Editor’s Note: This is an adaption of an article originally written for the love and relationship site Yourtango.com
I’m single, 40, and have dated more than any good man should. Add to that the fact that I love women, I love seducing, and my ego is clearly invested in the power it gives me, and something tells me I’m not the man you’d think would advocate devotion and fidelity. But the truth is, I’m a closet monogamist. It doesn’t come easily, it might not even come naturally, but at the end of the day, I think monogamy is a majesty worth fighting for. Many of the reasons are obvious – the comfort, having a good-guy reputation, the regular and maybe even condom-free sex – but there are some that might surprise you.
One of them is the fight itself. Monogamy is one of those rare things where both the reward and the struggle alone each justify the effort. Striving to be monogamous helps us focus on things that make us better people. Of course socio-biologists want to say that men have “natural” inclinations against monogamy, coming from a time when we were still wearing pelts, there were no relationships and the survival of the species depended on our attempts to impregnate as many hominid females as we could. Could be true, but what of it? In the same way that today I choose to grill my buffalo burger rather than eat it raw – and enjoy it a hell of a lot more that way – cultured man can benefit by not simply giving in to his prehistoric impulses, because now his nature is something different, larger. We’ve evolved so that sex can – and should – be a lot more than just the delivery of semen, and monogamy helps set us on that course.
Of course I’m aware that being monogamous is a lot more challenging than lighting a charcoal grill. I confess to having the stereotypical male skin-level desire: my eyes see, sometimes my insides shudder, and a few times a day some part of me can’t help wonder what it would be like to sleep with this woman or that. Most men are like this, but the civilized among us make themselves as immune as possible. The tougher thing to describe is the psychology and identity behind that desire. It took me a long time to realize that despite all the confidence I have and successes I’ve had, a lot of me still just wants to be liked. As men we’re taught to be independent and self-sufficient, but few of us are or can or probably even should be.
We need others for all kinds of reasons, and part of us needs to know that we can affect them. Seduction does that – for both men and women – giving us the sense that someone wants us, endorses us. We know that men often try to seduce women like they try to make money, for power and prestige, but when you look deeper, you see that it’s more than just belt-notching: sex and seduction help us believe in ourselves, form ourselves, and that can be a tough thing to give up.
But the last few sentences actually frame the other side of the problem: as men we want to form ourselves, but we rarely realize how much not other people, but a single person can help do that. Many, perhaps most of us, dream of spending our lives with a partner, having all the comfort, intimacy, trust and history that one can only gather by getting together with someone and staying together. But what’s not on that list of benefits is “self’ – and that’s the key to it all. We think we get self by influencing and seducing, doing and building and earning, but a lot of men never experience the deeper, more meaningful self that can be achieved in the sharing and communing, trials and triumphs, of being with a lifelong partner.
Of course I’m talking about the right partner in the right circumstances, but here too monogamy can help. If you’re in a relationship and finding yourself really wanting to act on the messages your nether zones are sending, it’s time for some heavy-duty examination – of your relationship and of yourself. Self should come first, asking the question of what’s really going on. Is the new person just attractive and you feel the twitch? If so, remember that your fantasy might well be better than the realization would be. Or has it been a long time since you’ve been with someone new? Okay, that might be tough, but why? Maybe it means the sex in your relationship has gone stagnant (is that your fault? your partner’s? Is it laziness, or are there deeper problems?). If that’s the case, you’re perhaps just missing the physical pleasure, and you should try to resurrect your love life with your current partner first. Men and women certainly stray less if they’re happy with what they have at home.
But maybe your sex life is fine with your partner, but you’re missing the thrills of seduction. That could mean that your sense of self isn’t what it needs to be, and here too you might want to ask if it’s you who’s not doing enough or if your partner is not doing what you need – or both. Feeling the need to seduce might be a wake-up call that you’re not getting the ego satisfaction that’s necessary from the other areas of your life. You should probably try to work on those before you go and cheat on the partner you love.
Or perhaps it is the relationship: you’re not having sex because your partner doesn’t want to or you want to cheat because they’re not making you feel how you need to feel. But, again, it might be worth trying to salvage the relationship before you run out and get with someone else. Infidelity is a symptom, not a solution. Ultimately the impulse to cheat might help you get out of a bad relationship, but first you need to see if the relationship is worth salvaging. Striving for monogamy helps you get the most out of a partnership by facing the challenges head-on – the only way that works.
It’s clear that none of these questions is about the lust-object; they’re about you and your relationship and how those things are doing. (And if you’re asking yourself if the new person would be “better for you” than the person you’re with, remember that you probably barely know them, are thinking wishfully, and that eventually they’ll have their ticks and foibles and annoyances like you’re current partner, too). That’s why I think monogamy is worth fighting for, because ultimately the fight is not to keep yourself from straying, it’s to help yourself become a person that, with the love of the right partner, can get the fulfillment, joy, and self that you need, without having to scratch the libidinal itch for someone else.
Yes, it’s daunting to think that you might only have sex with one person for the rest of your life, but at the same time, maybe it just requires a rethinking of what sex means. The key to long-term sexual happiness is to have sex be less about seduction, ego, and the symbolic sense of power and more about pleasure, feeling, and expression of intimacy (more on this in a future article too). With that model, the best sex is with someone you know and love, and it should get better and better. I understand that there are only so many ways of having sex and you might sometimes feel in a rut, but truthfully that’s just a challenge to expand your habits, leave your comfort zones, and grow together with your partner. Every challenge to having a fuller sex life with someone you love makes you a better person – more creative, expressive, and self-aware.
Sex with only one person is the hard way, but it’s the way that makes us develop into the fullest people we can be. Most impulses toward infidelity are ultimately either passing physical blips or signs that something else is wrong. If you go after the problems themselves, then the band-aid solution of cheating stops being worth it. You’ve addressed the problem at its source, and you have the reward of a much richer relationship, self, or both.
Photo: misspiano on Flickr