In my last post, I told a story. I told the true story of how I came to no longer see open marriage as evil. Included in that story was the fact that ultimately, my wife and I don’t have what most people call open marriage. I told this in story form, because I thought it would help people identify with what was going on. It would show them a journey that made a little more sense of how a person who used to be a Christian came to think open marriage could be an option, before he de-converted. Instead of making it easier for people to understand I seem to have made it harder so let me try again, laying out the principles I wanted to make clear last time.
First off, all marriages are open. There is no magical force imbued in the marriage license that “closes” your marriage. Every person in every faithful marriage is so for one reason only: their feelings. Even if a person says “No, no, no! I am faithful out of a sense of duty!,” it is their feelings about duty that make them think duty is a worthy reason to be faithful. If they felt duty was a pointless concept, they wouldn’t believe it was a worthy reason to be faithful. Being faithful is choice every married person makes every day, based on how they feel about it at the time. As such, ALL marriages are open because everyday, either partner can sleep with whoever they want, whenever they want, The fact that most people chose not to says that most people feel that the consequences are greater then the benefits, not that marriage is magically a “closed” relationship.
Second, if any readers are familiar with personal property rights, they will know that what makes private property “private” is not only the right do do what you wish with it, but also the right to exclude others from doing anything with it. Marriage is as much about who is excluded and from what as who is included. This is why marriage is a legal status, and not just a relationship one. The government is aiding the contract holders (the married people) in enforcing their legal right of exclusion of all others. Because of the difficulty in pinning down anything else, legal marriage is what defines this right of exclusion primarily on the act of coitus.
The problem is when people carry the legal definition as a relational definition, because sexual monogamy is a road, not a point. The confusion is because sexual intercourse and sexuality are not the same thing. Most married people have a huge problem with their spouse having sexual intercourse with someone else. Very few married people have a problem with their spouse speaking to someone else. However, whats the line between chatting and flirting? Not a whole lot. When does flirting (which implies a lack of serious interest) become dirty talk? And at what point does dirty talk become virtual sex? Where is the line between a friendly squeeze and a grope? When does a pat (noun, usage 2) become petting? (usage 2) When does chit-chat become opening your heart?
My point is not that by creating infinitely fine gradients the difference between behaviors is erased. For instance, there is huge difference between chatting and phone sex, and everybody knows it. My point is that each couple has to determine how far down the road of non-monogamy is “too far” for their individual relationship. You will find few people to whom fidelity means merely refraining from coitus. (Bill Clinton famously among them.) This is because despite popular usage the word “fidelity” has no intrinsic connection to sex. Webster’s says fidelity means faithful. So what does Webster says faithful means? Steadfast in affection or allegiance, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty. Even the dictionary confirms, couples work out what faithfulness means in their own relationship. As long as you adhere to the promises you made to your spouse, and observe the duties that you agreed to, you are being faithful.
There are intimacies of different kinds, including but not limited to emotional and physical. Since marriage is about excluding others as well as about including one, each couple has to work out where that line is crossed and others aren’t being excluded anymore. I know couples where each person doesn’t have any opposite sex friends because, for them, even a friendly conversation crosses the line of exclusion. I know couples where each person doesn’t look at pornography or read romances because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion. I know couples that don’t sleep with people of the opposite sex until their spouse has met them because, for them, that crosses the line of exclusion.
Stereotypical open marriage means at least one spouse sleeping around with the consent of the other spouse. My point was not that that is something positive, but that I no longer see it as something implicitly negative . My claim that it is not bad does not mean that I am saying it is good. I am saying, above all, that fidelity is something every couple gets to work out on their own terms, and no person has a corner on what a “good” marriage is.
So, having realized (1.) Every relationship is open anyway. The legal status of marriage does not change this fundamental reality of relationships. (2.) Every couple has to work out their own working concept of fidelity together, respecting both voices. (3.) As such, a loving, healthy, and respectful marriage can include another person.
Understanding that lead to make the MAIN POINT OF THE WHOLE BLOG: “Love fearlessly.” Don’t let the fear of intimacy, be it of the emotional or physical prevent you from making the choice to fall in love with someone–just keep your spouse aware the whole time of what is going on. You are being faithful as long as you don’t cross the line of exclusion. When your spouse says “stop” because you hit that line, then stop, and you remain a loving, faithful spouse. Cross it and you are unfaithful, because when your spouse asked you not to, you did anyway, not because of the nature of the act you were asked not to do. No person has a right to say where that line is but you and your spouse, so don’t fear crossing anyone’s lines but the one you and your spouse marked out and said “This is ours.”
LOVE FEARLESSLY! That was the point.
Now, a note here on my marriage: The legal status of our marriage is merely a tax shelter; it has no say whatsoever on what makes marriage sacred to us. Sacredness comes from feelings. Whether you believe your marriage is sacred because of your feelings about a deity or because of your feelings about yourself and your spouse, either way the sacredness comes from your feelings. My wife and I consider marriage a partnership, a meeting of equals for mutual gain. We hold our marriage as sacred.
We decide the “line of exclusion” on a case by case bases after much discussion. If either partner says “I don’t feel comfortable with X” then X stops. Because to us, the day we desire an act with another person more than the whole hearted approval of our spouse, our marriage dies. The tax shelter would live on, but the sacred union dies. To me that is the only moral foundation for our marriage. When I talk about “open marriage” that is the context I am referring to.
And a note here on open marriage. Other people can define “sacred marriage” how they wish, but I find the way most people live out open marriage would absolutely not be sacred for me. In most of the open couples I have meet, the man can have sex with whoever he wants, and the woman (if she is allowed to have sex outside the marriage at all) is only permitted other women. If I were to live that way, I would be lying to myself and my wife to make such a life appear sacred to me. I can’t say that is the case for other men. But again, when I talk about “open marriage” the normal version is not what I describe. I call our relationship open because we don’t rule out or accept behaviors with others based on a preconceived notions, but on a careful study of facts, our emotions, and mutual consideration and meditation.
Will our marriage go toward the ultimate conclusion of openness with either of us actually having coitus with another person (assuming I am not bound by the UCMJ at the time)? I doubt it in the extreme. But, the point is, it would be ruled as crossing the line of exclusion by both of us, after long discussion and consideration, and not by one person for the other, and most certainly not by arbitrary social limits drawn by strangers about certain acts regardless of context.
I say again, LOVE FEARLESSLY! Please, if you didn’t read anything else, or don’t remember anything from this, remember this:
Love everybody. Fall in love whenever you can. Sometimes you will run into fences, like being straight and/or married. Those fences are there for a reason, don’t cross them. Sometimes you might need to move a fence out a bit, like saying its OK to have emotional intimacy. Sometimes you will get hurt, or run into consequences and realize you need to move a fence back a bit. The important thing is not the fences. The important thing is this: Don’t let the fear of hitting the fence keep you from loving people.
Aching loneliness in my soul
Led me down paths strange
Shoveling cinder and coal
Burying me in burning shame
It seemed a simple thing at first,
Images of women’s kindness
Did amply slake my thirst
And restore in me fineness
But my thirst would not be stayed
By such innocent mintage
Twas like sipping lemonade
But wanting headier vintage
Searching out stranger strangers
Seeing things which ought not.
Watching clips of varied dangers
Finding not that which I sought.
Then, forgetting mad dreams
I flesh and blood pursued
In hope and without schemes
I let myself be used
Steamy pictures o’ erotic tangles
Had awfully prepared me
For a real relationships’ tangles,
Arguments, tears, and pleas
Porn and I then parted ways
Religion was my watchword
I fantasized not of other lays
And followed always cross-ward.
Religion didn’t heal me
From the aching at the start
In fact, it just buried the real me
And broke my aching heart
Investigation of church’s claims
Left me scratching my head
The church had nefarious aims
Obsessed with others’ beds.
So I left the sacred fold
Trading one lonely for another
Finding bits of soul I’d sold
And myself, and my lover
When porn was viewed
By more secular angle
Without religious skew
Or tempting fallen angel
I realized I was never seeking
some erotic chemical high
Twas on beauty I was tweaking
Eros when most shy
To strange pastures I went
Not for tolerance built
To creepy content I was sent
Driven by crushing guilt
Atheism, ironic blessing
Freed me from guilt’s’ bully
To be myself without missing
The parts that are not “holy”
Free from guilt and shame
I view what I find lovely
I’m not driven by pain
And skip what misogyny makes ugly
And I can see clearly
With all the women I view
Real women I loved dearly
And almost always you
My taste has improved
I’m not looking in dark places
With all the shots perused
Trying to find you in their faces
But such an awful thing to say
And even worse to do!
To shape images like clay
To dream of loving you
The dream I often visit
Is us physically together
But, somehow, not illicit
A love that time could weather
I would be scorned
I seek images in replacement
I want to love and be loved in return,
You’d gag at my abasement.
None of them are right
None of them are you
All of them are right
All of them are you
So, to what cannot be
Between us, (though we love you)
Onan and I will see
What can I substitute
But it would misleading,
To blame only the ‘net
Your image is fleeting
For we’ve nott met yet
Morning dew gleams
Moon beams shine brighter
Life is better it seems
When love’s circle is wider.
I don’t want love to still
At some arbitrarily limit
I do seek a thrill
But only if love gives it.
I want love’s full expression
In context of friendship
Where physical affection
Is compassions apprentice.
So, I am seeking another
to have and to hold
Addition and keeping
Not substitution of old
I want to love with depth
A true equal and partner
But also with breadth
A circle out farther
Our scene begins early in the night, after the adorable child has fallen asleep. It’s been a long day, and the parents were enjoying some adult conversation, and bit of tea. Atheism, theism, the perils and pleasures of a Christian upbringing, common marriage, characteristics common to various cults through out the ages, new friends, old friends, and the differences and similarities between the sexes. The conversation has ceased finally, Wife attending to her knitting, and Husband to email correspondence. Both are tired, but restless. He closes down the computer…
Husband: Hey, cutie. Wanna have sex and play video games?
Wife: I’d love to play video games!
My wife and I had a long argument about Romance novels today. Not like a fight, we rarely fight. There was no name calling, just a lot of relatively healthy debate about what romance novels say. I had to step out of it for a minute and ask myself what bothered me so much about it.
It’s the stereotypical female complaint about a man’s pornography. It makes me feel inadequate. I’ll never be that rich, that mysterious, that or that romantic. I don’t mind her reading them, I just don’t like to have it really brought to my attention. Which, of course, is how she feels about pornography. We realized after much thought and arguing, that the real issue is the feelings of inadequacy, not the object of them. So we talked about that some more.
Inadequate to what? Well, to meet every possible need, of course. This is a complicated topic. I love my wife, desperately. Sometimes I do wish that I could have sex with other women. I don’t want the enormous baggage which that would bring, I don’t really want to sleep with them, I want to sleep with them is some magic universe where everything I want is somehow right and good for everyone. Sometimes, she wants to be swept into a romance. That doesn’t mean she really wants to deal with the non-communication, control issues, drama, and complexity. She want’s to, for a bit, live in a magic universe where everything she likes is right and good for everyone.
Neither one of us, being real, can ever meet the real, and acceptable need for the fantastic. Sometimes I wish I could be a Jedi. Sometimes she wishes she could be Kaylee Frye. That’s OK and we have to accept the fact that we can never meet all of the persons needs.
And then we talked some more and asked “Why do feel we have to meet each other’s needs in the first place?” In no other relationship to deeply concern myself with meeting the other persons needs. Why in this spousal relationship do we feel this way?
Culture. The world view expressed by most modern media, songs, movies, etc, is a mix of judeochristian humanist values, taking, I’m afraid, the weaknesses of both world views, and few of the strengths. Combined with growing up in the church, we’d come to believe in our hearts that it was our job to meet the other person’s needs.
This wasn’t something we had considered intellectually until today, so if you asked me if I believed it, I might have said no, but our expectations of others often reveal what we really believe. I was hurt that a fictional character was meeting a need for fiction, because I believed it was my job to meet every possible need my wife had. How silly.
We realized that a lot of what we have joking called the “blessing of godlessness” in our lives since we started walking out an atheist worldview, has come from a non-cognitive dropping of this I meet your needs you meet mine theory of marriage.
And now, we drop it purposely. We are partners, not in meeting the other persons needs, but partnering to help them meet their own needs. In retrospect, it seems impossible we ever considered anything else. Of course, I can’t possible meet all my wife’s needs. She’ can’t possibly meet mine. No one person could ever meet all of someone else’s needs, and to attempt so would be sick.
The freedom this brings in delightful. We don’t have to feel guilt for not meeting the other persons needs.
So, tonight, for therapy, I write yet another blog about sex and fidelity.
I grew up in an ultra-conservative home, in an environment of paranoia, violence, and manipulation. I don’t know how these things came together to create the person they did, but somehow, in a blender of guns and Bibles, there developed in me this need, this need to be touched.
I don’t mean touched in the physical way though, though I include that. I mean touched in the way they say Mother Theresa touched people: her presence moved them. I need to be touched, and to be moved. I never had many male friends. I just didn’t want them, really. Females were so full of mystery and drama. I loved the drama and the histrionics because only when the person I cared about it was at the knife edge of sanity did I feel real. I always had my girls. Few actual girlfriends, mind you, I wasn’t capable of the sort of sustained attention and maturity that a real relationship required.
I’ve grow up now. I have a wife and a beautiful daughter. But when times are rough, when I feel stressed, I miss having my “drama girls”. I miss the way their weakness needed me. That’s always been with me as I’ve grown, so the burden is not so very great. Drama girl here is not an insult, by the way. I’m not talking about being totally psycho here, I’m talking about a person who lives there life like it was movie, with pining sighs dramatic falls onto couches.
But there is something else, two somethings really. One, I am not a Christian anymore, not for lack of study but from great study. I just can’t trust the fate of my life to an old book, albeit a fascinating and sometimes lovely one. That change modifies the very lens through which I view the world. Not believing in Christianity changes almost everything, but one of the hardest things to deal with is how it changes my view of my past.
The things I did and felt guilt for, the things I wanted and felt bad for wanting (but never got), and the things I did and was proud of, all look different now. A man is the sum of his memories. Changing the way one looks at his memories…well, that changes the whole man.
So, change number one: I no loner consider many of the ‘virtuous’ things I did nearly so good, just as I no longer consider some of the ‘evil’ things I did not do, nearly so evil.
Change number two: I understand that I am getting old. I am 27, quite young by any standard. I have the body of a man who hits the gym 3 times a week and gets a two 30 minute sessions of aerobics a day, because I do. I love my body. But when I look in the mirror, I see crow’s feet when I smile. There is no hair left on the crown of my head. I am, in short, getting old. That’s life. I should accept it, move on and enjoy whatever life I might have ahead of me.
It’s just… change one + change two, that’s what gets me. I’ve only ever had sex with two women. I’ve only kissed three. There is a certain kind of beauty that comes from youth. In 4 to 5 years, I won’t have it anymore. I won’t be a good looking guy any more, instead, I’ll become.. good-looking-for-a-dad. So too, my female peers will go from being “gorgeous” to being that “that-mom-who-always-brings-brownies, you know, the-sort-of-cute-one.” That youthful beauty fades.
There is some small, primitive, part of my brain that is panicking right about now.
Sleep with them! Seduce them by any means! Lie, cheat, write poetry, and/or sing! Do whatever you must, because the clock is ticking. This is your last chance to sleep with women under the age of 30. If you can’t get sex, then see them naked, if you see them in person, then get pictures, if you can’t do that, try phone sex, if you can’t get that, try cybersex, and if that doesn’t work you must have constant sexual banter! Go! Fly! Go now and never stop! You must outrun getting old!
And even farther back, waaaaay back, is that part I mentioned first, the part that wants to touched. Touch me! Love me! Please, for the love of God, just reach out to me a little bit.
It’s weird. The first part tells me to prey on my single friends, to do whatever I need to do to get those panties off! I was robbed, it says. I should have been fornicating like a wild monkey since I was in 8th grade, and I was robbed! The second part then says “Anything is OK, any line can be crossed, please, please, just love me.”
Between those two feelings, it’s really hard to see my female friends as friends and not like walking sex/affirmation dispensers. Mix in the fact that I do sincerely care about my friends and honestly do think they are beautiful and it gets really difficult to know what the heck is going on. Its like “Oh, look here is this person I love and think is beautiful. I want to tell them how beautiful they are. How much I enjoy talking to them. How I have always wanted to know them better than I do…” Now, none of that untrue, and it is exactly the sort of thing that good friends tell each other. But the motivation isn’t to be a good friend. The motivation is a desire to use them to me feel like: I could sleep with anyone I want to but choose not to. Rather than the truth: I can’t really bed anyone I want, and even if I chose to, I would get turned down sometimes, maybe (probably?) often.
Long story short: I’m going through a lot of stuff and I’m afraid of getting old. I want to sleep around to prove that I am young. I am way too big a wuss to go compete with real players and besides, I don’t want to ruin my marriage, so I prey on my female friends, by walking as close to the line as I can get away with. It makes me feel sexy and loved.
Um….I guess I should talk to a shrink or something. I will seriously.
And to my close female friends….um….keep being my friends, please. Just, you know, remember that I am pretty goofy right now. I am sorry. I don’t like being like this and its not permanent. Remember, I do really care about you all, its just sometimes I turn into a ass.
Egads, now it sounds like its OK that I do that, and of course, its not. Um….Ok. I officially don’t know what the hell is going on.
Once upon a time, Sunday morning was a hectic time for me. It was a time to get shaved, get dressed, hurry through breakfast, and get to church. Becky and I gave up on going to a church building Sunday mornings about a year ago. We still fellowship with people we love, which of course was the point of the commandment, but that is a blog for another time. The point here is that Sunday morning is a delightful time of lolling in bed, munching toast, and taking the time to really talk to each other.
If there is a better feeling than lying around indolently on a big, puffy quilt with the most beautiful wife in the world, I can’t imagine what it is. We talked about how things would have been different if only we had met sooner. We’ve been married for 6 years now. One of my only regrets about our marriage is we had to wait so long to meet, fall in love, and marry. If we could have met at 15, we could have gotten married at 16, and then, we would now have been together for 11 years. Since the last 6 years have been the best in my life, the idea of having another 5 on top of that is very attractive to me.
We’ve talked about this before, but today I said something that hadn’t previously crossed my mind, or at least I hadn’t spoken it to her. My wife, you see, is quite curvy. I mentioned to her that when I thought of her at 16, I thought of how much fun her uniquely curvy 16 year old self would be in bed. And she said…
“Really? When I think about being in bed with you at 16, I mostly think of you not knowing what the hell you were doing.”
That, ladies and gentleman, is the difference between men and women.