Compared to older folks, Millennials undervalue marriage and its overall value to society, according to a recent Pew Forum poll The Atlantic publicized. When asked to choose between “Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority” and “Society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children,” poll respondents that were between the ages of 18 and 34 overwhelmingly supported the latter notion.
This may just represent how the question was phrased, since the second option appears to fit the acceptance ethos of the millennial generation. Before we all assume they have given up on marriage as an institution, remember that only 9 percent of Millennials in the poll said they never wanted to marry. And consider these results, from Gallup:
Fewer than one in 10 young Americans have never married and say they do not want to get married. These findings indicate that there is a significant desire for marriage even as the overall marriage rate has dropped in recent years.
Unrelenting denigration of marriage as an institution has been an obsession of “progressive” folks for some time. They tend to use whatever blunt instrument is handy to push the ideal of marriage out of the public square. Whether it’s in the name of feminism, gay marriage, or naïve hipsterism, a full-frontal assault on the institution, not just by gay-marriage-minded folks, but by those who truly don’t believe the standards of marriage like monogamy are possible, has only intensified.
Monogamy haters have used a range of weapons to dissuade people from believing in marriage. It’s become an entire genre of writing. Articles that declare the end of monogamy typically employ the same trite explanations, usually from a person who hasn’t even gotten married or been faithful for any substantive period of time. Often the writer has recently been dumped by someone. One suspects blaming monogamy is their way of dealing with that situation.
Here are six common monogamy myths.
Myth 1: Monogamy Is Dead Because We Are Living Longer than Ever
Despite this tragedy, humans persist in marrying. We now marry later, which means most couples can spend a similar length of time married as the previous generation. Getting more time with the love of your life, logically, should be a gift.
Look at this couple married for 70 years, who “held hands at breakfast every day,” or this one married for 70 years, or this one, who spent a horrific 65 years together. Or just search “this couple died hours apart” with a box of tissues and watch the clips of the elderly couples from “When Harry Met Sally” and have a good cry. Point being, people have managed to stay married for long periods of time. This isn’t a new feature.
Myth 2: Monogamy Is Only Possible Because of Hormones, and Those Fade.
The relentless need to confuse infatuation with love and marriage may be why these columns on monogamy as unnatural are continuously written.
Liberal social attitudes mean monogamy for the sake of it is but a moral trinket. Fine if you’re in the early throes of romantic love and only have eyes for each other. I’ve been there many times and what a wonderful feeling it is. But it’s no secret that romantic infatuation doesn’t last.
Infatuation is not what makes a couple monogamous. Many people are quite capable of having crushes on numerous suitors. Choosing a partner for life is a completely different ball game, not simply based on infatuation.
Myth 3: Other Animals Aren’t Monogamous, So Humans Need Not Be Monogamous
Other animals also have scales, lack opposable thumbs, and are generally poor conversationalists. Higher-order thinking and awareness of one’s own mortality are also unique features of the human species. Despite that, this is a reliable feature of every single call to end monogamy.
Biologically, we humans are animals. So it makes sense to look to the animal kingdom for clues as to what we are built for. Let’s start with birds. For some time, bird species such as lovebirds and penguins were celebrated among humans for their seemingly monogamous ways. About 90% of birds were thought to be strictly monogamous.
While it’s thought-provoking to note “we human are animals,” one doubts the logic of comparing birds to humans. All may not be right with bird marriage, but human marriage is worth protecting.
Of course monogamy requires some self-restraint, but as Paul Newman, who “endured” over 50 years of marriage to Joan Woodward, said wisely, “Why fool around with hamburger when you have steak at home?” While this was Newman’s second marriage, even his failed first one didn’t dissuade him from the institution. People may not get it right the first time, but they do persist in pursing monogamous relationships until they find the right person. It’s as if there something complementary and sustaining about the mutual trust and love that monogamy fosters.
Myth 4: Science-Sounding Stuff Must Be True
Arguments “from science” often undermine one’s case but make the writer seem smart. Often these arguments sound strangely like other political cases made for consolidating power with the State.
There’s the “hormones are causing this false interest in another person” argument:
There is romantic love, where you are flooded with dopamine, get the butterflies and want to spend every moment together. Then there is attachment, where you are flooded with the hormone oxytocin and feel a deep sense of trust, familiarity and love for your partner but little passion.
The author misses the huge problem with simply writing love off as hormonal. The above response isn’t replicable with any random person, but is only generated in specific circumstances. While it would certainly be much easier if one could experience romantic love with any assigned partner, we all know it’s not that simple. There’s also the assumption that with “little passion” monogamists are condemned to the horrific relationship state of “a deep sense of trust, familiarity and love.” Yes, this monogamy thing sounds awful.
Or consider this nauseating variant on “spreading the wealth”:
Our ancestors evolved in small-scale, highly egalitarian foraging groups that shared almost everything. Anthropologists have demonstrated time and again that immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies are nearly universal in their so-called ‘fierce egalitarianism.’ Sharing is not just encouraged; it’s mandatory.
Most foragers divide and distribute meat equitably, breast-feed one another’s babies, have little or no privacy from one another, and depend upon each other every day for survival. Although our social world revolves around private property and individual responsibility, theirs spins toward interrelation and mutual dependence.
Private property and individual responsibility are the dreaded principles that dragged monogamy unnaturally into human’s lives, according to this author. The truly impressive moment will be when Citizens United or right-to-work laws are cited as a root cause of this pernicious monogamy trend.
Myth 5: Gay Marriage Will Make Straight Couples Rethink Fidelity
Here’s an example of this myth, from The New York Times:
A study to be released next month is offering a rare glimpse inside gay relationships and reveals that monogamy is not a central feature for many. Some gay men and lesbians argue that, as a result, they have stronger, longer-lasting and more honest relationships. And while that may sound counterintuitive, some experts say boundary-challenging gay relationships represent an evolution in marriage—one that might point the way for the survival of the institution.
“Some say” lack of monogamy is the key to their successful relationship—and that should be the impetus for overturning one of the most valued parts of a couple’s marriage vows? If commitment stretches a relationship, there’s no shame in simply dating. If one doesn’t desire commitment, one could simply choose to not marry. It’s certainly a simpler solution than asking millions of couples to stop being monogamous.
Besides, the reason fidelity is a key feature in heterosexual couplings should be quite obvious. From even an unromantic economics standpoint, infidelity can have real deleterious economic consequences for a couple. Men risk their resources raising a child that may not be theirs, while women risk losing male resources if the father has offspring with another woman. This contributes greatly to the case for monogamy as a valued and necessary part of a successful marriage. Raising children together requires a reservoir of trust between two people, which infidelity drastically undermines.
Myth 6: People Marry to Meet All Their Needs
Must we “[cast] away the fairytale and [face] up to the fact that a life partner—should we choose to have one—fulfills only one corner of our emotional, romantic and sexual needs”? Is “the belief that we can find one person to meet all of them…very likely to be considered radical in the future”?
Any sane person in a successful marriage can tell you that people do not marry to meet all their needs. If people think someone else will fulfill all of their needs, they’ve met the person they are going to make miserable, not successfully marry.
Marriage is a lifelong partnership of two equally whole people who enjoy and trust one another. Neither is perfect but neither expects the other to perfect them. Furthermore, if humans are so disinclined to monogamy, why do we keep engaging in it? It’s not for the tax break, because taxes penalize marriage. A marriage carries a maximum infidelity risk of 25 percent over the life of a relationship. So even in the worse-case scenario, 75 percent of marriages are in fact monogamous. Despite the relative ease of no- fault divorces now prevalent in the United States, most marriages remain monogamous.
That reason appears to be dogged stubbornness of Americans refusing to give up their ideals:
More Americans today (80 percent) say infidelity is ‘always wrong’ than in 1970 (70 percent). And a full 99 percent of Americans say they expect their spouse to be faithful. Monogamy, at least as an ideal, is stronger than ever in this country even as it slips elsewhere.
Believing that marriage is a purely transactional relationship based on mutual-needs gaps is the precise thing leading to the illogical assumption that monogamy and marriage are dead ends.
The next time you see yet another piece declaring monogamy is “dead,” remember the writer wants you to lower your expectations. But marriage and its necessary component, monogamy, are still the best game in town.