10 Animals that Mate for Life

Think men cheat because they’re animals? That’s an insult to these animals

By Leslie Phelan

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Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson/CC

Monogamy: either you believe in it or you don’t. Okay, yes, there are grey areas, like consenting polygamists for example, or people who don’t consider it ‘cheating’ if they carry out their philandering in a different area code or with someone of the same sex. I should say that there are definitely some murky-ass grey areas, but I believe there is only black-and-white when it comes to a person’s actual acceptance of the notion itself; they either want and believe in it, or find it limiting and unnatural and don’t believe in it at all.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it declared by my fellow women that the truly monogamous male does not, in fact, exist. Whether through their own first-hand experiences of being cheated on or by using their father’s wandering eye as a case in point, I have to say, there are more than a handful of women in my life who feel safe in presuming that all men are hard-wired to sow wild oats, and that every man will one day let them down.

“It’s just sex,” they say dismissively, convincing themselves that a truly monogamous gentleman is as elusive as the unicorn. “A man’s got urges; you can either be realistic about it or be disappointed later.” A woman should just be a good wifey and look the other way. After all, the logic goes, “they’re just animals.”

*Ahem*

Here is a list of ten diverse species of animal that are known to mate for life:

Gibbon apes
Swans
French Angelfish
Wolves
Penguins
Termites
Prairie voles
Bald eagles
Parasitic schistosoma mansoni worms
Cockroaches

That’s right, the last one was cockroaches. Yep, those gross nocturnal insects that infest old buildings and scamper about leaving chemical trails in their feces . . . yes, those creepy things are capable of maintaining monogamous relationships. I think this has to mean that the modern man, even with all the sexy distractions around him, could be capable too.

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Photo credit: jimurphy2007/CC

For the record, I personally never doubted it for a second. Sure, I’ve been cheated on, but I’ve also played the part of the guilty infidel too, which is how I know that women are just as capable of being shitty and devious as men. And it’s also how I know that the old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” is a fallacy, because I’ve learned enough from the hurtful mistakes I’ve made to never pull a move like that again. I got greedy, cheated on a good guy and lost him; lesson learned, tough stuff, never want to feel that guilty again.

Back to my animal list, though: in my search for proof that monogamy exists in the animal kingdom and that it’s not as unnatural a concept as some might think, I came across many fascinating tidbits. Like those Gibbon apes I mentioned, who not only stay together to raise offspring, but also spend their days grooming each other and sharing activities. Or the wolves that not only mate for life, but maintain fierce family bonds. Everyone knows about penguins and their loyal, romantic mating habits, and those parasitic worms on the list, let me tell you – they have been known to mate inside human stomachs for the entirety of their lives, never leaving one another’s side while they cause chronic damage to your organs. Now that’s romance.

When I began looking for this proof, I must admit, I was expecting to find absolutes. I wanted the World Wide Web to spit out reports on at least a few species that could boast flawless marriage records but alas, I discovered quickly that such a thing does not exist. In the animal world, yes, there is monogamy, but there are also cheaters, pairings that end in ‘divorce’, and serial monogamists that have many partners over a lifetime. There are also always those “lone wolfs” who find a reason to strike out on their own, whatever the cost. I’ve known a few of them in my lifetime as well.

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Photo credit: Glamhag/CC

So yes, this is a list of animals known to mate for life, but as I discovered, there is no such thing as a list of animals guaranteed to mate for life. Which means that above instinct, there is individual choice. We are human animals, and just as there is no formula for a life well lived, there is no precise way of ascertaining how a person might compose him or herself when pulls and temptations are too great.

So since there can be no promises here, I think one just has to conclude that the whole love and dating game should be less about the search for infallible perfection in another, and more about getting to know your prospects, setting aside the need for absolutes, and setting apart the ones who seem to demonstrate a habit of making thoughtful choices. I am currently at that critical age where my next relationship could be the one I follow into marriage, kids, and that whole caboodle, and while it’s a fun time to be getting to know people, I also know it’s time to be discerning about who I spend time with. And while I look for someone who shares my interests, is supportive, fun and funny, handsome, totally straight and not a liar or an alcoholic, I’m also looking for someone passionate enough to love me deeply until the end of days, but not so bubbling over with passion that he’ll be needing extra outlets for it in the form of other women. It’s such a fine balance, no wonder some think it impossible.

I truly believe that if it’s non-murky love you seek, all you can really do is try your darndest to be everything you hope to find, and believe that your reflection is out there searching for you as well.