Top 10 Reasons Monogamy Is Dead
We all know the school song ‘first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…’. For generations young children chanted that song to tease their classmates knowing that love, marriage and birth were all part of the natural order of things. A well-worn path that everyone would tread in their lifetime.
Is that still the case in the 20teens? Arguably marriage and long term relationships are falling out of favor. Humans are not, by their nature, monogamous and with divorce rates at an all-time high, the incentives to marriage simply no longer exist.
It seems strange that at a time when minority groups are fighting (and winning) the right to marry on equal terms with traditional couples, that marriage rates are lower today than they have been at any other time in the past. Why is that? Why do people no longer feel the need to enter into a long term committed and monogamous relationship?
Here are 10 key reasons why.
Serial Relationships Are Legal And Easy
In centuries past the social mores of the time dictated that women (or good women at least) should only have sex within the confines of marriage and remain faithful to their husband at all times. Of course men could sleep around to the heart’s content but any children that were born out of wedlock, no matter how loved and wanted, could not legally inherit their title or key possessions. Just look at the famous Englishman John of Gaunt – son of Edward III and father to Henry IV. In addition to his legitimate son Henry he had 3 illegitimate sons with his long term mistress. Even when he married her and had the children legitimated they were unable to stand in line to the throne. (Although this did not stop their descendant Henry Tudor from wresting control of the throne from the House of York and founding the Tudor dynasty).
These days there are no such problems. In the majority of countries around the world children born out of wedlock are no longer called ‘bastards’ and have equal claim to their parents’ estate. Women who ‘sleep around’ are protected from social stigma and ridicule and can pursue a father for child support or maintenance through the legal system if necessary.
People Want The Freedom To Choose Their Own Path
As little as 45 years ago people entered into their first marriage relatively young with American men tying the knot at the average age of 23 and women aged 20. These days the ages have risen to 28 and 26.
Once married there was the expectation that the relationship would endure for life. That a man and woman would grow and evolve together, and support each other in their aims (although for many women this entailed being tied to and facilitating the hopes and dreams of the man they were married too with little consideration of their wants, needs and aspirations).
Ask any young 20 something man or woman alive today whether they would be happy to have to sublimate their aspirations to another’s. If they would be willing to compromise the core of their being (not all marriages or long term relationships require this, indeed the healthiest do not but there is a common perception that this is a standard feature of marriage) at this stage of their life and most would answer no.
Most younger people these days want the opportunity to choose their own way in life without the need for compromise. As such many people choose to enjoy a series of long(ish) term relationships. Enjoying time with someone who is the right companion for their stage in life and ending the relationship to move on to another when they have grown apart.
It Is Socially Acceptable To Raise A Child Outside Wedlock
In point 10 we mentioned that serial relationships were legal and easy. This hasn’t always the case. In years gone by an unmarried woman who found herself pregnant had few options. She could marry the father of her baby (or another man who was willing to ‘save’ her. She could disappear from her community for a while, have the baby and give it up for adoption or she could have an illegal abortion. None of those scenarios were particularly pleasant and many women found themselves married to men they did not love as a result of it.
In 1960s US 24% of black babies and 3% of white babies were born out of wedlock. Just 30 years later these figures had multiplied quite significantly to 63% of black and 18% of white babies in 1990. The rise in unmarried mothers seems to have coincided with the availability of both abortion and contraception.
While an observer might reasonably expect a greater access to legal abortion and contraceptives to lower the birthrate for these babies the opposite is in fact the case. Prior to such technology being available any woman who engaged in pre-marital sex would be within her ‘rights’ to demand marriage in the event it ‘all went wrong’. Reproductive advances put the onus on the woman to prevent pregnancy. Now a woman gets to choose whether or not to have a child and a man gets to choose whether to support it or go to jail. Social attitudes have had to change in order to keep up with technological and legal advances and, as a result, a single woman who chooses to keep her baby is no longer ostracized. It is not in the interests of society to do so. Women who condemn her might find themselves without support if she herself had a ‘little accident’ and men who condemn might find other women refusing to sleep with them.
It Is Too Expensive To Remain Shackled To One Person Forever
Committing to one person is expensive. If you decide to make the union official through a recognized marriage you have to splash the cash. With the average American wedding costing over $26,000 marriage is not a value proposition.
If marriage is expensive how much more ruinous is divorce which can cost as much as a 4 year college degree. A frightening prospect indeed! Even if you are not married but in a stable, long term relationship the prospect of that coming to an end can result in significant financial harm resulting from refinancing of jointly owned homes, child (and in some jurisdictions spousal) maintenance, loss of pension, health insurance etc.
Given the frightening rates of relationship breakdown in the US and elsewhere (up to 50% of all American marriages fail and the younger the couple are when they marry the more likely they are to divorce). It seems a no-brainer. Why spend $26,000 to marry someone who is just as likely to cost you a college degree as make you happy for the rest of your life. Instead many people are choosing to remain in loose relationships without commitment to each other (even if they do agree to a commitment to any children that arise out of the relationship).
Our Lifetimes Are Longer Now Than In The Past
In 1900 life was hard and, for many, brutally short by today’s standards. The average life expectancy in the USA was just 46 years for men and 48 for women. Just under 100 years later in 1998 and, on the brink of a new century American men could expect to live almost to 74 and women to almost 80. By 2012 those figures had risen still further with a life expectancy of almost 79 years for men and over 81 for women.
While life expectancy has not quite doubled it is not far off. A man and a woman born in 1900 who married in the 1920s could expect to have only 20 years together. 20 years might have been half a lifetime but it is not an unendurable amount of time to spend with someone else, particularly when you are working most days and have very little time off to spend together.
These days a man and a woman born in 2000 could expect to marry in their 30s and have 50 years together. Their marriage would have lasted longer than their average counterparts born in 1900 were even alive. Not only that but with a greater percentage of a person’s lifetime being spent in retirement, a time when people have the leisure to pursue interests and challenges and to spend with the people that really matter to them, the idea of being tied to someone you no longer really like is intolerable. 50 years is simply too long to spend with one person. Needs and desires change over a long and complex life and the person who was right for someone in their 20s will be different to the requirements someone will have for a partner in their 30s and 40s etc.
It Is Easy To Meet New People And Harder To Keep Them Interested
The past 10 years has seen an explosion in connectivity through social media. From the early days of ‘Friends Reunited’ which tracked the activities of high school classes to the start of Facebook and Twitter it became increasingly likely that these platforms would be put to use as dating apps.
Now people can reconnect with lost lovers and old flames relatively easily and apps like Tinder or Plenty of Fish mean that is very simple to meet people all it takes is a quick swipe of a finger across a cell ‘phone. When looking at people’s profiles on these apps it is also easy to be sucked into believing that there is always something better just around the corner. Only a mug would ‘settle’ for someone who is a 9/10 when a 9.5 could pop up on your screen in only a few minutes time.
If you did manage to meet a long term partner as opposed to a simple ‘hook up’ on one of these apps you would always be worried that your partner will continue to look to see if something better is just around the corner and you are, therefore, more likely to do the same.
The near total societal saturation with ‘always on’ wifi connected devices has other negative impacts as well. It can be easy to start to live a virtual life, checking the telephone for status updates, posting a photograph of something you want to share with others etc. In all that hustle and bustle it is easy to forget to connect emotionally with the person with whom you share your life. As we give less emotional investment to the relationship we are in, the more we are acknowledging that it is likely to fail one day or, at the least, that it is not worth working hard for.
Monogamy Lacks Excitement
Monogamy within a marriage is a valid lifestyle choice for those who choose to practice it but it is a concept that is, increasingly, being rejected by Generation Y and the Millennials. Given the average life expectancy these days and the period of time that one could expect a marriage (or relationship) for life to last it is highly likely that a couple will quite simply get bored of each other. After all even the best and strongest of friendships can wax and wane. Diverging sexual appetites, differing aspirations and a loss of common interests are just some of the factors that come into play here.
Monogamy may be what we are told to believe is a societal norm but, outside of western societies, it is surprisingly uncommon. In-fact of a thorough sample of societies from the primitive to the contemporary approximately 80% considered monogamous unions to be neither normal nor desirable. With this fact in mind we should not be surprised that only 20% of great apes are monogamous. Even in animals that mate for life (about 3-5% of all species) extra-marital affairs’ are surprisingly common.
These animals and other societies know what we try not to think about – monogamy is, quite simply, boring, and the requirement to stay within one single monogamous relationship for life is nothing more than a cultural construct.
Porn Is An Easily Accessible Form Of Sexual Gratification
One of the factors, in the past, that made marriage so desirable to people, was the easy access to sex ‘on tap’. Men, of course, could go elsewhere if they wanted to but for women marriage was often the only way for them to satiate any sexual desires they had (to the extent that they were not destroyed through societal conditioning). This right to intercourse can still be seen in the fact that marital rape laws are a relatively recent phenomenon with a number of prominent countries still failing to recognize that rape can take place within a marriage. This is no surprise as even in countries like the US there are plenty of men who believe it is not possible for them to rape their wives, and that a lifelong consent to intercourse was given at the time of marriage.
These needs are changing and evolving, however. As the internet becomes ever more widely available there is a bewildering array of content just waiting for people to search for it. Almost any sexual predilection can be sated and without the need for an expensive marriage or long term relationship, the need to compromise with another being or the risk of a messy and financially ruinous divorce. The men/women on the monitor are always ready and willing and, when people want to hook up in real life there are opportunities aplenty.
One further problem with porn use is that it creates unrealistic expectations that real life relationships just cannot fulfil. As a result these relationships are more likely to break up as a porn user searches for someone who can fulfil them as much as the people on the screen.
Marriage Is No Longer Role Modeled In The Media
When TV sitcoms became popular in the 1950s they portrayed an idealized version of the nuclear family with a working father, a stay at home mom and well behaved children. Over the decades since the family has become progressively less perfect but until the late 80s early 90s almost exclusively featured a nuclear family.
Since that time, however, things have changed drastically. Kate and Allie and My Two Dads started to show that the idea of the working dad and homemaker mom did not have to be reality. Sex and the City showed young (and towards the end not so young) women enjoying a career, single life and serial monogamous relationships or a spate of hook ups. Friends showed a group of young professionals searching for love but never quite reaching it (until the end). Children were born into unconventional relationships and nobody was stigmatized for it. As time has gone on the nuclear family has become further and further from the center of such television programs. This means that an entire generation grows up with role models that do not aspire to long term relationships but rather to gratification for the here and now (however long or short that might be). It is just no longer perceived as normal!
Equality Has Skewed The Gender Balance
In recent decades the rise of gender equality has had some unforeseen effects on the balance of relationships between the sexes. The statistics for college graduates are particularly telling. In 2012 34% more women than men graduated from college than men in the same cohort. This imbalance is not new – it has been going on for many years but is getting worse.
In any society where women outnumber men in a dating pool by such a large percentage relationships tend to become short term and promiscuous. Men call the shots and don’t want to have to take the time to be bothered with women who require them to work at a relationship – they can have all the sex they want, on tap, from the large number of single women. When they do want to settle down they have an extremely large pool from which to choose. College educated women who want to form a long term, monogamous, relationship either have to widen their dating pool to include men with a lower level of education, move to a location where the men in their ‘pool’ outnumber women or jump through any number of other hoops to settle down. .
So there you have it; 10 reasons why monogamy is dead. From the lack of role models to the sexual revolution and extended life expectancy; from the increase in online activity to the end of the stigma of bastardy; all these changes and more play a role.
Should we be concerned that monogamy is dead? Should it matter? Should we be concerned about the effect of the death of long term relationships on society? Possibly! Rabbi Jonathan Sachs calls marriage ‘the single most humanizing institution in history’. If he is correct what does it say about us and our humanity if we choose to phase it (or analogies for it) out of our lives all together. Will we become less human, less compassionate? Alternatively should we subscribe to the view that marriage is nothing more than a cultural construct, one that was suitable for our bygone societies but is no longer needed in the modern day.
Will children suffer if their parents are not in a long term relationship or will they simply grow up knowing nothing different? What we do know is that we mess with human traditions at our peril. The Chinese 1 child policy made sense from the point of view of population pressure but has led to endless numbers of societal changes and problems that nobody predicted at the start of the experiment, and has finally been formally abandoned.
Whether the end of monogamy is a good thing or not what we do know is that we are on the brink of one of the largest societal changes we have ever seen.