At the age of nine, the death of my beloved sister before she turned twenty taught me something about relationships and this lesson extends to sexual relationships. That what we grieve for in loss is not what the people did for us or helped us to accomplish. We grieve the irreplaceable affections we shared. This love has a value unto itself as a part of a good life and, speaking for myself, to imagine a life without such love immediately degrades the value of such a life. We need not lose people to value such love but that is how it usually happens. The cliché is ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone,’ I say that is a foolish and common mistake. To avoid missing any love that is part of a good life we must enter a discussion of values and that discussion is not fucking easy. It wouldn’t matter so much if our past conclusions didn’t lead to life altering decisions, but they do. We should question our beliefs about love. Popular American culture including education lacks most of what would prepare someone for this discussion, there is risk of misunderstanding and mistakes but it is more worthwhile than the sentimental twaddle of popular culture and psychology. It involves an important distinction between means and ends.
The first requirement to any new understanding is at least the acceptance that something may exist beyond the scope of our previous beliefs and experiences.
We might miss a beautiful love because it possesses little or nothing useful in our daily lives. Let’s not dismiss such affection. Remember ends and means may overlap, but they are not the same. If we value relationships because they bring us prestige, money, security or power, then we may mistake good circumstances for love. But those things might exist excluding affection. Achieving our goals while using relationships as a means involves prediction and such predictions often fail. Now let’s assume we meet our goals; these goals may not yield the satisfaction we imagined, or if they do, only for a brief time.
When we mistake a means for an end we will almost certainly miss the end.
I will expose how the value of love as an end unto itself is so often missed by many who hope to enjoy it someday. But first a metaphor to help us distinguish between means and ends.
Assume a meteor shower and three people going to see it.
One woman just loves astronomical events and thinks them beautiful. She spends her hard-earned money to get to a vista to experience the full splendor of the phenomena. She values the meteor shower as an end unto itself and she will get nothing from the event but the joy of it in the moment.
Another man has the same value for astronomical events as the woman above but he is also an astronomer himself, so he values the meteor shower as an end but it also has separate value as means of his livelihood.
A third person witnessing the event is a photographer and this man couldn’t care less about meteors or astronomy, he is there on assignment to take pictures and make money. In this case the value exists only as means.
Above we have three different values of the same event and I am suggesting that the same values are at work in relationships and when we don’t distinguish between means and ends, the confusion has a terrible price. I will return to this later.
It’s hard to find others who understand my sexual relationship with Sharon, who is twenty-one years my senior, she has been a friend for over thirty-two years and a lover for more than twenty-two. This misunderstanding extends to polyamorous people who share many of our sexually unconventional views. One likely reason people don’t understand is because they prefer to mis-understand rather than to not-understand. Not understanding leaves people in the unknown and they don’t like that, it’s scary. As in the astronomy example above, people see that Sharon and I have been together so long they assume a commitment. When I say there was never a commitment then they say there must be an unspoken commitment. The long years make them assume security is important, but security was never the goal. They point out that we live together and purchased a house together, those things involve cooperation to do something so, the relationship is a means. They even think that because we use each other as a means to home ownership that the relationship must be more important than the ones we share with other lovers. There it is, the mistake of confusing means as ends. The mistake happens because there are means involved.
Sharon and I are together because we want to be together, we are friends.
Friends are free to come and go, to love others with all their heart and that includes sexuality. Friends can grow old, make mistakes, get fat and hear the truth.
This friendship includes home ownership which is a means, but that fact is also merely practical. It is a mistake to endow these means with qualities they do not have. I have had this conversation with no less than three people in a month, so the distinctions are not common. Our house has value as means but it is not what gives the relationship value as an end itself. People can live in and own a house and treat each other with apathy, or try to control each other, they may even hate each other so the idea that the house makes us the ‘primary’ or more loving couple is bogus. That is not what we are doing. Because (almost) nobody believes it, they miss the value as ends. Sharon is an end unto herself as am I and so is any lover who joins one or both of us. Any love is an end unto itself. The reason to love one or both of us is the same reason Sharon and I are together. Our affection is part of a good life as an end, and even if it accomplishes nothing else it is still worth having and this is how we approach other lovers. It is non hierarchical but it is a constant adaptation to people in life.
By Todd Vickers
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Edit: 12/04/2016 Redundancy