I get this question a lot. As a matter of fact, my 25-year-old daughter just asked me tonight. (I thanked her for the inspiration of the title of this article). She asked, since I specialize with infidelity and help people who are in danger of getting divorced. I understand that question. There are some real concerning statistics.
I would say that we have wiring in the brain that is there to help us as individuals and our species survive. Some people will quote evolutionary theory and say that for men in particular, they could create more babies by “spreading their semen around.” That would definitely be an argument against monogamy. We also know that it is human nature to crave variety. Adding to that, as a professor at USC, I teach my grad students about stages of love that show how our neurochemistry changes as we go from the Lust stage to the Romance stage to the Attachment stage. Sexual libido that is highest in the lust and romantic stage can subside in the attachment stage as hormones and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and testosterone decrease (which can be arousing and stimulating) and serotonin increases (which can be soothing and comforting). So, even neurobiologically, we see how the excitement of the earlier courtship stages can give way to routine and settling into ruts that can more easily happen in the attachment stage. A new person can re-stimulate the dopamine and testosterone of the early stages.
So far the answer looks like it is a no- we are not built for monogamy. However, I have a strong counter-argument as witnessed by what I witness in my practice every day.
Life IS about growth and evolution!!!
Life beckons us to become more loving, more tolerant, more giving, more creative and more effective. This is evidenced in many areas of life. Athletes get bigger and stronger and continue to break records that at one time seemed unbreakable. There is more understanding towards the LGBT community (and of course we know there is a long way to go). Technology has been evolving at an amazing rate. There are so many changes within and among cultures all around the world. I could go on and on.
Intimate relationships need to be in that same state of evolution. Committed relationships require all of us to be self-reflective, aware, courageous and creative. We can learn to be better communicators, staying connected even when our ancestors disconnected though some fight or flight maneuver. We can learn to be more open and realize that within the intimate partnership, there is no need to hide any parts of ourselves. As we develop our emotional muscle through intimate communicating, as we develop our courage to be more and more of ourselves without hiding in relationships, there are all kinds of potential that remained hidden before to have a long, passionate, alive and loving relationship.
Let’s face it- for most couples, open relationships do not work. For most people, being alone one’s whole life without an intimate partner is not preferred. Secrets and infidelity for sure don’t work- they actually erode the trust and could destroy relationships. We have the potential to find ways to keep the intimate relationship sacred, loving and fresh. It takes a willingness to be our best, most courageous, most loving selves. It is in us. I see it every day in my office and with my virtual couples.
So my answer to the question- are we built for monogamy is…that is the wrong question! The right question is- what and who can we evolve into to make intimate relationships truly work? That is a question definitely worth finding the answer to!