Many non-traditional folks carry conclusions that seem to rest on bias left over from tradition. For example, in a recent piece, Louisa Leontiades discussed applying the lessons of open relationships to monogamous relationships. I agree with her about many things, but we part ways when she starts to explain both success and failure by the same idea. In other words, her belief can never be false, then I explain how such ideas are a superstitions relationship mythology.
The four indented quotes that follow are from the article: Open Relationships for Monogamous People – Published at The Huffington Post By Louisa Leontiades
we’re used not to depending on trust to keep our relationships together, but on social shaming, legal contracts and sometimes even, emotional blackmail. All these things eradicates any trust which in turn eradicates intimacy.
We do not live in integrity a lot of the time, especially when we aren’t even aware of the patterns we follow and the games we play. That may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility to change it.
I agree. Later she goes on to say…
The only way to be happy in life and in your relationships is to keep your agreements.
What the fuck? Let’s see where this goes.
If your partner is, like you committed to creating an emotionally rewarding relationship and growing in maturity, you will be creating something magical every time you communicate. And if in the final analysis, they are not, you have a choice to stay or to leave.
There it is,
- If committed, you will create magic.
- If not, then choose to stay or leave.
The first point that if you are committed, you will create magic, is what I call relationship mythology in a nutshell. In free countries, the second point says nothing. It is trivial.
Let me bypass the low hanging fruit about the word ‘magic.’ If we replace the ambiguous word with any word used to describe good feelings or circumstances, then what we have is lovers agreeing to be used as a means to fulfill a commitment to achieve something else in the future. It seems implicit in her statement that, without agreement, the relationships will lack happiness, for without that assumption, her statement has very little weight at all.
Personally, I am in a 20 year open love affair where we have never made agreements other than about unsafe sex. It is hard to convince a man or woman who has done something that such a thing cannot be done. If affection is the end, then we may have such intimacy without all of this bargaining. It is called friendship. That affection and honesty exists without a commitment. It may not exclude means, but the friendship/affection is itself precious even when it serves no other purpose. Your friendship remains regardless of who your friends fuck even if those other lovers become very dear to the heart of your beloved friend.
I have seen many people used and discarded by people pursuing magical/desirable circumstances. Like someone fucking and discarding any number of people convinced that, he or she is looking for a soul mate. I’m not against the fucking. I’m against swaddling sex in a smarmy and deceptive ideal, which is worse because it is self-deceptive.
Regarding the keeping of agreements, Ms. Leontiades’ statement is simply false. Agreements and happiness are two different things. People can be unhappy and keep agreements. People often lament about not breaking an agreement sooner because of the happiness they found beyond it. Nothing short of omniscience could create a secure relationship agreement and, without such knowledge, commitment is a gamble. We cannot transubstantiate a game of chance through faith into something reliable. Nor does the outcome of a wager become more reliable by enthusiastically pointing at another person who appears to be winning. We do have a choice to stay or leave regardless of agreements, then why not acknowledge that choice and drop the charade of trying to manage affections. When we stop bullshitting ourselves and acknowledge the choice to leave is both real and quite possible, the reason to stay rests less on an expected (preconceived) outcome and more on the affections we have for people. These affections do not attempt to stifle others capacity for happiness.
To suggest that agreements will create magic (i.e., what we want) by making commitments with integrity reminds me of spiritualists holding séances to communicate with the dead: if you really believe, the spirits will appear. In other words, if there is any doubt the spirits won’t come and it’s the fault of the doubter. Such ideas are unfalsifiable, empty of content and superstitious. To assume that agreements will work if made with integrity indirectly assumes to know the internal states of those people whose commitments failed. In other words, those people lacked integrity. Without such knowledge, Ms. Leontiades’ statement itself lacks integrity, so I cannot rightly be accused of attacking a man of straw. I am not faulting Ms. Leontiades as a person, but rather her ideas. To assume our commitments will work if they have integrity falls into the realm of superstition because we explain any failure before making the attempt. We need not assume that those who failed in relationships possessed less integrity. It could be that, in facing the facts, some people realized that they made a mistake. This modest admission possesses more integrity than any dogmatic clinging to commitment.
I am almost sure that Ms. Leontiades did not intend to profess a belief system such as I have described. However, her ideas include the types of disagreeable results that I have illuminated. Even if she relies on particular examples in favor of her ideas, for every success she can point to, I can point to a failure. Unless someone can show a fatal flaw in my understanding, I hold her relationship ideas to be unreliable. I call into question the very ideas of agreement, commitment and rules in sexual relationships. These three means in various forms are suited to managing property, not people. Moreover, the insidious idea of people as property sheds light on the possessiveness that haunts so many in sexual relations both in and out of monogamy.
Regardless of my heretical reasoning, many people will continue to want commitments in relationships. I can’t fault Ms. Leontiades for examining and discussing commitments. I disagree with her emphasis on commitment because what people are actually involved in is nothing more than trial and error. Acknowledging the piecemeal approach accounts for changing circumstances and makes fewer arrogant assumptions. The sense or feeling of drift that comes with being in the unknown does not appeal to those who want the illusion of security. The unknown is where discovery happens, it is alive, vulnerable and when we are in this place, we are more aware of the trial and error.
Why do people have such a problem in letting go of agreements? Consider this two-fold mental habit:
- It is easier to do a version of what we have always done habitually and
- We have a hidden habit of frightening ourselves away from ideas beyond our bias. This habit is obscure because our attention is on the actions we take not the fear of anything else. This habit of discharging alternatives is possibly stronger than the things we actually do because we justify our actions with such fear. This is one explanation of why many women opposed votes for women.
Letting go of agreements betrays the promise of countless love songs, romantic happy endings and adolescent wishful thinking. Most of us absorbed the idea of commitment at the knee of our guardians. Questioning this belief takes integrity but any such skepticism we often treat as fear of commitment. In a world where we have more access to facts than any generation that came before us, where women and men in free countries have more choices (at least for now), commitments are becoming less and less viable. We can stop automatically assuming that this change is a bad thing! Find my refutation of commitment phobia here. People were once afraid of giving women the right to divorce, own property and go to school. Experience exposed these fears as both unfounded and backward. (See: second bullet point above.)
More choices are available to us than our ancestors ever dreamed of and, in spite of new problems, our lives are better for it. In relationships, the old model suggests making agreements, like mortgaging land outright (marriage) or a timeshare (polyamory), but why should we assume that these agreements will succeed if we have integrity? This idea suggests that if we ‘really’ mean what we say (i.e., cross our hearts and fucking pinky swear), then the agreements will be secure. Regardless of this tired old argument, divorce lawyers still have a lot of business with both traditional and poly clients. Consider how the statement “if people did not commit crimes, we wouldn’t need the police” does ‘not’ solve any of our problems. It is as trivial as are so many explanations for failed commitments. Again, the best we can say for agreements in terms of affection is that they are unreliable. To promote them as more than that appeals to a prejudice that has been spoon fed to us since the cradle. An agreement involves a prediction. Telling the future is dicey and human relationships are more unpredictable than most things we can conceive. Being in the unknown is better than bullshitting ourselves.
I hold friendship as a higher moral standard than what passes for commitments in sexual relationships. We allow our friends to enjoy their affections and have no cause to interpose unless our friends are being harmed or exploiting others. In the caravan of love, people may ride together for years. Again, I have been in a live-in love affair without a commitment for over 20 years and we both have other lovers as circumstances allow. All my lovers are free to go whenever they want. People may come, go and return. There are also people I may never see again and, sometimes, my heart aches for them.
I suggest that we need not cling to a tissue of commitment, something constructed of thought, of less substance than a soap-bubble, to experience love. My polyamorous brothers and sisters please consider this metaphor. We know that a four gallon fish bowl is bigger than the tank that holds only two gallons. The ocean has its limits too and I am not saying that the ocean is a safe place. I am saying that a fish bowl and a big aquarium are not comparable to the ocean in spite of its limits and dangers.
End Part Two – By Todd Vickers
The Polyamorous Caravan – Part One
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Edit: 12.07.2014 hyperlinks + grammar
I thank Wikimedia Commons for access to the public domain artwork.
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