Is monogamy overrated?

I was in college I was first confronted with “marital infidelity.” I was attending a conservative Christian (evangelical) college as well as a conservative church, and the case involved a married couple that I was close with. I was shocked, naive and unprepared as I was at the time, living within a conservative religious bubble.

It was all pretty intense, I recall, not the least of which was due to the fact that it was the woman who had done it. (Submerged as I was in the evangelical bubble, even way back then I could see the sexism at work. Some people were extremely pissed at her, over-the-top kind of anger, and I could tell that some of this rage was aimed at her, due to her gender.) The couple tried to make things work, but eventually the marriage terminated.

Recently I witnessed with another case of “infidelity.” This time, it wasn’t within a conservative Christian sub-culture, but nonetheless there was big drama, as there always is, and it all just kind of made me once again ask the question, is monogamy overrated?

Some people seem oriented toward monogamy. It suits them, which is cool, and I’m not saying that monogamy doesn’t work for some couples, but does that mean it should be the norm?

Much of our standards for monogamy seem to have been inherited from religious beliefs, but even the biblical text tells tales of more flexible sexual arrangements, i.e. the practice of polygamy.

When I question monogamy, I’ll often get raised eyebrows, or sometimes it’ll just be said, straight-up: “Typical male, you just want to screw around.”

“Hold on,” I’ll usually say, “I’m not suggesting we all follow our cocks, like Donald Trump.”

The truth is, though, that I used to have the same kind of skepticism, years back. Then I started talking to people who were questioning monogamy and I started coming across thoughtful articles — but literally every one of these people who were questioning monogamy were women.

Far from being an excuse for misogynistic men to fuck around, it’s women who, for many years now, have been quietly discussing healthy and ethical forms of non-monogamy. And that’s the thing that really started me thinking more deeply about it.

Over time monogamy can be brutal. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the hippies were right, and free love is the way. I mean maybe it is, or maybe it’s not. Maybe it just depends on the person and the couple. The question I actually have here is whether many long-term relationships would be better served if they were not locked into monogamy.

Conventional wisdom says that monogamy is the highest expression of love that two people can have, but I’m wondering if openness, flexibility, and communication might actually be a healthier basis for a relationship. If so, then maybe some of the drama of “marital infidelity” could be avoided.

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Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

4 thoughts on “Is monogamy overrated?”

  1. I’m of the opinion that monogamy is overated but honesty is not. It’s hard to extract from instances of infidelity what pain is caused by a partners desire to be with someone else and the pain caused by betrayal.

    And how does one address the idea of polyamory mid-way through a relationship? Especially for women I think, we are sold on this idea that a monogamous relationship is the ultimate goal. And it’s a rude awakening when one learns that it may not be the prize it was touted to be. Like most things an easy answer is comforting but rarely accurate.

    Like you, I’ve more often heard other women long for polyamory or more often polygamy than men. But that comes as little surprise to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, that would be incredibly tricky, to navigate a desire for polyamory when someone is already in a long-term monogamous relationship. I’ve heard of couples who do engage the discussion, though, with mixed results. Sometimes it opens the relationship, at other times polyamory is a deal-breaker — and it’s usually women approaching men, from my experience.

      It did come as a surprise to me, when I first started learning that women were far more interested in ethical non-monogamy than men. You say that it comes as little surprise to you. I’d be curious to hear you talk more about this.


      1. I suppose it comes as little surprise to me because I understand the point of view of women who have fantasized about having another wife around. These women have the responsibility of managing a household and raising children. Even those with supportive husbands still shoulder the majority of the work. From a purely practical standpoint, why not share that workload? It’s hardly more effort to cook dinner for 8 or 12 than it is to cook dinner for 4. So I think part of the motivation is pragmatic. There is also the wisdom, support and camaraderie women get from sharing the daily challenges of family life with other women.

        And then there’s sex. Conventional wisdom also tells us that men are more interested in sex than women. This idea is so pervasive that sometimes I think it myself before I remember my favorite bumper sticker “Don’t believe everything you think.” I could delve deep here. Instead, I’ll just write that anything can get stale after a while and fantasizing about the opportunity for variety can be appealing. A polyamorous relationship could bring the best of a varied sex life with the security of a committed relationship. I can see the appeal there too.


  2. Monogamy for me personally is not over-rated 🙂 .. coming from a very dysfunctional & very abusive childhood where I was not wanted or loved by my family .. I would NOT want to be in a relationship with someone who also wanted others in addition to me .. it would feed my insecurities and erode my self-esteem and I know that from having been cheated on in several relationships over the years as a young adult .. it was a main reason why I quit dating 20+ years ago and concentrated on my artwork and being the person that I want to be who is happy with herself. I am not adverse to having a relationship with someone .. just not willing to give up being me to have one 🙂


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