Yes, we’re open
Three weeks ago I received most remarkable fan mail, in which among other things the following sentence was written: “I really like your bLog – and as far as open love is concerned you seem pretty much advanced in that department.”
As soon as I read it, there was a part of me that thought rather grimly “I think if you had a proper conversation with me, you’d have to realise very quickly how little ‘open’ I actually am…”.
»Open«… »Closed«…, in fact one encounters these two classifications rather often on the continent of non-monogamous relationships. In essence, I regard both descriptions quite useless in communicating with each other, just like, for example, the widespread scene word »sexpositivity«. Especially in a environment that claims pluralism, tolerance and heterogeneity for itself, I consider such purely dualistic phrases to be profoundly problematic.
Dualistic? Profoundly problematic? What do I mean by that?
That the wording in itself contains merely an either/or-alternative – and therefore immediately assumes an exclusionary quality. For you can either love »open/openly« or…, yes, OR – and this implies the alternative thus inevitable in purely binary phrasing – you love »closed«. Either you are »sex-positive« or…, yes, OR you are »sex-negative«.
Open and positive instantly comes along with a nice nimbus of diversity, cheerfulness, life-affirmation and alternativeism; closed and negative, on the other hand, is pooh-pooh, carries the stigma of narrow-mindedness, possessiveness, dependency and establishment.
Gee, dualistic expressions are something great, they nicely simplify the world, because you can only be one OR the other – and if you are NOT the one thing, well, friend, then unfortunately, according to the rules of logic, you are obviously the other…
In other words: breeding ground for new categories and exclusiveness instead of integration and wholeness – and by denying scope for hues, nuances and shades of grey already in the wording itself, all that somehow isn’t really queer – and oligoamorous…?
As the author of this bLog, I believe first of all that the »open/closed« debate out there is causing more confusion than helpful self-inspiring clarity for most lovers. I am relatively sure, for example, that this fan I mentioned above was actually addressing my “open relationship”, to which I refer here sporadically. Yet I have never ever written an Entry on the subject of “open love / loving openly” – for good reason, since I personally have a problem concerning the explicit combination of these two words.
Because »love« means to me, in terms of quality, a kind of “energy” between living beings. In this way, love for me also just “is” – as some Buddhist-inspired, esoteric or hippie circles like to put it – as many other proponents of “free love”: It certainly represents a value in itself, possibly existing out of itself, perhaps it is also fed from a spiritual or cosmic source. In that sense, I would even agree that love can be seen as a kind of all-enveloping (or even all-pervading) matrix that circulates between all things and in which everything else is contained. But!
Certainly in this way I can possibly get in touch with this all-embracing love, I could also perceive myself as part of it and feel embedded in it….
However, if »love« has this particular quality, which other natural sources and stores of energy also share (such as air and water masses, but also atomic particles, photons and quanta), then in my view a correlation of some kind only arises when such energies begin to flow, align themselves with a destination, when a field of tension develops.
Accordingly, if I were to say about myself that I “love openly”, then I would perceive that as if I were to say “I have water/electricity/music etc.”. So at best I would have made a statement about myself, that I obviously had access to the corresponding energy, perhaps I had ample supply of it myself – but yet I would neither have watered a garden nor refreshed a thirsty throat, I would not have illuminated any darkness, nor charged a battery, struck a chord or made anyone dance.
As far as I’m concerned, »love« – at least between human beings (or more precisely: between living beings as a whole) – usually has an “alignment”, a directionality – and thus almost always also includes some kind of aspect: E.g. a colouring, an incentive, a reference, a meaning, an information – and thereby, of course, immediately establishes some reciprocity and a dimension of its own.
For between the “energy” and my (achieved) effect there is still me – and I decide – to stay with the analogies above – whether I pass on the energy through a wide nozzle, a shower head, a lens, fine wire, a keyboard or by means of a gong.
Ideally, love therefore receives its coherence (its context of meaning) precisely through our respective individuality – and wonderfully enough, this coherence, which I emphasise so often in my Oligoamory, can thereby present itself in completely different ways.
Anyway, in my opinion, exactly this is not “open” at all – and in this respect, “loving openly” would make about as much sense to me as setting fire to a barrel of paraffin or bursting a water tank: also a form of energy release – but in essence aimless, connectionless and far from any sustainability.
So when we are not basking in that blissful feeling of being omnipresently surrounded by universal love (and that tends to be something we each experience in our core selves largely individually), we are always, in a way, “loving closed” in one way or another – “closed” in a positive sense of “congruent” (inner agreement) and perhaps even “continuity” (aware of the intention). And that is something very good because we can experience two things with this kind of “directed energy”: On the one hand, responsible self-care as well as the care for others, because thereby we are operating within the sustainability triangle of permanence, suitability and appropriateness (Entry 3, last paragraph). On the other hand – and because the previous may sound a bit too boring – we can achieve that highly valued state that is generally referred to as “flow“: The sensation of being whole; the blissful feeling of a state of complete immersion. Well, that sounds more like love – doesn’t it?
But perhaps this current “horror angustatis” (Latin: abhorrence of closedness) only exists since the advent of modern computer networks, where “openness” stands for flexibility, accessibility and universality, while “closedness” has the charm of protectionism, secrecy and vintage IBM flange plugs.
Although everyone knows, at least since the first “Tron“ movie in 1982, that energy always thrives on momentum, dynamics AND directionality 😉
However, I believe that our western thinking about relationships and their openness/closedness is still surprisingly strongly influenced by a certain ancient heritage. And in detail, I am referring to the almost two and a half thousand year old story by the Greek philosopher Plato about the so-called “spherical creatures“.
In my view, the basic idea behind it is simply fascinating: angry gods tear happily and completely living spherical beings in half as punishment, thereby creating us humans both in our sexuality as well as in our longing and our henceforth perpetual neediness.
Mr. Plato was even downright enlightened at his time: thus he had the gods tear apart female, male and bisexual spherical creatures – generating lesbian, gay and heterosexual “halves”, which from then on would be desperately searching for each other and recompletion in the eons to come…
A load of antique old tosh, mothballed, outdated?
Hardly: just search the internet for the keywords “dual soul”, “soul mate” or “twin flame”. For there you are: the “better half”, the “missing other”, which will make you “whole” again.
Deeply ingrained in our Western civilisation, older even than Christianity, there was and still is the belief that “out there” somewhere our complement must exist, the missing piece to our life’s puzzle, thus the answer to our questions about existence, satisfaction of our sublimely felt – but unfulfilled – longings and needs as well as regarding our desire for completeness and wholeness.
Apart from the fact that this parable also laid the fatal foundation for our mononormative “only-ONE-lid-for-only-ONE-pot” paradigm, it has, of course, also caused a lot of damage in terms of entitlement concerning our potential partners: Because any person who would not complete us to 100% – that is, “heal” us – couldn’t possibly be our actual “missing half”. Thus we would have been mistaken and would have to set out again, parallel or serially (depending on disposition or chosen strategy), in our quest for the perfect match. Forever, again and again, cursed by gods and fate….
I have only used the word “anti-oligoamorous” twice on this bLog – but the above narrative fulfils this offence in any case.
Because the bad thing is that this old tale has also influenced the way we often think about ourselves: as somehow incomplete, just half-something. Whereby wholeness and salvation would not only be extremely difficult to obtain, but completely unattainable on our own – and if it were at all, then only through external contribution, lying beyond our own possibilities.
Still worse: according to the legend, in this way we all are born “in the minus”, so to speak, both in terms of our social gender and biological sex – and also in terms of our desires and needs. And even if we were to achieve the highly improbable luck of finding our “other half”, then we would only just be able to reach our “original state”, in a sense as completion and maximum at best “Level 0”.
And that is surely not the image of humanity I am advocating with Oligoamory.
Those who have read bravely through many entries of my bLog know that I am a strong supporter of our personal wholeness and of our individual realization of becoming whole. We are by no means “imperfect beings” – on the contrary, we are already complete and it is precisely because of this that we can achieve this fantastic mode of existence in our loving relationships of experiencing ourselves as “more than the sum of our parts”.
Which immediately reminds me again of the “spherical creatures”, who in this way – even if they were to reunite – could (or would?) never grow beyond themselves because they would literally have always “concluded” their striving by finding their twin nature.
Is this perhaps the origin of a somewhat rebellious and resistant element in some parts of the non-monogamous scene against all kinds of relational “close(d)ness”, e.g. against the often reviled “RCR” (“Romantic Couple Relationship” as a fighting term of relationship anarchy) or polyfidelity¹ arrangements that are sometimes eyed with suspicion? Not infrequently, those concerned are described as “naive”, “unvisionary” or even as “regressed” – without the accusers noticing that this is precisely how they themselves get entangled in the “either/or trap” mentioned at the beginning…
It is possible, however, that good old Plato was aiming at something quite different. Modern psychological and philosophical reflections² on his story suggest that the wise Greek was already trying to point to what he perceived even in his time as an increasing fragmentation of the human mind. This would make Plato’s story the first illustrious testimony to the fact that most people since antiquity would have been suffering from a “reality of separation/splitting”, and privately wished for a way back into their personal “continuum” (see Entry 26). So Plato would have written his somewhat strange parable as an urgent appeal to our self-love – and I consider that an exciting idea when I think about it: For Plato “wrapped up” his story in a literary dialogue that dealt specifically with “Eros” (yes, Eros as in “eroticism”). However, Plato’s contemporaries did not understand “Eros” as a mere form of sexual desire, as we do today, but in a sense as an underlying force that flows through the cosmos and holds all things together³.
Thus we have come full circle. When I was an apprentice, the 50kg Portland cement sacks always had the nice saying written on top “It depends on what you make of it”.
This is exactly what is true for me in terms of my understanding of love: Open, i.e. “unbound”, love is certainly abundant – but in this condition it is largely insubstantial and still without shape. However, we humans as creators of our daily reality can access its enormous potential, give it direction and intention through our efforts, set things in motion.
But in this process we are not just like a member of the fire brigade who has merely chosen the right hose and nozzle for the resulting jet size, but we ourselves are the conduit and we ourselves are also the valve for this great manifestation called »love«.
So presumably Plato meant to say: first make sure that you become whole yourself, so that you are not a broken vessel that cannot hold the power you are accessing; make sure that your valve is not clogged or cracked, so that you can achieve the effect exactly as you intended.
And in this way it is again coherent for me concerning Oligoamory that we lovers always act externally responsible when we first and foremost apply good self-responsibility. Whether we subsequently choose our relationship models to be “open” or “closed” is then merely a question of personal preference.
But to love openly or closed? Both sounds somehow contradictory to me – and that is why I prefer to leave the closing words to the Austrian writer Ernst Ferstl, who succeeded in making these opposites stand side by side in a beautiful proverb:
“Taking people close to your heart means always being open to them.”
¹ Polyfidelity: Form of [polyamorous] non-monogamy in which all members are considered equal partners and agree to restrict sexual or romantic activity only to other members of their own group.
Definition for example: https://lgbta.wikia.org/wiki/Polyfidelity
² E.g. the philosopher Simone Weil addressed the myth of the spherical creatures in her book Intuitions pré-chrétiennes, published in 1951. She believed that the misfortune of humanity lies “in the state of duality”, the separation of subject and object, and interprets the splitting of the spherical beings as a “visible image of this state of duality, which is our essential deficiency”.
³ The philosopher Empedocles († ca. 435 BC), for example, dealt with the question of the circumstances of the creation of the world. He assumed an eternal cycle driven by two opposing moving forces, one attracting and uniting and one repelling and separating. They ceaselessly strive to suppress each other. All processes in the universe, including human destinies, result from their endless alternating struggle. Empedocles called the unifying force “love”, the separating force “strife”.
In this sense, Plato, too, with his famous “Platonic Love“, wanted to achieve that a “true lover” (who would, of course, also be a philosopher!) would strive for higher and higher forms of affection beyond initial erotic desire all the way up to “cosmic love” in the end.
Thanks to Tim Mossholder on Unsplash for the picture!