Blurred Lines of Love, Romance, Marriage and Monogamy

“It seems like we use monogamy to protect against the possibility of our feelings, or our partner’s feelings, being redirected toward another person — in other words, falling in love with someone else.”

Human beings aren’t geared toward long-term monogamy.

As society reaches equality between the sexes and financial liberty and security is more obtainable, we will see this phenomenon deteriorate and we’ll probably see fewer long-term relationships in lieu of shorter-term non-monogamous relationships.

This is already starting to become a reality with many middle and upper-class people who use the online dating scene to enter relationships that may last 1-5 years but end up breaking up because, in the end, they aren’t really interested in something long-term.

Whether it’s sustainable is another question, but if we were to be completely honest with ourselves, we’d see monogamy isn’t our natural state of mind and is instead a cultural way of protecting what we have. Essentially, it’s a holdover from the marital possessive-ownership culture we’ve inherited from history.

Has the cultural definition of romantic love changed much over time?

It is starting to change. This is one of the big challenges for us, which goes far beyond whether you can develop a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship. As I argued in my book“Marriage, a History,” the notion that romantic love ought to be a part of marriage is a late 18th century invention. Before that, it happened outside of marriage and it was considered a liability to base a marriage on romantic love. It was only later that people began to emphasize romance as the basis for marriage.

There was a conscious recognition of how destabilizing it is to put love as the basis of marriage — because then you have the right to not enter a loveless marriage, even if you’re pregnant, and you can demand the right to divorce. The way that society handled that for the first hundred years was to define romance and love as this mysterious attraction of opposites. It was based upon weighty gender stereotypes. The woman loved the man because he was strong and powerful and protective. The man loved the woman because she was different and sweet and virginal. She looked up to him and he got to show off to her all of the things he knew and could do, and she was supposed to not stand in front of his light. So our definition of romantic love was based on this idea of falling in love with these extreme stereotypes, which also I think interfered with real friendships.

It’s only in the last 30 or 40 years that [men and women] have begun to build lives that are equal enough that we are really finding out that this old definition of romantic love — the frisson of the other being a stranger to you — doesn’t work. That’s infatuation, that’s lust. Now romantic love is based upon friendship and honesty — and, to an extent, that really does change the ballgame. Some people may indeed be able to negotiate non-monogamous relationships, while others will go through non-monogamy and eventually settle down.


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