Tetsu, when we live in a culture where more than 50% of the people believe that the father is the lord and master of the household, the “freedom” that you speak about to create your own relationships even within traditional marriage is not really available in the way you are asserting. Of course, certain people could do the work to get there but almost no-one will, in part because they don’t even realize that is missing — they are bought into the cultural notion of what marriage is that doesn’t encourage that kind of exploration. And as I’ve already stated, my very egalitarian relationship was subconsciously informed by destructive ideas like “ownership” of each other, and in particular, ownership of me by him, because that’s the pervasive cultural expectation of what marriage is.
I do not know all the particulars of how Joe came to be added in to the marriage that he is now a part of, but I’m going to guess that they were already living an ENM life before he came along. And whether or not they were, they were already living by it’s tenants related to individuality and independence. Traditional marriage does not encourage it’s participants to be independent of each other — in fact, quite the opposite. This is my whole point in a nutshell.
I’m not trying to bring any kind of top-down change. I don’t have the power to do that, but I am trying to introduce people to another way of doing relationship that has a lot of benefits and to dispel some of the misconceptions around it. Many, many people think of polyamory as some kind of Spring Break for adults, where hedonistic people fuck anything that moves with no consequences or responsibility. In fact, ENM is quite the opposite of that, as I’ve already outlined for you above. It’s not even really about sex, but rather is about sharing your life with different people in different kinds of ways — ones that you get to co-create, rather than be told how to do. I don’t see my other life partner in person any longer because he now lives far away. Our girlfriend is a professional escort, but also still our girlfriend.
Traditional marriage paradigms say that you live with your mate and your whole lives revolve around each other. Poly allows us to not do that and still have an abundance of love and connection in all kinds of interesting combinations. It also allows those relationships to find their natural level, rather than being focused on the relationship elevator that says that you must constantly find someone to progress to the “next level” with until you finally get to marriage and children.
I read something the other day written by a young woman who is in a monogamous relationship who was resisting all of that and she and her guy were living all the best of ENM while still staying monogamous. That is incredibly rare in part because, as she reported, other people were always judging them, pushing them to follow a more traditional path, etc. People don’t do this work because it’s hard, and also because it’s mostly unsupported by the highly monogamy minded culture. She got my admiration and applause.
Just about every time I write about poly I say that it’s not for everyone and that even monogamous people could take on a lot of these same ideas — and in theory they could, and maybe some people even will. The problem is, it’s hard to allow for independence if you only get one person who has to fulfill all of your needs. You have to put all of your proverbial eggs into one basket. As you’ve said, one of the ways that you change a prevailing culture is by introducing new elements for people to incorporate as works for them. That’s what I’m doing — I’m attempting to encourage shifting a domination based social system to become a more partnership oriented one by starting with personal intimate relationships. If people can figure out how to do that within their monogamous marriages, great — but you need to be able to clearly see the underpinnings of what you are working with in order to do that — and it’s very hard to see the properties of the ocean while you are swimming in it and everyone else around you is doing the same. James and I had no notion that we were not completely egalitarian until we moved into a different relationship paradigm that illustrated it clearly to us both.
I think that personal responsibility is incredibly important and a powerful tool for improving everyone’s lives. But what you are saying is something along the lines of “if women took complete personal responsibility for their lives, there would be no more sexual harassment.” That quite obviously isn’t the case because we are not just individuals — we are members of a society. And if we live in a society that tolerates aberrant behavior (as we currently do) then no amount of personal responsibility will mitigate that entirely. Making people aware of the pervasiveness and the properties of the aberrant behavior as well as noticing how and why it’s been tolerated is what allows for change to begin to occur as has happened with the #MeToo movement, for example.
Below is a favorite quote from a very important book that is all about creating partnership models in companies as well as in society at large. It’s called Stewardship, and is written by Peter Block. This book didn’t influence my personal trajectory, but it did affirm it.
“It is not that we have created the patriarchy around us. Or the working conditions, or even the dominant culture. What we have done is colluded with it. We cannot mature inside a culture without having internalized aspects of it. Our ability to change our political environment begins with the understanding of how we have helped create it. Our consciousness is where the revolution begins. Fifty percent of the work we need to do is on ourselves. The other 50 percent is to focus outward and use ideas like stewardship to redesign the practices, policies, and structures that institutionalize what we wish to become.”
I’ve enjoyed this conversation with you and although I don’t think we will ultimately completely agree, that is totally fine with me. True civil discourse and meaningful exchange of ideas is somewhat rare, but it’s something that I value — so thanks!