Sex & Relationships

When You Say Monogamy Isn’t Natural, Here’s What I Say

Many of the good things in life don't come naturally, but they're worth trying for, aren't they?

Hugh Hefner and a nest of bunnies (Photo: Keystone Press)

Hugh Hefner and a bevy of bunnies (Photo: Keystone Press)

Every time I hear someone say human beings aren’t built for monogamy, I think, well, we may not be built like Kim Kardashian or Henry Cavill either, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Monogamy, it seems, is one of the few challenges of life that we’re willing to shrug off as being impossible and/or anti-human, a strange attitude given our clear investment in self-help culture and self-improvement schemes. Even celebs, many of whom aren’t exactly all-natural types, if you get my drift, like to play evolutionary psychologist when asked about the concept.

Designer Tom Ford referred to the state of monogamy as “artificial.” Scarlett Johansson has said she doesn’t think monogamy is “a natural instinct for human beings.” Ditto Ethan Hawke.

It’s artificial, it’s a social construct, it’s counterintuitive—or so goes the conventional thinking. But, then again, so are Botox, democracy and celebrity.

My own life follows a pretty standard pattern of denying both my natural instincts to eat and sleep constantly as well as my complex genetic inheritance (brown hair, for example). I’m not Brazilian, but I’ve spent the last year trying to achieve a “Brazilian butt” even though I was born with a flat, English-Irish one. I’m not naturally kind, or empathetic, or mature, or self-sacrificing—now that I think about it, I don’t think I come by any virtues or strengths naturally.

What is it about the idea of monogamy (the reality of being faithful is a little less terrifying, frankly) that turns so many people into cut-rate academics, or back-to-nature paleo people?

It may have something to do with the fact that it’s a choice, suggests Beverley Turner in a recent article for The Telegraph. She could have added that it’s one of the harder choices we make in life, and right up there with “Should I have a baby?”

What makes that choice trickier and, let’s face it, less fun, is that it doesn’t come with any rewards. There are no cash prizes for being true. You won’t even get a cupcake out of the deal.

It’s the lack of reward—some might say gratification—that makes it very different from every other impossible endeavor we attempt.

Do enough curtsy lunges and you’ll see your backside take shape, but stay loyal to your partner, who will go through phases of really not deserving your ardor or your loyalty, who will act like a jerk and take you for granted, and what do you get for your sacrifice? In the best-case scenario, you get the same in return. The worst-case scenario: you don’t.

And the worst case is awful.

Monogamy isn’t artificial or counterintuitive or anti-human—or at least it’s really no more so than most of the things we do, pursue or obsess over. At bottom, monogamy is the biggest risk you can take for the least tangible reward. But for those who like to risk their hearts over their wallets or egos, it’s an irresistible gamble.

So, to the guy or girl or celeb who espouses the belief that “we’re” not built for monogamy, you might choose to reply, “Oh yeah? Just watch me.”

Or not. The choice is up to you.