The world of candle-lit dates and ballroom dances may have been replaced with Tinder and 2am booty-calls, but is there any space in modern life for traditional relationships? Infidelity hurts, but maybe it’s the way we’re programmed and the battle in adult life between infidelity and loyalty could stem from our ancestral history. At one point on the evolutionary journey, humans had to choose between promiscuity and monogamy, but not all of us made the same decision.
We may all know the story of the birds and the bees and what happens when mummy and daddy love each other very much, but the dynamic surrounding it is fluid, always shifting.
Generations change (no Grandma, I’m not courting) in line with wider society. Now, in 2017, young people are seeking a higher standard of education and travelling farther afield than their forbearers in pursuit of a successful career.
Whilst Baby-Boomers and the Gen-Xers bought houses, had a traditional family and a stable job in their early 20s, it’s a tad harder this side of the millennium. Maintaining a healthy relationship throughout all the turmoil has become nearly impossible, but the concept of a relationship may be genetically unnatural.
Some people are hard-wired to find fidelity to difficult.
A look at the animal kingdom and through the evolutionary history books tells us that monogamy (having a single partner throughout life) is not particularly common. In fact, it’s quite rare. Only a few species are known to be truly monogamous; otters, beavers, swans and some primates, for example. Where do we sit on the spectrum, are we meant to be monogamous or polyamorous?
I’m here for a good time, not a long time
A key that opens many locks is a master key but a lock that opens to many keys is a faulty lock. Sound familiar?
There is a widespread notion that it is socially acceptable for men to sleep with several different partners but wholly wrong for women to do so. This inequality is being faced in modern society. “Evolutionary psychologists will tell you that men are programmed to ‘spread their seed’ around as much as possible, whereas women look to hunker down with a mate that can provide them maximum resources,” says James Stein, doctoral candidate of human communication at Arizona State University.
James Stein then, is saying that the difference isn’t between humans and other animals, it’s between men and women. Men are wired up to knock boots with as many suitable ‘mates’ as possible while women are designed to search long and hard, looking for the right guy to settle down with. More than a few spurned women out there may agree with him.
I’m waiting for Mr Right
Beavers may stay with their partners and build mighty dams over rapids together, rarely leaving the side of their partner but humans are more complex. Our social circles are far more convoluted and as a result, sometimes people just aren’t on the same page, no matter how hard you try.
After all, men are from Mars and women are from Venus, apparently. Some people want things to be just so. Right place, right time, right person and that can be a very tough ask in today’s world.
The key, says James Stein, might be time and communication. “Over time, research suggests that committed partnerships are more successful when deeper, emotional connections are forged,” he says.
Beauty is more than skin-deep, physical attraction might only take us so far. To build something meaningful and long-term there has to be more. Debra Mandel, the self-branded “Love Warrior”, has a doctorate in Clinical Psychology and is a best-selling author who says; “While physical components drive us toward one another, our values and whether we share common goals and interests tend to be more predictive of happiness in a relationship.
“In other words, opposites may attract, but similarities keep people together”. So, we like what we see and then, with a bit of elbow grease and understanding, it can lead to a healthy relationship.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? It almost seems simple. It’s never that easy though, and more often than not it comes down to one thing; Shakespeare’s beast with two backs.
Looking for lust and love
Sex is a bigger part of life in 2018 than it has been ever before. It’s everywhere from television adverts to the shopfronts on the high street. The days of waiting till marriage are far in the rear-view mirror and casual sex has taken its place at the forefront of modern life. It’s also stole the show when it comes to relationships.
An individual’s sexual prowess can now be a case of make or break for the fledgeling love lives of many. If there’s anything we learnt from Lily Allen in her song Not Fair it’s that it doesn’t matter how good a person you are, being a good lover can be more important.
“During procreation age, [sex] is very important; it’s a way to communicate. We are naturally driven to create a family, a nest,” says best-selling author, TV host and relationship expert, Lisa Coffey.
“From a physiological standpoint, sex feels good. Because of our prefrontal cortex, we can make the connection between the behaviour and the ensuing pleasure,” adds James Stein.
For the many, not the two?
With the ever-shifting landscape of relationships, it’s impossible to always have your finger on the pulse. The ‘right’ thing to do will differ between partners and no two relationships are ever going to be the same. Maybe, however, it’s not you that’s failing your relationships. It could be the concept of relationships that’s failing you.
Humans have reached a point where physiological evolution has taken us so far, and now we have a choice to make. We can choose monogamy and a single partner or a polyamorous life with several different sexual partners. Both are possible and both are prominent in modern society.
Much ado about nothing?
In all likelihood, we evolved from higher apes, where a single partner for life was probably common. But we also evolved to really, really like sex. The endorphins released during sex and the way it makes us feel, have the ability to take over. For some, the excitement of new sexual partners is the ultimate goal.
Is there anything wrong with that? No.
Is there anything wrong with wanting to forge a life with one person, place your trust in them and pursue a life together and, crucially, not engage in sexual activities with anyone else? Of course not.
Throughout time, people have placed a lot of importance on maintaining relationships, yet the traditional idea of a successful relationship is changing. People may frown upon a promiscuous lifestyle and call it unnatural and, whilst the latter certainly isn’t true, every person has to make their own decision as to what they want.
Well, there it is. It’s an individual’s decision as to how to live their life, and who to live it with. Like Debra Mandel says, “from my perspective, polyamory and monogamy are both fine if that’s what someone chooses, but cheating is not.”