April 16, 2006

Not Your Father’s Polyamory

Posted in Love, Relationships, Sex at 7:28 pm by mj

New York magazine on The New Monogamy: marriage, with benefits. The authors–two engaged women–explore the option of negotiating the definition of “monogamous” and the boundaries of monogamous relationships.

There are two things I thought worth noting.

First, surprisingly, not only is this not polyamory, it’s actually anti-polyamory:

“We’re not polyamorous,” insists Mike—and in fact, every couple we spoke with said the same thing. “We don’t date other people, and we don’t have romantic relationships with our sex partners—though we’ve become close friends with some of them.”

If he sounds a bit defensive, it’s understandable. Because in most people’s imaginations, you’ve got on the one hand your earnest, hairy polyamorists (see San Francisco) and on the other, doughy, middle-aged swingers (see Minnesota or HBO). These are the bogeymen of today’s hipster open relationships […]

Second, by the end of their exploration, the authors conclude there may be something a bit more sinister at work:

[…] a pattern we saw emerge in our research: The most smooth-running nontraditional relationships, it seems, comprise a straight man and a bisexual woman who’s not particularly interested in men besides her No. 1 guy. “I wish I were bi,” says Siege. “It’d make things easier. But it’s like this island of old-fashionedness in my brain—I just don’t want her messing around with other guys. Because I don’t find men attractive, my only instinct would be to punch them.”
Perhaps this is all a performance to turn guys on, Girls Gone Wild Gone Nonmonogamous. It could be that sexually speaking, women are just not taken seriously: Hot, yes, but as sex toys, not real romantic threats. (Who could trump the mighty penis?) As two women about to embark on what we hope will be lifelong commitments, we’re left wondering: Has the bar suddenly been raised? Is female bisexuality the latest way to be the perfect girlfriend?

Not that male hypocrisy is anything surprising…

How much of “negotiated monogamy” is descended from “technical virginity,” which was popular when I was a teenager? If you’re not familiar with that, it runs like this:

If you valued virginity as a moral ideal (as many of my generation did), but you were horny (and what teenager isn’t?), you’d do everything but allow penetration. You’d still call yourself a virgin and feel superior in doing so–and girls still had the psychological advantage in warding off unwelcome advances by claiming to be virigins–but you could get your kicks every weekend.

After all, the subjects in this article are all from the same generation.

(Link via ValleyWag.)

March 4, 2006

Harry Browne Dies; Marital Arrangements and Freedom

Posted in Death, Life, Love, Politics at 12:04 pm by mj

Reason has Former Libertarian Party Presidental Candidate Harry Browne’s obituary. (Also see the Wikipedia entry.)

Three days after his death is not really the time to go into my own opinions (I’ll say I voted for him twice, but the second time I was cynical about it), but I found this comment on Miss Passey’s blog quite interesting:

As I recall, he was against marriage; not only that, but he believed that if two people lived together, only one person should own the home and the furnishings. This, he felt, would cut down on quarrells about what kind of furniture to buy, etc. Having little to no experience with real-life romantic relationships, I mentioned this to my inamorata as a good idea. She was shocked and outraged. “If you owned the home and all the furniture belonged to you, how would I ever feel it was my home, too? I would feel like someone just staying over all the time. I would feel like your serf.” I thought she was being irrational. (Of course I envisioned me being the one who owned the house and everything in it.) Years later I would wind up in a situation where one person–and it wasn’t me–owned the home and all the furnishings . . . and I realized my (by then) ex-girlfriend had been right! I felt exactly the way she said she would feel! I was a serf living in the master’s manor without any real rights in the situation–and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

This reveals so much about how those who have no power formulate opinions on how to use the power they don’t have. Many of the LP’s proposals fall into exactly this camp. It’s very much like how humans develop from adolescence into adulthood. It’s as if the universe made us to develop wild-eyed opinions on how we should behave early in life when we are powerless, specifically so that it could find new and entertaining (not to mention humiliating) ways of proving us wrong as we acquire autonomy. Sorta like how some television writers develop their characters.

Of course, American culture is steeped in serfdom–the idea that one spouse owns everything, and the other is utterly dependent. It’s still that way in Chinese culture (even in the states). Even the INS (er, DHSCIS) pretty much assumes this kind of arrangement.

It makes me happy I’m not a woman, since it’s usually the case of a 20-something woman marrying a well-established 30-or-40-something guy, moving into his house with his furniture and doing his laundry, and calling that a marriage. How could anybody be free and happy in such a relationship? (I guess many women are, it’s just an alien concept to me.)

Given our long history with these arrangements, it’s beyond me how this could have seemed like a good idea to an adult writing a book on freedom. Even if I know well the attraction it holds to the just-past-adoloscent mind.

Still, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World did turn me toward contemplation at the time (and helped spark a deep epistemological crisis within me a couple of years later), and mayhap is a large unacknowledged factor in why I’ve become increasingly apolitical.

(Not that I, uh, recall very much of the specifics these days except for the part about contracting instead of entering into an employee-employer relationship…)