The Monogamy Trap

by Liam Scheff

Love and marriage. Goes together like a…cultural trap? Anti-freedom top-down control gambit? A witch hunt?

Too abrupt? Let me start over.

Let me offer a point of view from an alien perspective: imagine that what I’m saying comes from the pen of an anthropologist from the future; better yet, from another planet, who’s been studying human relationship structures from a near distance for forty years, and intermingling with you dressed in local clothes so as to not draw attention to himself. That’s been my job.

I have noticed that this thing you call “marriage,” though you claim to yearn for it, seems to work against the success of Americans. You know, citizens of the United States. Americans: stressed, strained, overworked, under-served, disconnected, television-addled, drug-infused, fraying, straying and breaking…Americans. It seems to me that the most natural thing that you could do to support each other would be to form extended kinship groups – what we anthropologists call “tribes” to establish a structured network of constant support for, well, every member of the group.

But what if the tribe was destroyed by a directive? A hidden order that gets you to undermine its very nature yourselves? Its internal intrinsic structure of multi-hubbed intersecting support beams – you’re set to dismantle it without realizing it. What if you had been convinced by several lifetimes of brainwashing (through your grandparents and parents) to believe that you were supposed to actually distrust most of the people you know, and are only to truly trust one. “Truly” only one.

You managed to be inculcated with a notion; you must achieve a sense of belonging – an idea of duty and obligation, even of want or hope or desire, to bind yourself with promises of perpetual sexual obligation and restriction to that one person; but who?

Who knows? Just someone you met and had a sexual attraction to. Or could talk to. Someone you decided might be the one you were permitted to love, and so invested in as “the one” forever. Despite obvious misalignments and limitations. Despite the reality that no one can be everything for anyone – not even for themselves. But, you decided.

The one you decided must be the one, or, in a moment, while you were young enough, high enough on endorphins, inexperienced enough with the realities of the world. Just one person with whom, after a period of childhood and adolescence of mind-training, you would be permitted to express all affection, kindness, warmth, sexual interest, and more – social, psychological, financial obligation and total legalistic interweaving; life, death and parenting decisions – with one. Just one. In fact, you’re supposed to invest all your dreams, wishes, needs and hopes into one, small, exhausted individual, who is as lost and isolated as you are.

You call this the “American dream.” To “settle down” with one person, “forsaking all others,” abandoning all outside kinship connections, letting starve and die long held deep friendships, loves, affections, crushes and even little bits of fondness. It all has to go.

You’re motivated to ask what use any of these were. Why love or admit attraction or affiliation with anyone else? You’ve found “perfect love” with one person.

Except…you haven’t. You fall into guilt, shame, loneliness, burdened by unmet needs and desires you feel ashamed to express. It’s nothing extraordinary. Just a little affection here and there that you’d just die to admit to; just something to stir the soul, to remind oneself of the beauty of this world – the freedom to see the light of new enjoyment and appreciation of each other’s expansive being in someone’s eyes; to brighten you, to remind you of the joy of the world.

But you can’t, you repress it all. You’re “good” not “bad.” You’re “safe,” not a “slut.” You dare not enjoy thoughts or experiences of sex – or, you can, but with just one person. Maybe, if he’s around. If she’s still feeling attractive; if she still appreciates you that way; if you can still be excited by him after all the fighting you’ve done. If she can still tolerate you after the many ways you’ve let her down.

And if you don’t enjoy sex there any longer – well, you’re out of luck. “But,” you hear. But be glad you have a family! Be glad you’re not on your own! Be glad you haven’t been excommunicated from “the tribe!”

Indeed, this agreement, this two-person pod is your passport, your only available contract to cultural success. It is the only allowable entry into this tribe of lonely people.

Of two-person lifeboats of isolation and self-induced, self-policing lonely hours. Guarded by jealousy. Fear that either of you will, in any moment, be human again, and “betray” each other, with a kiss, a look, a touch, a desire…

You stand, readied by a lifetime of training to accuse: J’accuse! To be betrayed. To feel abandoned, and then to make it so. To go through a long, public humiliation. To cry bitter tears, to feel “not good enough,” to die a million deaths of despair wondering if your partner desired anyone else for a moment.

For a moment? But haven’t you? Of course; or you’ve ground that bright desire to ashes through repression. But when you allow truth to hit the air – you’re…well… still alive inside. Still excited by the joy of life.

What a bloody joke you’ve played on yourselves. You’re a normal, healthy, sexual animal. Hardly monogamous, you’re tribal. You spent 240,000 years living in tribes, with your chief obligation to the group, to being a co-provider of some food, a co-teacher of the children, a co-hunter from time to time; but never to be the primary anything.

You were a group creature: playing, laughing, singing, enjoying the pleasure of plant-based intoxication to see the stars sing brightly…and appreciating the easy pleasure of each other’s company from time to time; knowing that children were raised by the tribe, and no one ever had to pay alimony for the natural diminishment of the fleet-footed and passing romantic impulse. No, that was expected to fade; but the tribe was always the central axis and the dome of stars, and you always would be there for each other, to share food, shelter, and whatever was needed to live.

You’re built for a group sharing dynamic. You naturally form your relationships in groups, you raised your children in groups. Now it’s up to two people, strained, stressed, suppressing half of their normal impulses to flirt, laugh, find others attractive, to be lightly – lightly – promiscuous, but really only affectionate, mostly without falling into bed. All suppressed so vigorously they mutate into the most excessive fantasies in your regular television viewing.

The majority of your affections end in a little easy hugging and a kiss or two. And if more, then so what? Because a woman loved by many men a little bit has support her whole life long; a woman with a variety of men who are free to love and admire her without intruding jealousy always has family and fathers to her children.

Men free to love and admire several women in their tribe are connected to women; listen to women, know and feel for women; they are free to enjoy affections, and they gladly share responsibilities with a ready group of tribal brothers and cousins. Jealousies are minimized; they have little to no value because nothing important is wanting.

You aren’t sacrificed to the volcano for either having a romantic interest or for letting one fade. That is normal; no one cares or is surprised. Because you keep up your tribal affiliation. The important things were done by all of you; food, shelter, life’s basic resources. You didn’t own each other. You served a greater communal interest – a most practical one; and you needed to be linked at many levels. And linked affections only strengthened your web, your network.

Then the machine age came along, and stripped you of group work. Machines took over the digging, planting, carving, painting, building and even washing. What use do you have for a sister wife or brother husband? None. You’ve got the machines of ease and comfort. What more could you ask for?

The car zipped you around, you shopped, not grew or gardened; you bought, not made things; and you got busier and busier. So busy, so tired, so overburdened. And now you have to guard your relationship from interlopers. The fiendish parasites threatening to destabilize your gas-powered, iPhone-navigated perfect lifeboat of two lonely people, children looking at your calamities with dismay but set up to repeat it all; all of you desperate for outside contact; afraid to disappoint each other, terrified to tell the truth.

This system is a nightmare for everyone. It is an endless joke at your expense. You are not remotely a sacredly monogamous species. You are a tribal, connected, supportive, networked human animal. Everything in your being is pushing you to reclaim your tribal routes, to stop sacrificing children to a totally fraudulent and false god of science and government; vaccination and ‘teach-to-the-test’ public brain-clouding.

You’re clouded by both the liberal and the conservative misunderstanding of history. You’re clouded by the hundred contradictory messages you receive from your culture: sex is good, sex is evil; openness is good, truth is destructive; emotional development is healthy but do what you’re told by god, country and the invisible pressure of a community which is unable to get out of this cul-de-sac of fear and financial self-crucifying.

Oh, I’m sure there are some important realities I’m missing, I’m sure you love your partner; I never said you didn’t. What I said is that your species is tribal and always has been. And there are no lifetime Jewish, Catholic or Muslim marriages in tribes; there is only the understood promise to participate in the survival of the network, the tribe.

Or, that’s the view from my planet. I’m sure it’s not something you’ve easily considered. But imagine what life would be like if you lived in a tribe, as your ancestors did for 95% of your history; and imagine the security you felt in knowing you couldn’t be excommunicated for being entirely human.

Liam Scheff is the author of “Official Stories,” and is working on his new book about the tribe of humans, our sex lives and social networks, and the changes we’ll be faced with in a declining energy culture.




  1. Hi Liam,

    I was going to post this as a comment on one of your FB posts, but it got rather long, so I thought I’d put it here instead.

    I’ve been reading your posts on relationships with interest, I don’t disagree with many of the points you’re making, regarding criticising the nuclear family and identifying us as, in fact, being tribal.

    We are. However, this doesn’t quite justify what you’re proposing, as you have to take some factors of human biology into account. In your proposed system, how would men know which chidlren were theirs? The male human as the male of any species is strongly invested in passing on his own genes and stopping rivals from impregnating his mate. Even male sperm is jealous – there is “warrior sperm” specifically designed to fight off any rival sperm it might encounter in the race egg-wards.

    Also, the chemistry of romantic love includes a big shot of oxytocin, the same chemical released by new mothers at birth to enable a strong bond with their child. This hormone makes mothers strongly protective and “jealous” over their child – it has a similar effect on people and their partners.

    Human children do best when they have regular daily interaction with both their biological mother and father. Having other adults around as well certainly augments their experience, but such adults cannot substitute their parents. Human babies begin the bonding process with their mother in the womb and upon birth are already strongly bonded – it is proven they can already recognise her voice and smell and immediately know her above all other women. They are not designed to simply be passed around to any old lactating woman.

    The bonding process with their father may not be so clear cut, but it begins to happen as soon as a father holds his child, and a powerful hormonal effect takes place where the testosterone of new fathers drops and their oestrogen increases, to help make them more caring and nurturing. People are more attached to their own biological children than other children, because it’s natural for them to be.

    You only have to look at adoption – and how the parents often regret it for life and the children often report constantly feeling lost and incomplete and wanting to find their “real” parents – to know biology is not nothing. We are fundmanetally hardwired to feel a stronger connection to our genetic kin than anybody else (this accounts for the existence of ‘GSA’ – genetic sexual attraction – that when people are separated from close genetic kin, when they meet up again, they feel a very powerful sensation they experience as sexual attraction. This is because the natural powerful bond has been damaged and adulterated by the separation, and is expressing itself in a disordered way; therefore clearly showing separation from close genetic kin is not natural or healthy).

    What you seem to be arguing is that the chemical cocktail responsible for romantic “in love” feelings doesn’t last – and you’re correct, it doesn’t, it’s not designed to. After about 3-5 years, if a couple stays together, it’s because they’ve become good, closely bonded friends, not that they’re any longer madly in love.

    So should they be free to take other romantic partners at this stage? No, because the consequences are always devastating. One partner always wants to find some “extra-curricular affection” more than the other does, so that inevitably causes feelings of deep resentment and insecurity. What if your partner has met someone else they really like, but you haven’t? They’ll be off with them and you’ll just be sat at home, twiddling your thumbs, and feeling – even if not jealous – inadequate and humiliated. And, because the new interest will be infused with all those powerful “in love” hormones again, it’s much more compelling and exciting than the boring old stable relationship – so the person “playing away” begins to neglect the original relationship. Often, the person with the new interest doesn’t want to continue the old one, and is so captivated by the new partner they lose all interest in the old one and want to leave, even when the old partner doesn’t want that and is prepared to tolerate the dalliance.

    This is before we even get into the effects on children, who are hardwired to want mum and dad to stay together. It’s not a “social construct”, it’s a powerful primal emotion, and in all but exceptional cases, children are floored and devastated when their parents split up. Even if they still see the other parent regularly, it’s not the same – and the wider effects this has on society are disastrous and very well documented.

    Children from “broken homes” are enormously more likely to underachieve, substance abuse, experience a teen pregnancy, drop out of college, struggle with unemployment, become homeless, and be incarcerated. And although many critics will protest this is merely a result of “economic inequality”, actually it isn’t, it’s a direct effect of the broken home. Having an intact family has been shown to be as or more important as whether the family is poor, workless, in ill health, or has nobody with any educational qualifications.

    Marriage and monogamy aren’t about a utopic romantic dream, and I agree many think they are and that’s wrong, but that’s only a fairly recent, Hollywoodised development – they’re about personal and social stability. They’re not perfect, but they’re the best we can possibly do – everything else has been tried, and it always fails. You’re talking about indigenous tribes who live totally out of civilization. But we live in a complex civilization, I don’t think anyone is ready to go back to living barefoot in the woods. To maintain civilization, we need to maintain marriage and monogamy. The reason so many religions and societies have adopted marriage as the gold standard is not because they’re evil monsters who want to oppress everybody, but because it’s the thing that works best. Note, not “perfectly”, but best.

    If you personally don’t want to make that commitment, of course that’s fine, you can be single and date and get to know people without marrying them. Our society is more open than ever to people choosing not to be married or have children, and there are more unmarried adults alive now that at any documented time in history.

    But we still need a majority of people to make that commitment to make society work, in specific people who have children and are thus responsible for raising the next generation.

    I agree that our Western culture is afraid of affection and sexualises any physical contact, when often people are really just in need of a hug and it would be nicer for them if there was an easier way to get that than having to “go out” with somebody. However, I don’t think most reasonable people consider hugging a friend to be an act of infidelity. A kiss is different – it is undeniably sexual and thus getting into dangerous territory, but nevertheless, I’ve never heard of anyone leaving a marriage and children because their partner kissed someone else. It is probably something most people could turn a blind eye to, because there is no possibility of a kiss resulting in pregnancy. And sex, however “careful” one is, always has that possibility (NFP fails too – at least one of my family members is a living testament to this). The problem with kissing is that it often leads to sex, and powerful sexual feelings.

    This brings me onto the next point which is that sex and sexual/romantic attraction are all by-products of fertility. This is why we are all on average most interested in sex, and most attractive to others, in our 20s – the peak of fertility. Our interest in sex, and sexual attractiveness to others, gradually diminishes thereafter. Whereas men always remain somewhat fertile, women become completely infertile somewhere around the age of 45, with the menopause happening around 52. Many post-menopausal women report they then completely lose interest in sex, which makes perfect sense. But they still want the companionship, friendship and support of a male partner. Marriage was designed to give them this, and ensure that they didn’t have to rely on something as transient as youth and beauty to get male affection and love. Husbands still love their 50+ wives, but not many new men will take much interest (see all the women of that age who complain of now being “invisible”). Also, many women report being more interested in sex at the times of the month when they are fertile, and not that interested at other times – and men are conclusivley proven to be more attracted to ovulating, fertile women than women at other points of their cycle.

    The contraceptive pill is also known to diminish sex drive and change the type of man a woman is attracted to, because it makes a woman’s body think she’s pregnant therefore doesn’t “need” to have sex or seek out a genetically fit man – which all underlines that sex is a function of fertility, which I think is something we often forget. Sex also functions to bond people closely together, but the purpose of this is also linked to fertility – to ensure they stay together to raise the child. That is why the “in love” cocktail lasts for the time it does, 3-5 years – enough time to meet, mate, produce a child, and get the child through dangerous early infancy.

    In a tribal society, then yes, it might make sense when the child is about 5 for the couple to take new partners, because a tribal society is small, stable, and non-transient. The child will still see just as much of dad if he’s in the hut next door than the one with the child’s mother, and all the rest of the relationships in the child’s life will remain unchanged.

    However, that is not what happens now if a couple with a young child split up. Typically, the child goes from seeing dad every day to every other weekend, if that. Dad now lives dozens if not hundreds of miles away. Mum often uproots the child and takes it to a new location, new school, away from friends and familiar comforts and routines. Mum’s new boyfriend often resents the child, and doesn’t treat it as well as his own that come along (by far the most frequent child abusers are “mommy’s new boyfriend”). The child’s relationship with both parents often breaks down (children from broken homes are far more likely to have bad relationships with both parents). The child often loses touch with the paternal grandparents. And so on and so forth.

    In our large, atomised, mobile society where people have no impetus to stay in the same place or maintain networks, partner-swapping (once children come along) doesn’t work, and marriage and monogamy are vital anchors of stability in our increasingly unstable society. I agree absolutely they’re not enough on their own, and it is critical both partners have strong friendships, are involved in the local community, have other children around for their child to play with, and so on. But we don’t increase community bonds by allowing people the kind of sexual freedoms you’re proposing, we weaken them. To make our modern communities integrated, stable and functional, we need people in relationships to be monogamous (not necessarily married, but if they’re going to have children, ideally). We need that because anything else is chaos, and causes too much hurt, instability and disorder. Plus, people would never agree on the rules. You might be okay with your partner kissing someone else, but not sleeping with them. They might be okay with you sleeping with someone else, but not kissing them. It would just be an endless nightmare of impossible negotiations.

    At least everyone understands the rules of monogamy and, adhered to, they bring greater rewards. The rewards of being part of a stable union, which provides security for you both into old age, and vitally stability for you children, and which gives you safe inroads into the local community. When single people, especially single men, try to make friends, it can be hard as people suspect their motives. It’s not fair, but it happens – people in couples are “safer” and others naturally feel more at ease around them.

    I think the reason people focus so much on romantic relationships – whether we’re talking having a crush on someone or sleeping with them – is because they’re bored and unfulfilled, and those romantic/sexual feelings are exciting. The reason so much boredom exists in our society is because it IS boring – people sit listlessly in an office all day, only to return to sit at home listlessly in front of the TV. That’s not living, that’s not life, and it’s not connecting us to life or to each other in any meaningful way. People need to be encouraged (and I know you do encourage them) to have a deep connection with the land, grow and cook their own food, tend to animals, and be engaged in important local projects with other people. That’s what we’re made to do, that’s why we’re a social species – to work closely with others to get important things done. And most people don’t have that now, they instead do some meaningless job in an office so they can get fake money to buy fake food from strip-lit supermarkets – it’s akin to living in captivity, no wonder we’re all going so mad. One of the only natural, primal experiences we have left is attraction and sex, which is why so many focus and obsess over it. But if we have an abundance of OTHER natural, primal experiences, that we’re supposed to have, then maybe we wouldn’t.

    So, those are my thoughts, if you feel like replying (and you got this far!), feel free :)

  2. Long post; I’ll have to read it in parts. We agree about the technical, to a large degree:

    “What you seem to be arguing is that the chemical cocktail responsible for romantic “in love” feelings doesn’t last – and you’re correct, it doesn’t, it’s not designed to. After about 3-5 years, if a couple stays together, it’s because they’ve become good, closely bonded friends, not that they’re any longer madly in love.”

    As far as the rest – you seem to be dancing around the idea that people would naturally open up relationships after a point, because, as you wrote: “The results are always devastating.”

    “Always?” You’ve done a thorough globe-wide data collection? (No, of course not.) So, it’s a personal issue.

    What about tribes that demand this? What about partible paternity? Tribes which openly share fatherhood?

    What about the “devastating” results for those who don’t allow themselves openness? The misery and drudgery of many marriages is well-known; and the 50 to 75 percent divorce rate (for 1st and 2nd marriages) puts the lie to your “truth.”

    You’re coming from a heavily Judeo-Levitical perspective in the emotional position.

    And if you’re going to quote the idea that kids need biological “mom” and “dad,” then realize the inverse is equally true. We need “moms” and “dads.” Biological or otherwise.

    Our loss of “dad” is so culturally programmed; kids with strong male supports don’t miss a biological “dad” as much as those in nuclear disaster families do. Because in the isolation of a nuclear family, there is no replacement for the male. In other tribes, there are a ready dozen.

    We’re tribal, not nuclear. You know that, acknowledge that, but are arguing against it.

    Lighten up. Try it. Be a little more open. You’d be surprised that jealousy, like anger or sadness is something that goes away more easily when expressed, heard and acknowledged.

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