Richard Cooper: Are Humans Monogamous by Nature?

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Are humans monogamous? And if we aren’t biologically monogamous, why is modern society structured as though we are?

According to Richard Cooper, monogamy is a toxic lie that we’ve been led to believe. Both men and women are highly promiscuous, but this promiscuity manifests differently in the sexes due to their different biological goals.

Here’s why monogamy is a lie, according to Richard Cooper.

Richard Cooper: Monogamy Is a Lie

Are humans monogamous by nature? According to Richard Cooper, the author of The Unplugged Alpha, monogamy is a lie: Humans don’t desire long-term happiness with one person. In reality, humans are promiscuous, and men and women express it differently. A man prioritizes quantity: He wants to have as many children as possible, so he seeks to mate with as many women as possible. In contrast, a woman prioritizes quality: She wants her children to have the best possible chance of survival. So she practices hypergamy, which means that she looks for a man of higher status who can supply both good DNA and protection (financial or otherwise) for her and her kids.

(Shortform note: One therapist points out that if women are naturally hypergamous, men must be hypogamous, or willing to mate with women of lower status. Of course, men prefer beautiful women—but because they want to mate with as many people as possible, their standards are far lower than women’s. That said, in modern society, other factors affect our innate tendency toward promiscuity and hypogamy (or hypergamy, depending on your sex). For example, if a woman lacks self-respect, she may date hypogamously because she thinks a lower-status man is less likely to leave her.) 

However, Cooper explains, women recognize that few men provide both high-quality DNA and protection. This type of man is what Cooper calls a “high-value alpha,” or a dominant—a strong man who can support his woman and is the leader in the relationship. However, since dominants are rare, women lower their standards and settle for a “beta,” or a non-dominant. This non-dominant can provide her with kids and protection, but she doesn’t intensely desire him the way she desires a dominant. 

(Shortform note: Some studies cast doubt on the notion that women always prefer dominant alpha men to non-dominant betas, primarily because men express dominance in several ways—only some of which women like. For example, a dominant man might be assertive or aggressive—but women only like assertive (and not aggressive) men.)

You can tell whether she sees you as dominant or not by assessing her behavior. If she violates her norms for you, you’re a dominant; if she holds you to them, you’re a non-dominant. For example, she’ll buy the dominant drinks but tell the non-dominant, “I never pay for drinks.”

(Shortform note: Cooper never explicitly defines what a “beta” male (or non-dominant) is, emphasizing only that if a woman holds you to her norms, she sees you as a beta. In contrast, others argue that alphas and betas have several defining characteristics. For example, alphas tend to be self-assured and comfortable with risk, while betas are less confident and less prone to straying outside their comfort zone.)

Moreover, Cooper warns that even if you start the relationship as a dominant, you may end it as a non-dominant. A woman wants to ensure that she’s with a high-status man; as such, she’ll subconsciously and regularly test you to see whether you’ll assert your power (as a dominant) or let her win (as a non-dominant). If you let her win regularly, she’ll start to see you as a non-dominant—and eventually, she’ll lose her attraction to you because you’re no longer the strong dominant she initially fell in love with.

Why Women Stop Sleeping With Their Men

Mating in Captivity author Esther Perel agrees that women in committed relationships are prone to losing their attraction to their partners. However, Perel deviates from Cooper by saying that the waning attraction isn’t due to a dominant’s relegation to a non-dominant, but partly due to the institutionalized nature of commitment. 

Typically, when women commit to men, they start to inhabit social roles that revolve around others—like wife or mother. But Perel contends that women are most aroused by being desired, which requires that they focus solely on themselves. So if a woman is, for example, a man’s wife, she struggles to temporarily disembody that role—and so she doesn’t desire him. However, she does retain sexual desire for other men to whom she isn’t obligated in the same way because she can focus solely on herself.
Richard Cooper: Are Humans Monogamous by Nature?

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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