. But being non-monogamous doesn't solve that many problems, and for every problem that it solves, it creates a new one. Just sayin'.


That has been true in most of the poly relationships I've known as well. One person is really into it, one person is being dragged along for the ride. Lying to themselves and each other about it. Ugh.
Thanks for speaking to this Dan! If people could get away from the tradition and customize their marriage, monogamy would certainly have a better chance. Check this out:

I think I may be the only person who is indifferent to monogamy/non-monogamy. Ok, to be fair, I'd have a slight preference to non-monogamy, but I don't see myself as either the sort of person whose really into it or the person being dragged along for the ride.
I am so tickled because both my husband and I are violinists, so yes, we both *can* play the Beethoven violin concerto. Though I wouldn't do it in concert.

We feel no pressing need to be monogamous, however. We're newly married and only sleeping with each other right now, but I don't feel fear and trepidation at the thought that, in the future, we'll want to have sex with other people.

Great concerto, by the way.
I disagree that one lifestyle choice is more "natural" than the other. Clearly, one feels more natural to you, Dan.

I've had an open relationship, earlier in my life, and I've been in a monogamous marriage for 20 years.

My experience has been that both have varying "track records". A bunch of open relationships implode disastrously, as do monogamous ones. I don't think the track record is as much about what type of relationship you have, as it is the quality of that relationship and the nature of the people in the relationship. Why does it need to be set up as either/or, anyway?

You seem to be setting up the very dynamic that you claim to hate (one group judging the other). I suppose that's your point. Feels like there's a more evolved way to make it.
@80 good point, but it does mitigate a major category of dishonesty that commonly crops up in monogamous relationships.
Dan, I don't agree with your point of view on monogamy at all. What is the point of dating or falling in love with another person if you can't end up someday with them in a loving/long term relationship? Here is a quote for you to ponder.

"Life is simple if you keep it simple, it's not overwhelming. I think that life is about finding one good friend, and if possible, finding one good friend who's also your lover and your partner for life."
"Marriage is a young man's disaster and an old man's comfort." - "Marriage is a psychological condition, not a civil contract and a license. Once a marriage is dead, it is dead, and it begins to stink even faster than a dead fish." - Robert Heinlein from Starship Troopers and To Sail Beyond The Sunset
@86, I really don't think you understand the discussion here.

Monogamy and long-term, loving, stable, etc. partnerships aren't the same thing. In fact, it's kind of pointless to talk about non-monogamous relationships if you're going to consider that an oxymoron, isn't it? The point is that a degree of sexual openness in those relationships is not only practical, but can in fact help improve and preserve them.

"lurk moar," as the kids say.
There's a big difference between open relationships, swinging, illicit affairs and serial monogamy.

The Great Divide is really between couples that tie up economically and emotionally, and grow into old age together with shared assets (regardless of the exclusivity of their sexual relationship) and people that never "settle down" with anyone.

The problem for those in the latter category is that it is very expensive - and difficult - to buy a house, raise a family, survive unemployment and sickness etc, by yourself. A temporary partner is only a partial, limited fix. Anyone who has had parents or grandparents married for several happy decades knows that monogamy is not some kind of unnatural prison.

Yes - with exclusive relationships where partners can't handle affairs there may be some sacrifice of sexual adventure, but presumably the benefits make it worthwhile for those couples.

When you divorce, you halve your wealth. If the two of you had a shared mortgage that you could just about reasonably afford together, there's no way you're going to split up and get a house each. You'll get a flat, or a tiny house in a cheaper area. People need to realise the economic and practical realities of single life. It's not to say that people should stay in unhappy relationships for the sake of money, but it needs to be recognised that a permanent relationship (marriage or co-habiting) isn't just some archaic, unnatural, undesirable state. It's usually hugely advantageous and desirable to the people involved.
Statistically staying married is the greatest factor in determining if someone will stay out of poverty.
It correlates more than even educational attainment.
Infidelity is a (if not the) chief contributing factor to divorce.
Monogamy often confers a huge financial advantage.
@raindrop; Kids adapt much better than you think. It's the parents who freak out. And the teenagers, but they freak out all the time anyway. Lies are a terrible poison. Of course, that doesn't mean you bring your kid along on dates all the time or whatever, just that they can easily deal with their parents having an understanding non-monogamous relationship. They'll have a much harder time with their parents having big weird secrets.

@48/49: Dumbest troll ever. You do realize that you can get most mass-market books for similar prices because the dealers make all their money on shipping? Dan's books cost the same as Ann Coulter's or Shakespeare's or the Bible.
@89, @90, I guess those of us who don't pair off are screwed then. That would be me. I never paired off w/anyone. Now, there are some things I don't like about relationships, namely having to answer to someone all the time. In that sense, being in a relationship was like moving back in with your parents. I do miss the sex, but I've learned to live without it. In a relationship, in my experience you stop having sex after about a year anyway. So I live w/o sex, a house, a car, health insurance. Nor am I living a "wild" single life, I haven't dated for about a decade. I just gave up. And I sure didn't see my parents or grandparents married "for several happy decades." My mother's parents were dead before she graduated from high school. My father's father was one miserable person and I assure you his marriage w/my father's mother was indeed a prison for her. My own parents marriage didn't last. Without a partner, I do wonder if, when I'm old and infirm, I might end up taking my own life, esp if the option is a nursing home. But of course, one could be in a relationship and face that same decision, couldn't they?

Please see my comment @88. Your troll has been preempted. Sorry. Try again.
Doesn't the concept of an open relationship/open marriage/polyamory open one up to an increased risk on contracting an STD? I understand the importance of safe sex, but condoms DO sometimes break......
In my experience, people seem to be geared one way or the other, and fighting what feels right for YOU, causes problems. I've yet to meet a couple in an open or poly relationship that didn't have all the same issues as a monogamous one. The fact is, relationships are work, you have to put in time and effort, and it is always difficult to meet the needs of all.
I'm geared to monogamy, having sex with someone other than my partner or with more than one person would just be stressful and not fun, it is completely unappealing. Thankfully I have a partner who feels the same, and we make sure that our sex life is fun, exciting and fulfilling. It has only gotten better over time, I would never feel comfortable doing the things I do with my husband with another person. Our committed monogamous relationship allowed that to be.
I also have friends who are constantly bemoaning not having a relationship but whenever they are in one, cheat on the person. I say just be honest with yourself, you are not geared for monogamy, and that's okay. Now stop lying to all the people you sleep with and stop pretending you want a committed relationship when you don't!
Those of us who ARE in monogamous marriages don't assume monogamy will be easy, or that it will always be fun. But we do think it's realistic. Hell, celibacy is realistic, in that it can realistically be achieved, but not that's it's easy or fun. Now, some people may not think that happy monogamy is realistic, or satisfying monogamy. But monogamy without the adjectives is very realistic, for people willing to try. It's the difference between avoiding and resisting temptation, and just saying "What the Hell, I'm part of a horny species." After all, pacifism requires self-control too. And healthy eating, and exercise, and charity. The difference is that it's okay to mock the gluttonous and overweight, or the lazy, or the selfish. But somehow the non-monogamous are just evolved enough to know their own limitations while the monogamous are just sheeple following an outdated code. WHat happened to "to each their own"? You can have an open a relationship as you want; I don't care. But don't say that mine isn't realistic. Easy, no. realistic, yes.
Nature rewards monogamy with health.

Postpone sexual activity until you pair with a lifelong partner (who shares and practices the same values) and remain monogamous and you get a free pass from STDs.

Practice non-monagamy (and/or pair with a partner who is nonmonogamous) and expect STDs.

In fact, expect a direct correlation-
the more promiscuous you and/or your partner are the greater the chance and more virulent the exposure to STDs.

Perhaps Nature is not as clever about what is "Realistic" as Dan but it is sending an unmistakable loud clear message...
Me? I don't care what other pople do with their private bits. Just keep them away from me unless they are invited over to play.

I do notice an amusing dodge at work in this debate, though. A desire or need to sleep with others besides a primary partner, in the pro-poly world is taken to be a hard-wired thing, it seems. But when they address guilt or shame people feel at cheating or otherwise engaging in a lifestyle viewed by others as unhealthy, erroneous, etc, well, that seems to be just cultural oppression by the narrow-minded, etc.

Sooo...the sex drive is wired. But feeling lousy about your sexual behavior is not wired? Thus, in their worldview, with just a little more openness and open-mindedness, and then no more lousy feelings, but still plenty of sex.

Maybe that shame is wired in too? Is our sex drive counterbalanced by that? Just a thought.
Snowguy, I think that shame and guilt are hardwired emotions; however, I don't necessarily think that guilt about something can be called hardwiring. Everyone (who is stable) experiences guilt; not everyone experiences guilt about open relationships.

Cheating? Of course, in most cases, that will make a person feel guilty if he or she cares about the person they're cheating on. But that's only because they're risking hurting their partners. Cheating and non-monogamy are two different things. It's the risk of the hurt that causes the guilt.

Society teaches/brain washes us on which sexual behaviors are good and which are bad. That's not hardwiring, but rather socialization.

But caring, compassion, guilt, love? Those are all emotions that are probably hardwired in humans, and even many other animals.
I think you only need to look at history and divorce statistics to realize that monogamy isn't actually 'natural' for most people. The sad thing is that they feel that it IS, so they end up in a position where they're forced to lie and cheat to get something that they want, and they end up hurting a lot of people in the process. A married man that cheats on his wife hurts his wife, any children, and feels an enormous amount of guilt. Great. It's possible that his 'mistress' feels bad to be treated like a second-class relationship, so now you've got at least 3 people that feel bad about this whole thing. AWESOME.

I've been partnered for 13.5 years, more than half of them non-monogamous. We're on the same page and agree that this is what we want; neither one of us spent any time having to convince the other. If I find a girl that I like, I get ENCOURAGEMENT from my partner. Instead of 3 people being hurt, we have three people that are HAPPY. If it goes bad -- because any relationship can go bad -- it's no worse than the monogamous setup, but the potential for it to work out is 100% better.

Some people can do monogamy, and that's impressive. Like the article said, it's like being accomplished at any other difficult thing. So here's what to take away:

1) Monogamy is HARD, and nobody ever said it wouldn't be.
2) Not everyone has to do the hard thing.