Faithful, loyal, trusty and true
When I finished the German part of my bLog article, I realized during the translation that there is no consistent Anglo-American equivalent at all for what the Germans call “Treue”.
It was probably just a little surprise, however, that my people, especially, would use just one word for such a complex matter, whereas a glance across the borders shows that there are completely different approaches to this in other countries.
As a lover of words, of course, I found this perspective rather captivating. An Anglo-American speaker would thus be able to express certain nuances while accessing a matter of… – yes, there are several possibilities:
If s*he would be referring to circumstances concerning belief and a feeling of belonging, s*he could choose “faithfulness“ and “faithful“. If matters of attachment and support were concerned, s*he would possibly choose “loyalty” and “loyal”. Talking about dependability and reliability, s*he might use the words “trust” and “trusty”. And in matters of verity and honesty the expressions “trueness” and “true” would possibly be appropriate (and by the way, the English word “True” is etymological the closest distant descendant of the once shared Saxon word “treowe” ¹, which developed in Germany to the all-covering “Treue”).
And there are even more Anglo-American expressions in the field of faith, loyalty, and trust: “staunchness” and “staunch”, for example, if one would refer to a certain steadfastness; “fidelity” if talking about integrity and sincerity; “constancy” and “constant” if referring to persistence and responsibility; “devotion” and “devoted” in matters of commitment and allegiance and still more…
Here, language fascinates me once again – and I think it is remarkable how many of the possible shades and nuances in the various expressions directly affect oligoamorous core issues.
Which brings us to the heart of today’s topic.
Because in the social networks, on a dating platform (once again…) to be precise, I had another peculiar run-in the other day. Since I always present my dating profiles as non-monogamous in a straightforward and transparent way, I had answered one of those “thousand questions”, that many profiles contain so that you can tell something about yourself, as follows:
»What do you think about fidelity?«
My answer: »Mononormative “fidelity” – which, strictly speaking, usually means “sexual exclusivity” – is often worthless because people don’t understand that loyalty and commitment is what really matters – and all other modalities are matters of agreement between the parties involved.«
Promptly I was thereupon addressed by a woman who replied that I would have arranged that with my answer quite nice, but genuine fidelity would be in her opinion much more than just that and would certainly go far beyond loyalty and commitment…
Since the lady in question then surprisingly quickly vanished from the corresponding network (perhaps she had found a “genuinely faithful” companion…), I was left owing her an answer, which I would therefore like to make up for here on my bLog.
Her statement prompts me to examine two positions: First, whether “genuine fidelity” actually outranks or overrides loyalty and commitment. –
And secondly: Whether, if “fidelity” is spontaneously felt by many people (especially in monogamy) as something “much more”, what this “more” then consists of.
The German Wikipedia comments on the keyword: »Fidelity (“to be staunch, to be constant, to trust, to be true, to believe, to be devoted”) is a virtue that expresses the reliability of an agent/protagonist towards someone else, a collective or a thing. Ideally, it is based on mutual trust or loyalty, respectively.«[…]
“Woho!”, I already want to exclaim at that point: Thus, fidelity is based “ideally” on trust and loyalty! Then according to my idealistic conception fidelity itself cannot go beyond these two fundamental qualities.
After all, it would be similar to my example concerning needs from Entry 58 about a barrel with its various barrel staves (the boards from which the barrel is made): The content of the barrel “fidelity” could not rise higher than the extent of its staves “trust” or “loyalty” would provide. If, therefore, in such a fidelity-balance there would be less of either trust or loyalty, then the barrel capacity “fidelity” could not rise any further than its shortest stave of the least inferior quality would allow. So without trust AND/OR loyalty, there can be no fidelity – or, if there is little of either, there is at last not all too much fidelity to be found.
Our focus therefore shifts to precisely those two underlying assets.
Which in turn puts me as the author in the very fortunate position of being able to say that on this bLog I have already given both topics extensive coverage since Entry 3, especially trust in Entry 15 and Entry 43 (as well as expanded to include the complex of responsibility and accountability in Entry 42).
In addition to the Wikipedia definition of “trust” cited in Entry 43, another perspective adds that trust is above all an expression of emotional (self-)security towards other people and one’s own existence – and thus the basis of any close, interpersonal relationship. In this sense, “trust” is also directly associated with the ability for devotion, because the social and behavioural sciences have worked out that our primordial trust is founded precisely by the fact that as children we surrender ourselves, as it were, unconditionally to our caregivers, from where our ego formation takes its (hopefully) centred beginning ². So, in our loving relationships, in a way, we are also always searching for the (re)experience of such a sustaining connection – and for mammals and horde beings like Homo sapiens, it would have been evolutionarily absurd (and deadly) to limit this possibility to only one other being.
Therefore, lets have one more look at loyalty, which to my forum critic seemed like a kind of “Fidelity light”. Wikipedia says here:
»Loyalty: refers to the inner bond – that is based on common moral maxims or guided by a rational interest and its expression in behaviour – toward a person, group or community. Loyalty means to share and represent the values (and ideology) of others in the interest of a common higher goal, or to represent them even if one does not fully share these values, as long as this serves the preservation of the jointly represented higher goal. Loyalty is manifested both in one’s behaviour toward those to whom one is loyally attached and toward third parties.[…]
Loyalty in loving relationships is the inner bond within the relationship based on mutual trust, commitment and a basis of shared values and principles of volition and action as an attitude constitutive of the relationship, as well as its expression in behaviour (communication, action) internally and externally (towards the participants, as well as towards others). In addition, loyalty also includes safeguarding and representing the other participant’s own interests, even if one does not fully share them oneself, especially if this serves to protect the other’s basic psychological needs (especially if reputation, dignity, trust, integrity, discretion are affected).
Loyalty is often seen as a requirement of fidelity in loving relationships. However, it does not mean blind allegiance or submission to interests or demands of that relationship, but rather requires, if necessary, a conscious confrontation with any value-conflicts while preserving one’s own integrity and values as an expression of loyalty to oneself, which is a prerequisite for loyalty to the other participants (without loyalty to the “I”, loyalty to the “you” is simply not possible). This applies in a similar way to loyalty in friendship.«
“Blimey!”, I have to say here, I couldn’t have expressed it more completely. And it is a pleasure for me that the basic values of trust and commitment are again emphasized by name in this paragraph.
By the way, did you recognize what is at the core of this concept of “loyalty”? It is the “Golden Rule” (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) that I just quoted in Entry 64 and the “inclusive thinking” of other people’s interests into one’s own thoughts and actions that I emphasized in Entry 53. For loyalty, as defined above, characteristically shows this ingenious quality of “going the extra mile” with the other(s) – even if the desired goal may not always match 100% with the comfort zone of one’s own ego.
In which case “trust” and “loyalty” are obviously mutually dependent: For how could I accommodate other people in this way, grant an advance of devotedness towards them, if I were not to trust them?
And with this exactly no blind obedience or dependence is meant, because all this is perfectly possible under preservation of one of my oligoamorous favourite values (since Entry 3!), integrity, which means: “acting in continuously sustained accordance with the personal value system”. And as a result, “I” and “relationship/community” are also always engaged in a dynamic correlation.
I think I could write a lot more on this complex, which is apparent throughout my entire bLog virtually since its very beginning – and could only ever sum it up far less eloquently than the 1993 edition of the Brockhaus encyclopedia’s definition of loyalty:
»Attitude of constancy in a relationship (e.g. marriage, friendship), which is not given up for the sake of one’s own advantages, and on which the other person can therefore trust.²«
And I would like to add: Show integrity. Establish trust first. When it begins to emerge, work to maintain and nurture it. Speak and act in a committed and accountable manner! Take responsibility for more than just the immediate square meter on which you stand. Be reliable; recognize yourself as part of the whole.
Even the German Wikipedia explains in its article on “Fidelity”:
»Colloquially, the term “fidelity” is often used as a synonym for sexual exclusivity in romantic relationships, in terms of the ideals of monogamy. In this context, fidelity is supposed to express that a partner does not engage in sexual contact with other persons outside a couple’s relationship. If he/she does it anyway, this is automatically understood as infidelity, i.e. a breach of loyalty, by those who consider such partners to be committed to mutual fidelity. Sexual behaviour that is considered illegitimate is prosecuted in those legal systems where “adultery” of this kind is punishable. However, there is a growing view in liberal societies that the question of whether people in a long-term sexual relationship must be faithful to each other is negotiable.
Because, in general, the attribute “faithful” is not always associated with the idea of an exclusivity requirement. For example, no one seriously expects that a “faithful/loyal” customer would never choose a competitor’s offer. In comparable cases, “fidelity” means the long-term maintenance of a (here: business-) relationship.«
As an oligoamorous chronicler of ethical non-monogamy I do smile a bit, because the sentence “However, there is a growing view in liberal societies…” I would of course have rephrased into “However, there is a growing view in liberal societies that the question of whether people in faithful (long-term) relationships must be sexually exclusive to each other is negotiable.”
In order to get to the bottom of what makes people perform an almost proverbial idolatrous “Dance around the Golden Calf” concerning the ideal of fidelity, I have talked to friends and acquaintances and have also looked into myself – after all, one fine day I too set out from the shores of Mono-amory to cross over to Oligo-amory…
Nevertheless, what was finally gathered under that widely diffusely felt (or rather hoped for) “more” turned out, when examined more closely, to be quite predominantly a pitiable “less”.
Because here, to say it in advance, there were all kinds of manifestations of personal anxieties (or more precisely: fears) to be found.
This was particularly evident in that almost all respondents referred very rarely indeed to the benefits of supposedly “genuine fidelity”, but almost always brought up scenarios in the first place when “fidelity” would be lacking – and in the majority a reference to exclusive sexuality was significantly noticeable:
Fear and envy that something would be shared with other people that one could not experience oneself, in the particular way, intensity or frequency.
Fear of other people’s alien energies, which would thus be carried into the relationship (see: The tale of Anday and Tavitih).
Fear that this could jeopardize the harmony of the already existing relationship.
Fear of feeling inadequate, of coming off as worse in a downward comparison, of being pushed out of the relationship, of being replaced.
Fears of losing control over the relationship and its aspects and the partner(s).
These surprisingly circumstantial ways of describing fidelity rather indirectly – or what it might ensure or prevent as a metaphysical “passepartout” –, psychology calls “secondary motivations” – and, of course, they are a hallmark of a substantial “proxy war theater.” But the true battleground, of course, packs a punch of its own. Because there, unfortunately, it often does not work out so well at all, regarding the above mentioned“emotional (self-)security, towards other people and the own existence” – in other words, concerning the basic value “trust” on which the whole house of loyalty and faithfulness should be built according to numerous clever definitions.
And just this lack reveals how the word ” fidelity ” should rather serve the individual often as a control device, a regulating parameter which is supposed to prevent one’s own fear, to prevent that fear has to be felt at all.
Especially when sexuality comes into play as well, such shocks to our fragile self, which is often not as well established as it would be beneficial for us, are therefore quite conceivable: Sexuality is highly energetic and extremely intimate – and in my oligoamorous opinion, not something you “just do” (like meeting acquaintances or shopping), but something that every human being deeply owns, feels and emits with its oft-cited “core self”. Additionally, sexuality is something like the most materially (physically) tangible, literally graspable expression of being attached to another human being.
Which, with a shakily set up self, sparks the anxious question: How (else) am I otherwise able to determine that another person [“my” partner] truly belongs (to) me?
In my opinion, a strong sense of trust and perceived loyalty would be the better answers at this point. And I want to emphasize that I am in no way preaching against sexual exclusivity: For it can of course be bestowed quite deliberately (and there are several people who “dedicate ” themselves very consciously in this respect exactly because of the intensity of sexuality). But as soon as exclusivity is demanded under the guise of “genuine fidelity”, some private kind of fear is most likely the underlying cause.
“Ethical multiple relationships,” indeed, ethical relationships of every kind, as I wish them to become true for Oligoamory, mean, however, that we cannot remain in the shell and dictate of our fears. Rather, I hope that all involved in such ties will courageously face their constraints so that they may continue to empower themselves to be and to remain a truly co-supportive part of their relationship(s).
“Real faithfulness”, “true devotion” or “genuine fidelity”, which thus are actually characterized by mutual trust, loyalty, commitment and a high level of attunement to each other, will therefore probably remain as rare for a long time to come, as it has been since words to define those qualities had been created…
¹ Online Etymology Dictionary: “true”
² Brockhaus Encyclopedia, 19th edition (1986-1994 / 2001) Volume 23; F.A. Brockhaus, Mannheim
Thanks to jakob-wiesinger on Pixabay for the photo!