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Marriage, commitment, and polyamory August 15, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Awwww....

So, Ginny and I are engaged.  That’s right folks, marriage! That ancient institution of property-arrangement designed to let everyone know that this woman is mine.  If you want her, too bad; I have obviously paid her father some bride price (or she has paid me some dowry) and so she is spoken for.

Oh, wait, that’s right! The concept of marriage has changed.  Those valued ancient traditions that defined our culture and gave the sacred institution of marriage meaning have been radicalized and re-defined by social progressives (probably feminists and socialists) in an attempt to destroy the traditional concept of marriage.  And as a result, women are no longer property by which men can get their jollies and also continue their genetic line (the legitimate ones, anyway).

Now, marriage has come to mean the willing entrance into a committed and potentially life-long relationship by 2 or more adults.  It’s an arrangement which gives each adult who has entered into it certain legal rights concerning decisions for and access to their spouse(s).  It has changed from being a property arrangement not unlike owning a cow to being a decision to bind one’s life to other adults in emotional, financial, and legal ways.

Oh, wait, I got ahead of myself.  We are still somewhere between that traditional marriage and what actually makes sense to emotionally mature and intelligent adults.  We still live in a culture where the idea of marriage has not yet evolved past the transitional stage of a civic union between one man and one woman.  We live in a culture with such a bad sense of history, genuine adult relationships, and full of conservative fear that we still think that commitment is defined by an arrangement between two people who have no obligations of love, intimacy, or time to other people.

I keep forgetting that the vision of actual human emotional achievement and popular maturity only exists in my head.

*sigh*

What is commitment?

Commitment is not the same thing as exclusivity.  To be committed to something is not to eschew consideration to other things completely.  It does not mean that comparable relationships are forgotten.  Go ahead, look up the term.  There is nothing about commitment that necessarily implies that to commit yourself to a person (or to a cause or idea) means that you give up any effort towards others.

And yet, if you hear someone say that they are in a committed relationship, it is understood to mean that they are unavailable for romantic and/or sexual relationships with people other than the person to whom they are committed.  It does not imply that perhaps that relationship is of mere primary (or at least very high) importance to them.  It does not, in ‘polite’ society, mean that any further arrangement of relationships must consider the impact to that existing relationship.  It does not mean that that relationship is something of great importance to their life, and that perhaps, if things work out, you may be able to share some of that importance with others as well.

That would be silly.  Except that it wouldn’t be silly at all.  It would be pretty awesome, actually.

I am committed to Ginny.  I intend to keep her as a primary part of my life, and to grow and love her as long as I am able to do so.  All decisions that effect my life will have to consider her and how it may affect her.  All further relationships, whether with Gina or anyone else, will have to be weighed in terms of their implications for my relationship with Ginny.  And since Ginny and Gina get along so well, it means that the continued existence of my relationship with Gina (which is young but relatively strong considering its youth) is preferable for all involved.  So, not only does my relationship with Gina not threaten my relationship with Ginny, it may actually complement my commitment to Ginny.  It may actually add value to that other relationship.  Isn’t that awesome?

This is a concept that I think more people in our culture need to understand.  In the same way that many friendships can complement other friendships, romantic relationships can also add to the ones we have already.  Jealousy, resentment, and pain are not the only result of your lovers knowing about each other.  There are also wonderful things, like friendship (and occasional new lovers) that can be derived from this.  If you love someone, the qualities that you love just might be noticed by the other people you love.  Crazy, I know!

What is the meaning of Marriage, if it does not mean commitment?…oh, wait….

Are you getting it yet? In the same way that being committed to one-another does not have to imply romantic and sexual exclusivity (although it can also mean that, if the people involved desire that for whatever reason), marriage does not have to imply exclusivity either.

But further, in the same way that 3 (or more) people could possibly find a way to arrange commitment and share each other emotionally, sexually, etc, there are times when those same 3 (or more) people can find themselves all ready to commit their lives to each other in ways that walks, sounds, and acts like marriage.  What sense is it to have (for example) 3 people living together, sharing a bed, finances, and activities together and say that this could not be considered potential marriage for more than 2 people?  How does polyamorous marriage not make sense for those for whom such arrangements are desirable?

But much more basically (and more personally relevant to me right now), how is my marrying a woman who I love, despite the fact that I love another woman (openly and unashamedly), not marriage?  How does my being in another relationship de-legitimize any meaningful use of the term ‘marriage’? Well, frankly, it doesn’t.  But many people seem to think that it does, and I think that this is an obvious point of needed re-consideration by our culture generally.  We, as a society, need to re-evaluate our values about relationships, marriage, and commitment.

Gay and polyamorous marriage are really about the same thing

I believe that those who were once considered liberal and open-minded, the radicals of the past, are in some ways tomorrow’s conservatives.  We, as humans, get so caught up in the definitions and causes that our cultural ancestors fought for that we forget that it is the continued struggle for freedom and choice that is the fight, not the updated definitions of things like marriage.  Less than 50 years ago I, as a US citizen, marrying a black woman would have been illegal.   Those who now take that for granted have now accepted the new conservative definition of marriage which is problematic for both gay couples and polyamorous groups who desire the same rights.

Granted, there are issues related to the abusive treatment of women in polygamist religious groups, such as the FLDS organizations and Moslem societies which support such things, and I do not want these women to keep experiencing this abuse, when it is abusive.  I want marriage to be a consensual and informed decision among adults, not one controlled by religious ideology in an abusive and patriarchal culture.  Marriage, at bottom, is NOT a religious institution, but rather a civic one.  Religion cannot tell us what marriage is any more than it can tell us what morality is.  They have not earned the right to have an authoritative position on such things.

In conclusion (a message of loves)

I love you Ginny, and I look forward to a life of sharing how wonderful you are with other people, because to do otherwise would be taking too much away from the world.  You are brilliant, beautiful, and as authentic a person as I could hope for.  And Gina, I love you too. You are talented, you make me laugh, and seeing you happy brings joy to my days.  I hope that our relationship will continue to grow into something meaningful and enduring.

Take that, convention!

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Comments»

1. Cory Brunson - August 15, 2011

In the limited time i’ve been following your blog, you’ve been both an inspiration for great thoughts and a check on extrapolative assumptions; in this post you’ve again managed both. Thanks so much for writing, please keep learning and growing and maturing and writing, and major congratulations!

2. Christopher Noble - August 16, 2011

Ahh, the exuberance, self-absorption and black-and-white wisdom of youth!

3. shaunphilly - August 16, 2011

@Christopher

What is most annoying about such comments is not only am I not sure if the criticism is aimed at me or my points, but I have no idea what you would consider the more mature perspective if it were aimed at me.

It’s the kind of patronism that is not only ambiguous, but unhelpful as well. I suppose I should just ignore such things, but they do annoy me with their insistence to exist despite their vacuousness.

4. Ginny - August 17, 2011

Duh, Shaun. You are obviously being self-absorbed and not considering how your multiple relationships are affecting the other people involved, or how mainstreaming this lifestyle might affect society at large! And your insights are all black and white, nuance-free, not acknowledging the potential negative sides to any of the positives you see in your life!

I dunno where he gets “exuberant” from though.

5. Chris Noble - October 26, 2011

OK Ginny, you are right. Self-absorbed and seeing the world in black and white, but not exuberant. Pity about that. Youth should be exuberant, at least.

Shaun, sorry if I hurt your feelings, but your dogmatic opinions about an institution that you have no experience in leave very little margin for diplomacy.

6. shaunphilly - October 26, 2011

How are my views dogmatic? What dogma am I drawing from? How does not having experience in marriage disqualify me from saying anything about relationships and commitment? Is not marriage based upon such things (in addition to others?)

Diplomacy? About what? You are saying things which are not placed in context, and I still don’t know what your criticisms are based upon.

My feelings were not hurt (neither were Ginny’s; she was being sarcastic, I hope you realize. She is marrying after all). And youth? OK, I guess I’m relatively young (34), but not young for marriage and not inexperienced in relationships.

If you disagree with what I posted, by all means explain why rather than lay down vague attacks.

7. Ginny - October 27, 2011

I was indeed being sarcastic, as I thought his post demonstrated quite clearly that he was thinking about how our marriage would affect many people, including the other people were dating and society in general, and that he acknowledged both negatives and positives in our lifestyle. And he’s actually quite exuberant in person!

If you have a point to make, you’ll have to make it much more clearly: try pulling a sentence or paragraph from the post and pointing out what you see as wrong with it. Then an actual discussion can be had.

8. Only monogamy equals commitment? - Rarely Wears Lipstick - December 3, 2012

[…] Polyamory‘ in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Shaun McGonigal’s article on marriage, commitment and polyamory on polyskeptic.com, and the values section of the Wikipedia entry on […]


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