Some people sincerely like monogamy; other people sincerely don't. Under the circumstances, it seems wise for everyone to just reveal their proclivities and pair up with people who share their expectations. Unfortunately, I don't see this happening. There is a fundamental flaw with monogamy, but it's not human nature. It's asymmetric information.I think his last sentence is obviously true, given the anecdotal evidence of divorces and breakups resulting from infidelity. But Caplan's theory doesn't explain the full story, for the following reasons:
My key assumption: Most people - even most commitmentphobes - prefer a person who will be true to them. When you announce your religion, you make yourself less desirable to people who reject your religion, but more desirable to people who share it. When you announce your rejection of monogamy, in contrast, you make yourself less desirable even to people who share your rejection.
In a world of symmetric information, this wouldn't matter. People would know as much about your proclivities as you do, so there'd be no reason to pretend to be something you're not. But in the real world, no one knows your own preferences better than you do. The result: People pretend to be more monogamous than they really are.
"When you announce your rejection of monogamy, in contrast, you make yourself less desirable even to people who share your rejection."
Yet many people enter into "open relationships" with full knowledge on both sides. Granted, these relationships usually involve strictly-defined rules, and a breach thereof would constitute "cheating." But these rules usually limit the emotional nature of the off-relationship activities, e.g. no romantic "dates." While I think there is a strong social stigma with these types of relationships in the general population, they are not uncommon in the gay community.
"Some people sincerely like monogamy; other people sincerely don't. Under the circumstances, it seems wise for everyone to just reveal their proclivities and pair up with people who share their expectations."
I think many cheaters wouldn't necessarily be cheaters given the context of a different relationship. Hence, they don't "know" they're cheaters going into a relationship. Many individuals find they become dissatisfied with the sexual element of their current relationship, given the differing preferences of their current sexual partner. Thus, they cheat. It's not implausible to imagine this type of cheater more sexually satisfied with a partner who more closely shares their sexual preferences. Thus, they would be less likely, or unlikely, to cheat with that partner. This doesn't excuse anyone for being a cheater. I only suggest that many may not plan on cheating when entering a relationship.
"Most people - even most commitmentphobes - prefer a person who will be true to them."
Many "commitmentphobes" are such not only for the fear of losing sexual variety, but for deeper reasons concerning the emotional intimacy that comes with serious monogamous relationships. This type of commitmentphobe would still reject a serious "open relationship."
Caplan offers some solutions to this problem of asymmetric information, but I think they're also a mixed bag:
1. Increase the social sanction against concealing your type. Most obviously, we should take any outrage we feel toward "promiscuity" and redirect it toward hypocrisy.I think his first point is already the case. The problem with cheating isn't that people don't understand how some would prefer sexual variety, but that they conceal their infidelities. It's the breach of contract that is the issue, which is, in a sense, hypocrisy. What else would you call entering into a contract you know you are going to break?
2. Lower the social status of monogamy. As far as I can tell, this is basically Micha Ghertner's proposal. If people cared less about monogamy, there would be less incentive to pretend to be more monogamous than you really are.
3. Encourage - nay insist upon - disclosure from potential mates. With the advent of Facebook, this is far from utopian. When people announce - and update - their relationship status, for example, it's a strong and informative signal. All their friends know what they're up to - and what they've been up to. Even better, the information is just sitting there in cyberspace, so it's easy to avoid the social awkwardness of point blank questions about people's relationship history. Admittedly, it's logically possible that insisting upon disclosure would lead to a pooling equilibrium of massive deception, but it seems unlikely. Lying about yourself to isolated individuals for short-run gain is a lot less costly than lying about yourself to everyone you know, all the time.
His second point is dead on. This goes back to my point about "open relationships." Without the accompanying stigma, many who sincerely don't like monogamy would enter into these types of relationships. But, as I mentioned before, even these relationships have contractual elements that can be broken, which brings us back to the problem with point one.
Point three is a bit strange. Caplan gives the example of Facebook relationship updates as a sort of "permanent record" for someone's romantic past. The problem is, these updates don't capture instances of cheating. Moreover, there is no running log of someone's "permanent record" to reference. Once the status is changed, it's changed for good.
A potential solution could be sites like this, which allow people who have been cheated on to document their former lovers as "cheaters," while also giving those entering a relationship a central location to vet their potential mates. Of course, these sites don't require proof of these indiscretions, so their reliability is dubious.
Where does that leave us? I think Caplan's second solution is the best way to overcome this information asymmetry. For instance, people like Dan Savage are already changing how some think about monogamy. Still, there's a long way to go before people accept that they can enter into a long-term relationship, especially marriage, without assuming monogamy.