Why Most People Might Want to be a Prairie Vole

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Prairie Voles either have much superior willpower and strength of character than humans, or they are simply wired differently.

Maybe their ‘vows of marriage’ are much more meaningful to them.

Prairie Voles are almost exclusively monogamous, staying with their initial pair-bond for life. Indeed, if their partner dies, their commitment is such that they do not pair up with another.

I was intrigued by the article “Love is Strange” by Mike Lee Pearl in which he discusses the role of biology, and more specifically the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, in both Vole and human behavior around pair-bonding. It turns out that Voles are wired differently. They have “really dense oxytocin receptors...” which plays a critical role in their monogamous commitment.

So there you go. If only humans had denser oxytocin receptors the increased bonding instinct from the oxytocin ‘flood’ would cause us to stay for life with our first partner (as Voles do — although that might be a scary prospect for many). The issue of human infidelity and struggle with monogamy would be over!

But we don’t have equivalent biology. Yes, we process oxytocin and dopamine, but not to the same level. 

Despite this, we have somehow created a societal model that lauds monogamy as an ideal, and we use mental fortitude or pursuit of a higher spiritual esthetic as a way of accomplishing it. 

Let me just say I happily and sincerely extend my congratulations to any couple that is celebrating 50-years-plus of married life together. That is impressive, indeed (although, even as we cheer them on, we don’t know if they were truly monogamous).

So why do we so avidly aspire to a lifestyle we are not actually wired to? Yes, we do use oxytocin and dopamine for bonding and connecting, but not to the extent that we are so overcome that we don’t consider bonding and connecting with others.

Is it a spiritual test? That is, were we not given the Voles biology so that we ‘higher’ beings can learn to transcend our ‘lower’ physical nature? Seems rather cruel if the Universe intended it that way. The Voles get a free pass, but we don’t. Maybe if we succeed at monogamous commitment in this life we get to come back as Voles, so we can blissfully experience stress-free monogamy.

Okay, I jest. But doesn’t it make you wonder? If anything, shouldn’t our spiritual beliefs line up with our biology, and the biology of our planet?

Human beings greatest power for survival, beyond intelligence, is our capacity to share. We forget this from time to time, but we see it very clearly when there is a disaster or loss of life. People share and pull together. No doubt, if times get difficult on the planet, our key to survival will once again be to share.

Why is it we can share almost everything in life willingly—even money—but we can’t share our lover? Especially in light of the fact that we weren’t given the biology to be naturally monogamous.

What a revolution it would be if we could embrace our biology and see the sharing of our partner (both male and female) with others as a natural gift of loving connection. Ironically, more primary partner couples would likely stay together if this was so.

As for Mike Pearl’s comments about love, in the same article cited above, well, that’s for another blog post...

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On further thought: Of course, there is another way to look at human vs. vole oxytocin biology. Since our oxytocin receptors are less dense, we obviously have to touch each other and make love much more frequently to create the same level of pair-bonding. Perhaps the key to maintaining an exclusive couple is to touch frequently and make love several times a day — then no marriage contract needed. -- MH

Monogamy vs Polyamory is NOT the Issue

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There are two sides to the ‘humans are meant to be monogamous’ argument, which are passionately debated. On the con side, some say monogamy is separation, denial, ownership, possessive, limiting, compromise, ripe for conflict, selfish, etc. On the pro side, monogamy is simple, efficient, freeing, safe, enabling, secure, natural, creates paternalistic certainty, etc.

There are also two sides to the polyamory (i.e. humans are not meant to be monogamous) argument, also passionately debated. On the con side, some say polyamory is fear of commitment, indulgent, superficial, complicated, ripe for conflict, selfish, etc. On the pro side, polyamory is efficient, freeing, enabling, secure, safety in numbers, natural, creates community, etc.

The arguments have heated up as the practice of polyamory increasingly hits the mainstream. Some monogamists feel compelled to attribute polyamory as a cause of society’s breakdown. On the other hand, some polyamorists feel compelled to attribute monogamy as a reason for the breakdown of society in the first place.

Yes, the arguments regarding the pros and cons of each sexual relationship model are similar. It just depends on perspective, which is surely a recipe for circular debate.

As long as we stay distracted by labels and structures, without addressing the underlying fundamental needs and characteristics of human beings, we won’t get to the heart of the matter.

So what is the heart of the matter?

For me, the disagreement distills down to our approach to sharing; how we decide what and how we share. And how we apply what Willow and I call the “spirituality of sharing”, if we’re aware of it, to our lives.

At the core of our existence is the truth that we are all sharers, whether we acknowledge it or not. We must ‘share’ the total amount of energy available on earth—Mother Earth if you like—at any given moment, with everything else that she is comprised of. Even at the penultimate moment we call ‘death’, we share. Although our physical body dies, our ‘life energy’ does not. Energy cannot die or disappear, so we ‘share ourselves’ back into Mother Earth’s energetic system, transformed into something new. There is no decrease in energy. In the same way, a vegetable grown in our garden does not die when we eat it. The energy of the vegetable is simply shared, and transformed. Death, you could say, is an illusion. It actually represents an act of sharing.

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It is humbling to understand that if every human on earth suddenly died it wouldn’t matter to Mother Earth. Our collective human energy would still continue, and she would share it with whatever life forms evolved after us. Mother Earth, if you like, with inputs of energy from the sun, moon and stars, is an ongoing sharing system of attraction and reproduction and flow. She shares. She ‘gives’ energy to all living things, to all types of matter. She has no prejudice or favorite. How the energy ‘pie’ is split up at any given moment is not her concern. Sharing is a divine mandate for all that we call life, and indeed for all matter. This understanding is at the root of the ‘spirituality of sharing’. (Willow will blog more on this later.)

It is ironic that for all our science and technology and centuries of thought, it was the earliest tribes of humans whose lifestyle most clearly reflected an intrinsic understanding of our connection to Mother Earth and the ‘sharing’ of all things.

Part of our rise to pre-eminence as a species was the adoption of sharing principles as a way of life. There were no ‘possessions’. People shared food, and housing, and land, and lovers, and children with each other. Early matriarchal societies were modeled after Mother Earth’s constant gifting. Sharing and gifting were spiritual imperatives. Women were central to the celebration and maintenance of the spirituality of sharing.  They were viewed as having a ‘knowing’ and special alignment with Mother Earth’s gifting through birthing. And they were revered for it.

Yet somehow, over the past few millennia, we have ended up with a world economic system that is directly opposite the principle of sharing. Our exchange economy is all about possessions, and runs on the principle that for everything we get we must pay something in return. Everything has a ‘price’. This is reflected in the theology of Christianity and other ‘newer’ spiritual belief systems and in almost all of our social structures. The culture of possessiveness has, to a large degree, fueled the debate about monogamy and polyamory.

But, what if instead of focusing on frivolous arguments about labels and structures, we returned to Mother Earth’s imperative—the spirituality of sharing—and let that govern our relationships, politics and business?  

What could it mean to approach all of life with a deep, abiding desire to share without attachment? To renounce ownership? To share what we consider to be precious: money, power, home, land---yes, even our partner. What would it mean? And how would it change our world?

Now that would be a worthy dialogue.

Are You An Infidelity Stat?

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If you need any more evidence that monogamy is a failed, non-instinctual human construct, check out the infidelity statistics above, from this study published by the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy in August, 2013.

The numbers are stunning. If monogamy was truly the way we were MEANT to be, then why are we so prone to infidelity?

Someone might protest, saying the reason infidelity is so rampant is because we are all God-less heathens. We are sinful, so what do you expect?

But maybe there is another answer. Maybe we, as a species, are naturally promiscuous. Maybe we were not meant to be monogamous.

Perhaps the most telling statistic in the entire list above is the percentage of men and/or women who say they would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught. The percentage is virtually the same for both genders, approximately 70 percent!!!

So almost three quarters of all those surveyed admitted they would be interested in having sex with others if it didn’t mean the end of their marriage. Yes, I changed the wording slightly, but that’s what people are afraid of. The same survey proves it, showing that the percentage of marriages that survive after the discovery of infidelity is only 31%. So clearly, this is the big fear. Discovered infidelity will usually mean the end of a marriage, and often, tragically, a wonderful relationship.

The survey also shows, that despite this fear of getting caught, approximately 55% of males and females admitted to committing infidelity in at least one relationship, marriage or otherwise.

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I took this snapshot of the Ashley Madison ‘infidelity site’ as I was writing this. Notice the over 22 million anonymous users! The founder of the site, Noel Biderman, gives an interesting TEDx talk on how he got started and why major universities are interested in their data, found HERE.

So we really don’t want monogamy, folks. We really don’t. Yes, we want love. We want partnership. There are some, of course, who have made monogamy work. But most of us, both male and female, don’t want to be limited to exploring sexuality and intimacy with only one person. This makes perfect sense on many levels. Anyone who has had more than one intimate partner in life will tell you that each intimate encounter has a different “flavor” and leads to new realizations about yourself. The variety enlarges us. The connections broaden us. There’s no argument that we all have the capacity to love—to really romantically love—more than one person in our lifetime. And if that is true, then surely we can fall romantically in love with more than one person at a time.

Yet this reality is often denied by those caught in infidelity. They say they have either fallen out of love with their old partner and into love with the new, or they only cheated for the sex. Really? Why can’t we admit that we are romantically attracted to more than one person. It’s okay.

Are you an infidelity stat? What would your confidential survey answers be? It is natural to feel loving sexual attraction to others. Lots of people in this crowded world of ours are likely to appeal to our spectrum of characteristics, each perhaps in a slightly different way.

What if we changed the some of the questions above? Would you be open to intimacy with others if your partner/spouse convinced you that they were genuinely okay with “sharing” you, and that such sharing (both ways) wouldn’t threaten your relationship? Yes or no? Even a ‘maybe’ would be a good start.

Embracing a framework that allows for a different experience of love and living than monogamy provides—a framework that shuns the cultural myths, like our problem with infidelity, which hurt, shame and bind us—begins with dialogue. That is our purpose.