How stringent is the definition of monogamy?

Posted Sunday, June 5th, 2011 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Law and Culture, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to General Public

I went with my wife, Karen, to see Ted and Melanie at Theatre 99 for Piccolo Fringe on Friday night.  Noticing a number of women alone or in pairs carrying six packs of beer or bottles of wine, I posted to Facebook:

@ Piccolo Fringe. Numerous attractive young women carrying copious amounts of alcohol. I feel like a lion in a field of wounded antelope. Sitting next to my wife. Soooo conflicted.

This prompted a number of comments.  All of the comments from my female “Facebook friends,” including the one from my wife, expressed anger or disappointment.  Which makes me ponder the contemporary wife’s definition of monogamy.

The reason I posted that facebook comment in the first place, and the inspiration for this blog, was my prototypically male reaction to seeing a number of young, attractive women deliberately lowering their inhibitions.  What I found interesting/odd is how highly attuned my senses were to the number of attractive women who were clearly drinking sufficiently to not have their usual inhibitions/defenses [no need to point out the irony of posting this blog the day after posting a blog about giving my 18 year old daughter a hip flask]. Even though I have been out of the dating market for 22 years and have a middle-aged man’s libido, evidently the instinct to find the attractive woman with lowered inhibitions still kicks in, much like a lion is going to have a fascination with a wounded antelope no matter how much that lion has had to eat.

From an evolutionary biologists perspective, I’m supposed to react to such“opportunities” to mate with fertile women (youth and beauty are signals of female fertility) at minimal costs (alcohol lowers inhibitions, reducing the amount of wooing a male needs to undertake for such mating opportunities and it’s obviously easier to mate with a woman who is alone or with female friends than one who is with a boyfriend or family).  What I found interesting was how much more riveted my attention was because of the combination of youth/beauty and alcohol and no boyfriends-in-tow.  My attention wouldn’t have been nearly as riveted if only one or even two of these conditions existed.

Is the female disapproval of my acknowledged interest a signal that men are not supposed to have this attraction or merely supposed to deny that they have this attraction?  My definition of monogamy is one in which I resist my natural urges, not one in which I deny or eliminate my natural urges. We now have a culture which tells wives that they should not only expect their husbands to be faithful sexually but that they also have every right to expect their husbands to find them-and-only-them to be attractive.  To be fair, we also tell husbands that they have every right to expect their wives to find them-and-only-them attractive.  I hoped marriage would keep my wife faithful; I did not expect it to render her blind.

How’s that working out?  Great if you like a system in which spouses have to deny obvious truths (other people are attractive/monogamy isn’t effortless) and experience disappointment when these lies aren’t perfectly upheld.  If marriage rendered all other people instantly unalluring, monogamy wouldn’t be any big accomplishment. Meanwhile, we give husbands no credit for fighting against millions of years of evolutionary development unless they also act as though no other woman piqued their interest.

However if we expect intimacy to be based on spouses being open and honest about their feelings, even uncomfortable emotions, this expectation is counterproductive.   What we have now is a culture that “values” the intimacy of emotionally honest relationships while telling spouses to denying their feelings.  Again, how’s that working out?


8 thoughts on How stringent is the definition of monogamy?

  1. D. Green says:

    Very good blog post, Greg! In my view, you are to be commended for your candor. Towards the women’s point, probably more significant that the attractive women were unaccompanied by males than the fact they had alcohol. Aside from being a thought-provoking piece, a good heads up to your single male readers that they need to attend more Piccolo events.

  2. Jenny Moser says:

    Greg —

    Interesting thoughts, but maybe it was the public display/declaration of your “urges” that was more upsetting than the “urge” or “observation” itself. I would think most women would agree that when they are out with their man, such public declarations are best when they involve or refer to “them-and-only-them.” All other thoughts or observations might be kept to oneself. I’d be interested to know the comments of your other women friends on FB. And I have to agree with D. Green — apparently single guys aren’t taking full advantage of the Piccolo events.

  3. California Observer says:

    Spot-on observations; I’ve thought the same things, but never put them so bluntly (or publicly). But it may not be so much a cultural conflict as a psychological one: each of us wants to be thoroughly understood and “known”, but also approved of in most respects, so your catch-22 in talking about young hotties (I’m in the same boat as you) is like answering the trick question, “do these jeans make me look fat?” You’re supposed to be both honest and nice.

    Good luck with that.

  4. George Sink says:

    When the person next to you steps on a mine, you may be in a mine field. Can the idealism. Survival dictates retreat.

    The public response to Jimmy Carter’s “I feel lust in my heart” (…but don’t do anything about it…) statement in his Playboy interview a few decades ago settled this issue for me.

    Unrestrained honesty is simply not wise.

    1. George:

      No argument that “unrestricted” honesty isn’t wise. However, this blog doesn’t argue for unrestricted honesty.

      Meanwhile our culture claims to want to develop a new form of marriage based on intimacy rather than obligation or status. We claim to value emotional honesty from our spouses, seeing it as a precondition of true intimacy. Yet we tell spouses that any emotional honesty that challenges the other’s comfort is unwise and should remain hidden.

      Our culture either needs to accept that intimacy and emotional honesty is sometimes going to involve hurtful or uncomfortable feelings or it needs to do away with the intimacy based concept of marriage and go back to an obligation or status based concept of marriage.

  5. Quote: Unrestrained honesty is simply not wise.
    Response: Oh drat! But it was always my ‘street-legal’ weapon of choice.

  6. Ruth says:

    Your Grandfather Pippa often said, “Everything is married but my right eye.” Strange I just quoted him in the last week having nothing to do with Congressman Weiner. But I think saying it as a DM to somebody is far different than posting on Facebook for the whole world to see.

  7. MuchMarriedMan says:

    While the honesty is refreshing (noted as a non-drinking monogamist), I find it sad that any men see women as targets, and that alcohol is a time-honored method to increase the chances of “scoring”.

    For centuries, women have been the thin blue line between men and lowered standards. Sadly, now even the women are joining in the campaign to lower those standards even more.

    It’s little wonder our standards keep deteriorating.

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