Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Evolution: Nonbinding Ties

Credit: P. Prevos, Netherlands
Here, a traditional kinship diagram finds the ego squarely in the middle.

In which I promote the intentional division of biological/animal, practical, and romantic relationships. GO.


The processes [in which we find ourselves]/[that we [call to ourselves/seek out]] of our lives take us from point A to point B. We cannot skip these interim steps. Many of us say, "oh, if only I had known," but the fact is that we could have never known without the having participated in the processes as we have. In the end, we've called these processes to ourselves in order to [find out]/[determine]/[come to see], ironically, that our perspective upon having started was "flawed" in myriad ways. Perfectly flawed, as I've become fond of saying. The flaws that inspire growth -- if we weren't flawed, how would we improve? And we can always improve. We need to release the idea of perfection from that of not needing change. Rather than understanding "perfection" as a flawless state, perhaps a biological metaphor serves: can equilibrium, instead, be seen as a "perfect" state? Balance, not stasis. Harmony - not without opposites, but including both. If we seek balance in ourselves, rather than "flawlessness," we are already on the road to achieving our most "perfect" state.

We've all experienced what is referred to as "the wisdom of hindsight," as if we have only now achieved wisdom, which we didn't have before. However, our choice to make the decisions and participate in the actions that have brought us to our new level of vision and enlightenment were also wise, necessary, and beautiful.

In the past few years I feel as though I have gone from A to Z and beyond. I have intentionally called to myself some of the most challenging experiences I have ever had. I have consciously engaged in and manifested a life that is nothing like what I ever would have imagined for my self, and yet it "makes sense," somehow. What I am finding, at this particular moment, is that certain processes seem to be coming to a close, and in such are drawing to the fore lessons that I didn't know I was learning... so to speak.

Looking up at the above I feel as though I am stalling, internally, struggling to find the words -- because in the past few days two different paths, which up to now have seemed largely conceptually divergent have dovetailed and shown themselves to be very much intersecting, and I feel as though I've leapt ahead in being frank with myself about how I've not always been true to one while practicing the other. How do I put this...

I think the easiest way to frame this is to say that there are two main ...channels... in which I've been operating, both of which I've written about in detail. Through the integration of the rational mind as I approached each of these with the eventual experience of each "on the ground," theory has met practice, leading me quite suddenly to realise I'd come full circle, surprising even myself with where I landed.

* One surrounds the practical story of the birth of my child, and the conceptual/rational process that led me to, and through, engagement in this situation. Embedded in this has been a continual engagement with the idea of "family," and consistent struggle, as a result, with my own history regarding that concept/experience.

* The other surrounds my retrieval of the self from the idea of the romantic 'couple,' which I suppose in a way is the not-entirely-practical story of my own re-birth. The dismantling of my notions of traditional partnership have been underway for some time, but I have really only begun addressing the approaches to life this would require in earnest for a few years.

It is essential and no mistake that an adjustment to focused care of the self and attention to a buddhist-tinged concept of self-sufficiency and unfettered, centered happiness came in tandem with being able to truly take on the project of realising the dismantling of these essential cultural and social structures on more than a purely conceptual level. This is true for both the idea of "family" as well as that of the romantic "couple," though I wasn't always intentionally dismantling the former, originally, as much as I was the latter. Whereas for family I found myself experientially face to face with pioneering new forms of family growth, which led me to shed to take down my own ideas about kinship, I first sought out the other on a rational plane.

To release oneself from the "need" to be "completed" in the common parlance regarding couplehood requires huge leaps and bounds on the part of seeing the self, the individual person, not as "half" but as "whole." The individual is not, by not being included in a partnership, "alone," in so far as alone is understood as the lack of "together," but as a primary, complete, condition within which balance, happiness, and enlightenment can be sought and achieved.

As it so often does, our very language is a flag to the dominance of the culture of dependence and loneliness that feeds the notion of the normalcy, preference, and priority of the "couple" over the "single" person. "Single," as "alone," implies lack, which you will note is linguistically consistent with the idea of an individual as regards relationship status. Our vocabulary does not include an adequate noun for a non-pair-preferential description of a non-paired individual; this not only suggests but underlines how absent this dialogue is for most of us.

Concepts of polyamory and "open" relationships are, perhaps, becoming more common, but by and large not without some level of titillation. Far from being a serious conversation about the failures of our cultural and social institutions and ideals in serving us spiritually, energetically, or in a myriad of other ways (including practically), we've come to a place where the booming business of Ashley Madison offers us taglines like, "life is short, have an affair," encouraging a culture of secrecy, fear, and shame in its promotion of extramarital relations. Polyamory connotes sexual deviance and fetish for most, and many who "practice" this choice do little to contradict that perception; many revel in this image or engage in it intentionally to provide "thrill" or as an act of defiance.

We are raised to value and expect to be in two-person relationships, from a young age. We are raised to consider ourselves valuable insofar as another person finds us valuable. Many of us can point to a history of (if not actual then desired) serial monogamy, perhaps peppered with sexual indiscretions with multiple partners between committed relationships -- with this second part usually accompanied by some uncomfortable mixture of shame and pride. Our attractiveness to potential partners is deeply embedded in our psyches as being an indicator of our value.

There isn't that much room in the spectrum of societally understood relationships beyond the two-person model. As civil rights and LGBT rights groups have "succeeded" in rallying for interracial couplehood and the recognition of single-sex partnerships, there is the illusion of a shift towards becoming "progressive," irregardless of whether the ideals of the members of these couples have remotely liberal ideals. By and large, however, what has been seen experientially is that members of all races, gay men, and lesbians have all internalized the notion of "couplehood" as primary and desireable.

While intellectual movements and in particular the queer community have stood staunchly at various times for the inclusion and consideration of relationship arrangements beyond the traditional "couple," as the Other has become more and more coopted into the "mainstream" as simply a "type" of "normal" the push has been by and large focused on the legalization of gay marriage -- its acceptance as "the same" as straight marriage, rather than on the progressive shift towards reconceptualising couplehood and more fluid relationship structures, which seemed possible in earlier forms of activism.

The point I'm trying to make is, since I began looking at the notion of couplehood; that is, since I began to actually see if it made sense, and how and why it did or didn't, it became clearer and clearer to me that neither I nor most people I knew had ever really engaged in the "why" of this particular aspect of our lives. We'd certainly engaged in the "who" -- explored and become comfortable with our sexuality, by and large -- but most had never asked "why"... and certainly not, "if". The community with whom I'd shared intense intellectual dialogue from my days as an undergrad through doctoral studies were almost all partnered up -- many with children, almost all with issues (who doesn't have them?), and quite a few separated or divorced. Even those who continued to engage intellectually seemed to have turned off the questioning where this part of life was concerned. And yet, so many strove to force these partnerships into the unrealistic boxes of their ideals, failing with partner after partner, or settling, eventually. Some remain genuinely happy, but these by and large have allowed for (whether or not they call it this) some level of polyamory to enter the scene.

And so it was: polyamory. In looking for a good definition, I found this, "The core concept of polyamory is being involved in or open to multiple loving relationships, in a context of honesty and negotiation. The word roots are poly = multiple, and amor = love." What I think is essential here is a renegotiation of sex, connection and love.

For me, it was the books, "The Ethical Slut," and "All About Love," both of which I've talked about before, which really helped me clarify my perspective on relationships. When I say that sex, connection, and love need to be renegotiated, it is using the concepts and guidelines set forth in those books with which I approach doing so. That is to say: we must learn, first, to understand love, and to recognize all of our love relationships as love relationships. We must renegotiate what it means to love.

If love is conscious action and intention, and if our love relationships are the places where we spend conscious action and intention on a connection to another person, and if that relationships fuels us, this relationship need not have a sexual aspect to it to make it a love relationship. Furthermore, in relationships where we are deeply connected, and practice love, it is never sex that makes these relationships "real" or "important". Conversely, we can engage, animalistically, in sexual relationships that do not have conscious action, intention, or love involved in them at all. Therefore, our common dialogue about the nature of "cheating" needs to be re-examined, as we over qualify the notion of sexual indiscretion, thereby valuing it over connection to others. Do we honestly believe that to engage sexually with another individual outside a partnership is more important or more connecting an act than to do so emotionally or spiritually? We wouldn't say that it is our sexual relationships with our partners that makes our love connection with them important, and yet we code switch when we discuss our extramarital relationships, lest we admit to ourselves that we are all, already, essentially polyamorous.

The excellent, central, and important lesson of The Ethical Slut is that amongst conscious, intentional people there is always the possibility for moving ahead in our relationships with each other through recognizing the essential value of morphing and changing in all our relationships both sexual and non, in order to allow for our own personal growth and change, and that ALL relationships that work already rely on this. We all rely on our relationships with extra-marital or extra-partnered relationships, be they with family, friends, or so on, in order to maintain what is therein referred to as the "primary" relationship.

But why a primary relationship? And how to determine who should be this primary relationship? Why would we want one?

I hadn't quite gotten my head around this part of the equation, but while I moved ahead conceptually on dismantling my long-embedded notions of partnership, my relationship to my ideas about family were on the necessary ascendant, due to where I found myself -- to the path I called to myself.

For, in rationally approaching how I wanted to solve my conundrum of possibly seeing my fertility window close, the path I had chosen was to bear a child for a gay couple. Necessarily gay men - two dads, thereby allowing for a non-challenged position as "mother" to the child, but nonetheless... a couple.

It's ...funny? ...ironic?... that it took so long for me to recognize the conceptual pitfall into which I had stepped. Somehow, despite all my work in deconstructing for myself the primacy of the "couple," as a romantic or partnering choice, I hadn't yet extended this mental exercise to the next logical step -- family structure. For, well, is it the next logical step? Maybe it's because I'd been relying too solely on logic that it took me so long to see what was right in front of me, which was essentially an emotional burgoo (isn't that a lovely word? yes, it means "swamp"): despite having moved intellectually towards a non-traditional preference for polyamory in terms of adult relationships, where the question of family was concerned, I defaulted to a place of childhood need, want, and grief.

I grew up in a single parent household, one wherein I only really knew one side of the family, and, well, our relationships with them were... strained, passionate, ugly, Italian. Certainly not a "normal" American Family -- absent were the holiday gatherings and other markers of what I saw as "traditional" biological-family-fare. And even those relatives I did have were all dead by the time I was 18, the last of these going violently.

I've long held on to both colorful stories and anecdotes of the memories I have of this family, flaws and all, as well as the pervasive family fantasies from my childhood -- which in this case involves visions of gathering around a thanksgiving turkey or christmas tree, with relatives from far and near arriving by plane, train, and automobile, with cousins, aunts, uncles and so forth. I've eagerly attended the gatherings of friends and partners, relishing these culturally normative acts -- not realising or questioning, either, when or why I came to have such preferential notions for these conventional markers, despite my deeply counter-cultural beliefs.

When I decided that I was going to have a child to address my fertility situation, in wanting the "best possible life" for this child, these deeply ingrained desires from my own childhood were subconsciously central in my determining how I would and should go about this endeavor. The preference for a two parent household with extended family was deeply, deeply important to me, something I stated openly to anyone who asked.

And yet, somehow I spoke these two stories simultaneously, out of the same mouth: I spoke openly and passionately about my growing philosophy of expanded relationships and polyamory, while aggressively making sure that my child would have the tradition I had so sorely "lacked".

But wait. What was it that I had "lacked"? and how did this reconcile with my understanding of love as a conscious act? Somehow, it wasn't until a friend of mine said to me, recently, that I was helping her consider having a child on her own that I realised my folly, which perhaps is not folly at all, but my lesson, my education, and my learning path of this time:

Through the process of choosing to bear a child I found that I needed support and help, another big hurdle for me, and I came face to face with the reality of my biological family, which is: there's one person, and she and I don't often agree. But rather than feeling hopeless I reapproached this with hooks' notion of love, and tore down the lonely-making idea that family is necessarily biological: I spent much time realising and working on my chosen family, expressing gratitude and affirming those that conscious intention and action made my family more than blood ever could on its own. I found that I had a supportive and vast network of chosen family, all of whom were there for not only me but for my child, as well.

But somehow, I hadn't quite reconciled this with what "sort" of family a child "needs," and had fallen back through the pervasiveness of my own childhood gut feelings on the concept of "couplehood" in parenthood, of "biology" as family. I hadn't really asked or considered how inadequate those formal arrangements are, how lonely one can feel surrounded by biological family by the dozen, if these people aren't approaching love as a conscious, intentional act. I hadn't given credit where credit was due, or anticipated credit there.

What a child needs is love, and this love is never defined by biology.

However, we need to value what biology does give us, and return to crediting and valuing the role of the mother and the need to care for the mother, uniquely, in preparation for and following the birth, by not pretending she is "the same" as man. She is not. She is a mother, and a woman, and her connection to the child, as a mammal, is like no other. But, biology does not a relationship make. It does not intention make, love make, or conciousness make.

There is no limit to the number of people who can love a child. Directly with no mediation.
It is us and not the child that informs us that the child will "be confused" or in any way hurt by extending to others the right to love, mentor, teach, and guide our children beyond our mistaken concept of "ownership." We must extend to our children the right to multiple relationships, multiple connections and influences beyond ourselves, just as we must to our partners -- because we love and trust them, not the other way around.

Our romantic and sexual endeavors are necessarily embued with passions and chemical reactions -- they are by and large the most fickle of our relationships. And yes, sex is (somewhat) necessary for procreation. But returning to the question, that which I hadn't yet asked myself, of "why the primary partner," I must beg the question. What makes a relationship primary, in partnership? Sex? Love? Connection? Practicality? Common ideas about childrearing?

Since we have divorced the notion of "love" from only being sexual, we must understand that we, too, have love relationships with those we are not sexually attracted to. We have love relationships also with those of different sexual orientations, and also those of the same orientation, but whom we are not chemically in tune with. Some of these people will share not only our philosophies but also perhaps the more plebian but no less important practical opinions about how to go about day to day operations, in finances, parenthood, and so on. Why should we not create families for the express intention of child-rearing within these shared beliefs?

Why should we overvalue the sexual and romantic connection, and place the burden of sustaining this connection on the practical considerations, those which require sustained equilibrium, over a lifetime, when we have every right to choose our familial constellations, and enter into these equations a freer negotiation with our romantic partners, within a complex of conscious, intentional, open dialogue?

What do those kinship networks look like? I can't say much for the intentionality of the origins, but our forebears knew something about practicality, when survival was an issue. We needn't force childbearing and parenting into the grounds of our fickle love-relationships. In fact, it seems an unnecessary and foolish liability.

There will be those who call me cynical but in fact this is an approach that deeply respects and loves the child, the self, and a multitude of people, from and for each of us. I think that's where I landed, after all.

About the Writer

L DeSilva-Johnson is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on Evolution: Nonbinding Ties

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By Lady D on June 15, 2010 at 02:45 pm

As usual very thoughtful and yet argeous for my brain/mind.

I also learning that I can't what others do or think. So "know thyself" would be as simple as I can make it.

Those of us who are willing to question (and you are) what is life and how are we all connected are going to have the understanding for a great ride in the coming years.

Life is an adventure and we all take different paths. Learning to travel in joy our path, while we allow others to travel thiers.

So much to say and yet words are so inadequet.

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By L DeSilva-Johnson on June 16, 2010 at 09:08 pm

Thank you, Lady D. I welcome any dialogue or further thoughts on this... or anything.

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By Openworlder on August 06, 2011 at 01:38 am


On reading your post, I'm wondering whether mating strategies are moving toward arrangements that hold promise of spreading admirable qualities of spirit, rather than simply replicating our genes. I'd be interested in what you think of the possibility. Some preliminary ideas that could relate are at & .


Mark (@openworld)

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