Entry 36 #Jealousy

Concerning Jealousy

You and your ubiquitous jealousy…!”, we hear, “You’re victim to your complexes!”
And anyway, those are: “Outmoded bourgeois resentments…“, – and with an ironic wink often the quotation* is added „In jealousy there is more self-love than love.
But even in circles of supposedly empathic and well-informed ethical multiple relationships, “good advice” is dealt out quickly: “I think, you’d better work on your jealousy (= so that the rest of us can continue unmolested as before!)”. Or the knockout argument of all kitchen table psychology is put into the field: “The problem should be left to the person who has the problem (= so that the rest of the relationship-network can continue unmolested as before).”
That’s hardly non-violent, mostly inaccurate, and the remaining bits of truth contained in it are so distorted that in such a case they will hardly help. But what’s certainly clear is that jealousy is an issue where emotions and feelings quickly escalate on all sides – and where it is therefore not so easy to blaze a path through the matted jungle of hasty diagnoses and categorical blame.

Take a deep breath.
According to my life’s experience so far, there is no “jealousy” per se. Jealousy is as individual and different as the people who are plagued by it. Plagued by it, I say, since – also according to my experience – I have never met a single person who is gladly and willingly jealous. And unfortunately, even with the latter reproach, those affected are also regularly confronted: jealous people would “instrumentalise” their jealousy with pleasure, to deliberately mess things up for all others involved.
Even a look at Wikipedia makes this unlikely:
Jealousy generally refers to the thoughts or feelings of insecurity, fear, and concern over a relative lack of possessions. Jealousy can consist of one or more emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness or disgust. Jealousy is a typical experience in human relationships, and it has been observed in infants as young as five months.
At this point I already hear how the people, who feel restricted by a jealous person, prepare for a counter-attack: This definition would show that jealousy would be a mere “sensation” – that is, a purely subjective assessment. And anyway: It would be a pretty demanding claim to rely on other people regarding an adequate supply of “recognition, attention, love, peace and security” in such a fashion. The affected person clearly would be well advised to improve its self-esteem…

Take a deep breath.
I think that the Wikipedia-Entry on the subject is quite useful – but in my opinion it still falls short in a few important aspects. If you read through the rest of the article (as so many other contributions regarding the topic), then the descriptions there are rather focused on occurrences in the present. The article acknowledges: „These definitions of jealousy share two basic themes. First, all the definitions imply a triad composed of a jealous individual, a partner, and a perception of a third party or rival. Second, all the definitions describe jealousy as a reaction to a perceived threat to the relationship between two people, or a dyad. Jealous reactions typically involve aversive emotions and/or behaviors that are assumed to be protective for their attachment relationships. These themes form the essential meaning of jealousy in most scientific studies.“

If the circumstances would always be that simple, then in my opinion most cases of jealousy – at least in ethically-non-monogamous realms – shouldn’t become so often the threatening dramas that those involved usually experience. And even if we object that most of us have just arrived from the “old world of monogamy” with its elaborate rules of thinking in terms of “claim and possession”, there remains still a considerable amount of relational dynamite, which can not be defused just by a mere paradigm shift, as far as the relationship philosophy is concerned.
Why do I think that this is so?

First and foremost, it seems important to me to neatly separate the concepts of “cause” and “stimulus”, usually mingled in our thinking and speaking as “fault” (“It’s your fault that…!”). Therefore, the most part of the circumstances described in the Wikipedia-Entry, belongs in my estimation to the category of “stimulus”: People are in a relationship, a relationship-parameter changes (for example, by the addition of another person or a time-consuming hobby), this changes the relationship-symmetry, and a sensitive person now experiences deprivation and feelings of inferiority, accompanied by anger, sadness, fear and shame.
Of course it is therefore also a good idea to look at this “stimulus” as well: Does the change violate in any way the emotional contract, which belongs to the already existing relationship? For example, if all parties involved had agreed on a kind of ethical non-monogamy, such as Poly- or Oligoamory, and now there is the possible initiation of another relationship, then such a thing could be totally covered by the standing agreement, if not suddenly other arrangements (job, household, finances) are grossly neglected. Probably, however, the existing agreement “emotional contract” would at least have to be readjusted, as the resource “time” is not infinitely divisible and reproducible…
Alas, the frustration in non-monogamous relationships with regard to jealousy exists mostly, because even after all such reasoning, because in spite of all these good agreements and adjustments, jealousy can lunge out like an untamed tiger, though.

In my experience, jealousy is mainly a “phenomenon of causes” and not primarily a “phenomenon of stimuli “. Hence the good news first: Jealousy is most likely less causally related to the people interacting just now. Or rather “only” that much: What happens in the present is the repeatedly provoked trigger (psychologically called “stimulus”) for the underlying cause of the jealousy.
But this is where our good news comes to an end, for with this conception we are literally removing the lid from Pandora’s box, under which there exists an often frighteningly mingled situation in all of us:

Our brain is a truly great organ. Its storage capacity is legendary, as well as its economic efficency¹. In order to maintain its economic efficency (e.g. to ensure that we can absorb new knowledge on a daily basis, can drive a car without thinking too much, and efficiently carry out our day-to-day work with changing challenges), it processes and stores numerous impressions with a simplifying “data-chunk procedure” (in the form of compressed information-chunks), so that the sheer number of incoming information and sensory impressions may not incapacitate us. This “information-chunk-procedure” starts with the development of the brain before we are born and is active throughout our lives. The “secret” of this chunk-processing is an important part of our brain’s memory called “the unconscious” (or the subconcious), which is able to pick up, store and allocate large amounts of information as needed. During our socialisation, the “unconscious” also serves to absorb all the emotions and feelings that – for some reason – we can not or do not want to deal with immediately. The latter, however, is not always a good thing, because in this way over a longer period of suffering a phenomenon builds up, which is psychologically referred to as “complex“, because the brain – economically efficient as it is – usually files similar experience, so to speak, in a common bundle. Or as the psychiatrist C.G. Jung once said: “internalised, generalised conflictual experiences that are emotionally conspicuous and linked to a particular relationship issue“.
Concerning that the psychologist Verena Kast explains²: “If topics or emotions associated with the complex are addressed, then the whole of the unconscious linking is activated, along with the associated emotions from the entire life as well as the resulting stereotyped defense strategies. In such a situation you can no longer control the emotions, you can not think calmly about a situation, you have an ’emotional rupture’.
At this point it can already be seen that “trigger” and “cause” are linked in that way. Jealousy is almost always a “resentment “.
Again Verena Kast: “The word resentment comes from French re-sentir ‘to feel sth. again’. It is about the repeated experiencing and re-experiencing of certain relationship occurrences. E.g. again and again one remembers how one has been treated unfairly, how one had no opportunity to defend oneself successfully. […] Here the impotence of action, which has led to a development of resentment, is clearly visible. People feel exposed, trapped, defenceless. In other words, they have a loss of self-efficacy, an important aspect of self-esteem, and this corresponds to episodes of complexes which deal with humiliation and violation of self-esteem.”
The anthropologist Max Scheler called this “psychic self-poisoning“, because these resentments were once based on normal human emotions and basic emotions that could not be expressed at the right time and now – when triggered – erupt with violence and drama.
Which means: Our jealous persons, yes, they are now actually feeling anger, sadness, fear and shame with a life-threatening violence, as if the events that had once occurred would have happened just yesterday, but today they feel them as if they were connected to the triggering event – for example in Non-monogamy, when additional potential loved ones are appearing.

The issue that those affected should “work” on their problem – as the well-intentioned advice likes to call it – is challenged by two main problems:

On the one hand, there is the bygone time, which usually makes it no longer possible to clarify the inhibited experiences with those who were truly concerned at the time in a satisfactory and beneficial way. Nevertheless, perhaps one could consciously reflect upon those past occurences for oneself today (if the “causal participants” are no longer available); since now we are grown-up and have a broader view on past events – this clue is also contained in numerous guidebooks.
But on the other hand there is our brain itself, which sets up its own obstacles because of its mentioned working strategies. The science author Stefan Klein describes in his book “The Formula of Luck” ³ how the brain strengthens neural pathways (= data highways!) which are used frequently, and how it reduces those that are seldom deployed. When thinking in resentments and complexes, this has a disastrous effect. Klein writes: “Once we’ve started perceiving the world through darkened glasses, the brain is trying to maintain that negative mood: It picks stimuli that fit the emotional situation. Gloomy thoughts, negative experiences, and bitter memories are given priority access to consciousness. That way one sees misery everywhere, and the whole organism reacts accordingly. This works, as if the cerebrum thinks an abstract negative thought and manages to convince the rest of the brain that it is as real as a physical stressor (e.g. a real attack). In such a state of depression, this survival function is directed against ourselves. […] Accordingly, we delve into every detail of what might occur, dealing with concerns and possibilities that are unlikely to ever happen. But even the thought of it pulls our mood down; a price that we all pay for our imagination and intelligence.”
By which Stefan Klein also classified the great archetype of all jealous beings, the gloomy Othello from the eponymous drama.

What can be done?
Such a ‘one-way street in your mind’, which was created during your growing-up, and which has been strengthened and reinforced by ‘re-experiencing events’ over a long time – and now it’s a four-lane highway – you will never get completely dismantled...” said a friendly psychologist in this regard to me. “But,” she said, “with the same mechanism that the brain has used to build that path of thought, you can strengthen another path today to counter that thinking with something equal or superior.” Thereby virtually creating a new highway of your own, which would then require a most confident and courageous mental leap in order to guide the ways of thinking back to painless realms (see below).

But this requires courageous commitment, and I would like to briefly sketch here – at the end of my article – four basic requirements, which in view of my oligoamorous experience are indispensable to it:

  1. Initially, the jealous person must have the opportunity to feel and express the totality of their feelings free of shame. In order to succeed, s*he must be granted that freedom by everyone else in the relationship network – and of course s*he has to first empower her*himself (which, since this “way of thinking” is unusual, can be really difficult). Strategies like Brad Blanton’s “Radical Honesty” but also the “Radical Permission” according to Mike Hellwig can be useful approaches to doing so.
  2. All participants in a relationship-network must work actively together for a common good. Attitudes like “Get a grip…!” are completely counterproductive. The distinct decision of all parties concerning a committed and firm will to be together (Entry 33) should be highly evident and perceptible to everyone involved.
    Since in Oligoamory, of course, all participants in the sense of the totality, which is “more than the sum of its parts”, ensure recognition, attention, love and respect in the overall relationship.
    [By the way: A transparently stated “2.” will also prevent the jealous person from being considered a “boycotter” who “uses” the jealousy to ultimately prevent the overall relationship.
    In particular, allocating “blame” (“Because of you, I can’t see X as often as I like…“) must be prevented as much as possible. After all, a jealous person already feels deeply guilty inside already – and feelings of guilt and shame will only lead deeper into an existing trauma.]
  3. Under no circumstances choose the unpredictable tactic “Continue as before”! The jealous person otherwise has no chance to strengthen their “new pathway”. If the same triggering stimuli are repeated over and over again (such as spending intimacy / time with new loved ones), then only new cascades of resentment and complexes are initiated – and the already existing highway of bitter thoughts will grow.
    For many multiple relationships this is the most difficult part in practice: Because it means “Hold your fire, slow down”. And for the newly unfolding connection, it means suspending newly discovered goodies (such as intimacy) until the new pathway is strong enough.
    If the jealous person experiences complete, unrestrained assurance that they are trusted with all these tools to regain their competence, then that is far more helpful at the empathy level.
  4. Paths “away from the highway“ are concerning the individuality of the afflicted person. Often these people have to learn to believe themselves, to trust themselves again. By succeeding in doing so, they can also change their perspective regarding the present occurrences with their current triggers (even if at the beginning it may only be possible for a short time). But that way there is a chance that a new idea, a different perspective may arise. And finally this idea can help to evaluate a (otherwise triggering) situation differently than before.
    Warning: This is NOT to be confused with a positive mental attitude. Positive thinking, applied to jealousy, works like a superficial self-programming that is not fit to reach the causal nucleus of stored old complexes in an individual. The brain will register “positive thinking” in that case as a “distraction manoeuvrer” from the true underlying cause and in such cases tends to increase its distrust and caution for further self-protection!

* François, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 1665

¹ The currently most understandable explanations of the latest findings of the neurosciences regarding the capacities of our brain are to my opinion currently being provided by Prof. Gerald Hüther in his various publications and video contributions.

² Verena Kast: Wi(e)der Angst und Haß: Das Fremde als Herausforderung zur Entwicklung, Patmos Verlag, 2017

Recommended reading:
Verena Kast: Neid und Eifersucht: Die Herausforderung durch unangenehme Gefühle, Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1998

³ Stefan Klein „Die Glücksformel – oder: Wie die guten Gefühle entstehen“, Fischer Verlag, 2014

Thanks to my nesting partner Kerstin, without whom the jealousy for me would have remained a nebulous and irritating stranger, and thanks to Thomas Wolter on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 35

Hidden chests

This is the 35th Entry on the subject of “Oligoamory” – and that is why it is important to me to once again address a subject that is important to me with regard to this relationship philosophy.
Since because of the cute prefix “Oligo-” (I remember: from ancient Greek ὀλίγος olígos “little/a few”) it may be easy to forget that its approach is not just meant for neatly arranged multiple relationships with only a few participants, but that it also wants to invite to a significant focusing on the inevitable “essentials” of ethical non-monogamy.
Since, as the saying goes, “there is no second chance to make a first impression“, in this respect the “starting phase” of any oligoamorous relationship is particularly important – although at the same time it is a characteristic of every kind of relationship: Concerning things we screw up at an early stage, we have to try hard to get them back on a good path in the aftermath.
In real conversations and while surfing through numerous forums on the subject of non-monogamy it still strikes me, for example, how arbitrary the time span is still handled, when (existing) partners should be informed in case of a new romantic “get-together”.
I hear and read things like “promptly” or “soon”; however, the views on what “promptly” or “soon” means usually differ a lot already in the next half-sentence. From “during the first 24 hours” to “within 14 days” I have heard and read everything – and the people who said or wrote such things were always quite sure about their cause. Critical enquiries were regularly met primarily with the argument of effort – which is actually rather an argument of self-shame or convenience: While “flirting/hooking up/getting together” one would be rather uncertain for a very long time, whether the new person would be somebody “serious”, which would make it so very difficult to estimate, if any “existing partners” should be taken into consideration – especially if “nothing tangible” would result in the attempt…

Well. As the author of this blog, I’ve been advocating an approach of “radical honesty” since Entry 20, which I believe could make life easier for everyone involved. Therefore, however, this radical sincerity or radical honesty must begin at a very early stage: Namely already in the knowledge of our own motives and motivations. The two central questions that I sketch in Entry 21 are still: Do I want multiple loving relationships – and if so, why?
And if I can answer the first question with a huge and clear YES!, I think it might be a bit like back in our school days if I would finish my homework in advance completely by determining at least the idea of an answer to the second question. Since then could apply: Monday morning – homework done, school-bag packed. Which, as we know, contributed enormously to a stress-free departure and a much calmer conscience.
As a result, it would not matter to us poly- or oligoamorous people whether we’d go dancing in the evening or attend a work-related advanced training seminar on auditing: We would know about ourselves that we are potentially open to multiple relationships – and therefore, optionally, we could meet a new interesting person in any environment.

However, if we haven’t completed our homework in terms of our primary motivations behind our Poly- or Oligoamory, then we are in immediate danger of being embarrassed by ourselves by shaming ourselves with the social stereotype: “That poly-/ oligoamorous person over there, he/she/it is permanently needy/horny and therefore always latently looking for a date…“.
Our proud self will hold against it for a while: “Really, I’m above any such social-normative condemnation – after all, I have deliberately chosen my poly-/oligoamorous lifestyle! “… But, alas – the small nagging voice has been awakened, which tries to whisper into our ear that our attitude is somehow not quite OK, because we are probably really always looking for someone to get between our sheets, for the next hormonal infatuation-kick, for a (new) exciting person who may distract us from the monotony of our everyday life, at least for a while.

Incidentally, the latter would be perfectly fine if we had previously clarified it as the deepest reason concerning our motivation. But since we most often haven’t thoroughly settled the reason for our motivation , the very first person with whom we are not honest and sincere, when we have a night out, are we ourselves! For inside us there remains a hidden chest with reasons that we prefer not to look at too closely. And we remain chained to this “hidden chest” because an “informed choice” (as Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert call it in their book “More Than Two“¹) would require that I have all the information. However, if I try to start off now with that inner “partial truth”, I am never really free, because I’m always invisibly dragging my chest with my “unacknowledged share” behind me.
But being unfree and above all feeling somehow restricted, especially when moving among other people, does not make anyone happy – especially if someone interesting might be among these people about whom I might be curious. The only strategy that is left to me in such a context – and in order to act freer than I really am – is to silence my inner voice and to hide the annoying invisible chest under the table. Consequently, in a possibly developing conversation will try to present myself competent and uninhibited.
In his concept of Radical Honesty (Entry 20), Dr. Brad Blanton calls exactly this behaviour “creating one’s own myth“. Blanton further explains that our contemporary culture is extremely influenced by this kind of everyday insincerity, because most of us only interact with these myths-selves henceforth. Myths in which we present ourselves as more brilliant, more rational, more coherent, or more as master/mistress of the situation, than we truly are.
The next person, accordingly, with whom we are not honest and sincere, is our potential dialogue partner/date. And I’m not talking about the fact that we may not let our feathers shine a little while flirting or dating!
I’m talking about the subliminal incoherence (see Entry 25) that we signal to our counterpart each time, because we – or rather our spun myth – are always somewhat ambivalent about our motivations and interests that we are now advertising to the outside world, and accordingly at times we will remain strangely indefinite and vague. No surprise – thanks to our “hidden chest” under the table. Because we are used to such strategies, there are even people to whom such a “nefarious impenetrability” is just the charm of a flirt – but concerning the area of ethical non-monogamy, I have to strongly advise against it. “(False) Expectations” and “assumptions” will become a critical trouble spot medium-term in any configuration, especially if we initially toyed with the idea to integrate a (new) person in a multiple relationship at eye level…
At least at this point, nevertheless, it is easy to see why a dizzying foggy dimension opens here, full of breakneck evasive manoeuvrers: With my unclarified needs I got myself into a situation where I met a person to whom I offered a favourable advertising myth of myself, and – since I suspect it of myself – in the worst case I have to accept that, above all, I fell victim to “wishful thinking”. The other person may feel the same way – and even in the best case he/she/it probably still doesn’t know exactly where he/she/it stands. So what should I do? “Ride the wave” – in spite of it, maybe until all guises drop off anyway and everything goes up in smoke?
If there are already existing loved ones in such circumstances, who know the better part of me, my situation can worsen even quicker, since because of my tentativeness I am inclined to project my inner nagging voice onto any harmless enquiry. Or as I wrote in Entry 26: “Frequently, however, our fears may manifest in a very tangible appearance: Fears of (too 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 ourselves – an awkward feeling…
That in such cases people are insecure because they don’t longer know “when” it is the right time to inform their existing partners, because they just do not even know “when” anything is real – especially because they know it so little about themselves – that’s a thing I perceive as humanly comprehensible.

In my opinion, however, the “chain of events” described above can only be broken in one place – and that is right at its beginning: Doing your homework, clarifying for yourself the if and the why regarding your own whish concerning multiple relationships. And that means that the result of this homework, before any further steps, will provide the base for all negotiations with already existing partners and loved ones. Because in Entry 9 I would not have dealt so fully with the “Emotional Contract” (= “Implied acknowledgement and agreement – as a result of a mutually established emotional close-knit relationship – regarding the totality of voluntary yielded obligations, self-commitments and care which have been reciprocally contributed and are potentially enjoyable by all parties involved.”) if its content would not be significantly linked to our mode of attachment behaviour. And, as a result, any further (potential) emergence of any other relationship will always influence and thus change the symmetry of this convention. And if it concerns only the freedom that we have to be able to think in dimensions of new/parallel/multiple relationships at all.
Because of that kind of dynamic, in ethical non-monogamy (at least those kinds which deserves this designation), it is no longer possible to manage our inner world – and thus our hidden views of ourselves – as a private little kingdom and to exclude our intimate partners and loved ones.
Because the alternative would always be only the “myth”, the “beautifully shrouded truth”, a promotional version of ourselves which we would present to our loved ones, just to keep them – but especially ourselves (!) – away from possibly difficult facts.

Conclusion: “soon” or “promptly” in oligoamorous phrasing spells “immediately“. Full stop!
And yes, that means in Step 1, e.g., to send an SMS like: “At the disco now. Totally great and super-attractive people here today. Music just my cut. Things might happen.” Or a WhatsApp-message: “Had in the coffee-break (auditing) a totally intense conversation with X. I realized I blushed all over. Agreed on going afterwards for a nightcap.”
These examples, dear readers, are exactly the occasions concerning “informed choices” which we crave for in ethical non-monogamy. Occasions in which one’s own situational excitement and one’s own insecurity are allowed to be communicated – and yes, even a bit of one’s own irrationality, because that makes us human beings.
From that point on, Step 2 demands now not to immediately dispose of the communication-device in the glove compartment or the wardrobe, but to wait for an answer. Perhaps answers that were previously agreed to communicate needs, concerns or encouragement of the other side: “Alright! ” or “Please be home before 2 AM, though.” or “Use condoms! ” or “Please notify me once again, if it gets more private.“.
Because nearly everyone owns such a “chest” with personal fears, old resentments, small worries and tweaking trepidations – including our existing loved ones. And we on our side would act ethically and very honestly, if we would take into account that these exist.
The huge advantage that would result from such an approach would be that we were 100% committed to our reality and the all-around truth at all the time: Wild guessing, assumptions, or embarrassing pretence could be left out in this way.

All right, I admit that by this approach not all the “waves” might realise that perhaps would be there to ride – to stick with my picture above. And right again: This is exactly because Oligoamory is designed in a way that its essential feature is “mindful inclusion of all potentially involved persons”. But in my opinion, Oligoamory can only adorn itself with the label “ethical” if this condition is guaranteed – the very condition which, in the positive case, facilitates the experience of “more than the sum of its parts” – as I have depicted in several of my bLog-Entries.
If the downside would be secrecy, dishonesty, vagueness and ego-tripping then I know what line of action I will continue to strive for.
And – free from my chest or leastwise consciously aware of its contents – how I want to contribute to the freedom and well-being of all those loved ones involved.

¹ Franklin Veaux und Eve Rickert „More Than Two – A practical guide to ethical polyamory“, Thorntree-Pres 2014.

Thanks to Frank Winkler on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 34

For better, for worse…

“Surprised he heard true pain in her voice, and he remembered how she had been like during their escape over the stairs, uncomplaining and strong, a companion he couldn’t have wished for any better.”

(Tad Williams, The Dragonbone Chair, 1988)

The citation above suggests a linguistic¹ link that seems to touch the very heart of the romantic narrative: Companions stick together through thick and thin – since joy as well as suffering, which may concern only one of them, is always experienced and felt by everyone, nonetheless.
The little word “companion”, which today we use for persons who are dear to us in some sense and therefore also occasionally for our loved ones, can provide on that behalf an interesting linguistic story of its own: According to etymological sources the word derives from “one who accompanies or associates with another“; from Old French compagnonfellow, mate, friend, partner“, from Late Latin companionem (nominative companio), literally “bread fellow, messmate,” from Latin cumwith, together” (see com-) + panis = “bread “.
A companion is therefore literally a trusted person we “dare to share our bread with”.
Incidentally, quite the same is true for the word “mate“, which nowadays is often used to describe a person we have a rather intimate relationship with. Originally it meant in the old days “associate, fellow, comrade“; “habitual companion, friend“; from Middle Low German mate, gemateone eating at the same table, messmate“, from Proto-Germanic *ga-matjon, meaning “(one) having food (*matiz) together (*ga-)”.
During the times of the Romans or throughout the Middle Ages these “messmates” or “companionships” often had a rather severe background: People joined in these ways for support and protection e.g. during military operations, to go on a journey or on pilgrimage. “Company” thereby always meant a certain “risk-optimisation” in the face of imponderabilities.

As I was pondering about the quote above in this way the other day, I also wondered if there was still some ancient truth in it, which after all approached the idea of community and the choice of our “associates” as I considered it regarding my conception of Oligoamory.
Any brave Roman, journeyman or pilgrim would probably have agreed with me that the selection of “companions,” i.e. people with whom you “share your bread with” – and with whom therefore you engage in some kind of serious joined endeavour – would have significant meaning. Especially because of the “open-ended” nature of such a venture. Since in those old days, at least, people seem to have been well aware of the fact that it was never certain in advance whether a risky business like e.g. a journey could be completed – or whether this completion would be in any way lucky or successful.
In turn, this possible risk would have most certainly affected any potential “companions”: Would I like to be part of a venture with a possibly uncertain outcome? Would I like to contribute and possibly take part in the responsibilities for its progression and its outcome (however that may be)?
Journeying in particular is and has been always so chancy that in the course of human history, groups of people have repeatedly gathered for reasons of security and cooperation, and if it was just to minimise the amount of risk and anxiety for each participant involved. And that’s why it was usually not arbitrary, “who” was travelling together: At way-stations and caravanserais groups with similar destinations assembled – and a good reputation or a recommendation could be worth a fortune. In this way, people with similar destinations “got together” as travel companions – and regarding the “getting to know each other”, well, there was usually enough time during the trip (about “getting together” vs. “getting to know” see also Entry 25).
Concerning the phrase “(travel) companion” it is not even half a step to the word “relationship” – which inevitably arises when people spend some time together depending on each other.

And a “relationship” truly has a lot of analogies to a journey… After all, a relationship is also an venture that has something to do with motion in the truest sense. If you just think of two or more people involved in a relationship who “move to or with each other”, then you might think of the dynamics of a magnetic game – or maybe dancing (or – if you like a broader canvas – you might think of planets in a solar system): Arrangements in which at some point an energetic balance of distance and proximity begins to develop – if the parties involved do not collide with each other or repel each other permanently.
At any rate, our life’s journey, our companions, and therefore our relationships are never fixed, predetermined, or static. And we, who live in an age today in which we easily can assume a certain mentality of “full-comprehensive-cover”, are well advised to regularly remind ourselves of the truth of all travellers: there is no absolute guarantee concerning a “safe course” nor ever a “destination beyond dispute”.

Nevertheless, for more than Roman times, people have been telling tales about how we may counter these risks and uncertainties. By the choice of and the cooperation with our “companions”:
Gilgamesh would almost have gone mad without his best mate Enkidu, or at least he would have become a bad king; without his brave companions Odysseus would have remained a lonely castaway; the early medieval Myth of the Grail told in detail how without humanity and the combined wisdom of men and women neither maturity nor love could be experienced; and what would have become of Frodo without Merry, Pippin, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas; what about Luke without Han, Leia, Chewie, R2D2 and C3PO, what about Harry without Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna and Neville?
All and sundry tales in which the connection between “companionship”, “mutual trust” and “suspense” is conspicuous – and yes, especially because of the aforementioned “romantic narrative”.
The core of the “romantic narrative” – as much as its opponents are reluctant to hear it – is the voluntary self-sacrifice² offered to the community. And it doesn’t always have to be a question of life and death, which in the more dramatic stories is so preponderantly at the centre. For the greatest sacrifice, the greatest gift that we humans can offer as spatiotemporally limited and finite living beings is simply: our (life)time. Our own time, which we make for the others. To be empathic, to put up with somebody, to laugh together – but above all: just to be with each other.
Progress: uncertain; result: open-ended.
If Franklin D. Roosevelt was right and “courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important “, then for a finite living being it means tremendous courage and significant self-awareness to get involved in the adventure “togetherness & companionship”. Because we irretrievably and at “our own risk” invest our definitely limited and therefore most valuable lifetime in a venture with other people.
Again, it can be seen why the committed desire concerning “wanting to be together,” which I mentioned in the previous Entry 33, is so extraordinarily important in respect of (multiple) relationships. “Companions” opt for both: for the journey – that’s the venture, the conceptual relationship, an ideal, a possible goal or destination – as well as for each other – and thus for the other companions. However, since journey and destination (= progress and aim of a relationship) are – as mentioned above – “indeterminate”, effectively our “companions” make up almost 100% of our day-to-day reality. Concerning risk, fear and uncertainties, our ideals, plans and conceptions will scarcely help or comfort us – it is up to our companions to overcome these challenges with us – and it’s up to us to overcome their challenges with them.
That’s why it’s a bit like a roped party while mountaineering: All participants have to watch out a little bit for the others, thereby taking responsibility for the whole, so that a misfortune or a human error is possible without immediately endangering the entire group. Or – as well-travelled shipmates say: “One hand for you, the other for the ship.”
Companionship and sharing more than just bread – it seems to be as up to date as it used to be in Roman times.

►How many companions should I choose? See Entry 12.
►And if I meet myself on such a journey? Entry 18.
►Or encounter what is hidden in me? Entry 21.

¹ Linguistics are the science of language. A very good online tool, which also offers detailed etymological as well as linguistic, knowledge, can be found here: Online Etymology Dictionary

² Although in my texts, as a romanticist, I often express a positive attitude concerning the romantic narrative, I am painfully aware of its misuse for the purpose of exploiting certain groups of people as well as individuals in past and present. If in doubt, please be sure to read the last paragraph of Entry 5!

Thanks to Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash for the photo!

Entry 33

Why not?


One of the most important “formulas for success” concerning multiple relationships – or rather relationships as a whole – is to contemplate their level of “inclusiveness”.
The psychiatrist and psychotherapist Scott Peck² once said that it would be great if the key question for successful integration and “inclusion” would read “Is there any drastic reason why someone could not become a part of us? ” – rather than the usually (excluding) phrasing: “For what reason should anyone become a part of us? “.
As the author of the Oligoamory-project, I like the “inclusive” version very much (of course), because with this bLog I’m trying to promote multiple relationships in which the individual participants experience that jointly they can generate “more than the sum of their parts” – by creating synergy effects, getting encouragement and benefiting from resource pooling.
The access to this integrative as well as inclusive approach of living and loving together requires – as Scott Peck puts it – that we change our “default mode” of “rugged individualism” to a philosophy of “gentle individualism“. “Gentle individualism” begins in all community-building processes – and therefore in Oligoamory as well – with a distinct decision for committent and a firm will to be together – a committent which has to be constantly renewed by all parties concerned. And – of course – there will be ups and downs in this process.
Scott Peck wrote:
Community, togetherness and loving relationships require it that we hold ona bit when things get uncomfortable. All of it requires a certain amount of commitment. Our individualism must be balanced by commitment. […] Perhaps the most important key to achieving this goal is recognising differences. In real communities, human differences are not ignored, denied, hidden, but valued. […] And in all cases, overcoming [the differences] has a lot to do with love.”
And because all this may sound rather idealistic, he added two pages later:
An important part of realism or proximity to real life must be mentioned here: Modesty. While rugged individualism tends to self-exaltation, gentle individualism leads to modesty. As we begin to appreciate the talents of others, we begin to recognise our own limitations. When we hear others speak about their inadequacies, we become able to accept our own imperfection.”
A (multiple) relationship that would be understood by its participants in this way would be oligoamorous in the highest possible degree. For the above-mentioned declaration of commitment would facilitate personal integrity (“continually maintained agreement of the personal value system and personal ideals with one’s own speech and action”) – which would concurrently lead to a substantial level of responsibility for the overall relationship.
Once more Scott Peck:
As soon as we think with integrity, we realize that we are all (co-)caretakers, and that we can not deny our responsibility for the maintenance of any part of the whole. […] As caretakers, we can not be adherents of isolationistic thinking.
So far – so wonderful. If we could reach that level in our loving relationships, then we would be close to a kind of inclusiveness which the cartoon above depicts – and we probably would have far fewer problems on Earth and especially with each other…

If we were 100% inclusive, then probably all dating-sites in the world would lose their power immediately. For example, getting to know one another would become like the (intended) anonymised application processes – and we would be very close to a potential “universal love”: Any human being on this planet could become our feasible relationship-companion if the famous metaphysical component of love would turn up as well and light a mutual fire. Especially for multiple relationships, this state would be auspicious: Other loved ones and even the beloved of our significant others would be relatively easy to include, because our universal confession concerning inclusiveness would regularly pave the way, and the relevant question would simply be “Is there any reason at all that wouldn’t make it possible?”.
At the same time, we are all human beings who live in this world today. And in this world, there are currently ecological, social and political processes that put our “will to be inclusive” to the test every day:

In her highly topical song “Liebestöter” (Love-Killer) the musician “Alice im Griff” (a wordplay: English meaning approximately “All under control”) describes how she suffers when she finds out that she’s in love with an AfD³ voter.

It all started so well when you contacted me at Parship
I started falling in love already by your first message
120 Magic Points – Wow! – how could that be?
When you finally hugged me I completely fell for you
but now we have to part – oh my god it hurts so much
why are you doing that to me, why do you vote for AfD?

I would have chosen you, even if you were poor or a snorer
would have fried meat for you even if you didn’t insist on it
I would have stayed true to you, alas, if it would only be a bad joke
but you say you vote for AfD and thus you break my heart.

I look in your beautiful eyes and feel your tunnel vision
your yearning for a sympathetic ear, for trust and some happiness;
you’re getting to few cuddles, you feel mocked and left behind
but your search for the culprits has limited you mentally a lot.
Perhaps it is my duty to save us at this time
but as much as I want you, man, damn, I can’t do that!

Chorus: I would have chosen you, even…

I was already hormonally prepared for you, I called you god of love
oh why didn’t I recognise the fault in you at first sight?
Your appeal was so erotic – but not in my back yard!
I was prepared for “50 Shades of Gray” but I can’t stand this.

Chorus: I would have chosen you, even…
Oh, please tell me that you think about it and please do not break my heart!

According to this song, the counter question in the cartoon above would have to be “And if he is misogynist, animal abuser or a Nazi?
Well – then what?
Regarding Polyamory I criticised in my 2nd Entry that some participants of multiple relationships are routinely “compartmentalising” their loved ones. Because that would be really convenient in such a case: simply ignore the political attitude of the gentleman in the song and still share with him board and lodging (and bed) – problem solved.
But I wouldn’t be “Mr. Oligoamory”, if I did not point out in my 6th Entry that this approach is not viable in Oligoamory, because it’s philosophy is about loving a human being as a”whole”, including all parts of her/his/its life. And such an approach of “compartmentalization” certainly wouldn’t be “inclusive” at all – and a “sum of the parts” could of course never emerge in this way.
Even more, if we go one step further and extend this problem to a multiple relationship network: What would happen if my significant other brought home a misogynist, an animal abuser or an right-wing extremist voter as an additional sweetheart? Then, according to Entry 6, I would have to love this new love as a part of my significant other as well – even if I wouldn’t establish an independent relationship with the “new arrival” on my own…
According to Scott Peck, I would even be a kind of “caretaker”, responsible for the new arrival – and thus her/his/its words and acts.
That’s when Alice sings: “Man, damn, I can’t do that!” No, I couldn’t do that eiter.
Our “will to be inclusive” obviously touches personal boundaries. And these personal boundaries are apparently rather individual; because concerning her vegetarianism Alice wouldn’t have sacrificed it on the altar of love – but at least she put into perspective for the sake of her new sweetheart – something she failed to manage concerning his political attitude.
This seems to be almost a kind of paradox, because if these boundaries exist, then the approach to any true integrative coexistence is pointless from the outset.
Or alternatively: To ensure “true togetherness”, would I have to put up with everything, or wouldn’t I be allowed to have any personal viewpoints and boundaries at all?

When I think of a human struggle for “inclusiveness”, I think of my favorite figure, the Jewish dairyman Tevje, from the musical “Fiddler on the roof“:
It’s not easy for Tevje to dispose of his three daughters in marriage. They all choose successively a husband who for different reasons does not fit into the system of the paternal ethos. Thus, Tevje gets utterly upset every time – but then he withdraws to the stage for an inner monologue (in which the audience participates that way) and ponders by a detailed “On one hand…” / “On the other hand…” until he calms down and is finally able “integrate” the new son-in-law into his personal value system.
The figure of the “Tevje” depicts vividly a phenomenon, which also Scott Peck describes:
“Integrity is never painfree. It requires that themes rub against each other, and that we feel the tension between conflicting needs and interests and feel emotionally torn between them.”
Tevje, too, encounters in his story – as Alice in her song – his personal limits. His youngest daughter wants to marry a Russian, which would not only result in a change of religion regarding the daughter, but also make a “Jew’s enemy” the new son-in-law (because at the time shown in the musical, the Russians are trying to expel the Jews from their country by force). Consequently, Tevje gets stuck in his third monologue and finally recognises “There is no ‘other hand’…! ” – because this time he would have to deny himself spiritually, ethnically and politically too much to be able to obtain “inclusiveness” for the sake of family peace. In the musical there is a dramatic quarrel and a subsequent rift with the daughter, which can only be cured after many hardships for all involved. But also because in the end all (!) participants recover their “will to be inclusive”, overcome prejudices and approach each other once more.

Scott Peck’s book “A Different Drum – Community Making and Peace“², often quoted in this article, describes various kinds of community and relationship, all of which, like Tevje, are struggling for their “inclusiveness”. As examples the author outlines numerous incidents – from external difficulties, such as war and economic crisis, to individual dramas, such as meetings where one person regularly appears drunk. And at the end of this paragraph, the author reassuringly explains that in his long practice he hasn’t experienced any community that has ever been 100% inclusive at all times.
Is “inclusiveness” therefore an unattainable ideal, maybe just a “paper tiger”?
As to that Scott Peck answers:
Perhaps the first step on the path to community is recognising the fact that we are not alike and never will be. […] I would like to remind that people in communities [in multiple relationships as well! (Oligotropos)] are in a state where they learn to dismantle their defense mechanisms rather than hiding behind them. Not only do they learn to accept their differences, but to rejoice over them instead of putting them down as usual. Through community diversity loses its charcteristic of being a problem. Community is truly an alchemical process that transforms the difficulties of our diversity into golden harmony.

Transferred to loving relationships, this means what Tevje, his youngest daughter, and the Russian son-in-law are experiencing at the end of the musical – and what Alice is whishing for at the end of the song: That a loving relationship and a loving togetherness can be the place where all voices are allowed to be heard.
Thus, Tevje learns that his son-in-law is ultimately a great guy (and a political oppositionist even on his side) – and that his daughter has become an idealist who follows the voice of her heart – a trait Tevje has always longed for in his fatherhood.
In this way, Alice’s new sweetheart might also find out that he no longer needs the AfD because he eventually experiences trust, happiness and acceptance in his new relationship – and thereby he may discover that accepting responsibility is always the job of everyone involved, and that there is no need for “scapegoats”. And Alice might learn that she was strengthened in her “integrative persistence,” because she held on to her love (nonetheless) because of her inclusiveness which made her believe in ultimate understanding (at least the last scene of the music clip could be interpreted like that).

Therefore, inclusivity does not mean acceptance at all costs, nor does it automatically mean harmonious appeasement.
To that end, I’ll leave the closing words to Scott Peck as well:
“Integration does not mean equalization; it does not result in a stew. Rather, one can compare community with a salad dish whose individual ingredients preserve their identity and are highlighted in the interaction. Community does not solve the problem of diversity by eradicating diversity. Rather, it looks for diversity, welcomes different views, embraces opposites, wishes to look at the other side of every issue. It includes people into a living body.

¹ Photo credits: With NetzTeufel, the Evangelische Akademie in Berlin has launched a project that operates directly in digital spaces: In Social Media is analysing the dissemination of group-focused enmity in the name of the Christian faith. On this basis it encounters questions such as how #DIGITALEKIRCHE can strengthen moral courage on the internet:

² Scott Peck: The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace (Simon & Schuster, 1987) ISBN 978-0-684-84858-7

³ AfD (Alternative for Germany), German nationalist, right-wing populist and Eurosceptic party.