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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Monogamy Isn't Realistic

Posted by Dan Savage on Thu, Oct 29, 2009 at 10:03 AM

But I support couples who choose to be monogamous. It's an unnatural lifestyle, and it's definitely choice I wouldn't make, but I don't believe that couples who make the choice to be monogamous should be discriminated against in any way. They should be allowed to have children and adopt, for instance. I'd even go so far as to say that monogamous couples should be allowed to marry—legally marry—even though adultery rates and divorce statistics demonstrate that making sexual exclusivity a defining characteristic of marriage is destabilizing and often leads to divorce. And divorce is bad for children born to monogamous couples, married or not.

These thoughts—concessions, really, to an increasingly visible and politically assertive monogamous community—were prompted by an atypically fair and balanced article on the subject of monogamy that appeared on CNN's website earlier this week. "Is Monogamy Realistic?" The answer, according to the experts quoted, was "NO."

"It's realistic that some people can mate for life in the same sense that some people can play the Beethoven violin concerto or other people can ice-skate beautifully or learn a new language," said psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton.

Added evolutionary biologist David Barash, "It's within the realm of human potential, but it's not easy."

Lipton and Barash, who have been married 32 years and are the co-authors of "Strange Bedfellows" and "The Myth of Monogamy," said serial monogamy may be more realistic—a model in which people move from one committed long-term relationship to another and choose partners for different reasons at different stages of their life.

I would argue that serial monogamy also has its limitations: a strictly monogamous couple that might be great together and doing a great job raising kids may be prompted by sexual boredom or alienation—a circumstance that could be temporary—to part ways in pursuit of sexual satisfaction. A little leeway, a discreet sumpun on the side now and then, could help countless otherwise solid marriages survive a sexually fallow period.

Those quibbles aside, A. Pawlowki's article was remarkable for its willingness to tell CNN readers—many of whom have succumbed to the PC monogamy police—the truth about monogamy: human beings aren't naturally monogamous and monogamy is a struggle and many marriages crack under the strain of a monogamous commitment. It was a levelheaded, bracing piece of reporting—it was almost brave. I say "almost brave" because Pawlowski chickened out at the last minute and gave the final few graphs of his piece over to the rantings of one of those monoganazis who wants to shove her unnatural lifestyle down all of our throats:

Whatever the temptation, most people still prefer to be in a monogamous relationship, said Nadine Kaslow, a professor at Emory University School of Medicine who specializes in couples and families and who also is chief psychologist at Grady Health System in Atlanta, Georgia. "People feel safer and they feel more trusting. They feel like they can depend on their partner," Kaslow said.

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. Monogamy is great, Ms. Kaslow asserts, because people in monogamous relationships feel safe and can trust and depend on their spouses. The implication, of course, is that people in healthy, natural non-monogamous relationships don't feel safe and can't trust or depend on our spouses. Well, Ms. Kaslow, I feel safer in my honestly non-monogamous relationship than Jenny Sanford had a right to feel in her dishonestly "monogamous" relationship; my honest non-monogamous husband is more trustworthy than Elizabeth Edwards' "monogamous" husband; and my non-monogamous husband has certainly proven himself to be more dependable than Suzanne Craig's "monogamous" husband.

Again, I'm all for equal marriage rights for people who make monogamous commitments, despite their terrible track record. 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.

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