In sexual relationships, consider the anguish of those that try everything they learned to do in order to succeed and still suffer. People often attempt what their contemporaries and therapists suggest, to create lasting relationships. Regardless of the money spent and sincere efforts, many do not find satisfaction following a set of directions to build or sustain sexual affections. Therefore, I question the assumptions upon which this system is built even though the ideas in question are popular among both monogamists and non-traditionalists.
Some may assume that I am putting some people at risk by attacking what I consider relationship mythology. I hold that the contrary is correct; I the wish to spare people misery. My point rests upon the understanding that living creatures do better to adapt themselves to the facts as they actually are, rather than any alternatives that people or their partners prefer. This argument stands even when people make agreements and rules based upon new relationship models. The traditionalists must accept the ideology of commitment to earn the name, so I suspect that the discovery of new ways to meet and be with lovers beyond this ideology will fall more to those outside the tradition e.g. those polyamorous folks who are resistant to a litany of rules.
In relationships, I am not completely against rules, just most of them. Here are four issues that I agree should be policed by rules.
- Recklessness (unsafe sex, destructive crime or drug use, etc.)
- Deceit (lies, omission of relevant facts, etc.)
If anyone breaks these rules, there are consequences. The enforcement of a rule is a use of coercive power because it causes emotional pain or an unwanted change. The rules about the issues above are not intended to create an ideal situation, but, rather, to stop harm. Notice I did ‘not’ include in this list the management of our lovers interaction with others to feel safe. I doubt our affections can be legislated and the attempt to do so is authoritarian. The policing of intimacy between others, even if it is mutually agreed upon, does not change that it rests upon punishment and reward, which is an unjust use of power regarding human affection.
Instead, I suggest that sexual relationships be built upon friendships, not agreements. I will discuss this topic in further detail in part two.
Consider the advantages of a caravan in the desert as a metaphor, collective wisdom in adapting to a challenging environment, economics of scale, security from thieves, comradery and so on. (Coincidentally, caravansary is the theme of Burning Man this year. Now I must go! If you want to meet me, find the coffee!) In caravan, some people will ride closer to others out of preference. People in a caravan are not abandoning each other when they travel closer to others or even when the leave the caravan to take a side trip. They can rejoin again as they catch up or their paths cross. The relaxation at the caravansaries along the way, with, food, music, art, shared ideas, are both a joy and a learning experience, regardless of the disagreements and tensions that happen when people come together.
In the desert, water is vital to survival, and when pollutants get into the water, it must be boiled. In life, our ability to think is vital, and it is also subject to contamination, we must also challenge our beliefs. If we wish to purify our thought, we use criticism and it needs enough heat to destroy what is toxic in our beliefs. Our resistance to scrutiny often rests upon fear of change. Anyone who wishes an example of how a progressive movement can become conservative need only look at feminism and the current disagreements over sex positivism. Dora Russell lived the freedom of sexuality with its wonders and heartbreak and felt concerned about a future of feminist conservatism born of past necessity. Women’s sexuality simply could not be part of the discussion at the beginning.
“The feminist movement, like one dissentient voice in an excited public meeting, was querulous, hysterical, uncertain of itself. It dared not cry out that women had bodies. Its one hope of success was to prove that women had minds. And it was right in this…”
Excerpt: Dora Russell – Hypatia pp21 E.P. Dutton & Company 1926
I intend to defend sexual choices that do not involve violence, coercion, recklessness and deceit, in other words, benign choices. If we are fortunate enough to meet others who are willing, we should remember such opportunities are precious and they are temporary, but then again so are our lives. Some of these meetings are brief, some last a lifetime. Why thwart our capacity for sexual intimacy by accepting old beliefs dressed in new garb thinking that these ideas make us ‘safe?’ The reality is that these ideas only make us ‘feel safe’ and it is an illusion. Take individual or group fidelity as just one case. Such ideas can fail for the same reasons that they do inside a traditional marriage. People and circumstances change in unforeseeable ways. It is true many people say they find a better life limiting the number of lovers. I am not calling their circumstances into question but rather the unfounded beliefs we attach to those events. I am talking about bad generalizing.
A domestic plant eventually pushes against the pot walls and, when there is a chance for contact with earth, the roots do not hesitate to escape their bounds. Life grows and often breaks out of restrictions. We need to acknowledge that we can go beyond our arbitrary limits, either consciously through choice or reactively, meaning we turn away from our reason, and observation. How unfortunate to relegate expansive choices to moments of recklessness, particularly after a few drinks. Unfortunately, when remorse arises, sexuality itself may carry the blame when truly the fault lay with our judgment. Our genitals do not have cognitive functioning so faulting our sexual impulses is convicting the innocent.
Some may say, ‘we consciously choose a strategy for our relationships,’ as a result of that choice, we relegate our discernment to an as needed basis because our decisions are ready-made based on expectations, until life gives us one of its interruptions that go contrary to our plans. Remember, the point of a strategy is a presumed outcome. The massive amount of unintended consequences resulting from relationship strategies gives reason to question our reliance on them. The choice then becomes progressive trial and error or a conservative insistence on a means to a preconceived end. In other words, embrace trial and error or struggle against changes.
Let’s distinguish between thoughts and the circumstances they concern.
- A thought is an idea.
- A circumstance is an event outside the mind. This event and our description of it are affected by our thoughts.
Sex is such a powerfully charged issue that outside observers frequently notice when a reality is contrary to a person’s beliefs and statements. I saw a polyamorous man coerce his wife, he tried to control her interaction with other lovers. He also believed she would never leave him because they had an ‘agreement.’ His idea of commitment blinded him to the effects of his conduct on his wife. She did leave him and he felt shattered. Unfortunately, we can distort our vision through any number of beliefs like the poor fellow above. Such flawed ideas seem even stronger when our contemporaries agree with them. We should doubt counterculture ideas for the same reason that we question traditional relationship ideas, beliefs can be contrary to facts and all circumstances change.
Commitments, agreements and rules do not become more realistic or reliable simply because we add more people to the mix.
Trying to arrest change in human interaction is like trying to control the clouds. The obsession with a false sense of security often leads to misery. When we cling to an idea and resist change, we become conservative. I am not advocating throwing the baby out with the bath-water. Instead, I am saying throw out polluted bath-water. In part two I look at some of this bath-water from an article written by a polyamorous woman published on The Huffington Post.
End Part One – By Todd Vickers
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