Entry 28

Oh, Freedom…¹

Actually, I do not like these memes in social networks at all and usually keep away from posting them on my part.
In a somewhat contrary fashion, the picture above contains an important truth concerning multiple relationships – especially in an oligoamorous setting.
Well – it touches (once again) the topic of sexuality and the freedom of love. And I have already laid down in my second Entry why I do not like the way these topics are currently covered by Polyamory and why I started to describe myself in that regard as “oligoamorous”. And in Entry 7 I try to explain why commitment and freedom do not contradict each other in Oligoamory.
So it’s freedom – once again.
Especially our personal freedom, which we always believe to be in danger, particularly when we think that other people in our immediate vicinity are restricting us somehow.
At the same time, we, who think in terms of multiple relationships, are – as far as “freedom” is concerned – already rather privileged.
Privileged? Yes, privileged. We have a privilege. The degree of freedom in our relationships – which we have worked out individually, which we share with our partners and which we mutually grant ourselves – that is a privilege.
A privilege – I beg your pardon, Oligotropos, you call strange things a privilege… I just care about my personal freedom and do not want to be limited by any conventions, that’s all…
But exactly that’s a privilege, dear friends!
Privilege: The thing you own and display but usually never think about.
The “thing” that only becomes apparent, when you suddenly change context – e.g. if you move into a non-privileged one.

For better understanding a personal example:
We “multiple-relationship-seekers” know that non-monogamous dating isn’t that easy. Hardly anyone admits it openly; like-minded people, who also live models of ethical non-monogamy are usually scarce in ones own periphery. Accordingly, once again the world-wide-web has to compensate… But even out there aren’t too many sites who deal with ethical Non-monogamy or Polyamory – and if it is actually the case one encounters the 200-300 “usual suspects” who are scattered from Flensburg to Garmisch-Partenkirchen – crap!
Last resort: Sign up to a conventional dating-forum. With 200 participants? Pah, there are even more people living in my small town… With 5000? Nice – but there’s still room for improvement… Ah, look there: Almost 30.000 members. That sounds good. Referring to Germany as a whole, it’s still a modest probability (strictly speaking…) – but at least a better chance. That way, I quickly logged into a Facebook-forum “Find new friends and fall in love” (kind like that). And one Friday-evening I obediently posted my introduction according to the rules, featured myself interestingly and honestly – of course, including a smart picture of mine.
Honestly: By that I mean that I posted as well that I considered myself to be part of multiple relationships (and already was).
And then all I had to do was wait and see.

OK – of course I had already seen that when a woman made her appearence, she collected in a short time (2-3h) about 70 to 80 likes and gathered in the same period a full dozen of more or less meaningful comments, including PN offers. If a man appeared, he gathered in the same time about 1 to 3 likes and sometimes someone dared to post a comment.
That in mind I thought that I had approached the matter modestly enough – and was actually waiting for the first stupid comment regarding my statement concerning the multiple relationships. Nevertheless, I was not really prepared for what actually happened.
In the following 72 hours of a busy forum weekend and a following cheerful Monday, there happened… …nothing. No comment, not even a silly one – and not a single “like”. Not even when I commented on myself on Sunday evening, in order to push my post back to the top of the newsfeed. No reaction at all.
That, dear reader, can be a manifestation of privilege, too. And if you become aware of it in such a drastic way. When one realises what exorbitant measure of personal freedom one already has – which for other people is an absolutely unimaginable no-go, almost a blemish, but in any case a “don’t-touch-it”.
Even with a moderately camouflaged screwing-offer, I would probably have received more reaction in the appropriate forum than with an introduction that depicted me as such an odd screwball of non-monogamy. Probably even if I had advertised myself with the same text as well-behaved single – but not as (potentially) “taken” according to the worldview there.
These too can be repercussions of freedom. And the risk that one assumes regarding the freedom of authentic and honest self-expression.

Oligotropos, then do not be bluntly honest next time, but wait and see how things develop…
You didn’t say that – or thought it – or did you?

As the author of this blog I would like to make it clear that we, who advocate ethical non-monogamy – especially because freedom is so important to us – have closed such a (back)door by choosing our particular relationship-philosophy (or at least: should have closed…).
But my freedom to do as I see fit, to do as I choose…!”

Oh, freedom. Which currently seems to be at the centre of attention again because for many people in this world that privilege is far from being as natural as it is for us. Even the quarterly magazine of the Max Planck Society, which I received just yesterday, is dedicated to this title theme in its current issue.
Of course, this journal deals with the freedom of science and research – but that is enough to re-establish context regarding the much-debated concept of freedom.
For everything that concerns our personal freedom is largely covered in Germany by our Constitution (»Grundgesetz/Basic Law« – in particular in the fundamental rights Articles 1-19). I have always thought our Constitution to be rather prosaic and austere, but on closer examination its phrasing is surprisingly comprehensive.
Of course, I love Article 1, which attributes to us all indefeasible human dignity – and if I have my idealistic 5 minutes, then I think that this article alone could have been sufficient, because in it the most important and essential principle is summarised already.
And possibly it would have been enough if we were always aware of our human dignity and that of other people in every situation (which Prof. Gerald Hüther questions in his book “Dignity”).
Nevertheless, even the mothers and fathers of our constitution seem to have suspected that this wouldn’t be the case. Since in Article 2, paragraph (1), they appear to limit our personal freedom – interestingly because of the “rights of others”. And since we haven’t come very far in the text of the constitution until Article 2 yet, these “rights of others” in turn seem to be constituted in their dignity and their right of personal development.
Indeed: By law I am limited in the enjoyment of my personal freedom by the dignity and the personality of other people…

Ah – that’s why I will end up lonely on a bench in my later years. Because my personal freedom is limited anyway and therefore my freedom of love and the freedom to explore my sexuality as I see fit, too…

In my last Entry 27, I explained how quickly our desire for true intimacy is “confused” with sexual desire, or even equated with it. For that reason I emphasised why it is so important to be honest to ourselves, which needs lie behind our wish concerning the implementation of multiple relationships in our life.
Sexuality,” once Marshall Rosenberg² said, “is not a need but a strategy.” When I first heard it, I was angry regarding his assignment – then I pondered on it for a while – and finally I realised why he was right: Because deep down we seek out relationships to experience intimacy, because of our need for familiarity, for closeness, for affection, connection and an emotional home.
Of course, sexuality can be part of the fulfilment. But (at least in my case) it wouldn’t be honest to call sexuality a “need” for it would appoint only a part of the truth as an end in itself – instead of the far more complex entirety of reasons behind it (and if so, then I certainly wouldn’t need such elaborate models like Poly-or Oligoamory).
But if I wish to be blessed with true intimacy until later years (I repeat: familiarity, closeness, affection, connection, and an emotional home), then I probably need these “other people” in my life as well – with whom I can experience this yearned-for and appreciated state.
Come on – other people can be found on every corner – almost 8 billion will be on Earth soon…
That may be so. At the same time, I would like to point to my experience above in the FB-forum, which proved that there are still just a few people who are willing to share our privileged kind of relationship ethos. And of those, realistically, even fewer can be considered as potential loved ones for us (and we for them, by the way).
That’s why it is important that I do not handle the privilege of my “extensive personal freedom” like the literal ax in the woods. Because that way I’m probably going to curb somebody in his personal development here (Oops...) and curtail soemone else concerning her dignity there (Ouch!). By that manner I’ll definitely end up lonely on the park bench someday…

Therefore, I have to make sure that I carefully balance the privilege of my freedom with the privilege of my chosen loved ones.
“Ethical Non-Monogamy” means, in a way, that I no longer regard my “personal freedom” as an unconscious privilege (“Here I go again on my own…!”) – but rather that I am always in a constant dialogue, almost in a kind of dance, regarding my freedom and the freedom of the people around me. The dialogue – or the the dance – is conducted in dignity and respect – sort of like a motto, but at the same time a kind of self-commitment. This performance (only) succeeds, because everyone involved proceeds by the maxim “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
In this manner, my freedom, my personal development, my need fulfilment strategy always exist in a dynamic pattern with the freedom, the personal development and the need fulfilment strategies of the others.
And out of this dynamic on this playing field of coexistence, all significant values of ethical non-monogamy emerge, whether they are poly- or oligoamorous: Compassion, appreciation, cooperation, self-responsibility, forgiveness, clarity, utterly perfect honesty – and a good measure of serenity.
If we would be able to mutually ensure these things towards each other we would go far. If we keep on working together towards these goals, then we are on a great path – for we have understood that our personal freedom is not a static privilege, but a collective achievement that we establish anew every day by giving our best.

Today I would like to leave the final words to the satirical writer Johannes Trojan, whose text I modified a little bit:

»It is striking that in old tales there is little talk of the freedom of love or of freedom itself in the way of special privilege. To our forefathers, love seemed to be natural.
And maybe they hadn’t yet a clear idea of freedom, or they might have taken for granted what they knew as the freedom of love and saw no need to emphasise it.
Now, however, no lover can sit any longer in front of a cup of coffee without expressively affirming that he feels “loving and free” and that he can not live without his freedom of love.
May there come a time when there is less insistance on love and its freedom again.
They both seem to suffer from it.«³

PS: Recommended further reading 17 DOs and DON’Ts of Open Relationships” by Alexander Cheves

¹ “Oh, Freedom” is a post-Civil War African-American freedom song, composed in the 1860s. It is often associated with the American Civil Rights Movement – but was ever since instrumentalised in several political campaigns as well.

² Marshall B. Rosenberg developed an extensive system of needs – which motivate our every thinking and communicating – as a reference frame for his “Nonviolent Communication”.

³ Original text by Johannes Trojan from “Auswahl aus seine Schriften” (Stuttgart 1905):
»It is striking that in ancient German songs there is little talk of German freedom and of Germanism in the way of a special privilege.
To our forefathers it seemed to be natural that a German is German. And maybe they hadn’t yet a clear idea of German freedom, or they may have taken for granted what they knew as German freedom and saw no need to emphasise it.
But now no German can sing a song by his drinking glass without expressively asserting that he feels “German and great” and that he can not live without German freedom.
May there come a time in which less is drunk on Germanity and German freedom.
They both seem to be suffering.

Thanks to by Eric X on Unsplash for the photo!

Entry 27


Committed-sustainable multiple relationships with (just) a few participants.
That’s what I started my journey for.
Maybe that’s what you might be looking for, too, dear reader.

What do we wish for?
To be involved in some real, intimate relationships in our lives.

Oh intimacy – so often misunderstood…
Especially since the 19th century, when the little word “intimate” was chosen as one of the many substitutes to avoid the term “sexual” – thereby forestalling that anybody might call certain “things and procedures” by their proper names. Thanks to these times we still use words like e.g. “intimate hygiene”, “intimate shaving” and “intimate piercing” – and all these words quickly become involuntarily funny, if instead of the disguising derivative “intimate” we are trying to use a proper denomination designating the tangible matter. “Intimate”, is as usefull (or rather useless) as the term “private parts “– which explains nothing but that there seems to be something at close range that is very personal and dear to me.
While this prudish sqeamishness from Victorian times may amuse, that shamefaced use of the term “intimate” caused continuing damage until today – “intimate” and its noun “intimacy” are still broadly applied for everything “sexual”. Accordingly we read or hear “intimacies” and we think: “Oh, it’s about sex…!

And we, who long for real, intimate relationships, quickly get in trouble – with the outside world and with ourselves. “I see – it’s just about sex! ”, – sometimes it doesn’t matter if an inward voice needles us like that or if our best mate blares it out bluntly.

Twitter activist Sassbox wrote earlier this month:

»We think we want sex. It’s not always about sex.
It’s intimacy we want.
To be touched. Looked at. Admired. Smiled at. Laugh with someone.
Feel safe. Feel like someone’s really got you.
That’s what we crave

I’m appreciating such activism, since people like Sassbox are reclaiming a term in this way – thereby restoring its true meaning.
The term “intimacy” stems from the Latin phrase “intimus/a/um” – which is the superlative of the word “intra” (meaning: inside), the comparative “interior” (meaning: more interiorly). Thus, “intimate” means – according to the Online Etymology Dictionary¹: “innermost, deepest”; “closely acquainted, very familiar,” and “inmost, intrinsic”.

Accordingly, we seekers of intimate relationships, in fact, crave for human connections that evoke feelings of deepest attachment, closeness, familiarity and an emotional home.
Hear! Hear!

Anyone who has followed me up to this point may now give me the opportunity to link some “loose ends” that may have been left open by previous expedition entries.
First of all: “a feeling of deepest attachment, closeness, familiarity and an emotional home” corresponds exactly to the ideal state, which Jean Liedloff calls the “continuum” and Daniel Hess calls “Reality of Unity” – and to which I referred in my last Entry 26. Both authors apply their terms to an experience of nearness and intimateness, to a primal ground of perfect cohesion and oneness.

But in Entry 26 I also wrote about a strange dismay and a sudden feeling of shame that sometimes arises when we are confronted with our own urge for closeness and intimacy. Why?
Because we exist in a “Reality of Separation” nevertheless.
And a “Reality of Separation” has two nasty aspects which hamper any emancipated approach back to the lost “primal ground” of unity:
On the one hand, there is the element of elusiveness, which I addressed in Entry 19. As spatiotemporally limited and “finite” living beings we can hardly permanently linger in just one state of existence – even if it is deeply fulfilling. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe depicted this dilemma in his drama “Faust” in a scene where Dr. Faust makes a bet with the devil. Triggering condition of the bet is the following sentence, which Dr. Faust has to utter “If to the moment I should say: Abide, you are so fair”. Dr. Faust – the betting partner of the devil – thus had lost in any case, because the devil plays the ever-changing human mind against our yearning for the lost paradise, the lost “Reality of Unity”, in which everything falls into its place and regarding which we yearn to hold on to forever.

On the other hand, there is the constant “Praise of the Reality of Separation” which we hear almost every minute of the day.
Since the Age of Enlightenment there had been an ever-growing belief in a strong and autonomous self. Therefore, our present morality is often based on maxims such as “The strong one is most powerful alone.²” or “One only can be oneself as long as one is alone: therefore, he who does not love being alone does not love freedom: for only when one is alone , one is truly free.³”. That sounds extreme? Such thoughts don’t have a place in the world of love and multiple relationships? Then I like to link back to my 8th Entry, which I opened with a Rajneesh/Osho quote about our aloneness – or refer to Byron Katie – who is currently in vogue in many polyamorous circles – who postulated in her book, “I need your love, is that true? “(Goldmann 2012) that »other people are just mirrors for our feelings of love that are triggered within us – merely revealing feelings that have been there all along«.
In that kind of “reality” we wouldn’t need other people if we were able to maintain our strong independence and individualism just firmly enough…

But the other people exist nonetheless – and sometimes they can become overwhelmingly “real”. They have their own wishes and needs, which they seek to realise and which they pursue with their own strategies. Like ourselves, they experience fears and hardships which afflict us sometimes (for we are social beings after all).
If we want to fulfill ourselves uncompromisingly, if we want to be completely “free” of alleged restrictions by foreigen strategies and foreigen fears – well, then we have to seek shelter in a “Reality of Separation”. And keep up the daily rat race, which means: Me against “the others”.

And yet: We, the relationship-seekers, still long for intimate connections, for familiarity and togetherness, for the people of our “soul-tribe”, for kindred spirits

A person in the Middle Ages would probably have been unable to understand our conflict between “unity” and “separation” concerning interpersonal relationships: She or he probably would not have been much aware of any lack of individuality, even of inadequate “individuation”. In everyday life, she/he would also have been constantly surrounded by the people of clan and kin. They would have shared the only bed at night with several people, maybe eaten from the same bowl, on the tight table they would have felt (and smelled) right and left the bodies of the other eaters – work and life would have been entirely embedded in a network which the clan provided. Obvious closeness and familiarity everywhere. “Sometimes it’s almost a little bit too much…“, such a person might have said, thereby knowing fully well how she/he was supported by the entire structure in many ways – and therefore why any personal contribution to it was necessary as well.

But today? We do not live like that any more. We grew up in our “Reality of Separation”, we are used to the fact that divisiveness is regularly emphasised and sometimes obligatory. Ever since the beginning of industrialisation in the late 19th century, we have increasingly been living in small-scale families. And since the 1980s, the “single-lifestyle” has statistically been the fastest-growing sector in all Western industrialised nations.
Additionally, we rarely live and work hand to hand any more. Many of us are pursuing occupations where a screen is the main workplace and the only contact to the outside world – open-plan offices with their isolated cubicles are a sign of the times.
Keyword »time«, which is money, as we all know: Our working hours as well as our mode of working barely allow us any recess for social contact, true conversations or even empathic interpersonal moments. Hugging or touching is also a rarity – our Reality of Separation has ensured with many mechanisms that this terrain as well has become too delicate to cross.

All that results is an empty spot. A void felt by an increasing number of people, who try to counteract this isolation in their lives. People who feel that even in the midst of other people hardly anyone touches anyone else, or even looks appreciatively. Where few people allow themselves a smile and laughter is seldom heard. In such circumstances, you quickly feel insecure. Because in our Reality of Separation, we can hardly recognise who’s really got us….
And amidst all this – there we are – the”relationship seekers”, with our need for closeness, affection and, yes, intimacy.

That’ll be some challenge!
Because – first of all – we have to admit that there is this need inside of us. Admit it honestly to ourselves. And that is not easy because we are violating everything that our surrounding Reality of Separation has taught us: The strongest is most powerful alone – and therefore we MUST NOT need the other people.
And that’s why we’re scared of ourselves or even a little ashamed when we catch ourselves fancying that innermost (intimate!) need. For in the harsh light of a Reality of Separation, we would thus be considered as needy – and as dependent.

Maybe there even is a desire for more than one beloved person… Perhaps our need has become quite strong in many years, sinc in a Reality of Separation, true intimacy is always stinted. In a Reality of Separation the powers that be use such mechanisms to keep us obedient and manageable. Accordingly, in western industrialised nations, there is only one officially sanctioned model in which love and intimacy can be granted among adults: it is called “monogamy” and allows only two providing participants… Anyone who wants to break away from this narrow framework has to be very courageous and non-conformist, because in a Reality of Separation divergent tendencies are seldom welcome and often are branded as extremely frivolous and suspicious.
Anyway. There they are now …: The “other people”. The other people with their petty worries and fears. Parents, children, spouses, friends and lovers…
Finally, despite all the inner adversities, we halfway consolidated our yearnings; contrary to the prevailing forces we try to live a life in which multiple relationships are possible – and there they are, holding us down: These people, with whom one is connected for life in systems of liabilities, commitments and mutual care. We have come that far. But we can never really be free like that – Schopenhauer and Osho and Mrs. Mitchell are quite right: If only we were alone, away from those stupid agreements that we have somehow approved – regarding some people we are related to in lots of intimate ways – we would be soooo much more advanced… (*Irony off*)

Really? You would rather be separate? Because voluntary-conclusive attachment concerning your family or your relationship is too sticky, too restrictive?
Then you think like the wife of the fisherman (“The Fisherman and His Wife“), who is rewarded at the end of the journey with a bitter return to her old hovel: Welcome (back) to your Reality of Separation!

No, you who are still longing, the romantics, the relationship-seekers, on the road to experience true intimacy: Familiarity, appreciation, attachment, and an emotional home are always “inclusive.” These values do not exist detached from your primal ground, but are directly connected with everything that (already) is in your life. And above all, these are the people with whom we already share our lives. Because there exists “intimacy” yet.
And if we really take the term seriously – which I think is what were are bound to do – we should acknowledge that these people are part of our “innermost” being, too. And if I would try to exclude that, I would once again create an artificial separation.
Every new “intimate” relationship that I aspire is connected in my “innermost being” to the existing ones. And that is why I also feel the cares and concerns of my loved ones like my own: I’m not afraid for them because of their cares and concerns or because I have to watch sometimes helplessly from the sideline. In the end it’s always the fear for myself. It’s my fear that I can not fulfil my needs as I would like to do. Fear that suggests, that I would have to split up internally, thereby creating nothing but small, separate units, in which I could only realise bits and pieces of my yearnings. An inner fragmentation concerning which I know that by doing so I will never really experience my inner peace of a “Reality of Unity”, the true “continuum”.

We have to choose the ambitious approach: An approach of trust and integration if we want to experience a oneness of our relations within ourselves. And that’s why it was so important to the writer Saint-Exupéry to point out in his story with the little prince and the fox (chapter XXI) that “getting to know each other, to make oneself familiar” always takes time. Even the “familiarisation” with ourselves. That way we may benevolently recognise how sincere we actually are towards ourselves, how much “unconventionality” we might dare already.
Or whether we are still predominantly falling into the traps of an all too well known “Reality of Separation”, while we are trying hard to reach out for unity and oneness.

That’s what true multiple relationships and ethical non-monogamy are all about. Or, as Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart said at the end of her article, in which she published the term »polyamorous« for the first time:
The magic words are still, after all: Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.

¹ Ethymology Online Dictionary by Douglas Harper

² Friedrich Schiller, “William Tell”, 1802-1804. Act 1, Scene 3

³ Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher, from “Parerga and Paralipomena”, 1851

Thanks to Jay-O for calling my attention to the Twitter-quote and thanks to Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 26

United or separated?

After spending half a year on the remote island of Oligoamory, I can not avoid writing down an interim report.
For as much as the island and its friendly inhabitants cast a spell over me, I wonder at the same time, whether I myself had been prepared for an expedition of this magnitude – and if I’m prepared at all.
Sometimes that is the challenge for every explorer: With curiosity and élan you set out to new shores – and sometimes, despite the supposedly best of intentions, you are not quite ready for what you will eventually find. And… – it is often the case that one discovers in a certain way “more” (or “something quite different”) than one had ever dared to hope for. All of a sudden, one is facing a larger and more complex reality.
Of course, as an explorer one must always humbly acknowledge that there are never any “objectifiable facts” as such. In the old days, scientists liked to believe that. Today we know that we ourselves, who are exploring, who are observing, who are trying to understand, are not acting as a neutral “blank board”. On the contrary, everything that we explore, observe, seek to understand, is always getting into the context of those ideas that we already bring along within ourselves – it is like looking through some kind of glasses that we can never ever set down.

When I look at the oligoamorous natives in this way, it seems to me sometimes that we are more separated from each other than I had hoped for. Like by a kind of thick glass pane, which stands between them and myself. They seem to exist in a state that anthropologist and author Jean Liedloff¹ called “The Continuum” – which the author Daniel Hess² called a bit more understandable: the “Reality of Unity“, a condition of original happiness.
If it were true concerning that “glass pane” between them and me, then that would mean that I, on my part, exist in a “Reality of Separation” – and I fear that there’s some evidence to confirm it. And regarding that it’s not the only sign, that the Oligoamorists sometimes shyly call me “Ma’Vrik” – an expression the children use to call a fledgling out of its nest – or an animal, which has lost its flock.

If the Oligoamorists have retained a certain childlike attitude on their remote island, they indeed would still have an important amount of the above mentioned “original happiness.”
Time and again – in certainly more than a dozen expedition entries – I have struggled with the important state of “connectedness”, which is a core topic of Oligoamory by itself. If the natives were never expelled from their unified paradise, then they posses the great bliss that they have never lost this remarkable state. Every day they are able to experience connectedness – and thus they still feel “complete” and, accordingly, whole. Unsurprisingly, I admire and appreciate their integrity almost reverentially – but in their respect it is no challenge that an “individual’s actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles” – because they are always acting and talking out of their coherent unity. And after writing down this sentence, it does not surprise me anymore why they seem so energetic to me all the time: What a paradisiacal existence, as their brains almost never find themselves harassed by any “incoherence-alarm” – thereby keeping up enormous capacities for more peaceful processes and creativity (Incoherence see Entry 25). “Oligoamorous Flow” should therefore be an almost phenomenal experience…

But what does that tell about me, the explorer?
Unfortunately, I’m no oligoamorous native, I am rather a mainlander with non-monogamous affinity. In fact, I seem to come from a “different reality” – apparently one in which I have closed off my direct access to an ubiquitous sense of connectedness and to that natural unity of being, talking and doing.
I exist in a “Reality of Separation”.

Of course, it is quite easy now to complain about this condition and to point out that, as an “inhabitant of the old world,” I can’t manage any better. After all, I grew up in a society of separation, in a political system of separation, and “the powers that be” are responsible for ensuring that the divisive rather than the inclusive remains the main topic of the global discourse. One click on any news portal and any social network will confirm this very easily.

Nevertheless, a “Reality of Separation” has its advantages, too. Because in this way I can create categories, I get structure and some order in my everyday life. After all, systematisation and evaluation have been characteristic features of the whole process of humanisation ever since. Maybe the serpent and I are part of a globally connected ecological context – but in the end it was an important achievement of my ancestors that they could decide: Toxic or harmless? Tension or relaxation? Flee or stay? Accordingly, people have always made dozens of basic decisions every day – thereby creating categories: to survive, to develop and to deduce.
It is important for me to point out in this way that a “Reality of Separation” is also part of our human nature – certainly likewise the oligoamorous one. And I want to emphasize that category formation and evaluation per se do not automatically belong to a “realm of evil”.

Nevertheless, by living in my “Reality of Separation”, in a sense, I am actually “driven out of Paradise”. The mechanisms that worked in my favour during the evolution, thereby ensuring my alertness and safety, turn now in a subtle and often unconscious way against me: My fears.
They might be useful in the Neolithic age or while practising extreme sports today: Fears of predators, high altitude, darkness, to be abandoned or trapped somewhere – these are life-threatening situations and deep ingrained instincts want to preserve us. But our environment at the beginning of the 21st century, especially in Central Europe, has long since ceased to be determined by those hardships. In the form of basic emotions, in situations which we perceive as threatening, our fears have nevertheless remained as a biological heritage. And fears are characteristics which, as described above, shape a “Reality of Separation” by category formation: dangerous = bad = avoid // conducive = good = seek out.
However, since we humans are social beings and there have never been so many of us on this planet before, today’s fears are primarily social fears.
Author Daniel Hess, mentioned at the beginning of this article, specifies on that front our fear of rejection and possibly punishment (including shame), our fear of being alone and our fear of death (limitedness, finiteness).

Since fears are almost always intense and literally blood-curdling emotions, our “fear of fear” causes us to use our Reality of Separation to evaluate all of their manifestations as “negative” – and try to avoid feeling or enduring them Instead, we often compensate by deflecting, trivializing, denying or suppressing (which usually means to adapt to the circumstances).
In this way, we separate our fears, which are actually warning signs concerning a particular matter we should urgently notice, from ourselves.

The recently deceased family therapist Jesper Juul called the most important values he identified in almost 50 years of observation as “equal-dignity,” “integrity,” “authenticity,” and “responsibility.”
Regarding a “Reality of Separation” and our resulting “anxiety management”, it is easy to recognise where a large part of our current personal problems originate (and why, for example, I also experience myself “separated” from the happy Oligoamorists):

For example, that way we never fully accept our whole responsibility – which Jesper Juul specifies as “accountability” – concerning our talking and and doing. Those parts of it that would touch our hidden fears are the parts of the iceberg that will usually stay below the surface. And, because of our “fear of fear”, we prefer in a somewhat recoiling, unconscious way, that those parts should continue to remain in our own private kingdom. Because in regarding full personal accountability, we would first have to deal with our fears and in particular with those matters they want to point us to. That way, there also lurks shame concerning our hitherto existing inadequacy, our limitations and our weaknesses.
Assume accountability – despite these imperfections? This is a rarely practised, revolutionary concept that I hardly dare to confront myself…

It is even more obvious that authenticity (= being genuine and true) and integrity, which I have invoked so often, fall by the wayside as well – at least partially. Since in this manner we always cover a part of our own personality. And that must be terrible for our fellow human beings, especially for our loved ones, if they feel our inner ambivalence and our incoherence and may in turn ask themselves if they are in any way the cause of our inconsistency (which manifests itself more often than not in cynicism, exaggeration and generalization).
And we ourselves, who we never dare to be completely “genuine and true”? Become often depressed about it or choose for our life some facade as a working mode, which we permanently present to the outside world – hoping that no one discovers this supposedly ugly anxious part of us, which we unfortunately have to endure ourselves.
That’s why communication teacher like Dr. Brad Blanton, Marshall Rosenberg, and Tich Nhat Hanh want to bring us together with a manipulation-free and honest language, so that we dare to stand by our inner sensitivities and express these – because only that way we ourselves and the others may really understand each other (see Entry 20).

But what obstructs our way back to a “Reality of Unity” and back to a heartfelt connectedness the most is our persisting lack of equal-dignity (Danish: “ligeværdighed “). Not just “equal” – we want to be “equally-dignified”, Jesper Juul verbalised that expression very nicely. And it is a difficult way back exactly because of that dignity.
Because somewhere in me there is an anxious part, in which I am deeply insecure, whether it’s “OK”. Nay, because I’m that anxious, I’m almost convinced that it “isn’t OK”.
Anyone who has ever dealt with negotiation strategies knows what it means when a side gets the impression of “I’m not OK” when trying to balance their interests. Concerning group-dynamics it means to identify with the attitude “lose”. Anyone who is stuck in such a position (and can not bring about a “win”) can only bring about a supposed success, as the other participants also have to lose too, in order to establish a “lose-lose-sitiuation”. Which in the end means “I’m not OK” – “the others are not OK either”.
This result, in turn, dreadfully merges with our remaining “Reality of Separation”, for along with entrenched categories and evaluations, a system of power play and exclusion unfolds. Because I suppress (unawarely) a part of my own dignity, I do not fully admit the others to theirs. And because I have to keep my countenance – at least towards myself in order to survive – I have to substitute some sense of self-esteem by exercising power (and if it is only by slander…).

Of course, that way hegemonic structures, whole societies and political systems unfold. Even the “powers that be” strive towards their exalted positions in such a manner.
Ultimately, however, these are symptoms, these are effects – and those are not the ones that keep me from my much longed-for connectedness and unity.

Causally it is me, myself, who recoils or feels embarrassed in a strange way when I catch myself during certain thoughts and actions. It is me, who realises that I’m saying or doing certain things out of fear (or keep silent or passive instead), but who would never admit that this is behind my deepest motivations. Even worse when those fears appear to be somewhat irrational – and one feels almost lunatic because of it.
Often, however, those fears may manifest in a very tangible appearance: Fears of (often experienced) rejection; afraid of being left out or of being left alone. Or we have to face fears of embarrassment and shame (which by now we impose on ourselves) – because we weren’t as careful or thorough as we would have wished in a number of matters.
Caught by yourself – an awkward feeling…
Living with our own limitations, having to admit to ourselves that we can not control everything, that we are much less than perfect, that we have weaknesses and impatience in us that really keep some goals out of our reach, that there are unfulfilled or inadequately fulfilled needs, some maybe nonconformist or difficult to control… – sometimes that demands more strength than we can muster.

I’m looking through the glass pane towards the Oligoamorists in their continuum, in their “Reality of Unity”.
I believe they want to show me that there is no need to muster that strength just because I believe that I must always be able to withstand myself.
Oligotropos, you’re a fine guy! “, one of them is calling. And when such a full-size native is looking at you, one fancies for a moment that one is completely transparent and that the caller over there meant every word he had just uttered perfectly serious.
I would like to see myself that way too.
I would like to trust.
And will continue to search for the glass door.

¹ Jean Liedloff: “The Continuum-Concept, In Search of Lost Happiness”, Duckworth, London 1975.

² Daniel Hess: “Happiness School – Living Lucky & Learning Joyfully”, Novum Verlag, 2014

³ Jesper Juul: “4 Values that Children Carry For Life“, Gräfe and Unzer, 2014

Thanks to Andrew Ridley on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 25

“Hello – may I introduce you to an alternative relationship-concept?”

There are certainly duller hook-ups than this – on the other hand, I still fear that even with such a conversation-starter the chances of success will be rather low.
But how and where can I find people who are interested in multiple relationships?” Well, that is such a good question and the answer to that may not sound very helpful, for it is “everywhere and nowhere”.
In fact, I have already delivered the »bad news« in Entry 4, referring to sources that show that the number of people who are consistently committed to non-monogamy is rather small.
There is, however, also a kind of »good news«, because our life plans within an individual biography have probably never changed as strongly and repeatedly as ours now at the beginning of the 21st century. In particular, our job flexibility is involved in this, which in its wake immediately also occupies both our flexibility concerning habitual residence and flexibility in terms of our attachment- and reproduction-strategies. And in one way or another, this social dictate catches up with all of us. Even people who do not have their gainful employment at the centre of their lives nowadays manifest an astonishing account of relocations and cohabitation models.
The strategies we choose to tackle these challenges are as various as we are ourselves. And one of the great strengths of Homo sapiens is, strictly speaking, our outstanding curiosity, our continued ability to learn and our ability to adapt. With a tiny – but important! – restriction: We need a little time for that.
Unless we belong to the very small avant-garde of ultra-spontaneous contemporaries, most of us are not overly keen regarding sudden surprise or the announcement of rapid change. And in a certain sense this would also include our first sentence in this article – and that’s why it seldom yields a radiant countenance and the reply: “Yeah, I have been waiting for this question for so long; sit down and tell me all about it!“.

Again it is mainly our biology which does not follow suit and hurries somewhat inconveniently to the rescue of our biography. In Entry 21 I mentioned the neuroscientist Prof. Dr. Gerald Hüther, who in his book “What we are – and what we could be” explains that our brains are basically adjusted to energy conservation and therefore would like nothing more than to manage familiar tasks – thereby ensuring enduring »coherence« (= consistency, correlation). Most cleverly, our brains reward us in such a case with a sense of well-being: “Everything’s fine, everything as it should be”. This coherence forms the basis for what is commonly referred to as the »comfort zone« .
Because in a certain way, we are all always a little comfortable in our current established living conditions. And that is even necessary so that we can at least reasonably fulfil our basic needs such as sustainment, safety, recreation and structure (to which we may eventually add some kind of community, communication and a creative way of life). The tricky thing is: Because we rely heavily on the feeling of well-being and coherence generated by our brains (thanks to a pleasant cocktail of all sorts of rewarding hormones, etc.), we often settle down regarding our (self-)generated living conditions and report back to our brains “I chose it that way – that’s how I want it.”. And our dear brains are pleased to register our confirmed mood as lasting coherence, pour out a little more endorphins and are switching to default mode: “Carry on as usual!”
Such a comfort zone can’t be changed »quickly« and if we would try, it would feel at first as if we were violating our own interests. Therefore, our advertising campaign concerning “alternative relationship-concepts” is bound to fail, at least if we try to submit it via direct marketing to people who have never really dealt with things like that before.

If, on the other hand, we want to employ the strengths of the human species, curiosity, the ability to learn and adaptability, then we need a different approach – and that, in turn, will only be successful if we ourselves leave our own established »comfort zone« (or at least dismiss a part of it).

When I met one of my later partners for the first time, she entered the apartment of my family because she wanted to participate in a spiritual home group we held there with some of our friends. The original appointment had been made by one of the involved friends who had searched for other participants, but the circumstances are almost arbitrary. Almost, I say, because there actually weren’t any »relational intentions« regarding the background of the meeting. And I have to choose the word »actually« for two reasons:
Once, some kind of relationship involuntarily establishes itself in each case when people do anything together. You know the ol’ proverb: “There’re always relationships…” ? – And of course this is true, because I usually have some kind of “relationship” with all those persons with whom I regularly interact in everyday life, whether they are cashiers, postmen, mechanics etc. Whenever human interaction gains an extra quality, a relationship is established: My cashier has considerations for my pace because he knows me as a regular customer in his checkout line; my postmen delivers all large-size envelopes to me personally because he knows that I value that service; and my car-mechanic knows all the aches and pains of my venerable car better than I do. All these people are no longer »anyone« to me at these moments – and I’m not »anyone« to them. And that’s not unimportant regarding the relationship level: Because relationships can retain a certain quality, which they usually do in a public setting – but we also always have the opportunity to personalise, deepen and empower them by means of committent.
Secondly, I am inwardly not a fully monogamous person; and in my relationships I had over long stretches the happiness and the freedom to think (and express!): “Now, there’s an interesting and pleasant person who just walked in. I would like to get to know her better. Maybe there’s »more« to it.” (and this »more« has a dimension in my mind like the Mariana Trench: Everything is possible from “We can enjoy ourselves watching colourful fish together…” to “All the way down…”).
Of course, at the time, I too had “settled in my life”. I was a spouse, father of a family, a househusband – which, however, in my case did pose no contradiction to my profession of sympathy above. That way, my brain was at ease, reported coherence, and at the same time had a pleasant stimulus of gentle curiosity concerning things to come.
And that was a pretty perfect combination for the resulting process, which is currently much cited but rarely understood correctly: Getting to know each other.
»Getting to know« – incorporates the word »know«, which means “to perceive, to understand and to recognise” (at least regarding the Ethymology Online Dictionary). That will hardly be possible within a day, especially with respect to something complex like another human personality. And our brains would raise »Red-Incoherency-Alert« – quite fitting for the first stages of »falling in love«. But »getting to know«? To assess well-founded if there is a true relation to another human being – to an extent that one does not want to miss that relation any more? Regarding such an evaluation our poor brains need more time. Because they are putting in a lot of hard labour during the »getting-to-know-phase«: Not only do they need to open up the existing “comfort zone” of established coherence, but, strictly speaking, in order to regain their lost efficiency, they have to create a new comfort zone – but a more inclusive version than the previous one.
Hardly anyone has described this process more considerate than the French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in his book “The Little Prince” (1943):

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince.
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.
But, after some thought, he added:
“What does that mean – ‘tame’?”
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…”
“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince.
“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please – tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”

If by now we have wiped a teardrop out of the corner of our eyes, we can identify in this short excerpt all the »human factors« that I have previously mentioned, such as curiosity (concerning each other) , mutual willingness to learn (from each other) , and adaptability (to each other). And regarding the fox and the wheat, Saint-Exupéry even describes, in a lyrical way, how in ones mind a new experience harmoniously is integrated into the context of what already exists, so that a new, larger correlation can be established and the desired coherence can be regained.

Accordingly, what would be my recommendation on how and where to find people who are interested in multiple relationships?
Before the new visitor of our house-group became my (additional) »significant other«, she had probably come and gone dozens of times to our house. During this time we had met on a variety of occasions, together with other acquaintances, at parties, on excursions and so on – and at the same time we had spent a significant proportion of everyday life (there are always preparations, trips, agreements; simply profane stuff that usually goes hand in hand with everything special). Both of us were able to check whether we had room for each other in our already “existing frame” and if such an arrangement was viable at all. For in this regard it is much more important for our brains to register how someone reacts when the lid of the salt shaker drops off over the salad bowl as to assize a glamorous outfit on the same person…
Incidentally, in the vast majority of Mediterranean and Romance-influenced countries, first dates almost never happen in a 1:1-context: New acquaintances are first introduced to the (whole) existing circle of friends in a relaxed atmosphere – and often it is checked out whether the »new« harmonises with the »existing«. And that was also a decisive factor for me: It contributed decisively to my »sense of coherence«, how my partner and my children got along with our new guest over the next few months – and whether they were able to form independent relationships of their own.

That way our brains need a playing field where they can learn to assess a new »influencing factor« – and the remaining amount of familiarity has to be sufficient enough to avoid loosing coherence – which even literally means to be »joined with each other«.
Dating-struggle for the sake of dating, however, means stress to our brains. And stress makes us insecure, tense, easily irritable and sends out ambivalent signals – or at best makes it easy for a while to maintain a certain pretence. Which in turn is not good for our counterparts, as their brains will likely report incoherence in that case – and by now we know that this will turn out rather counterproductive.

Grandmother’s advice (which even I do not always like to heed) is therefore still true today: Do something that you enjoy; do something that you have loved ever since. It is much more likely that you will find like-minded people in such contexts – and that they will be excited and exiting like yourself.
A common interest (Oh yes, I really mean something like hiking or pottery) is excellent for our brains to serve as the playing field I mentioned above: “There are other people who are doing something similar to me. That’s good, that’s how things should be…¹ “. And if you are a little bit bolder, I suggest activities where you can show a little bit more of your personality – and therefore you will be able to experience more of the others as well. Involvement in a self-help or environmental group is not bad at all – and even the spiritual circle I used myself may work (it does not have to be ecclesiastical, there are also meditation groups, fasting, yoga, etc.) – and all of them can provide a “get-to-know-you” atmosphere.
And, as Saint-Exupéry once told us, getting to know each other is a gradual, in-depth process that can range from initial sympathy and friendship, fellowship, harmony, intimacy, connection, closeness and familiarity, to affection, togetherness,and deep love.

By now I suppose that some readers will argue that even in the pottery class, in the environmental club and in the chanting-circle there are only monogamous people who, at best, will utter something like “Is that some kind of swinging???” when you dare to mention multiple relationships.
Statistically most likely. But. At this point I would like to remind my dear readers not to underestimate our multifarious biographies I mentioned at the beginning. All the mentioned groups and activities above have the enormous bonus that we can meet people of any age, sex or gender there. Lifestyles and living conditions are very changeable over time – our need for attachment, for social communication, for reciprocity, an emotional home and yes, for love, however, remains for a lifetime. With whom do I want to share my life with? Accordingly, our strategies how we want to meet those needs have to adapt to our lives. And if we are not entirely sociopathic it is certain that we all long for other people to share our lives with, people we want to associate and join with.
Whether this always involves sexual activity? Regarding this I suggest my inner Mariana Trench: It has a depth of 36.201ft and in the darkness down there a lot of things may be conceivable and even possible. But likewise looking at colourful fish just inches below the surface will prove more than satisfactory if it is shared wholeheartedly with beloved people – who in turn are loving us.

PS: Dancing, however, I do not recommend (if it’s not a group-activity like Salsa Rueda, line dancing, etc.) since it is usually conducted in pairs. The scene is also occasionally marked by vanities and outward comparisons that can quickly lead to awkward dynamics – especially when “more than two” parties are concerned…

¹ That’s why many people are getting to know potential loved ones at work. Besides much time spent there, there is a community, there’s common context, maybe even a connecting objective.

Thanks to Subenja for the inspiration and thanks to Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash for the photo.