“If everyone provides for himself, everyone is provided for.” (Proverb)
It was only this month that in a conversation with a dear person – who for some time had largely disappeared from my life – we suddenly touched the subject: “When do I experience »value« in a relationship / When does a relationship (or the person*s with whom I am in that relationship) acquire a certain “value” in my perception?”
First and foremost, it is very important to note that “value” in this context is not to be understood in an evaluating sense of “good”, “moderate” or “bad”, but rather as “significance”, “relevance” or “validity”.
This issue is of considerable importance to me concerning Oligoamory – and in various entries therefore this topic already appeared time and again on numerous occasions. However, to underline my thoughts on this – and to show the ramifications regarding the different aspects of Oligoamory – I would like to contribute a specific entry in respect of this topic today:
When I thought about the matter again, I could basically establish two categories.
For simplicity’s sake, I’d dare to call the first category “extremes” – and I talk about it in great detail in Entry 33, where I address the topic of “Integrativity in our loving relationships” – or more precisely: The question of whether love really enables us to look beyond all the idiosyncratic nooks and crannies of a fellow human being we cherish.
And by this I don’t refer to those somewhat trivial peculiarities that each of us more or less unconsciously displays in everyday life, such as not recapping the jam jar, leaving worn socks on the sofa or breathing out noisily after drinking (and even these occurrences have the potential to develop into long-term relationship killers…), but I am referring to – precisely – “extreme” characteristics, which, if they are openly revealed, are most likely to destroy the core of any relationship and the underlying interpersonal compatibility. As (negative) examples I mention in Entry 33 features such as cruelty towards animals, misogyny¹ or even a right-wing extremist attitude. But it would certainly be possible to find seemingly less dramatic qualities; because presumably also the potential love between a quasipalaeolithic meat-fan and a convinced Vegan would put the mutual peace of mind soon to a tough test regarding “composure and inclusiveness”.
By this I intend to express the following: Considered from a “higher perspective” – e.g. from the point of view of an extraterrestrial who observes humanity through his binoculars – numerous philosophies, even radical or extraordinary ones, might have a comparable, immanent validity, which would always only be evaluated by human criteria as “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, “abnormal” or “conform”. But regarding a specific relationship between two or more people, however, the contradictions and conflicts of conscience that would result from contrasting or directly antithetical sets of values would almost always be literally disintegrating.
Very important – and that is why I would like to emphasize it again quite clearly: In the sense of good inclusiveness and integration, I firmly believe that these “extremes” shouldn’t account for more than 1 to a maximum of 5% of counterarguments as to why – in Scott Peck‘s own words² – someone is not suitable as a partner in a relationship. And that regarding the remaining 95 percentage we would always be able to work jointly on our capability for goodwill, consideration, forbearance and inclusion.
Nevertheless, this first category of “extremes” already contains rather important characteristics that may have a considerable impact on the “significance”, “relevance” and “validity” of a (loving) relationship and for the respective parties involved – which therefore, in my opinion, always have to be addressed immediately, directly and honestly “whenever a relationship is being initiated.
Anyway, the second category, which I would like to call “Togetherness”, has a much more relevant dimension for our relationship reality.
For this purpose I would like to refer again to Entry 25, in which I quoted the nice sentence “There are always relationships…” and I added: Also with people, with whom one regularly interacts in everyday life, e.g. with cashiers, mailwalkers and car mechanics.
In that entry, I already mention that even such “everyday relationships” can be deepened through small gestures: The cashier recognizes me as a regular customer, the mailwalker hands over my favourite magazine to me without any folds and ceases to me personally and the mechanic* takes a lot of time caring for my oldtimer. In all those cases I start to stand out from the crowd of otherwise rather uniform customers “thanks to” a few distinctive features, I obtain a personal profile. Even more: My counterparts begin to “consider” my “characteristics” into their own actions and decisions: The cashier is considerate of me, because s*he knows that I am not so fast when I’m stuffing away my shopping; the mailwalker rings the doorbell instead of stuffing my magazine into the mailbox; the mechanic keeps special parts in stock, because s*he knows that I will always prefer her workshop.
How much more may this “considering” will have a sway regarding loving relationships? Or rather: From an oligoamorous point of view, the extent of this “consideration” is an excellent indicator for the very question mentioned at the beginning regarding the “significance”, the “relevance”, the “validity” of a relationship (and the persons in it).
I concluded Entry 14 with the wonderful science quote “Thus, intimacy is a cardinal process, defined as feeling understood, validated and cared for by partners who are aware of facts and feelings central to one’s self-conception.”
If in this quote we emphasize the part where we are “validated” because of “facts and feelings” about which our counterpart know that they are “central to our self-conception” – then this means nothing less than the fact that in an (ideal) loving relationship the participants should “take each other into consideration” as often as possible in their own actions.
I’m trying to clarify:
What the scientists Cohen, Gottlieb and Underwood were trying to express with this sentence is that a quality which turns mere people into genuine “lovers” means to care for each other and to have meaning for each other. And that applies to participation and meaning in terms of one’s own speaking and acting, as well as in terms of potential decisions one has to make. This means “to include” your own loved ones into your own inner consultation process, e.g. when making (important) decisions, because these loved ones are dear to you – and therefore the effects that (may) result from your actions concerning these loved ones are no longer treated solely egocentrically.
Accordingly, a truly intimate, trusting, loving relationship would manifest in our minds by thought processes like these: “Does this action affect my relationship with X (and Y and Z…)? What would my decision mean for these people? Would my decision [e.g. for option a or b] affect our situation or the dynamics of our relationship in any way?”
As the examples concerning cashier, mailwalker and car mechanic already show, this is by no means theory – and in all our human relationships the degree in which we “consider/include the others into our decisions”, attach importance and and allow participation always plays a considerable role. This degree is actually quite well researched in another scientific model, which has become known as “Dunbar’s Number” (or “Dunbar’s circles”) as described by me in Entry 12.
Nevertheless, as for the somewhat theoretical “Dunbar’s Number”, the authors of the Polyamory bestseller “More than Two“, F. Veaux and E. Rickert, were concerned that the model itself might only provide a rather technical testimony concerning one’s own circle of acquaintances. Therefore, they propose to carry out a thought experiment with regard to one’s own loved ones and friends by asking what kind of answer one would receive if one were to give the information “I’m moving next month!”. I consider this question to be a practice-based masterpiece, since each of us could estimate rather well from his or her life experience what will happen:
Persons of the 1st Dunbar circle (i.e. loved ones who are a close part of our lives with real intimacy and familiarity) would accordingly either say: “That’s something you can’t decide all on your own…!” or they would say “Ok, I’ll start packing!”. Persons of the 2nd circle (who fit into the category “strong attachment and friendship”) would most likely be desperate because we would leave their immediate vicinity; they would (nevertheless) possibly offer us support with the move and they would closely accompany the whole process in any case, whereby it would also be important to them whether and how we would arrive in our new surroundings. Persons of the 3rd circle (who according to Dunbar are considered “acquaintances”) would probably respond something like “Cool, drop a card when you get there!” – and that’s it.
Of course, this thought experiment is also well suited if you swap positions in order to think about your own reaction considering the moving announcement of people which are supposedly dear to yourself.
Whatever the outcome of this experiment, its result will in any event provide an answer to the questions I have already addressed in Entry 37 on the subject of transparency: How much have we accepted the “other people” as part of our lives? Or rather: Do we consider them as a relevant part of our lives (at all)?
From an oligoamorous point of view, and especially for the reasons shown above, long-distance or weekend arrangements – or any form of purely situational organized relationships on the rugged continent of (ethical) non-monogamy – pose a challenge since in such cases I consider the danger of “compartmentalizing” (splitting a person into individual aspects), which I have so often criticized, to be quite manifest.
In Entry 45 I argue precisely in favour of “conducting our relationship(s) in everyday life”, because it is precisely there that we have the best opportunity to experience each other as truly constantly truthful, authentic and of integrity (I recall: “that an individual’s actions are based upon an internally consistent framework of principles”).
Because on the other hand: Whether I go out only in my sweatpants six days a week, beat up my dog with a riding crop behind the house and greet my migrant neighbour regularly with “Well, Saddam, how’s Jihad?” – how should this affect my loved ones who only visit on Saturdays, where I wear a suit and vest, play 24-hours Prince Charming, where the champagne flows and we only indulge in culture and sophisticated entertainment all day long? And what they are doing on the other six days – what do I care?
In any case, such an attitude would not be oligoamorous and it is hardly ethical at all. At best, it is comfortably self-serving, because the minimalistic points of contact with each other arranged in this manner allow so little common context that I would be most likely tempted to come up with the terrible neologism “Non-relationship” to describe such a configuration.
[A similar suggestion towards the “good old world” of monogamy by the way, I have already provided in Entry 5: Even in “normative” families, I consider it highly questionable if members show a fake smile to each other for the time being and display artificial obedience at the coffee table, just because grandpa otherwise wouldn’t provide additional 500 $ for his son-in-law’s carport…]
“Considering/including” our loved ones into our decisions is therefore an important indicator of the extent of our commitment towards the lives of the other people involved.
When we realize that we care about the belief, the mindset and the values of our partners, we can recognize that they have obviously gained “significance”, “relevance” and “validity” in our lives.
A fascinating bonus effect of such an attitude is that it is an proactive approach on our part and not merely a passive consideration (which, precisely because of its passivity, often has an oppressive or even sticky effect on many of us).
This is why we feel particularly “accepted” and “harmonious” especially in those relationships in which a very similar degree of “inclusiveness and proactive considering” is practised by all participants. For it is precisely there that we experience that only when everyone provides constantly for the others, everyone is really and truly provided for.
¹ “Misogyny: “Hatred of women” – see Wikipedia.
² Scott Peck: The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace (Simon & Schuster, 1987) ISBN 978-0-684-84858-7
Thanks to Carola for her inspiration and to Jess Watters on Pixabay for the photo!