Are You the ‘Stay’ or the ‘Stray’ Type?
When quantity is not different from quality: A consideration on issues relating to cultures, marriages, monogamy and polygamy
What do you think about monogamy and polygamy? As someone puts it: do you believe in ‘staying’ in or ‘straying’ away from the socially sanctioned institution of marriage? Many people, especially Westerners, are convincing when they argue that polygamy is more natural and it is rather monogamy that is more open to question. However, that’s just the tip of an iceberg.
It makes sense if we look into the records from the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, which listed 1,231 cultures, out of which 84.6% are classified as polygynous (one husband, multiple wives), 15.1% as monogamous and 0.3% as polyandrous (one wife, multiple husbands). For details, refer to the Eclectic Anthropology Server, School of Social Sciences, University of California Irvine).
For now let’s ignore the nitty-gritty of human behaviour and personality types and the forms of male-female or same-sex love relationships. Let’s see the multiple layers of a world that we usually take for granted. We have heard jokes about partners becoming an ass to each other after one year of dating; some say one season but we know the latter is being extra-assy. In another case, it is sexist but a funny meme is doing the rounds, which show that men want a nymphomaniac for a partner but after marriage, the ‘nympho’ leaves and who stays back is only a ‘maniac’!
Back in my hometown, we are a conservative society but it does not mean that we exist on a morally high ground. A father and two sons asking, or rather forcing, the first son’s wife to sleep with the three of them, a man raping his five-year-old daughter, a psycho involved in gang-raping his would-be life partner with his friends under the guise of elopement, a lovesick wife killing her husband with the help of her new-found lover, the endless newspaper ads of ‘Mou Naha Ama Maangkhre’ and the list of sexual violence and so-called crimes of passion is relentless in our neighbourhoods. But we would not talk about them, because leave alone the revulsion of some of these crimes we are too conservative and unbecoming of the people that we supposedly are to even mention them.
Across the universe of humanity our culture is just a speck of dust. A few days ago, I saw a YouTube video that shows the culture of kidnapping brides that is rampant in Krygyzstan. As a sort of comparison it makes Borat’s Kazakhstan so lame! Refer to Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Elsewhere in Cambodia, amongst the ethnic Kreung people, it is customary for brides’ parents to build a courting hut so that their daughters, when they hit puberty, can ‘sample’ potential life partners. To the sex-deprived people of Manipur it is a sort of envy that the Kreung girls can sample as many suitors as possible until they find their ‘perfect’ grooms. Of course, in Imphal, we do have legal/traditional spaces like those provided by the Yaosang fest and the not-so-legal places like seedy cafés.
Back again, amidst bride kidnapping, husband–wife sale and bargain, love huts, night hunting and countless bizarre customs of marriage and courtship, the mere duality of monogamy and polygamy will hardly present a complete picture.
In a study by a few American researchers, an average man has about six partners while a woman has one and half less than their male counterparts in their lifetime. You can refer to Sex in America: A Definitive Survey by Robert Michael, John Gagnon, Edward Laumann and Gina Kolata. Regrettably, there is not much record from my town though we can considered to be a monogamous society in the traditional sense. By the way, researchers have found that monogamy dates back to the days of Hammurabi’s Code circa 1750BC.
Regarding relationships, there are also factors like that of arranged marriage which is quite common in mainland India. In Manipur, one of the first instances of this kind of marriage can be attributed to that of mythological Panthoibi and Tarang Khoinucha, and legend has it that the lady later eloped with Nongpok Ningthou. However, love marriage is more prevalent in the region and sporadic arranged marriage takes place between a few bachelors and bachelorettes, mostly from well-to-do families, who are too intelligent to find a partner by free choice.
Now, let’s see the basic dichotomy between monogamy and polygamy. In this context, are you the kind of a loyal lover, a Nicholas Sparks’ fan who wouldn’t mind spending a lifetime with another faithful individual? Or are you a crazy lover who has an abnormal rate of love in your heart that it is just impossible to share it with only one person? Precisely, what would you choose: stay or stray, as posed by the London-based Royal Society?
According to this Society: ‘Whenever comparative analyses of mammalian mating systems are undertaken, humans invariably fall midway between monogamous and polygamous species. Although no explanation has ever been offered for this, one plausible explanation is that humans actually consist of a mix of short-term (promiscuous) and long-term (monogamous) mating phenotypes. The extent to which any one individual pursues a short-term mating strategy (“unrestricted” strategy involving promiscuous mating with multiple partners) or a long-term mating strategy (‘restricted’ strategy favouring the formation of exclusive and extended pair-bonds) has been referred to as their “sociosexual orientation”.’ (—Source: Stay or stray? Evidence for alternative mating strategy phenotypes in both men and women by Rafael Wlodarski, John Manning, RIM Dunbar)
However, such a study comes with a caveat because of the comparative difference in social mores and cultural nuances where the surveys were held (in Britain and North America) and other regions in the globe. It is nevertheless universal that ‘humans actually consist of a mix of short-term (promiscuous) and long-term (monogamous) mating phenotypes’. For the short-term phenotype, Buddha would urge, our desires are never-ending.
Many of us on this side of the globe, where casual sex is a definite no-no, are in an existential crisis on how we are supposed to spend our lives seeing the same face every morning. And most of the time, this concern is reduced to a joke because of our apparent helplessness—or in an alternative expression, our social mores and conforming attitudes that literally put a cap over our sexual ideas. In most cases it is just a wish or a kind of showing off whacky attitudes, like mentioning light-heartedly in social gatherings that we would need two to four partners in a lifetime of marriage, and updating relationship status on social media as ‘open’, while in reality, things are all tightly closed.
Do try Dossie Easton’s The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures. A few people, mostly who believe in actual open relationship, contend that monogamy is a system of propagating men’s ownership of women. Apart from giving out some scent of reverse sexism, there’s a catch in their beliefs. For instance, in its essence, polyamory (multiple non-married relationships) offers an air of openness in the sense that the individuals are aware of their doings but in most cases any ‘extra’ relationship is never more than a secret rendezvous between two partners (in chime!). All’s secret because we are an egotist animal, regardless of which corner in the globe we belong to.
On marriage, Daniel Engber has to say this on the Slate: ‘The penises of lots of mammals are endowed with “horny papillae”, hardened bumps or spikes that sometimes look like rows of studs on a fancy condom. These papillae enhance sensation, or so it has been claimed, and shorten a mating male’s delay to climax. Since humans lost their phallic bumps several million years ago, it could be that we evolved to take it slow. And it could also be the case that longer-lasting sex produced more intimate relationships. ...So (one might argue that) the shedding of our penis spines gave rise to love and marriage...’ (—Source: Are Humans Monogamous or Polygamous? By Daniel Engber)
Now the people who are against polygamy are the first to speak out. For them, on one hand, the system of multiple marriages, especially polygyny, results in scarcity of fertile women, which in turn impact a woman’s right to choose the age to marry and in extreme cases, it might even a covert way of supporting child marriage and developing preference for only male child. On the other, it builds up the number of bachelors that creates only negative consequences, both on the personal and social level.
Experts have been using the case studies of India and China to prove the statement that a rising number of unmarried men is directly proportional to the number of crimes in a society. Ultimately, men who have the power and property will control the dynamics and further deepen the commoditisation of women.
If we jump to the other side of the fence, we can see a different picture. This has been an area of interest for many sociologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, zoologists and others and most of their contention is not about supporting polygamy but asserting the fact that monogamy is riddled with holes apart from being too idealistic. Experts have as well been referring to the animal world to make this point, most specifically in stating that it is quite natural for any animal to reproduce; do it in such a way that they reproduce the best progeny; and thus the ‘partner-hopping’. It is just a human nature to be not interested in reading a book over and over again. Some people would go to the extent of arguing that the origin of prostitution is monogamy.
So what’s the verdict? We are spoiled for choices, with the advent of Viagra and condom and all kinds of conceiving and contraceptive methods. As their technological sibling, social media, for instance, has increased the meeting and mating chances exponentially. Even a traditional society like ours has started accepting divorce and other such marriage issues. We have also noted that human desires are limitless. Besides, the two major reasons of polygamy in human society: scarcity of men and concentration of wealth are becoming a reality in and around my hometown because of factors such as armed conflicts and drug addiction. But do these matters imply the death of monogamy?
The answer is in the negative for the pro-monogamists. In most cases, it only boils down to a hobby of the masses: running away from responsibilities! Instead of working out it is much easier to knock it out—all at the cost of stability in a family and adverse psychological effects on the partners and their children. Just imagine some of the benefits of a long-term relationship; it would give the fans of Mills & Boon a run for their money. That’s the contention. Besides, polygamy has always been equated with promiscuity, debauchery, vulgarity and lust and so on.
It is hard to tell whether monogamy or polygamy should be the ideal rule. However, for certain, we can say that it is okay for a man to marry multiple partners—in fact, it is customary for many societies to insist their men to remarry in case of divorces with or death of their spouses; yet when women do, they become a slut. For that matter polyandry is not for weak women regardless of their location on the globe. This is just about stating a fact rather than patronising the fairer sex. In the end, either you stay or stray. It’s too personal.
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