Why is love a lie today?

monogamy: The big lie


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He didn't want a relationship, told me the man in whose bed I had ended up after a boozy night. I was eighteen years old, he was twenty-seven - and that was fine with me. I told him I had just come out of a relationship myself. Just want to hang around a bit with no obligations. We agreed and met again. We cooked together, went on long bike tours, went to concerts and lay in bed on long Sundays. On one of those Sundays, I was now twenty, we talked about our relationship. Our relationship. Whether there might have been others in those years. It had. First he described a couple of love affairs to me. Then I gave my handful to the best. Whereupon he fell silent, finally got dressed and left me. After two weeks he came back and asked me to try again. I refused. Not because of his other stories, but because he betrayed our agreement: We are together because we mean a lot. Loyalty is not a requirement for this.

In Switzerland around three quarters of the population are in a partnership. Most want this relationship to offer them everything, an emotional home, stability, and sexual fulfillment. As couples therapist Klaus Heer says, love is monogamous. Only humans are not. In surveys, 36 percent of women and 44 percent of men state that they have had sex outside of a committed relationship. A full 72 percent of Swiss people said that they would like to do it if they had the opportunity. Some experts say that 90 percent of men will cheat in the course of their lives, compared to three quarters of women. Infidelity is also one of the main reasons why marriages in the western industrialized nations collapse in rows. The divorce rate in Switzerland is 50 percent, and fewer and fewer marriages are being concluded, and relationships are shorter and more serial today. Infidelity destroys trust, breaks hopes, hearts and families. But the crucial question is not why we cannot actually be faithful. But why our ideal relationship is based on a lie. The lie that we will always be true to each other.

Because sexual fidelity in the broadest sense is impossible. We can deny ourselves pleasure, we can pretend it doesn't exist. But it's a delusion. As lovers, we consider ourselves the distinguished protagonists of a film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. As far as human sexuality is concerned, however planet of monkeys played. Despite their romantic tendencies, our species is profoundly sex-obsessed. Globally, billions flow into the industrial complex that sells sexuality every day. Pornography and prostitution, dating sites and fling portals, the pharmaceutical industry and couple therapists earn money from alleviating the symptoms of our disease. But they do not get to the cause. The modern PR manager who orders a vegan lunch for his pedicure appointment has more in common with his hairy ancestors than he would like to admit. This is also the reason why our cultural models fail so reliably.

We pathologize cheaters, but they are the norm

After my experience with the jealous man, I went to university, learned a trade, gave birth to two children and overcame many crises. I have experienced even more crises passively, from friends. And it's always about the same thing. Especially when children are involved, the desire for a partner wanes over the years. But not the appetite for sex. And even if we can live well with our lies for a few months, maybe even years, life cannot help but constantly challenge us.

Michèle Binswanger

The author, voted Swiss "Journalist of the Year" in 2010, wrote the book together with Nicole Althaus Macho mums. Why mothers should want more at work written. It will be published by Nagel & Kimche in mid-April.

I have seen many relationships break over the problem of false fidelity expectations. And so I ask myself today: Is it perhaps not infidelity that breaks marriages, but the unrealistic expectation that sex should only take place within the marriage? Why do we pathologize cheaters and morally stigmatize them when they are actually the norm? Why do we think it is more normal to rush from one monogamous short-term relationship to the next than to accept extramarital sexual contacts? Why do we think this pattern, known as serial monogamy, is more suitable than abandoning the dogma of monogamy? Is it perhaps not the partner who is cheating on us, but love itself? Is it not infidelity that destroys us, but loyalty?

I asked this question to sex therapist and author Ulrich Clement. "Our love model comes from the bourgeoisie and romanticism," he said. In premodern marriages, infidelity was a part of it, at least that of the husband. But then love was increasingly transfigured into a romantic ideal, intra-marital sexuality was upgraded, and extramarital sexuality was sanctioned. As the twentieth century progressed, marriage increasingly lost its economic and social importance. What remained was the romantic phantasm, closely guarded by jealousy. Without jealousy there would be no entitlement to exclusivity, no loyalty problem, no nights discussed at the kitchen table, no irreconcilable partings. Jealousy, according to Clement, is a cross-cultural reflex. Yet the assessment of feeling varies widely from one culture to another. In patriarchal cultures, which link man's honor to woman's loyalty, it can have murderous consequences. Because the woman belongs to the man, she should reserve her sexuality for him alone.