Is One Woman Enough for Any Man?

Which best describes your relationship styles? Select one of the following:

(1) Monogamous
(2) Serially monogamous
(3) Ambiguously monogamous
(4) Mildly polygamous
(5) Polygamous

Relax. If you checked anything, you’re right. Evolutionary psychologists have never been to find the right language to describe our peculiar approach of mating. We practice mostly monogamy, but is that natural or are we boxed in by social and religious mores? Besides humans, only about three per cent mammals pair up. Anthropological surveys of traditional cultures conducted in the past century found that more than 80 per cent allowed polygyny. i.e., a man could take more than one wife, meanwhile polyandrous societies, in which a woman can take more than one man, are rare. The evidence is clear that we have evolved as “mildly polygynous creatures”, argue evolutionary psychologist David Barash and his wife, psychiatrist Judith Lipton in The Myth of Monogamy. However, even when polygyny is okey, few men partake. This is almost always out of necessity rather than by choice, Barash says — “Either they are’nt enough surplus women or a man lacks the fund and/or skill to negotiate and sustain the arrangement.

Because we humans remain with each partner for as long as we can after the romantic wears off, many scientists adopted the phrase “serial monogamy”. Helen Fisher, the author of Why We Love, likes to recall a story about Margaret Mead. When asked why her marriages had all failed, the fame anthropologist responded, “I beg you pardon, I had three marriages, and none of them were failure.”

Although US divorce data support the notion of seven-year itch, Fisher believes couple feel an instinctual urge to split after four years. That’s about the time, she argued, that a child born in a hunter-gatherer society is self-sufficient enough to join a communcal play group and raised by other members of the band. The father and mother can than search for new mates — he for someone younger, and she for someone older and richer — an bear children with a variety of genetic structures, increasing the odds that more of them will survive. The fact that most men dont flee is “a remarkable triumph of the female brain and will”, writes geneticist Anne Moir inBrain Sex, “In sexual and evolutionary terms, there is nothing in marriage for men”. So why do we stay? One argument is that we recognize widespread female promiscuity would make it harder to know if a child is ours. We also stick around because, unlike other primates, humans are born with underdeveloped brains so the skull can squeeze through a female pelvis, leaving our offspring so helpless they require two parents to survive. By the time a child can walk and talk, a few years later, and Daddy is ready to bolt, Mama may well be pregnant again. Where does the time go? Kids continue to weigh on a marriage as long as they are around; one study of 500 families found the lowest point of satisfaction arrives at Stage V, when the children become teenagers. However, in the next three stages — VI, VII and VIII, after the kids leave home — the ratings rise again. Hang in there.

Chip Rowe, Playboy USA Magazine, March 2008, p.100.