Across cultures, across languages, from the minute we are born, we are fed the fairytale of Monogamy: the quest to sealing the knot with your soul mate and living happily ever after! At first light, we begin our search for our Prince Charming, catering to all the gender roles enforced by the Victorian society: Ah! The Damsel in Distress! On horseback, men too, ride away to the battlefield in the hopes of finding a suitable, demure damsel, so as to honor her with his surname.
But we are so terrible at maintaining this facade: if monogamy is the ideal then why do many cheat? In 2016, 2.2 million U.S. couples got married and over 800,000 went their separate ways. Our quest for monogamy and failure to uphold its rules and regulations cause so much pain and anxiety. There are 3 billion women across the world facing domestic abuse. And yet we center our lives around monogamy being the idealized goal so as to have the fairy-tale ending...
NFHS-5 data shows that nearly 30 per cent of women in India have been victims of domestic violence. In fact, the Indian National Crime Records Bureau’s data revealed that in 2020, 19 women died each day due to dowry-related violence. Despite the issue of rigid gender roles and limited individual autonomy for women, why are all of us still being conditioned to look at matrimony (under the constraints of monogamy) as our only hope for living a happily ever after?! In India, between Nov 4 and Dec 14 2022 alone, 35 lakh weddings were organized. Around 3.5 lakh of them were being held in Delhi itself!
We are subconsciously welded into this idea that monogamy means love and love means monogamy, and in the absence of monogamy, there is an absence of love.
Love= a feeling
Monogamy= a rule
"You'll only have sex with this one person for the rest of your life." Most people are expected to convert that rule into a legal contract called Marriage. In many countries, adultery is illegal. In the U.S alone, 20 states still have laws against adultery. Punishments range from a $10 fine in Maryland to 3 years of prison time in Massachusetts. In India, the act of adultery is charged with imprisonment for five years, or a fine, or sometimes, both.
From Tall, Dark and Handsomes to innocent, domestic and cultured women, Mills & Boons and many such novels brought the era of Romanticism back into the 20th century. What began in the 1750s in Europe and in the minds of poets, artists and philosophers, Romanticism soon spread quickly and conquered the rest of the world.
It first created a union of love and sex deeming it impossible to have extraordinary sex without love, thus elevating sex to the supreme expression of love. Romanticism, then being extremely hopeful of marriage, took the concept of Marriage, termed it as a practical and an emotionally temperate union, and fused it with a passionate love story to create the story of a life-long passionate love marriage. The side effects being infrequent sex, sex before marriage, multiple partners and adultery being classified under catastrophes.
As a result, Romanticism had a devastating impact on people's ability to lead successful emotional lives. The salvation of love lay in overcoming a succession of errors within romanticism.
So what does Nature have to say about our adopted Monogamous lifestyle?
Monogamy seems quite scarce in the animal kingdom, dominated by a few romantic characters such as the Diplozoon paradoxum, a parasitic tapeworm that fuses with its partner for life.
But we can't compare ourselves to tapeworm, so should the need for comparison arrive, it should include our cousins, the bonobos and chimps.
Clearly our cousins and us are quite similar. Let's consider bonobos, they have sex all the time!
Sex is their language, that's how they say hello, goodbye, and they even have sex when they're stressed out.
In species that are more promiscuous, such as chimps, baboons and humans, there exists body size dimorphism: males tend to be 15-20% larger than females.
Also, in species where there exists a male-male competition to impregnate the female, the testicle sizes would also be larger. We see that in humans, where the average testicle size, 34 g, residing in between species with large testicles (chimps and bonobos) and those with small testicles (gorillas).
The human penis as well has a unique shape. Presented as the Semen Displacement Theory, the penis shape is such that, upon penetration, the penis can remove any previously existing semen in the vaginal canal, tuck it away below the frenulum of the penis, and then replace the canal with the current penis owner's semen. So yes, nature did believe that females are going to be promiscuous, thus provided the last male with the evolutionary advantage.
Furthermore, female copulatory vocalizations or moaning as we now know as, are extremely common among primates that engage in sperm competition.
Finally, we know that female and male bonobos and humans have sex to bond, and not just to produce children. We know that because these are the only two species who face each other while having sex.
Monogamy was quite a recent development in human evolution. It was introduced 12,000 years ago when people moved from being hunter gatherers into the agricultural revolution. And with that came the false sense of proprietorship.
As the Greeks would say, you don't want a foreign seed introduced into your soil.
Marriage was the only way one could increase the family labor force, forged peace treaties and business alliances. Marrying someone for love, only began in the western societies, a few hundred years ago.
When women began demanding love before a commitment such as marriage, that scared the defenders of several faiths. They were worried as to how they can get women to marry at all if she goes around stating she needs love! There was also that fear of people opting out and seeking avenues such as divorce.
This birthed a new idea: men and women need to find each other and fall in love, for they are two parts of a whole. While men were deemed as aggressive and protective, women were deemed as nurturing and demure. They were opposites who completed each other. Men were from Mars and Women, from Venus.
Pioneered by male scientists such as Darwin, Geddes and Galton, the field of evolutionary biology also took shape during this time. They used the theories of natural selection to explain Victorian gender rules.
In the Descent of Man, 1905, Charles Darwin wrote, "Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness;...man delights in competition and this leads to ambition... Thus man has ultimately become superior to woman."
We are now entering into uncharted territories where relationship structures needn't be defined as what we should have, instead as what we can design that are suitable for us and our partners.
From Monogamy to Consensual Non-monogamy, Polygamy, Prescriptive hierarchical polyamory, Open relationship, Monogamish, Swinging, and many more, there exist a wide variety of relationship dynamics that humans, as adaptive species can build for themselves and for their partners.