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Is Monogamy a Challenge for Men?

Babble’s Deputy Editor Jack Murnighan has written an interesting piece for our Special Issue on infidelity called The Case for Monogamy: A Man’s Perspective.  In it, Murnighan describes himself as a single 40-year-old who has “dated more than any good man should.”  In my mind, it’s not dating around that makes a bad man, it’s not picking up the check.

Despite his will to roam, Murnighan considers himself a “closet monogamist,” and argues that though monogamy doesn’t come easily – or naturally – to men, rising to the challenge of sleeping with just one woman at a time is worth it.

Though Murnighan identifies as pro-monogamy, he never advocates mating for life.  I’m not sure about Murnighan’s thoughts on marriage, but given that he’s got two kids and remains single at 40, I think it’s safe to say he’s not too worried about tying the knot.  It’s all well and good to talk about the value of monogamy when you’re not married – if you get a sudden urge to be with someone else, you’re free to end your relationship and go get busy!  We all know serial monogamists who have proudly (and technically) never cheated, but they’ve never been alone, either.  Serial monogamists overlap relationships from one to the next.  They get all the comfort of monogamy and all the excitement of cheating without ever having truly sinned.

I don’t know if Murnighan considers himself a serial monogamist or not; he doesn’t say.  But he does admit to feeling the need to be wanted and to loving the thrill of the chase.  He says, “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.”

Murnighan mentions multiple times throughout the piece that monogamy is challenging – for him and for men in general.  Men derive a sense of self, according to Murnighan, from “influencing and seducing,” and I can see what he means.  What could make a man feel more manly than acting like a man’s man?  But he also concedes that “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.”  He says the only thing not on that list of benefits is self.  I agree – and I think that’s precisely why women suffer when relationships end, because we have the opposite problem.  We derive a sense of self from the intimacy and the togetherness and the clinginess and the smothering… oh wait, sorry… I got carried away there… and then once that goes bye-bye, we’re often left wondering how we lost ourselves with it.

Murnighan thinks if a man is “missing the seduction thrill, that means (his) sense of self isn’t what it needs to be.”  My question is, if a man needs that thrill, what is going to replace it?  Hunting?  If you can’t hunt for ladies at the bar, step out into nature.  Visit a stream with some buddies and trap all the beaver you want!  My guess is, that just won’t cut it.  Murnighan never gives concrete suggestions as to how men who feel the need to stray in order to have that sense of self can prevent themselves from cheating.  If monogamy is such a challenge for men, can their inherent compulsion to stray be squelched by a little gold band?  I don’t know.  Maybe I should ask a serial monogamist.

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