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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why Marriage is for Men & Wedding Dresses are for Women

(Is monogamy man-made? Ladies, you may have this relationship thing all wrong....)

So I received an e-mail from the Chocolate Diva this morning while enjoying my croissant with smoked salmon. She’s in London visiting Mr. Dreamy himself, an older man she met while studying at Oxford. Mr. Dreamy’s got hazel eyes that capture the sunrise over the Sahara and skin the color of sweet toffee. He’s tall, genial, and has all the credentials to impress a young, fly diva. He also, go figure, has commitment issues, but leave it to the Chocolate Diva to become the addiction of a man who has been able to maintain his single status well into his thirties. Surely many women have tried to capture him in their lure before the Diva, but they all failed.

What does the Chocolate Diva have that all the other women didn’t, besides sprightly youth on her side? Well for one thing, she’s one hell of a woman, but her ability to render Mr. Dreamy spellbound hasn’t got all that much to do with that. I’m sure that many a credentialed, good-looking, God-fearing women have approached this man and all have failed to do what the Chocolate Diva has done, almost, effortlessly.

To comprehend the Chocolate Diva’s slaying effect is to understand what I call the “paradox of monogamy”. This paradox explains why some women seem to never have the relationship blues that the rest of us do. This paradox explains why the strongest relationships we have often occur with men who initially grew on us. This paradox explains why a woman may be involved with a man, cultivate him into husband material, devote her livelihood to catering to his emotional, sexual, and culinary needs and after three years he may break up with her and marry the next woman he dates in less than 12 months (even if she ain't all that).

I too was baffled by this sort of thing, being the woman who was often on the broken –hearted side of the equation…Though in retrospect, that had more to do with my propensity to select the wrong men but umm…. We won’t go there today. Anyways, I stumbled upon the paradox while writing a research paper in a biology class on a topic that has interested me since high school; sexual selection. The answers to the seemingly irrational methods of male mate choice lie in evolutionary psychology. And before I get into this, let me state, the paradox is more sophisticated than the simple “men enjoy a good chase” theory.

First let’s discuss the institution of monogamy. Most of what I write will apply to polygamous societies as well because both mating systems involve the female being tied to one man. In nature, monogamy is far more the exception than the rule. Biologists have discovered that monogamy occurs only in animals where the livelihood and survivability of the offspring requires the presence of two parents rather one. For example there is a certain species of field mouse where the new born child must be huddled over 24/7 for warmth or else it will die. The male and female take turns doing this, thus child raising is a prolonged joint effort. In this species, the endocrine system has evolved to stimulate feelings of love and attachment (oxytocin and vasopressin are the love hormones and the same ones released after humans have sex) and monogamy has become the norm of their mating system. Humans are very similar.

The evolution of the homo sapien species from their primate ancestors who walked on all fours ultimately created the need for monogamy. First of all, the upright position of the human body narrowed the female birth canal significantly. This anatomical impediment in combination with the unusually large brain of the homo sapien created a very difficult and dangerous childbirth for the human female. In fact, human beings have the most difficult parturition than all other females in the animal kingdom. Surely the Paleolithic woman would have needed help attaining all the nutrients she required to survive the precarious labor process and someone to tend to her after the birth.

Furthermore, the human infant takes a significantly longer time to develop independence than other primates and animals in general. Consequently, while the mother recovered from child birth and looked after the off spring, she would have absolutely needed someone else to provide her with food and protection from potential predators. Without this security, she and the baby would more than likely not survive. Hence, it was within this evolutionary framework that a woman’s instinct for security evolved. The Stone Age Woman knew that childbirth was a dangerous process during which she very well might die. She became very selective about her mate. Not only did he need to physically display signs of healthy genes, he needed to have a means of protecting her and providing her with resources. This is the only way she and off her offspring could survive.

She became ‘limiting sex’, the sex that determines if mating will happen because they have the most to lose from reproduction. If she might die having this baby, she figured, it wasn’t going to be with just any one!!! Within this framework, the woman was endowed with a lot of power. In fact, there is evidence that suggests that very early societies were polyandrous, in which woman had multiple male partners mates. The institutions of patriarchy, marriage, polygamy, and monogamy are devices of male innovation designed to rescue this power from the woman.

In order to pass on his genetic material, the man would need a woman that was young, healthy, and capable of surviving the traumatic child birth process. However, in order to even have access to this female he would have to prove that he could provide food and protection. The men who were the superior hunters and fighters had greater access to women. Sidebar, this competition for resources, territory, and thus power is fueled by the desire to have access to women. This is why warfare, politics and economics are traditionally male dominated arenas. (Yes, sex makes the world go round)

There is one more factor that would have complicated a male’s ability to make off spring; paternity. In fact this would have been a major issue because the human female is the only primate with concealed ovulation and a very short fertile period at that. (And Maury Povich didn’t have a show back then) This meant that a man looking to impregnate her would have to keep having sex with her through out the cycle to make sure he inseminated her during ovulation and secondly, he’d have to insure that no other man had access to her in the mean time.

How did he do this?

Out of these needs developed a mutual system that evolutionary biologists call the “sex for meat” agreement. In this arrangement, the Stone Age man would have offered protection and food (particularly iron rich meat) to the woman in exchange for exclusive mating rights with her. It was a way of establishing domain over his woman or women. As pessimistic as this sounds many biologists, anthropologists, and feminists agree that this arrangement formed the foundation for modern-day patriarchy, marriage, polygamy and monogamy.

Let us fast forward to the present. Not much has changed. Men still are conditioned to compete aggressively for resources and territory (think Wall Street, politics, and even war) because historically men highest in society’s pecking order get to choose from the best females. Power=sex. It has and it always will. So what does this all have to do with relationships?

Well when a woman is being a courted by a man, she may ultimately decide that he fits her criteria for a long term lover and she will establish an emotional connection with him. Lay man’s terms… she secretly begins planning the wedding and wanting him to commit. This impulse is driven by her biological instinct for ‘security’.

The problem is that women today assume that a man’s desire to commit stems from the same place as hers. She assumes that once she proves herself as “the one” he will fall in love and commit to her because he no longer desires any woman but her.. Well… perhaps in some cases this occurs, but it is pretty hard to dull a man’s desire to procreate with multiple women. While the modern man has acquired the discipline that monogamy requires, it is in his nature to be sexually attracted to many women.

More often than not, a man’s decision to form a relationship with a woman comes out of a desire to make sure that no other man can have her rather than his burning desire to cut himself off from other women. His biological instinct tells him that in order to procreate he needs to have a woman (or in polygamous societies this could be women) who are sexually loyal to him. Therefore his deep-rooted impulse to form a relationship with a woman will occur once he’s decided that she has the qualities that he seeks in a partner and that the only way to keep is to make her off limits to other men. The relationship is a form of territorialism.

Haha… ! And women all along you’ve been thinking that marriage is a way to trap him! Nope, marriage evolved as a way to trap you!

In fact, most current scholarship on this theme suggests that both monogamy (verses polygamy is an institution constructed by men. Where as in a polygamous society most women will find a husband, a large amount of men will not be able to secure wives. Polygamy favors women and powerful men. However in monogamy there is an even distribution, one woman to one man, and men of all ranks have a better chance at securing a mate and thus being able to procreate. Monogamy favors men! Women, unfortunately, have been socialized to think otherwise.

This is the major of irony of monogamy. Today we perceive marriage and the entire idea of commitment as a woman’s way of securing her access to a man. However nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage evolved as a means of empowering the male within a mating system that originated in favor of the woman.

What can you take from this? A man is motivated to commit to a woman who first of all, fits his criteria (whatever this may be) and secondly, who he, on some level, fears he could lose to another man. He commits to keep other men from having access to you! Therefore when a woman directly or indirectly urges a man to commit to her, she insinuates to him that she has already been conquered, subdued, and that he has no chance of losing her to someone else… So, why should he commit? There’s no need to.

The ultimate paradox of monogamy:

If a woman acts as if a man is free to leave, he is more than likely to stay around.

To return to our original pondering, what quality is it that a the Chocolate Diva and that the woman who can seal the deal and get the ring in less than a year both possess?

In the case of the Chocolate Diva, Mr. Dreamy understood that he was getting older and this may be his last chance to secure a young, intelligent, beautiful woman. Furthermore, because the Diva is young and lives an ocean away from him, there’s the implicit threat of competition from younger men. The only way to secure his position in her life is to hint at commitment.

As for the woman who loves her man right into the hands of another woman, here is the problem: she succeeded at making him marriage-ready but failed at making him ready to marry her. While persistently making sacrifices and putting herself on the line for the sake of the relationship, she blunted his instinct to trap her. She made it clear that she had been subdued from the gate. Therefore he leaves her a better man, thanks to her devoted time and energy, meets another woman who offers just a hint of challenge and BOOM, he’s ready to settle down.

The unifying characteristic of a woman who effortlessly gets a man to commit is an innate understanding of the power a woman holds in a relationship. Despite being spoon-fed patriarchal rhetoric from birth (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White) she still knows that ultimately the woman has the upper hand in a relationship. She never let go of the power that her Paleolithic ancestors possessed.

This is about more than playing "hard to get" because you can play "hard to get"and straight play yourself. This is about adopting a Devil-May-Care attitude. This is about options, knowing you have them, and being willing to use them. It’s that simple. The person at the bargaining table with the most options has the leverage.

These women don’t start off making a man the center of their lives. They never close themselves off entirely to other options until there is a serious commitment. They have passions outside of their love life; hobbies. They aren’t needy. Even if they are absolutely smitten (because sometimes we can’t help but be) they don’t let the man in on the fact they have indeed been conquered by his charms. Sure she’s interested and she enjoys his company, but there is always some shadow of a doubt. And she doesn’t rush. She’s chill. She’s patient. She understands the concept that the slower the seduction the deeper the love. In fact, he doesn’t even know if she wants a commitment. With her, the chase isn’t over until it’s over. And ultimately, these women have an unshakeable confidence that stems from knowing that they deserve the best and if the current man can’t deliver, then someone else will be more than happy to!

So… the next time you find yourself staring at the phone… Stop. Grab a book. Watch a movie. Or better yet, use it, to call someone else.

-Flyness and Funk,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love it! Another spin to age-old wisdom. Hence the reason we usually find the right man when we aren't looking...bc we're usually too busy doing something else!