Hi, Athol –
I have a question for you. On your blog you describe three key biological subsystems related to interpersonal attraction – the dopamine subsystem (related to ‘in love’ attraction), the (male) vasopressin subsystem (related to pair bonding), and the… sex drive subsystem (related to sexual desire). Since these three subsystems are not within our conscious control, or we at least exercise only limited control over them (e.g., choosing not to see someone anymore, choosing to do things with our partner that enhances pair bonding, etc.), and since these three subsystems need not be synchronized, what, in your view, justifies choosing monogamous marriage?
For example, rather than choose to marry and remain faithful to one woman, why should I not choose one woman with whom I can pair bond over the long term (satisfying for me, that need for a ‘special’ someone, that ‘you’ to whom I will always remain loyal no matter what), range freely among women who fire up my dopamine subsystem, and have sex with as many women as are willing, provided (as conscience dictates) I never deceive any of them about my activities and intentions?
(Jennifer: Ah I see where your flaw is already, you need a woman to go along with that!)
Would this arrangement not correspond better to my biological constitution than monogamous marriage, which by its nature forces me to constantly adapt, to the best of my limited ability, three, independently functioning biological subsystems to one person? The only objection I can imagine is that individualism is not the formula for a soundly functioning society. Even there, however – I’m not sure I care. I’m going to die some day and I want to be happy in the meantime. Interested to know your thoughts.
Right now I am a single, unmarried man. I crush constantly. My sex drive is not selective – all that is required, as you say, a warm, willing, and proximal vagina (gets me fired up just thinking about it). I also feel a raging need to pair bond with someone, to form a foundational relationship with someone who will be my constant in all things. There you go – the three subsystems. I can’t remember the last time they worked in harmony. And the thought of taking one woman to the exclusion of all other possibilities, never permitting myself, after marriage, to pursue, if only for a time, an option that blazes with all the fleeting and facile glory of a life that is never more than fleeting anyway, never allowing myself to go where happiness is easily found when it is otherwise hard to find happiness – how on earth does a man make such a choice in a world that is more permissive now than it ever was of conjugal options?
Please let me know your thoughts,
this is a non-simple question, but a very good one.
As you can probably divine, a perfectly functional relationship can work just fine with a oxytocin/vasopressin and testosterone base. Truly two out of three isn’t bad. That’s a functional, enjoyable, relaxed, intimate and sexual. The role of dopamine is to lure you into a relationship like that.
Once in that relationship, the dopamine will drop off a bit, which sounds bad, but is actually a good thing because it really is impossible to endlessly sustain a very high dopamine state without exhausting yourself with courting behaviors. Specially once you mate and have children, the parents endlessly crushing on each other isn’t in the best interests of their gene transmission… so they start calming down and loving the kids etc.
What I suspect happens though, is every so often, your body surveys your environment and looks for the best possible person for a sex partnership with to make a new baby. Your current partner has some advantages in this in that they are proximal and already involved with you. Whoever your body selects as the best possible partner, you body hits you with a blast of dopamine. So if your wife comes top of the list, you can get a crush on her again, if someone else tops the list, you crush on them.
The reason you are crushing on everyone now, is because you don’t have a current relationship capable of effectively creating a full mating partnership. So your body is pounding you with dopamine to go find a woman to basically get pregnant. Once you’re in that relationship, the dopamine will calm down a bit eventually.
Over the very long term of failing to develop a pair bond, and especially if you have had a very high number of short term relationships and hook ups, I suspect that your body adapts to your strategy and diminishes your own vasopressin response as a protective mechanism. In more plain English – if you fuck everyone under the sun, you’ll eventually lose your ability to feel anything deeply emotionally connective about the opposite sex. After a certain point, players can’t really have a deep relationship. They have literally trained their bodies not to attach to the other person during sex. This is incidentally why you don’t want to marry a woman with a very high partner count… she simply won’t attach to you the same way a lower partner count woman will. They may scream that it’s slut-shaming to say that, but I just don’t care. There’s no good reason to risk marrying a woman that can’t attach to you properly. In other news – I don’t buy rotten fruit in the supermarket either.
You’re also missing a critical piece of the puzzle in your master plan for a pair bond + fun. Her.
You’re assuming that she would be down with all this running about getting some on the side; she won’t be. If she is, she isn’t really all that concerned about you. Which means you don’t really have the pair bond you may like to think you have.
Plus while you’re running about getting some on the side, so might she. You’ll want to paternity test the kids she has. That’s not a joke I’m making.
All that being said… I hear you. Monogamy isn’t natural. We are designed to have a primary pair bond, and sneak opportunistic sex with other partners. Monogamy is a sexual strategy and is for the majority of men, a winning strategy. Only the very highest cohort of males and all females benefit from a non-monogamy free-for-all culture. The free-for-all is designed to cut most men out of having sex entirely.