Entry 48

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 2

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Pagan Revival

The transformations at the transition from the 19th to the 20th century also affected the spiritual life of the people, after several centuries in which mainly the Christian churches had been almost exclusively responsible for the spiritual needs of the people of Europe as well as America. As a result of ever greater social enlightenment, improving educational opportunities and an increasing freedom of choice, a desire for religious models began to emerge that offered more active self-participation, opportunities for co-creation, and a recognition of a more individualised spiritual and mental experience.
In addition to an increased attention for Hindu and Buddhist teachings, this led to a newly awakened interest in pre-Christian religions of the Mediterranean antiquity as well as in ancient pagan traditions of north-western Europe.

However, the seemingly sudden fascination concerning pagan myths of ancient times did not come out of the blue at all: Archaeologists such as Heinrich Schliemann or Egyptologists such as Sir Arthur Evans, for example, had begun to discover with new techniques and by tangible archaeological findings that numerous legends and myths of the past probably contained sometimes a verifiable, true core. The sheer possibility that legends like those of Odysseus, Cleopatra, King Arthur, the Nibelungs and Attila, even Lugh of the Long Hand or the figures of the Edda might have really happened in some way inspired countless artists* in their paintings, literature, sculpture and music; however, it also inspired numerous nationalist movements as well, which now conjured up and exploited a “rediscovered heritage” of the Celts (e.g. Druidism), Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and Slavs, etc. for their obvious political reasons.

Nevertheless, the scientific approach at the turn of the century hardly possessed any critical discourse: Most of the “specialists” in their field were usually the very first people ever to deal with a certain subject, there was almost no possibility of comparison and interdisciplinary work was still in its infancy. As a result, the “dim and distant pre-Christian past” regularly turned into a dazzling canvas for liberal ideas, egalitarian ideals and cultural counter-concepts, which often corresponded more closely to the longing and dedication of the researchers themselves as to clearly provable historical evidence. “Gaps” were often initially filled with more poetry or convenient wishful thinking; and most of the time there was no critical scientific opposition yet.
In this way, the idea of a surprisingly emancipatory, sunken ancient “ideal pagan world” began to unfold itself, for which seemingly more and more historical-literary and archaeological “evidence” was being discovered all over Europe.
The main contributors regarding this assumption were the Swiss antiquarian and anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen (“Das Mutterrecht”; 1861), the ethnologist and philologist James George Frazer (The Golden Bough, 1890), and the American folklorist and philologist Charles Godfrey Leland (“Aradia – or the Gospel of the Witches; 1899), and last but not least – the anthropologist and Egyptologist Margaret Alice Murray. The latter finally drafted in her bookThe Witch Cult in Western Europe (1921) a comprehensive folkloristic study that proposed a complete theory about a pan-European, pre-Christian, paganistic religion.
This religion would have been based on a polar (=opposed in relatedness) concept of divinity, which consisted of a lunar, eternal “mother goddess” (e.g. Hecate, Cybele, Isis etc.) and her companion, a solar, versatile “vegetation god” (e.g. Tamuz, Pan, Apollo etc.) – and thus was tendentiously balanced towards matriarchy and the feminine. This deep-rooted kind of worship would have been terminated during the medieval persecution of witches, when the last people who still practised this religion in small groups (so-called “circles” orcoven) were scattered or put to death.
This scholarly treatment by Murray (and her contributors) sparked a further wave of romanticism and renewed artistic approaches; examples include e.g. Dion Fortune with her novel “The Sea Priestess” (1938) or Robert Graves and his White Goddess(1948).
The longing of several people for such a supposedly “unspoilt kind of original spirituality” was considerable – now only some kind of structure, a framework was needed to turn songs, myths and images of goddesses and goods into a practicable form of religion (again).

At that time, the interested consumers of the “new old myths”, who also had the leisure and the context to be able to follow those amazing developments in research and literature, often came from the educated bourgeois middle class. In this middle class it was not unusual since the mid 19th century to join “magical” or “occult” associations, such as the Freemasons or the Rosicrucians for social exchange, establishment of influence or for charitable purposes (like a kind of “private club”). These associations often still possessed a substantial continuance of ceremonies and customs, which were practised extensively, e.g. for the purpose of new admissions or on festive occasions.
Some of these ceremonies were actually quite old and were based e.g. on Neo-Platonist or hermetic rituals or they resembled traditional customs of medieval craft guilds. In this vein, charismatic persons such as Éliphas Lévi (Lodge “Rose of Perfect Silence”; 1861), Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; 1888) and the notorious Aleister Crowley (Ordo Templi Orientis [OTO]”; 1912) thus became formative providers regarding an emerging magical-pagan neo-spirituality.
It only required a few more strokes of the pen to combine the various initiatives into a practicable whole…

This part was given to the Englishman Gerald Gardner, who in 1949 compiled a first Book of Shadows from the ideas and conceptions outlined above, by which he then dared to establish – more or less publicly – a first actually practising pagan circle of modern times as a spiritually functioning group.
Gardner called the resulting concept “Wicca” (after the Anglo-Saxon term “Wicce”, “witch”). He incorporated the aforementioned female matriarchal accentuation as well as the coven structure (circle/convent), so that always a “high priestess” took over the leading ritual function of such a small manageable group.
The second high priestess of Gardner’s own starting group, Doreen Valiente, finally revised significantly the original version of the “Book of Shadows”, which initially comprised various sections that were not yet completely coherent, creating a printable copy for a larger audience by 1954.
Thus, Gardner’s and Valiente’s conception of Wicca, as an approach for “practicable witchcraft and paganism”, met a considerable spiritual demand, which existed in parts of non-conformist, romanticizing and esoteric circles – exactly with regard to the above-mentioned need for active self-participation,opportunities for co-creation, and a recognition of a more individualised spiritual and mental experience. The cell-like and minimal-hierarchical “coven structure” (copied from Murray), concerning 13 participants at a max, additionally accommodated a potentially individualistic culture of creativity and experience.
By the time of Gardner’s death in 1964, this cell-like organisational structure – by the formation of “offshoots” of the mother coven – had given rise to about eight further circles in Great Britain; the “international breakthrough”, however, was to come via the USA, where “Wicca” and the pagan revival found most fertile conditions.

Already in 1960 a certain Monique Wilson had been introduced (“initiated”) into Wicca by Gardner’s fourth high priestess, Lois Bourne.
In 1961 Monique had already founded her own “Coven” (circle) in Perth (Scotland), where in 1963 she consecrated the couple Rosemary and Raymond Buckland as practitioners of witchcraft (who had lived in the USA since 1962 and were in regular correspondence with Gerald Gardner).
Rosemary and Raymond subsequently founded the first “official” Wicca coven in the USA in New York; however, independently of this development, several copies of Gardner’s “Book of Shadows” had already reached the States since 1954, whereby a variety of different non-Gardnerian “Wiccan traditions” had begun to establish themselves all along.
In the USA, “Wicca” (and the modern paganism) thus met in good time the bubbling mixture of civil rights movement, social upheaval, liberation campaigns (women / gay) and “spiritual New Age” of the Kennedy/Johnson era (keywords: space program, abolition of racial segregation, Hippie culture, Vietnam War, growing consumption, health improvement, increase in women’s employment) – important factors that were ultimately to have a decisive influence on the conception of ethical non-monogamy as a whole.
But before the word “Polyamory” was actually pronounced and written for the first time, two really remarkable personalities – a high priestess and a magician of course – had to meet. About their extraordinary synergy I will tell you in Part 3.

In my conclusion today I would like to completely agree with the religious anthropologist Michael Strmiska, who in his research has dealt intensively with the “Renaissance” of different neo-pagan and witchcraft movements:

“Modern Pagans are reviving, reconstructing, and reimagining religious traditions of the past that were suppressed for a very long time, even to the point of being almost totally obliterated… Thus, with only a few possible exceptions, today’s Pagans cannot claim to be continuing religious traditions handed down in an unbroken line from ancient times to the present. They are modern people with a great reverence for the spirituality of the past, making a new religion – a modern Paganism – from the remnants of the past, which they interpret, adapt, and modify according to modern ways of thinking.”

“The rise of modern Paganism is both a result and a measure of increased religious liberty and rising tolerance for religious diversity in modern societies, a liberty and tolerance made possible by the curbing of the sometimes oppressive power wielded by Christian authorities to compel obedience and participation in centuries past. To say it another way, modern Paganism is one of the happy stepchildren of modern multiculturalism and social pluralism.” [see also Part 4]

Raven Grimassi, „The Wiccan Mysteries: Ancient Origins and Teachings“, Llewellyn 1997

Ronald Hutton, „The Triumph of the Moon – A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft“, Oxford-Press 1999

Philip Heselton, „Wiccan Roots: Gerald Gardner and the Modern Witchcraft Revival“, Capall Bann 2000

Michael F. Strmiska; “Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives”; Santa Barbara, Dencer, and Oxford (2005)

Thanks to Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash for the photo of the Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis (Outer Hebrides).

Entry 47

The shoulders we stand upon – Part 1

The treasure trove of the Oligoamorists is teeming with heroes and monsters, idols, mythical figures and chimeras.

But the best stories are written by reality itself – or rather: it is reality that finds its expression in stories, absorbs impulses from them and finally weaves them into an incredibly colourful carpet.
I would like to dedicate this four-part series of articles to the history of Oligoamory, especially its fascinating roots and its most important value, self-awareness.

Of Jungles and Moons

In 1865 Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay as son of an Anglo-Indian family. “Anglo-Indian” families were actually wealthy British families, who – due to colonial rule – lived entirely in India and thus were also largely influenced by the local culture there. In his memoirs Kipling later wrote that in his early years he was mainly cared for by an Indian “Ayah” (nanny): “In the afternoon heats before we took our sleep, she or a Meeta (the Hindu bearer, or male attendant) would tell us stories and Indian nursery songs all unforgotten, and we were sent into the dining-room after we had been dressed, with the caution ‘Speak English now to Papa and Mama.’ So one spoke ‘English’, haltingly translated out of the vernacular idiom that one thought and dreamed in.” English, Kipling went on to write, would thus finally have seemed to him to be a somewhat foreign language.
But already in 1870 little Rudyard was expelled from this paradise: He was sent (together with his younger sister) to foster parents in England for further upbringing and education, as was customary at that time. The shock regarding language and culture was considerable, the different customs were strict – and there are bitter entries about this in his later memoirs.
It was not until twelve years later, in 1882, that Kipling was able to return to the places of his lost childhood, once again accompanied by a whirlwind of strong emotions; he wrote: “I found myself at Bombay where I was born, moving among sights and smells that made me deliver in the vernacular [Kipling is referring to Punjabi!] sentences whose meaning I knew not…“
However, Kipling, with the support of his family, and also thanks to his rich imagination and pronounced intellect, managed to emerge inspired from these conflicting experiences. Over the next twelve years he lived and worked as a journalist and writer in England, India and the USA, married and founded his own family.
In the winter of 1892, when his first daughter was born, Kipling began to pursue the idea of a children’s book, in which various motifs from his own childhood were incorporated: There were for example the ancient Indian legends he knew from his Ayah, fables from the “Panchatantra” (a collection of ancient Indian animal tales) as well as the “Jataka” (myths about the Buddha in his animal and human form). But probably also whispered servant stories about the “Jungle Children of Husanpur and Sultanpur” (reports about several “Feral Children” who, according to hearsay, were found surviving without human care in the wilderness between 1846 and 1848 in the Indian provinces of Agra and Oudh¹). And of course Kipling’s own life experience, as a “scion of two worlds” – the Indian and the European – and his own growing up under strongly contrasting views.
Especially these – in part quite personal – impressions prompted Kipling to tackle a question that was also of great concern to the just burgeoning science of psychology of his time: What are the circumstances and developments that make a person human and what are the decisive factors that influence the unfolding of an individual?
Rudyard Kipling answered this question for himself with the first part of his “Jungle Books”, published since 1894, with the story of the foundling Mowgli, who is raised in the jungle by wolves and finally “socialized” by them, as well as by a panther, a bear and a python.
Kipling designed a fascinating and exotic world in which a human child finds its way to survivability and ethics, solely guided by the mythical forces of its inner and the omnipresent outer (untamed) nature. His book became a world success, certainly also because at many points of his story the belief in an “immanent good” regarding mankind and concerning the whole creation can be felt – possibly a reflection of the optimistic confidence of the 19th century, but perhaps also the confidence of Rudyard Kipling himself, who had to find – and who did find – his way of life “between two worlds”.

About 25 years and one world war later, around 1920, another boy, this time in the USA, began to explore his way “between the worlds”.
Youth literature was by no means as rich as it is today, but for boys there existed beside classics like E. A. Poe (e.g. “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”) and J. Verne (e.g. “From the Earth to the Moon”) an increasing group of more recent authors like Jack London (e.g. “The Red One”), H. G. Wells (e.g. “The Time Machine”) or Rudyard Kipling (e.g. “Aerial Board Of Controls”) who experimented with a new genre of visionary fictions concerning technology, science and society. Such stories also began to appear on the market with a completely new conception, as weekly or monthly pulp-magazines in which stories by different authors were presented to the reading public for an affordable price.
This expanding colourful world was entered by young Robert A. Heinlein, first as a reader – but after he had to end his short career in the Navy for health reasons – finally as an extremely eager and talented writer.
Henceforth, Heinlein enthusiastically produced series such as the ambivalent “Starship Troopers” (until 1959). In its militarism and totalitarianism, this particular story cycle was strongly influenced by Heinlein’s own military experiences. However, Heinlein had noticed in the military just as much how “equalizing” – regarding differences in age, status and even gender – military structures were able to affect overall conduct. Still today, a hint of these surprisingly egalitarian ideas can be felt in his texts as well as in later film adaptations, when, against a martial background, women and men interact both entitled and body-conscious with a high degree of naturalness and self-evidence.
When Heinlein approached the zenith of his creative work towards the end of the 1950s (his audience began to count him in the science fiction genre alongside I. Asimov and A.C. Clarke among “The Big Three”), he picked up an idea that had been on his mind for the last ten years: to create a modern vision of R. Kipling’s “Jungle Books”. Heinlein, like Kipling at his time, was also regularly fascinated in his writing by the question of “what conditions would define a person human” – and which parameters determined ” humanity”. For his own literary projection of this theme, however, Heinlein wanted to go beyond Kipling’s “Mowgli”, whose “human foundling” had after all been raised by rather respectable acting animals to become a kind of “noble savage”. Heinlein considered a concept in which he now wanted to let a human child grow up completely different – and according to the social rules, spiritual customs and cultural ideas of a completely dissimilar species.
The product of this thought experiment became the novel “Stranger in a Strange Land” (1961) – in which the main human character, as the title already suggests, has to find his way between two completely different universes of values after his return to earth. But Heinlein also gives the literally “cosmo-politian” main character Mike partly messianic traits, who – equipped by his alien educators with partly supernatural abilities – in turn introduces human society to a “new way of thinking” in the sense of a spiritual legacy. The resulting “Church of All Worlds” ² is extremely non-conformist, egalitarian and organized in small cell-like groups (so-calles “Nests”), all of which strive for self-efficacy and emergence of (inter-)personal potential.
Although Heinlein succeeded in “Strangers in a Strange Land” by cleverly questioning “acquired” social structures such as family, religion, gender roles or even sexual morals, his work remained in some other parts rather reactionary (e.g. stereotypical view of women).
Heinlein, who thus recognised that as an author he too was always “part of a system” and thus also part of a “way of thinking”, thereupon strove with another book to liberate himself even further from such limitations in fictional literature.
In 1966 his novel “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” was published. This time Heinlein used the science fiction background to design a challenging (lunar) environment that has tangible implications for resource distribution, shared use and optimisation of what is available to the human pioneers. For this purpose the author e.g. focused on the social structure of a colonist community that still has to cope with an surplus of male personnel even after several generations. Heinlein chose as a solution to this “social question” the formation of polyandry, group- and community marriages, as well as an unorthodox, highly integrative kind of society in which differences of ethnicities and attitudes no longer are able to prevail. When in the course of the book the moon inhabitants are confronted with an ecological catastrophe (which they can fend off by further social change), Heinlein leaves at the end of the book the question unanswered, to what extent the freedom of an individual may be restricted by democratic rules of a community.

In my view, the visionary power of both Kipling and Heinlein’s fictions is so literally “groundbreaking” because both authors dared to explore in a literary way the conditioned boundaries of “human conventions”.
Their own life experience prompted both writers to offer their readers a glimpse of the surprisingly large scope for individual and social creative leeway that began to present itself when the “pre-set given definitions” had to be transcended (whether out of necessity or pioneering spirit).
Kipling, and Heinlein in particular, wanted to show that, in view of the fundamentally adaptable nature of human beings, our mobilisable potential is probably far greater than our belief in predetermined, traditional patterns, which we regard as “established normality (and normativity! )“.
And they dared to suggest that possible change due to this potential would always be “only a thought away”, in other words: within our reach, accessible with courage – realisable and consequently liveable.

Part 2 deals with a highly remarkable development that further encouraged unconformist thinking towards ethical non-monogamy.
Part 3 and Part 4 are about those brave people who took up the torch and actually got involved in this adventure.

¹ Lucien Malson, “Feral Children”, Suhrkamp publishing house 1964

² The “Church of all Worlds” with the abbreviation COW; becomes important again in the second part of this article series.

Thanks to Marcus Dall Col on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 46

Know thyself*

Recently, in a conversation between two older women at the weekly market, I overheard the sentence: “Now, if the two love each other, that’s a good start in my opinion…”
“Well”, I thought to myself, “concerning love it’s almost like the dilemma of the chicken and the egg: sometimes it’s difficult to determine what is the start, the middle or perhaps even the end – and what’s the cause and what’s the effect of the other…”
But since I prefer to philosophize on my blog rather than at the weekly market, it is you, dear readers, who I will take with me to my world of thoughts in that regard.

At the end of Entry 14, I quoted the following four sentences¹:
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.
Contributing to this perception is trust (the expectation that partners can be counted on to respect and fulfil important needs) and acceptance (the belief that partners accept one for who one is).
Empathy is also relevant because it signals awareness of an appreciation for a partners core-self.
Attachment also contributes to perceived partner responsiveness, notwithstanding its link to interdependence and sentiment, because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others

I would like to take a closer oligoamorous look at these statements, because in my view they contain the very essence which configures the basis for a stable loving relationship.

On that score I find the wording “one’s self-conception” and “core-self” particularly remarkable. Because these terms suggest that sustained intimacy and closeness are not possible without basic self-awareness and a predominant acceptance of oneself.
The conclusion seems trivial: Elementary, my dear Watson – how would I be able to trust others if I don’t trust myself?

“Absolutely!” I agree as your tour guide on the remote island of the Oligoamory. Exactly that is the reason why on so many occasions I emphasize the »desire for self-exploration«, without which the foundation for any relationship that we are trying to build on it will keep a rather rickety ground work. Or rather a “rickety basement”, which is literally a symbol of our unconscious mind with its hidden chests containing our fears and defence mechanisms (see also Entry 35).
“Fears and defense mechanisms” are the key words in terms of our ability to relate, because our loved ones could show us as much validation, consideration, empathy and affection as they wanted – none of this would have any sustainable value for us if we were not able to accept such feelings in the first place.
If we are not sufficiently clear about our own motives (e.g. because we have so far avoided realising them in detail) or if we try to maintain more or less conscious dishonesties as part of our relationship management, reasons of self-protection alone will prevent excessive depth of engagement in any relationship. Because if we do not have narcissistic personality traits right away (which often goe hand in hand with a pathological inability to empathize), there would always be a part in us that would nourish our deepest social fear because of our incoherent behaviour: That we are not worth it (after all).

If we believe in this way somewhere within ourselves that we are not worth it, a problem arises, quote: “because of the fundamental role of perceiving that one is worthy of and can expect to receive love and care from significant others.” Because as a result, our expectation and (non-)experience influences our “perception”. And if our perception has deficiencies due to a deficient self-esteem, then – regarding “love and affection” – we will only perceive insecurity and deprivation instead of security and abundance from our loved ones, despite their best intentions.
And uncertainty is exactly the reason for the a semi-alert state of careful vigilance I mentioned in Entry 42, causing ongoing mental stress.

Even the vernacular says: “One should always have the ability to accept a compliment with grace.” In our loving relationships, this “ability to accept” goes far beyond mere compliments. Since that ability is the basic requirement for integration and inclusive behaviour (see e.g. Entry 33). Especially towards our closest loved ones – and in further consequence towards all the significant others of our loved ones as well.
However, if our ability to accept and integrate as well as our self-esteem is already weakened, we live very close to the reflex of immediately pointing away from us as soon as potential difficulties might occur. Thereby allocating guilt and blame (which, in essence, is mere “causality”!) to somebody else…

[At this point it is important to me to briefly point out the socio-political dimension of good relationship management. Because currently the vast majority of economical units (states, communities, families, etc.) still work largely on the principle of “guilt-allocation”.
In that regard self-reflection and mindfulness towards oneself with the aim of self-awareness is surely a contribution to a more peaceful world.
Are folks in ethical non-monogamy, like Poly- or Oligoamory, therefore more “developed” than people in monogamous relationships? No, I don’t think so, precisely because the measure for “relationship-skill”, as I outline here, is at its root not a question of the chosen relationship model but of the individual’s ability (and will) to reflect.
Since monogamy is admittedly the recognized main mode of relationships in our current system (with its mentality of “guilt-allocation”), it might be a little bit “easier” in such a standard-mode to ignore personal or inter-personal deficiencies by projecting them “onto someone else”.]

In this way, “self-awareness” is also an essential part of “self-confidence”. Essential – to reverse the sentence from above again – because if I don’t trust myself, then I can’t trust the others.
The German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel once called “trust” the “middle state between knowledge and ignorance”, regarding a “hypothesis of future behaviour/conduct”. This hypothesis had to be reliable enough to “justify practical action on it.” ²
As far as our (loving) relationships are concerned, I think that this provides an excellent description. We humans “trust” in everyday life, surprisingly often, countless circumstances that we consider “reliable enough”: We drive vehicles that are capable of speeds far beyond 100 kph, or we sit back on chairs that we can’t even see at that very moment (!) – rock-solid convinced that they will be exactly there nevertheless, the moment our buttocks are going to meet the level of the imagined seat…
So, basically, certain types of “trust” seem to belong to our “second nature”, types of trust without which extensive everyday processes would be impossible or at least very inconvenient.

However, the mutual trust that we need for reliable loving relationships is actually somewhat more complex than that which we need to sit on a chair or to drive a car. These two examples are more likely to be assigned to a situation-based or quality-based trust: We have e.g. learned that chairs normally do not move stealthily when not being observed (Caution, exception: sitting balls!) and we know that cars can be kept on track and are sturdy even at high speeds – provided they are regularly serviced.
But among fellow human beings we rather need “identification-based trust”, which – according to the American philosopher David Kelley – consists of the components openness/communication, empathy, community and sympathy ³.

If, however, I have to “identify” (which literally means “to equal / to equate” [Latin]!) myself with the other participants in community through communication, empathy and sympathy to establish mutual trust, this means that I have to be very friendly regarding myself in the fist place.
Because – to stick with our example of the “invisible” chair – I can only “let go” without execising control if I am convinced that the others are as friendly and reliable as I am.

And that’s why we won’t get around the author Saint-Exupéry and his “Little Prince” in this entry too: When the psychologists Cohen, Underwood and Gottlieb write in their opening quote that we need a feeling of understanding, validation and care to experience intimacy and closeness, the factor “time” inevitably comes into play. Time for what “Saint-Exupéry called “taming”, to “establish ties” (Chapter XXI).
In my opinion, the novella “The Little Prince” is so strangely touching and at the same time so disturbingly complicated because this “taming” always includes two components:
On one hand, the obvious, slow convergence and the getting-to-know-each-other of the main participants in the potentially emerging relationship.
But on the other hand, there is also the “Hero’s journey”, which each person has to do accomplish alone in order to explore own strengths and weaknesses (see also Entry 18).

Here the circle closes, as we encounter the importance of our “own self-conception” and the “awareness and appreciation for the core self” once again.
True trust has (only) been established when I perceive that others value me as the person, as the identity, as whom I also respect myself.
And at this moment we would have restored the beneficial coherence (context / consistency) of inner and outer experience as well, which our mind considers as the most desirable state of being (see also Entry 21).
In any case, coherence, which in turn can serve as a compass for all of our other relationship skills, which enables us to better contribute to a common balance of mutual well-being and personal happiness.

Is that (already) love? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
In any case, in my opinion it is much more than just a good start.

* Wikipedia: Self-awareness; Know Thyself

¹ S. Cohen, L.G. Underwood and B.H. Gottlieb in “Social support measurement and intervention“ – A guide for health and social scientists“, Oxford University Press, 2000

² Georg Simmel, Soziologie(1908); Complete Edition, edt. by O. Rammstedt, Vol. 11, 1992

³ David Kelley, Unrugged Individualism: The Selfish Basis of Benevolence, The Objectivist Center, 2002

Thanks to Kristopher Roller on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 45

The Wonderful Ordinariness of Being¹

In my January-entries, I dealt extensively with the issue of trust and entrustment in our relationships – basic requirements so that a true, authentic and intimate togetherness may become possible and can be experienced by all participants.
Several components that are important regarding successful Oligoamory reappear there, which, like a recurrent theme, are repeatedly addressed in my bLog:
Accountability (primarily for yourself and then – in an extended dimension – also for others), commitment (especially with regard to the choices you have made yourself) and last but not least, love that approaches the whole person.

I admit that – concerning the very detailed considerations on these topics- I may sometimes put my readers’ stamina to the test, especially in those moments when I seem to be working my way through the “theoretical underpinning” in great detail.
Nevertheless, accountability, commitment and integrative love are – if we start bravely to give these ideas more space in our relationships – in the end decisive trump cards for the everyday feasibility and viability of ethical (oligoamorous) multiple relationships.
Because in these relationships we always deal with living, breathing people, concerning whom we hope that we can count them among our “loved ones” – and accordingly we are usually confronted by most practical, everyday questions.
And these are usually quite tangible questions like e.g. are how much we should put up with our loved ones (and they with us), how much autonomous privacy a person should keep to itself – or what to do if people are already parents in the (upcoming/potential) network of relationships.

The essence of my personal answer to these questions can be found on closer inspection in my somewhat humorous Entry 34, which deals with our self-chosen “companions”.
Because all people, who have ever dealt with multiple relationships,sooner or later came to the point where they had to realise that at the end of all talks, agreements, regulations, consents and liberties, still one cake simply couldn’t be portioned indefinitely – and that is time.
Strictly speaking: our personal lifetime. Which we as an individual can divide, distribute, maybe even allocate; but which itself still remains relentlessly and unimpressedly finite.

The entire non-monogamy revolves around this dilemma and sometimes performs quite bizarre dances around this invisible but nonetheless irrefutable “elephant in the room”.
Which leads to such awkward approaches like sorting loved ones in a pokémon-like manner according to their “ability to meet needs” (see Entry 2) or to arrange affair-like flings with them on spatiotemporally limited “islands of happiness” (Entry 43).

But why do we remain unsatisfied in the medium term, somehow unfulfilled and needy, though?
Well, the theoretical oligoamorous answer to this question would be: Because such a relationship management is not sustainable at all (see also Entry 42) by violating all sustainability criteria, which are called consistent (stable), efficient (satisfactory) and sufficient (suitable).

And the philosophical-psychological answer would be: Because such strategies are hallmarks of a “reality of separation and compartmentalisation” (see Entry 26).

The latter, however, is not just a problem of non-monogamy, but an omnipresent contemporary phenomenon.
We can easily observe that when people talk about their work/life balance – and their attitude towards their jobs and their leisure time: There are certainly exceptions to this, but when you listen to most people in this regard, it sounds like they are talking about two completely separate areas of their life. Thereby, “work” often seems to belong to a sphere of quasi-divine punishment², “real life”, on the other hand, only takes place in leisure time – and if you can believe some people, it actually only happens during vacation: on a literal, remote, “island of happiness”.
In such descriptions, the “grey areas of everyday life”, that is, the transition moments, also often come off badly: Shopping, childcare, profane family interaction, everyday functional agreements (“Did you collect the car? / Did you call the plumber?”), etc., appear as annoyances which one wants to get rid of as quickly as possible – and accordingly they are often performed half-heartedly and harried. This reinforces the impression that these activities definitely belong more to the realm of “biblical plagues” than to our enjoyable true life.

Such a continuously maintained “reality of separation” will then confront us with a rather sad balance in old age – or at the latest in our last hour: Our existence had been predominantly “toil and labour”, and “true life” was experienced rather infrequently. When I look at this record, I become terrified and I am not surprised that Parkinson’s tremors, the forgetfulness of dementia or the despondencies of depression are among the “diseases of civilization” today…

“Well, but Oligotropos, it is actually hardly possible to accommodate more than one loving relationship (if any) in life. If we humans experience so little love, it’s small wonder that we are feeling bad and becoming ill…!”

“Aaaargh – no!” I want to call out. Trapped again.
Do you know the saying “One should not necessarily give life more days, but rather more life to the days” ?
Because the huge opportunity of ethical non-monogamy is to make multiple relationships practicable and liveable every day. This is one reason why in many of my entries I cite Scott Peck, who dealt intensively with the challenges of community building.
If we agree that the “cake most difficult to divide” is our limited and at some point finite individual lifetime – then we have to “bridle the horse” exactly from that side: Concentrating on the factor which in doubt is the scarcest resource in our sustainability mix!
And instead of trying to get around this fact with circumvention-tactics, by using as much energy as possible on how we could somehow still stretch the “cake” as thinly as possible, how we might chop it in pieces or finely grind it as a mere “spice”, we should instead“ embrace the principle ”and use it as potential in our favour.

Accordingly, when I talk about accountability, commitment and inclusiveness in so many entries, it serves as a kind of preparation regarding the question how we can experience as many wholesome human relationships as possible in our everyday life. An “everyday life”, which is then also experienced as a “full-featured, wholesome life” because we recognize in it: (all of) THIS is our true life, here and now.
That is quite comprehensible: We humans simply do not have the infinite luxury of projecting potential benefits into a possible “tomorrow / then / soon / when…”.
In the end, it could catch up with us quickly, as in Hans Christian Andersen‘s terrible story about the little Fir-Tree: “Now I’m going to live again!” he cheered and spread his branches wide: but alas, they were all dried up and yellow” ³.

“Let me have a look, maybe I have another weekend off in March…”
“I have annual leave in June, perhaps it’s possible then…”
“When the children have left home…”

I see – by then we will be changed people. Because by then our “true life” may start eventually. Because then we can finally be much more authentic, more truthful, more honest than now, while our ordinary everyday life prevents all that…
Our ordinary everyday life prevents us from being authentic, truthful and honest? And because we know that we are therefore insincere, inauthentic and unreliable most of our time, we do prefer not to let anyone into this ordinary everyday life?

Here we are getting caught by a very strange snake that seems to bite its own tail…:

Because we wish to be on our best behaviour regarding our loved ones – and, of course, we want them to be on their best behaviour in respect of us.
In this way, however, the obstacles that we build up for ourselves and for others become ever higher and more absurd.

So we have to get out of this vicious circle completely.
On my homepage I write:
“Finiteness – and the dawn of the 21st century makes it quite obvious in so many ways – immediately suggests a more attentive and sustainable husbandry regarding our available treasures of substantial as well as ideational nature.
Our awareness in respect of the ubiquitous finiteness has always evoked in human groups the fascinating aptitude of distribution, shared use, and optimisation of the available.”

This means that we have to stop perceiving our everyday life as an “inferior form of our existence”.
Or rather: That we may confidently leave that to our loved ones, whether they perceive it that way. Maybe they would happily collect the car from the workshop with us – because then they could talk to us 1:1 in the car undisturbed for 20 minutes. Or maybe they would pick up the car on their own because they know that this would provide us in return with the benefit of a relaxing bath. Perhaps they’ll listen to a scientific podcast with us while we have to sew this darn curtain – but at least we’ll have something to discuss afterwards. Or they go out with the kids – and we can finally finish this valance without annoying interruptions…
Maybe, loved ones like that would endure our burnt-up scrambled eggs in the morning because we left them out of our sight for 3 minutes too long while we were blow-drying our hair in the bathroom. Or perhaps we will endure their flabby scrambled eggs because they removed the pan to early from the stove to fetch the stupid newspaper…
Of course, a haphazardly prepared scrambled egg in the early morning could cause a lot of negative stress for everyone involved. But maybe also compassion and the (self)realization that it would have been ruined in any case, because everyone gropes around like a zombie in the apartment almost every morning.
At least today you didn’t wake up alone. And in the afternoon you realise that someone hasn’t left the blackened pan on the stove… Several voices are also practising Spanish vocabulary in the living room. And somebody let the cat out, even though you explicitly told everyone…

If we have recognized in such a manner that the real “treasure” of our life consists of the many things of “(ordinary) every day”, then we are well on the way to understand how we can enjoy this treasure together appropriately: accountable, committed and integrative.
Big words that simply mean human, fallible and tolerant most of the time.
Because if we would not dare to put up with our loved ones in our everyday life – and if we could only bear their ordinariness with difficulty – then we would transform the majority of our common treasure like in a fairy tale into mere muck: “worthless” lifetime, that we somehow have to pass.
[“No, Oligotropos. Precious life time that I do not always want to share with my loved ones…” Oh yeah? Then I would advise to change either the loved ones or the attitude towards them…]

The “Wonderful Ordinariness of Being”, which requires us to occasionally “endure” one thing or the other, which makes us cope with unexplained emotions, sensations (and smells) that are not always immediately attributable to the cause, represents in my view the same source that also provides acceptance and respect, thereby enabling true intimacy, familiarity and trust.
And with it a true loving togetherness, today, tomorrow and every day.

¹ Intended appeal to Milan Kundera‘s Unbearable Lightness of Being, which deals with the consequences of compartmentalized relationship management, flings and love affairs.

² Genesis, Chapter 3, Verses 17-19: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field!”

³ Hans Christian Andersen, „The Fir Tree“, 1862

Thanks to Jisu Han on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 44

Beloved Friends

Over two thousand years ago, a man from Nazareth climbed a hill to teach an amazed crowd how beneficial it would be for all of humanity and its relationships if we would love our enemies.¹
Over two thousand years later, I wonder whether it would not have been a good idea at the time to add to this remarkable thought the consideration that it would be just as beneficial for all of humanity and its relationships if we were at least be able to love our friends…

How did your travel guide, Oligotropos, came up with such a copious idea?
By contact with the surprisingly tough reality of present day, which bears witness to the fact that true “love among friends” does not seem to be a common topic in 2020 either. And that for many – perhaps even most – people it does not even seem particularly desirable.
A bold hypothesis? Well, then let’s have a look at real life:

In this still fresh year, I had two conversations in short succession with a downright déjà vu-like course.
In order to do justice to this (small) target group, however, I would have to admit that the déjà vu character was probably due to the fact that I was the interlocutor each time – and that both conversations dealt with the core concept of Oligoamory.
In that process I explained that it was essential to me in this regard that in all oligoamorous relationships always “the whole person” should be meant and addressed. Accordingly, it would be very important not to “compartmentalize” another person in one’s thinking. Because every human being would always be a “complex artwork” with different facets – being at the same time e.g. employee, possibly parent, member of an (already existing) group of friends and family, committed member of a hobby- or voluntary organisation , etc. Thus, I declared, if I would make friends with someone, I would suggest that in that case I would relate to the “complete person” with all its aspects and with all of its liabilities that already existed – and not just with a selected “fair weather face”.
So far, so good.
Then I expanded this description by the factor of “originary freedom of category”, which I borrowed from the concept of relationship anarchy and adapted regarding Oligoamory. By that I mean that, as far as the source of my feelings and the expression of my emotions are concerned, I don’t want to differentiate (any longer) between “just friends”, “mere acquaintances”, “close family”, “best buddy” etc. Because I want to be equally authentic “I” among all these people and be allowed to express all my feelings everywhere in the same genuine way.
Thereby my immersion, my love and my trust that I would invest into all my relationships would be energetically the same – originating from the same source. Which would ideally mean that e.g. I could be as honest with my children as with my handball coach, deal with the postman as committed as with my loved ones. As a result, I would endeavor to be authentically the same person in all of these areas of my life. [Which, by the way, is THE challenge of ethical non-monogamy and Oligoamory par excellence. And which makes me strive for a better version of myself, by the way…].

Alas, the reactions, in short succession, were as if my interlocutors had touched an electrically charged wire – or as if I offered them a box full of exotic worms:

Dialogue partner 1: “Oligotropos, I am responsible for all people I am related to; in practical terms, however, I mean that I only want to be responsible for the both of us, just you and me. But whatever you have agreed with third parties, how much you let them participate, what they may know – please keep those things among yourselves as you see fit.
Regarding me, a relationship – as you are imagining it – means too much responsibility; I cannot bear that and I would never be able to live up to it.”

Dialogue partner 2: “Oligotropos, I notice that I’m overwhelmed with the whole thing and that’s a little bit too much for me. I’m somewhat unsettled.”
And a little later, since this dialogue partner was actually a parent: “I wouldn’t even know how I would be able to explain a get-together like this to my child…”

Well, there I was left with my Oligoamory as if I had tried to sell buttons at the door².
Even though I had just tried to illustrate how great it might be if the people involved in a relationship would appreciate each other completely and comprehensively…
Maybe that wasn’t as desirable in reality as I had thought. Still more: It seemed to be so absurd that children had to be protected from it.

I am shaken: We bestow on our friends personalized pillows, sometimes even personalized wellness vacations, but at the same time we don’t dare to have personalized relationships with them, that is: relationships appropriate to this special person.
Because that thought could mean “too much responsibility”, because it “overwhelms” and “unsettles”

In my previous Entry 43, I outline some of the scary reasons that probably spark such a way of thinking. And in Entry 26 I describe the result of such an attitude: the continued persistence and experience of a “split reality” – both regarding ourselves as well as regarding our relationships with other people.

Most of us humans, however, seem to have come to terms quite well with this continually experienced “reality of separation”. Of course they do, because we grew up with it – and because it corresponds to the normal, everyday mode with which most of us conduct our relationships. “The familiar” easily seems to be “the right thing”; people are “creatures of habit”, and the comfort zone is known to be guarded by one’s weaker self.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that the price we pay for this kind of relationships and friendships – which have (and should keep!) a purely situational and few-dimensional character – is rather high.
Because we human beings are obviously able to reject and even hate without any reasonable or obvious reason – but in return we do not allow ourselves the ability to conceive un-reasonable love, or its much more essential requirement: basic trust.

As a result, we create a very harsh reality that we unconsciously regularly reinforce ourselves.
If we were to accept a person “completely”, that would mean that we would also perceive them with their ideas and dreams, talents and weaknesses, worries and needs and with their pending everyday life. Because if we wouldn’t strive for a purely “aspectual relationship” or “fair-weather-friendship”, then the not always pleasant potentials of the other person would automatically become part of the relationship.
But how can we be able to really appreciate each other if we keep each other out of large parts of our lives? And now I’m no longer talking about handball coaches and postmen, but about our self-chosen friends!
If I would try to establish a close relationship, which I give would call “friendship”, upon only partial (personality) aspects, I would feel very dishonest and insincere when looking into the mirror, because – hand on heart – in that case I would not be able to allow myself any opinion regarding my corresponding counterpart, since I would know far too little about it, him or her.
And I think it is precisely this unspoken perception that underpins countless friendships – and many other intimate relationships. And because we are not stupid and because we still have a rest of healthy, well-functioning interpersonal instincts, we will feel incoherence (lack of connection, see also Entry 25) in such relationships and as a result we eventually DO NOT TRUST even our closest friends entirely.
How should we ever be able to love them…

If this is the last state of affairs concerning our current ability to relate, then old Goethe will continue to be right with his over 200-year-old sigh (Entry 39): “Communities and families behave like that against their dearest members, cities against their most worthy citizens, nations against their most excellent people.” And we will remain part of a distrustful and unpeaceful world, which we will pass on to our children if we do not know how we “would be able to explain a get-together like this” to them.
Do we really want to let our lives pass in the midst of such non-committed relationships?

At this point I would like to remind you again of the intrepid request of actor Anthony Hopkins, which I quoted in my Dating-Entry 30: We urgently need to stop treating each other as “afterthoughts” – or, as I specified – as arbitrary “bonuses and give-aways”.
We have to find a way back to increased self-honesty – which means that first of all we would have to take the sometimes painful effort to get to know ourselves quite well. Not to unleash the little perfectionist or control guy who dwells in most of us, in order to monitor and restrain us as much as possible concerning every error and imperfection that we have found inside and upon ourselves. But rather in order to empower and encourage us concerning our self-efficacy. In order to muster the courage – as mentioned in the last Entry – to really interact wholesomely with other people.
Since without being able to endure this courage for a while, without being able to endure its consequences for a while – by giving our own imperfection and that of the other people a little leeway – we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to find out whether there is a real chance towards a deep, familiar, intimate, connection.

By the way: In the US sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” you can watch during 279 short episodes how seven people slip into a surprisingly oligoamorous relationship. And there is by no means an idealized process of getting-to-know or getting-to-love each other. Even at the end of the last season, the viewer can imagine how the protagonists would probably still be sitting together in their retirement home, occasionally playing childish pranks or making flippant statements about the characteristics of the others. Nevertheless, I have never followed a television series in which the participants gradually grew closer together – across gender, racial, educational and stereotypical boundaries – and eventually openly and sincerely confess their literal love for one another.
Should it remain the prerogative of cinematic fantasies that something like this can only exist as an idyllic utopia of somewhat nerdy screen characters?

For this reason I invoke you once again today from the remote island of Oligoamory:
Keep trying to walk the “path of greatest courage”.
Dare to trust!
Allow yourselves to confess your own uncertainties in this regard and still – or rather because of it – strive for a little bit more than your present comfort zone offers.
And above all: Treat yourself and other people “full-featured” – that would be, to conclude with Bertolt Brecht³, “The Hope of the World”.

¹ Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5, verse 44 – and Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6, verse 27

² The magician Gandalf the Gray blames the reluctant Bilbo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit” and reproaches him, that he would treat him “as if he were selling buttons on the door”.

³ The last paragraph from the text “The Hope of the World” Bertolt Brecht, Collected Works in Eight Volumes, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1967:
“The more who suffer, the more natural their sufferings appear. Who wants to prevent fish from getting wet?
And the sufferers themselves share this hardness against themselves and lack goodness towards themselves.
It is terrible that humanity so easyly to comes to terms with circumstances that already exist, not only with someone else’s suffering, but also with one’s own.
Anyone who has thought about this grievance refuses to appeal to the sympathy of one being in respect of the other. But sympathy is essential. It is the hope of the world.”

Thanks to Kelsey Chance on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 43 #Commitment #Trust

Committed – not entangled…

The philosopher Julian Nida-Rümelin wrote last year¹: “In the philosophy of language, it is agreed that successful communicative practice can only be achieved if those involved in communication abide by certain constitutive rules. This includes the rule of truthfulness [synonyms: sincerity, honesty, loyalty, righteousness, commitment, reliability]. It requires that, if I say something, I myself am convinced that it’s true.
We can also expect our communication partners to trust us; that is, they may assume that what I say corresponds to my own beliefs.
These rules are only seemingly trivial. Since they impose on the communication partners the obligation to orient themselves – when communicating – to be guided by good reasons which they recognise and not on behalf of their own self-interest. Because in many cases, the mere self-interest would speak against compliance with the rules of truthfulness and trust. If we were always untruthful
[= insincere, dishonest, disloyal, corrupt, non-binding, unreliable!], if it were in our interest, the communicative act would suddenly lose most of its value.”

From an oligoamorous point of view, I think this text is great, since communication partners are treated as if they were involved in a relationship – and that is certainly true: When people communicate, even if only briefly or about an irrelevant (factual) topic, they are in a mutual relationship at this moment and an exchange (of information) takes place. Concerning Oligoamory, it is also remarkable that Nida-Rümelin mentions important relationship values in this context as well: “truthfulness”, “trust” and a “mutual interest”.
However, as far as the “good reasons” are concerned, I have to admit that I am a little more cautious about this than the author of the lines above. In Entry 11 of this bLog, I deal in detail with the “individual good reasons” and try to show – although we humans really value an “all-round common good” at the need-level and usually strive to bring it about for everyone involved – that we still are often sabotaged by the choice of our strategies to get there. If, despite being aware of our “good reasons”, we choose a fulfilment strategy in which external needs are ignored or even curtailed – we usually reach a point where we quickly slip back into the treacherous waters of our not-quite-so-selfless self-interest.

Likewise, “trust” is nothing we can count among our natural gifts. On the contrary. Both the scientist Stefan Klein² and the philosopher R.D. Precht³ indicate in their work that the evolution of the human species is rather based on genetically induced caution. If, for example, an early Homo sapiens had discovered a bush with blue berries on a hike, his brain would NOT have come up with the initial idea: “Great – there is my next meal!” – but rather with the thought: “Be careful, those berries might be poisonous…”. In other words, in an unfamiliar decision situation, our brain would have advised caution and avoidance in well over 50% of the cases. In the early days of mankind, such a “vigilance program” definitely made sense: Not every berry was edible, not every cat was suitable for petting, not every cave was uninhabited – and when suddenly a bunch of long-haired neighbours with crooked branches stood at the door, they rarely wanted to invite you to a hockey game.
One of our human problems today is that this vigilance program – which is actually a “survival security program” – is still active in us today in the manner of a predominant, initial distrust. And it is also active every time we are confronted with new people. Our primeval program tries to keep us alarmed and instead of saying “Hey, a new person – that might be an enriching opportunity…!”, we rather think: “Better be vigilant, let’s check out this guy first…”. And since we have a powerful brain, which is able to quickly search through its databases of past potentially bad experiences, a film of (pre)assessment and assumptions is quickly knitted. The results – even in the 21st century – are mistrust, avoidance and ultimately rejection and exclusion.

The combination of not always impeccable need fulfilment strategies due to only poorly clarified personal “good reasons” plus a tendency towards initial mistrust as a reflexive standard reaction easily results in what is to a certain extent the antagonistic nemesis of the Oligoamoy: NON-BINDING and NON-COMMITTED behaviour.
And as a faithful author and chronicler of Oligoamory, as an idealist, as a romantic and especially as a passionate advocate of a conscious and free human will, for me this is precisely the main problem of successful – or more often rather unsuccessful – ethical non-monogamy.

Non-committed behaviour – sometimes it starts at a very early stage, for example when someone says: “Yeah, well, Cathrin and I – well, we have this little something going on, I don’t want to label it in any way…”. Already in Entry 7 I try to describe that this is not necessarily a mature expression of personal freedom, but rather an admission of little reflected approximation.
Or it concerns the drama of clear nomenclature as a whole, wherever so-called “polyamorous” people come together, who use this term as a self-designation. Because let’s just imagine a social scientist who would ask those people present at any polyamorous regulars’ table, workshop, seminar or meeting, what would be the connecting characteristic of all participants with regard to the lifestyle and philosophy of Polyamory. You would probably be faced at first with a somewhat embarrassed bunch that would look a little waggishly before a few people would grin whimsically, poke each other in the ribs and finally answer: “…that we could all have sex with each other!”. Oh dear, I think, that would have been an answer if asked about promiscuity or sex-positivity. But if that is all that provides the smallest common denominator regarding polyamorous multiple “relationships”, then it is no wonder that this lifestyle will always fear and fight for its reputation and recognition. And that is why I also explain in detail in Entry 2 why I myself no longer want to be counted among such “Poly-people”.
Because in the end, this non-binding nature will rather sooner than later shape the view of any metamour-relationship (concerning the potential significant other loved ones of our loved ones): These are just some strange people the partner has in tow – and one don’t want to have anything to do with them. Neither in the sense of mutual togetherness (although you share the same significant other!), nor in the sense of any overall responsibility for a common good. Because that would get you too close to you, would be somehow almost unpleasantly “real”, no, that wouldn’t work…

Human beings resort to non-commitment, as seen above, when we define our personal self-interest as the most valuable asset in a relationship. Self-interest that frees us from the obligation to be always honest or sincere, which keeps our loyalty flexible, always leaves room for a little bit of seductiveness and always leaves some ethical leeway…
How on earth… – why do we want to be like that in our most intimate relationships?

Because we humans are very often afraid of obligations, commitment and expectations.
We are afraid of reliably “being someone“.
That seems to be a terrible reference which I am giving to all of us (including myself) here. And monogamy seems to be the sole way out – because we can only barely manage to offer a more or less tolerably authentic idea of ourselves to just one single partner, maybe to one-two-three children and a pet. And if the beautiful façade crumbles? Get out by means of a divorce – “better luck next time” – and off into the next kind of seriality?

In several entries on this blog I wrote that a characteristic of “adulthood” is a certain desire to take on responsibility. But true responsibility, which I once again highlighted in my previous entry as “accountability”, inevitably goes hand in hand with (self)obligation, with commitment and expectations.
Why is it still such a big deal to stand up for it in a relationship?

I believe the reason is Julian Nida-Rümeling’s “blind spot”: that our “good reasons” are often more closely intertwined with our “self-interest” than we usually recognise.
In Entry 11 I tell the story of the “Black Flittermouse-Man” who wants to be a good and ethical person in all his relationships. However, he gets into turmoil because he is trying to fulfil everybody’s needs to the greatest possible extent as well as he is trying to do justice to his own interests. For this purpose, he chooses different strategies, which ultimately do not turn him into a “great hero” for everyone, but in the end he has to deal with emotional outbursts and, as a result, even self-doubt.

Dear readers: We are all the “Black Flittermouse-Man”!
And today we live at the beginning of the 21st century still in a time when most of us have not learned to accept themselves with all(!) of their own feelings – and we are afraid of being rejected because they exist nonetheless.
Please think about it carefully for a moment.

How should our most intimate relationships ideally look like? They sholud provide a place where we can authentically be ourselves, where we can drop all masks – a place where we can trust that we will (always) be accepted as the person we are.
But we are also human. That is why we cannot always merely display a socially desired spectrum of positive and pleasant feelings. Sometimes, we are sad, angry, depressed, confused. We are also not always perfect. We will not always be sincere, honest, loyal, righteous, committed and reliable. We are humanly fallible – and that is why we will make mistakes.

Many of us today are (still?) trying to keep our relationships as the “last bastions of bliss”. Relationships in which there is always harmony, in which everything is joyful and easy, from which one always emerges energised and in which only appreciation and understanding are expressed on all sides.
As understandable as this longing may be at the beginning of this crazy 21st century and its unraveled work/life balance – it is also completely unrealistic. And it puts tremendous pressure on everyone involved: On the one hand, to pursue an ideal in which everyone has to hide in the basement, who violates it – on the other hand, to impose this unfulfillable longing on any new relationship in the vain hope that it might be fulfilled there.
As a result, in the harsh reality we are only able to create disconnected islands of short happiness, which must literally remain “non-binding”. Because if they were connected, the imperfect overall picture of our personality would be immediately visible again – revealing our temporary sadness, our situational anger, possible depressedness and confusion – and, above all – our faultiness. Accordingly, we prefer to have compartmentalized, non-binding, non-committed relationships. We do not want to show our deficits to the others since we have difficulties to trust in anybody: In the others and their possible reaction – and in ourselves and whether we can endure that reaction…

Folks, if we approach multiple relationships in this way, any relationship building, any relationship management, any attempt to “love (several) people (at the same time)” will remain a futile venture.
I emphasize the “mutual we” and the “all-round trust” in the Oligoamory that much, because they are at the very bottom the literal linchpin with which (strictly speaking) every relationship-management stands or falls.
Relationships cannot be places of perfection. They can’t be places where there is always cheerfulness and lightness. Where only a good moods and good feelings prevail. Where there are no differences and where no one is ever hurt.
That is why relationships must first of all be places of trust. Or respectively: everyone involved must first muster the effort and the will to create them together. In order prevent the above-mentioned pressure in the first place, not to be allowed to appear in that relationship in one’s own (fallible) human nature. To create a place where sadness, anger, depression, confusion and mistakes may occupy the same space as the supposedly easier “good feelings”. Ultimately, “good” is in this regard an (external) judgment anyway: I am human – and sometimes I laugh and sometimes I cry – why should I put a bag over my head during one of it?
In addition: I can only be really authentic, honest and therefore credibly commited if I can entrust myself to my loved ones with all of my needs, emotions and feelings.
And as a result, relationships are authentic, honest and committed, in which everyone involved is allowed “be” completely.

But what if the others can’t endure it?
If we humans want it, we can endure seemingly incredible things: We give birth to babies, we cross snowstorms at night, rescue people from burning buildings or hold hands with the dying. Most of the time we have a choice – we don’t have to do any of that. All four examples just listed probably fall into the category “uncomfortable” – and difficult. Still they are done.
When it comes to people we love and trust, we can activate enormous abilities.
Having these abilities does not mean, however, that they make us invulnerable, impenetrable. Which in turn wouldn’t be human again.
But our humanity clearly shows that if we really want it and a thing or living being is really important to us, we can grow far beyond our primeval “avoidance strategy”.
In this respect, it may be like the first human being to pick up a burning branch: This person dared to trust. First of all, him*herself, because he*she wanted to accomplish something against which all his*her animal instincts and fears violently objected. But maybe he*she also trusted in a group that stood behind him*her – a companionship that would help in case of emergency – people who would be capable to “endure a failure”, who would endure such an imposition and would care for possible blisters.
But without the “imposition” that we all probably occasionally are for our familiar group in this way, we also couldn’t become heroes and sources of all-round well-being the next time or the day after. To be human, to be with each other, means to accept both occurences regularly – in respect of us as well as in respect of the other participants.

Therefore, I hope that all of us will always find the courage to make a conscious leap into trust, a trust that sometimes seems to be based on no plausible reason.
And that we end up with people who really dearly want to “endure” us.

¹ Julian Nida-Rümelin in “Digital Humanism”, Max Planck Forschung, 2/2019

² Stefan Klein, “The Formula of Luck – or: How good feelings arise”, Fischer 2014

³ Richard David Precht “The Art of Not Being Selfish – Why we like to be good and what keeps us from being it”, Goldmann 2012

Thanks to my constant muses Kerstin, Svenja and Tobias and to congerdesign on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 42

…see, the good lies so near.*

The current German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is someone who regularly emphasizes that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. In his speech at the Futurium Berlin¹ last year, he even said that freedom includes an “expectation of responsibility” that arises from freedom itself.
I, as the author of this bLog, believe that he is right, especially because in my view “responsibility” has something to do with “sustainability”, which I embedded in the subtitle of the Oligoamory-project.
In the book scene I have already often cited, in which the “Little Prince” by the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry meets the fox, the fox explains: “You are responsible for that what was entrusted to you and for those whose trust you gained.” ²
Accordingly, trust and responsibility necessitate each other as well…

Freedom, trust, sustainability, responsibility – I would like to try to sort out a little bit why I think that these values are important for oligoamorous thinking and acting – and how they are related.

In my 3rd Entry I introduce sustainability as an important oligoamorous value by explaining that “sustainability” comprises three important core criteria³, namely consistency, efficiency and sufficiency. I wrote that concerning Oligoamory relationships should be ‘consistent’, since the participants “hoped, that their relationships would be lasting as well as steady in respect to the people and values involved. […]
But oligoamorous relationships were bound to be ‘efficient’ as well. That means in effect, that the relationship had to be conductive to all people involved, that it was meant to promote the participants to evolve themselves and to complement one another, depending on their individual potential.
And the relationships were bound to be ‘sufficient’ […] because the relationships were bound to be satisfactorily and literally self-sufficient, and for that reason precisely not unlimited and arbitrary, but suitable to a humane degree of clearness and nearness.”

Even if I read these lines again today, I notice that these are definitely somewhat ambitious goals for every relationship. At the same time, I almost involuntarily nod my head because I think: “Yes, such relationships would definitely contribute greatly to my personal well-being due to their predictability, their scope for my feasible freedom, and my perception of my acceptance/inclusion therein.”
And exactly that’s the point where in my view Saint-Exupéry and his fox come into play once more in several ways. Because the fox shows the “Little Prince” that such a longed-for state cannot be brought about quickly. As its condition, he constitutes a “gaining of trust”, that is, a gradual build-up that can only become means to its ends over an extended period of time – and that can only be achieved by mutual effort. And this process would result in a growing “familiarity with each other” being accompanied by the increasing “responsibility for one another”.

The fact that this is indeed a groundbreaking, sustainable way of thinking is particularly noticeable when we try to omit the responsibility:
Without responsibility or more precisely “accountability” it would probably be very difficult to obtain any trust at all. Who would trust a person or an institution that would decline accountability for its speaking and thus appear inconstant or arbitrary? In such a case even time spent together wouldn’t be a helpful ally any longer, because “coherence” (consistency) that is so important for our well-being wouldn’t ensue: a reliable, predictable pool of similar experiences wouldn’t accumulate.
Such a condition would keep us mentally constantly “on the go”, in a semi-alert state of careful vigilance, because in the next moment a completely new or different (relationship-) experience than the time before may come along – or the next time or the next…
Neuroscientists call this state, when the brain’s alarm switch is stuck in a middle position for a long time, “stress“. And who wants to be in a relationship in the medium or long term where stress would be the norm?
In this way, a sustainable “state of satisfaction” will never arise, because we could not be sure whether our relationships would be stable (consistent), suitable (efficient) and adequate (sufficient).

Without sustainability, in turn, we would most likely sooner or later find ourselves in an unfulfilled and needy state, which would sooner or later drive us to consumption and a certain degree of excess (= lack of measure). And since “satisfaction” actually means “contentment” and “being at peace”, we would also become more aggressive and uncompromising…
Did we just recognise something there? From our everyday life or even regarding the state of the world?

If I have succeeded in that, then I am very close to my bLog-goal today.
Because I’m trying with oligoamorous means to raise a desire for familiar and trustful circumstances.
And this can mean at times that I have to try not to flee from a situational “dissatisfaction” into consumption and excess. Or it can mean that I am asked to check whether I can be “at peace” with the “existing”, the familiar.
In this regard, we are living in a somewhat ambiguous time. Because although there are increasing initiatives that, like me, want to give sustainability more importance, there are still enough voices who want to stamp “familiar” as backward, old-fashioned or boring – and lure us out of our peace of mind (and without dissatisfaction there would certainly be less consumption…).
If we transfer this dynamic to the level of relationship management, we quickly see how we could be catapulted into an attitude of “higher-faster-further”, which earned the non-monogamous lifestyle such a bad reputation. Because once our inner peace is lost, there is a certain danger that our unfulfilled needs will always fuel the hope that “out there” could still be something (that is: someone!) that/who is more appropriate, more suitable, better – and the “swipe-and-away“ of modern dating sites is born. And at some point the goal won’t be any longer the fulfilment of our own needs (and may it be in some unattainable superlative); in the end only the next endeavour, the next excitement the next kick will vanquish for a short time our inner emptiness.

If we do not want to get into such a hamster wheel, then we have – especially in relationship matters – to (re)mobilize a somewhat forgotten virtue: To be satisfied with what we already have. Or what I prefer in dimensions of Oligoamory: To carefully consider what we already have.
This seems to me to be very important today in a time when consumer confidence is still so often artificially generated: What do I (still) need to be satisfied, at peace? Or at least: more satisfied. And: Is all of that (only) “out there”?

But by looking at the things (and relationships) I already gathered, I’m much better able to check, how my state of “satisfaction”, of “inner peace” appears. And concerning that, I can stay completely with myself – and do not have to point to the “world outside” or to other people.
For example, what about my own accountability? My accountability (and responsibility!) includes important cornerstones of every (multiple) relationship management: my honesty, my loyalty, the degree of my transparency. How much of such capacities am I willing to contribute to prove myself consistent, sincere, and, yes, predictable – as someone who is trustworthy? And do I have the will and the time?
The latter question isn’t that trivial. The other day I read the following sentence on a (non-monogamous) dating site: “Please only write to me if you really have the resources for another relationship in your life.”
Apparently, some people seem to conduct their flirts like they handle milk bottles: They come home with a new bottle, only to find that the fridge is already full – Consequence: No space for new bottles, and existing bottles become sour…

Sustainable relationship management, as I would like it to be in an oligoamorous fashion, must therefore be exercised with care. Therefore, my personal freedom actually goes hand in hand with an “expectation of (my) responsibility” : On the one hand, that I know myself well enough to recognise where my strengths, my limits and my possible potential are. On the other hand, that a relationship process, in which two (or more!) beings voluntarily engage, always means simultaneously the emerging acceptance of an overall responsibility for one another.

And that’s actually a good thing. Because sustainability, with its aspects of consistency, efficiency and sufficiency, means that a certain matter has gained a distinct value for us. Usually that much value that it is not arbitrary or interchangeable any more. And this (added) value has alway arisen from an increase of familiarity and trust regarding the object, the person or the relationship.
And everyone knows it: What has become “dear to us” in such a manner is in turn always treated with special effort, care, attention – and responsibility.

In this regard, the slogan from the environmental movement “Sustainability starts on your own doorstep!” can be directly transferred to our intimate relationships. We don’t have to “roam forever” * or gaze fixedly at the greener grass beyond the neighbours fence any longer. We can start proving ourselves here and now in our existing relationships as the best hopeful contestant – responsible as well as free.
Which is extremely sexy, by the way, really attractive…
And what better argument could there be for (potential) participants in multiple ethical relationships?

* second line from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s poem “Memento”.

¹ September 26th, 2019 at the Futurium, Berlin, speech for the campaign “Freedom is our system”.

² “The Little Prince” ; Chapter XXI; “Friendship with the fox”.

³ Thanks again for input by Dr. Bernd Siebenhüner.

Thanks to pine watt on Unsplash for the photo.

Entry 41


“Well, yeah, Oligotropos… – your blog,” a friend from the social networks recently sighed. “But you always write that much … … and such long entries…!”
Dear readers: I plead guilty to all of these points. And when I say “guilty” I mean “causally” in the sense of radical honesty.
And when I was still quite active in various social networks, I occasionally even received the rather idiosyncratic comment “tl; dr” from recipients. This acronym originates from net-speak and stands for the words ” too long; didn’t read ”– and should mean in response to an article that is considered too long: “[The text was] too long; [that’s why I] didn’t read. [it]” *
But even such a fatuety can be surpassed with the bold introduction to a wellmeaning comment: “I didn’t read the entire text completely, but…” – and then the unwilling reader fires happily away…
Dear folks, who follow me into the wordy interior of the remote island of Oligoamory: At a time when simplification and bite-size information policy are often advertised as the imperative of the hour, I will not do this disservice to you.
Because I wouldn’t be honest if I would suggest to you that there are simple or quick or even universal answers to difficult questions in relationship matters.

From here the entries concerning the remote island of the Oligoamory go out into the world every month…

Of course, I can understand the desire for simplicity and ease very well. And our brain is often an overly willing accomplice in this regard: E.g. if we are infatuated, it floods our existence with a bunch of the body’s own substances of well-being – which make us overlook possible discrepancies and sources of conflict in the initial process of getting to know each other. Or it switches to “autopilot” in long-term relationships and strives to shift any deviations from our coherent routine as far as possible into the background, so that the relationship’s “functional harmony” always obtains the explicit preference.

However, ethical (multiple) relationship management – in any case according to oligoamorous ideas – will not settle for the idyllic surface only. Anyone who embarks on the adventurous waters of non-monogamy must be prepared: That gets under your skin. Because ethical non-monogamy, which deserves the prefix “ethical”, requires us to be able to “move among our equals, [and] to be willing to reveal who we are” ¹.
That is why I also wish that the Oligoamory-project should not be seen primarily as a daily blog – in which the top entry contains only the author’s situational state of mind or his latest world-shattering new insight – but rather as a compendium of interrelated topics. In this sense, of course, I think it’s great if someone considers one of my entries to be a good one and particularly emphasizes it, shares it, etc. But as a mere “treasure trove”, ethical non-monogamy and Oligoamory would remain difficult to understand, because they would lack the supporting backbone without reference to all their (related) topics.
Once again: Oligoamory is not a “method” that you can use purely situationally, e.g. like office-yoga, separated from it’s original context. Oligoamory is a philosophy and a way of life that wants to invite everyone involved to discover their (self)entitlement and their (self)empowerment by reflective self-awareness.

And I can’t pretend that there is a “simple” shortcut key to that.
Even more: Since I chose “relationship management” as the basic approach for my ideals and goals, I would like to employ our close encounters with other people in manageable, trust-based communities as the “culture medium” for that self-awareness mentioned above. Accordingly, I don’t want us to be meditating hermits who will wake up at some point on our lonely mountain with a lastEureka!” on our lips, but rather that we all are a self-development project on a living canvas – “Mobilis in Mobili” (lat .: “moving within a moving element”) ² so to speak.
Especially regarding the latter it is very obvious that – with so many literally “unpredictable” factors and influencing variables – we really have to muster the greatest possible courage to proceed without any autopilot or any externally generated recipe book. And that instead we should “dare to trust” ³ and practise a curious openness like a muscle that has so far been poorly trained.

That is why a major topic of Oligoamory is the unity of both free and committed conduct. In Entry 7 I explain that this unity can be lived consciously and without contradictions – and that this is actually not that difficult (Actually, I even believe that many people who are e.g. involved in environmental protection or animal welfare basically implement such a philosophy already, especially concerning their eating and consumption habits). Because in that regard the focus is on our personal integrity, our “individual actions based upon an internally consistent framework of principles (Quotation Wikipedia). Accordingly, those principles cannot be cast in stone for eternity: Because we are as alive as our surroundings with whom we interact. Therefore, constant observation, reassessment, learning and adaptation are an essential part of it.

In Entry 9 I therefore emphasize regarding the subject of the “Emotional Contract”, which lies – outspoken or not – behind every closer relationship, that it is important to know yourself rather well. Because in order to stand up for myself and to be able to negotiate and advocate for myself, I first have to know what I want and therefore have to take the trouble to get to know my own sensitivities and needs. Regarding that it is of no importance who my parents or teachers or bosses think I should be, but only who I really am just now – with my current strengths and weaknesses and my wishes concerning the pending relationship.

But because we often operate in default-mode based on a “predefined” self-image, I try in Entry 14 to highlight the complexity of what constitutes these “definitions”. And I try to outline that we do not all have the same good chances of dealing with our possible previous experiences in terms of “relationships” due to our disposition and our individual resilience. Nevertheless, also social science confirms that the recognition of our core self is the central task of our self-perception, in which all the favoured people of our choice play a very special supporting role.

Accordingly, I object in Entry 18 that it can sometimes be difficult for these “favoured few” in our vicinity, if they have to endure us during our sometimes strenuous efforts to develop our true potential. Because I also would be a dishonest author if I would try to conceal the fact that self-development does not always unearth purely beautiful or pleasant virtues.
But I also point out that such challenges can’t be hidden in a relationship of equal footing, which I explain in Entry 21 concerning ambiguity and Entry 37 concerning transparency.
In these contexts, I always point towards an attitude of utmost honesty, which in my opinion goes beyond mere sincerity, especially in the aspect of giving uncomfortable insights and feelings the space and the attention they need (yes, for everyone involved sometimes difficult to endure).

Acknowledging these “dark aspects”, I invite you not to bypass even phenomena such as depression (Entry 22) or a separated reality (Entry 26), since these are mostly facets of our being that have grown within us for a long time – which will never improve by simply denying, but rather will thrive and reinforce themselves – and thus will again build up difficulties in our ability to relate.

However, our “dark aspects” can also give us valuable information about our longing for (lost) intimacy – and what fulfillment strategies we apply for that pupose in the present. With that we have come a lot closer to the dynamic “We – and the others” and our place in it. And by that we might be able to unveil our true motivation why are tinkering with non-monogamous ideas – and where our talents and deficits could be in that respect (Entries 27 + 28).

That is why behind the philosophy of Oligoamory lies the almost relationship-anarchistic view of all of our loved ones as a whole community of affiliates/associates (of which we are a part), free of artificial classification or hierarchy. With regard to these self-chosen “associates”, it is therefore important which concessions and lazy compromises we would make to be a recognised community-member and how we can employ enough trust and inclusiveness to prevent classic structures of authority and trepidation (Entries 29 + 33).

And with that I’m back at the beginning of today’s Entry, where I mentioned that Oligoamory might be a philosophy which could lead to the entitlement and empowerment of all those involved in a relationship, as I distinctly emphasized again in my more recent articles 37 + 39.

As an explorer of oligoamorous realms, I thank all readers who make the effort to read my long (b)log-entries, to reflect on them and to talk about them. If there is anything I can wish for, I hope that we will all contribute to a more peaceful, conscious and inclusive world. Let’s do it!

* Source: Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia

¹ Quotation from Hannah Arendt; full length in Entry 39.

² Motto of the character Captain Nemo by the author Jules Verne – Captain Nemo, for his part, is certainly not a favourable example of a “community-being”…

³ Sounds almost like the well-known Willy Brandt quote (“We want to dare more democracy. We want a society that offers more freedom and demands more responsibility.”), but is only similar. Of course, I agree with the former chancellor in this aspect.

Entry 40

Top down – from head to toe

It was the American humorist, writer and lecturer Mark Twain who already recognised: “Repartee is something we think of twenty-four hours too late.”
So it’s not a new phenomenon – and that is at least a little comforting, since a few days ago I had been in a position in which situational quick-wittedness would have been excellent, but alas, the corresponding argumentative clarity lagged behind for a few hours once more…

It was one of these Christmas conversations in leisurely company, with some people you meet rather periodically, who you more likely know by sight – and who probably would have been ranked by a psychologist like Robin Dunbar among the large circle of “acquaintances“.
Accordingly, I was sitting next to my “acquaintance”; she: several years of experience with flat share as well as with some non-monogamous encounters now and then. And thus, at some point our subject turned towards my blog, to Oligoamory – and me.
And whether it was inspired by the mulled wine or not, in the age of social networks it is better to be prepared as a writer for well-meaning comments on your work (which unfortunately too often includes your own person), because thanks to those networks mentioned, the job of a critic has become our second bread and butter every day – and we all are regularly asked to execute it on social media, on internet platforms, on comparison sites and client portals. One should therefore eagerly practice good communication to deal with such (constructive?) criticism properly.
Anyway, my acquaintance said to me: “You know, Oligotropos, I think that your whole Oligoamory is very strange, it somehow doesn’t feel right to me. In my experience it is like this: There you are in a relationship and at some point you discover that there is someone else whom you like and whom you want to love as well. And actually you usually rather try to deal with this topic from that point on and then you start looking for ways of life and love that could possibly realise it. Out of the middle of your life, bottom up. Your Oligoamory, there it seems to me totally wrong, kind of top down. And anyway: I already mentioned that I also think that this whole dating business seems to be totally artificial and rigid. Isn’t it the case that relationships just arise depending on whether people are compatible or not? You, for example, with you oligoamorous quest. In my opinion it always comes across as a little stiff and somewhat anxious – you’re definitely not going with the flow. For me it would be rather awkward to approach things like that…”
Well, I was sitting right next to her – and even if I didn’t manage to be really quick-witted, I was at least able to reply self-honest and by using an I-statement. And I answerd my acquaintance that in my case the Oligoamory was the result of my personal journey through the world of ethical non-monogamy, during which I had already experienced myself and my needs very thoroughly. Accordingly, the Oligoamory would already contain some knowledge regarding the essentials I would need for myself in a relationship – and that it is also important to me to immediately and sincerely inform potential people involved about those essentials(especially because I know, for example, how quickly I can get entangled in desires and projections myself…).
And as far as “dating” was concerned, I answered that if one were to live in a small town in southern Lower Saxony between the Weser and Leine, one would have to put up some effort to get in touch with at least like-minded people anywhere – because of the number of folks who were compatible among less than 1000 local inhabitants with an average age of 60+ would otherwise be rather small…

Be that as it may: even in retrospect I am satisfied with the answers I had given. However, they were not really quick-witted. Because hours later (of course!) I thought: “Now I know what bothered me about that criticism. And I should have answered: ‘I’m sorry – but Oligoamory is not something that you do, but something that you are!’, that’s it.”
At this point I have to go back a little bit, because loyal readers of this blog might know since Entry 1 that one day I was suddenly confronted with the challenges of ethical non-monogamy myself – and originally had no prepared concept to deal with it, too. I must say, however, that I would have realy liked to get hold of at least some kind of handrail that I could have clung to during the weeks and months that followed. And after all, after three quarters of a year, I also received a lucky hint concerning the book “More Than Two – A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory” by F. Veaux and E. Rickert, which helped my relationship-network and me to navigate our first shaky steps through a thickening jungle of questions and sensitivities. But by then we had already made a lot of painful mistakes by applying “Try and Error” in DIY mode, which could really have been avoided with a little more “framework” – apart from the fact that one would not have felt so alone regarding the wish for a full-functioning multiple relationship.

Keyword(s) “Wish for multiple relationship(s)”: Many chat forums and groups are constantly debating whether a penchant for multiple relationships is innate or acquired in some people.
I say: I think this highly controversial “Theory of origin” is not very important for our relationships. However, if I look at my own life, then I can certainly refer to an existing history of cute triangular and quadrangular relationship-configurations (especially in transitional situations). These proto-multiple relationships did not have long periods of existence at their time – but nevertheless, if I dare to look honestly at the circumstances, they clearly bear witness to the fact that I have a certain preference (or tendency) towards non-monogamous constellations – and that not since yesterday. Whether it is “innate” or “acquired”, it is definitely a topic that can be found regularly as a trace in my life: So yes, that’s somethink I actually AM, it’s a trait, a feature, it is a factor that is immanent to my thinking and acting. Of course, in my mid-twenties it wouldn’t have been something I could have grasped clearly as “oligoamorous”. But if I had known certain philosophies of ethical non-monogamy, that have been circulating in queer, alternative or neopagan circles for quite some time by then, I would have certainly embraced at least the term “polyamorous” much earlier.
Because in that regard I don’t think that multiple relationships are something that “just happens” to you. And many people from the queer spectrum would possibly agree with me that if you feel a certain inclination, a certain longing, sooner or later the day will come when an inner attitude can no longer be suppressed, but will somehow find a way to manifest, a way “out”. Exactly then – that’s what I would wish for – it would be colossally helpful if there were any form of orientation, choice, or support to be able to identify or at least name these personal affinities or attitudes.
Concerning Oligoamory, I’m challenged to provide exactly this – and to introduce a colourful menu item among many that presents an idea, an orientation, so that it can serve other people as a possible reference point for their own relationship philosophy and their way of life.
If I’m hence able to help by outlining a “way of life” an “Ars vivendi” (art of living) top down and head to toe: With pleasure – and that’s what Oligoamory is all about! The alternative would be a tangle of misleading approximations, with a considerable lack of terms to describe and contextualise yourself, and of those there are too many of them out there in my eyes already.

Well. The only thing left for me to do today is to formulate the quick-witted answer regarding the dating criticism. And I admit that I had to think about that one for quite a while.
Until I realised what my acquaintance had actually announced to me in her rewiew in a roundabout way: a surprisingly stereotypical heteronormative narrative.
Because, strictly speaking, she had expressed two things: On the one hand, that “real/true” relationships can only ever be found and formed through an elusive, romantically transfigured component – and, on the other hand, that only (monogamous) singles posses the proper “authorisation” for dating. Anyone else – who would not benefit from being either single/solitary while initiating a relationship or predestinated by romantically transfigured circumstances – would have to sit and wait selflessly according to this model – since any proactive behaviour would be rather artificial and “somewhat anxious”.
Indeed, this is quite a bludgeon for any queer and non-monogamous lifestyle – and by the way, also one with an ugly nail hidden in it. Because, similar to the once derogatory word “gay“, the reproach towards dating folk is that we would otherwise have to be horny or needy if we were not able to wait for the cosmic coincidence of a romantic chance encounter.
I’ve always had my difficulties with the meek saying “Happiness comes to those who can wait”, because it could also end with “…and if not, it wasn’t meant to be.” – and with such a fatalistic attitude we will neither be able to transform a society nor to save the environment. What such an attitude wants to maintain such is a subdued an fearful posture that I criticised in my last Entry, a posture which will exactly prevent us from flying our flag and from having the courage ” to be someone”.
And although I will probably never be a real fan of (online) dating as a highly sensitive person, I still consider it a valid contemporary tool, especially since I am a staunch advocate of conscious and free will. If (hopefully!) honest, informed and responsible people meet during such an “artificially” created date, then they will probably be able to decide on their own whether they perceive each other as compatible, whether there is “more” between them – or not. And that doesn’t require higher powers, no submission to fate – and just a little bit of romance at best.

Alright. That might have been quick-witted – although I assume that the conversation, which I was able to finish in peace, could otherwise have taken an even more combative turn. And since the English aphorist and essayist Charles Caleb Colton also explained “Repartee is perfect when it effects its purpose with a double edge. It is the highest order of wit, as it indicates the coolest yet quickest exercise of genius, at a moment when the passions are roused.”, I would rather share my late findings here with you today, my loyal readers, and wish you a wonderful, brilliant, courageous – and quick-witted – 2020!

Thanks to TessaMannonen on Pixabay for the photo.

Entry 39

Be someone

»If we think about how many people we have seen and known, and admit how little we have given them, how little they have been to us, how do we feel! We meet spirited people without talking to them, scholars without learning from them, well-travelled people without listening to them, loving people without bestowing any pleasantness.
And unfortunately, this doesn’t just happen to the occasional passer-by. Communities and families behave like that against their dearest members, cities against their most worthy citizens, nations against their most excellent people.«

This quote stems from the novel “Elective Affinities” ¹ by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from 1809. Indeed, as the remarkable title almost suggests, this is a virtually visionary book that tried to deal at the dawn of the 19th century with the sensitive matter of loving attraction regarding more than one person. The story addresses mutual desire, relationship compatibility, romantic motifs and speculates about the principles of affection. Alas, even grand doyen Goethe did not dare to conclude the novel at that time with a happy ending for everyone involved – instead he depicted chaos and suffering – and remained in doing so a child of his time.
However, I still appreciate Goethe’s courageous attempt because he deliberately designed the dynamics of a quadrangular relationship in order to philosophise with his work about the extent to which his main characters acted due to nomological necessity or based their decisions on free will.
The latter, in particular, is still one of the really big questions in relationship matters. Accordingly, up to present day there is still a lot of reasoning and writing on the topic, whether it be the philosopher Robert C. Solomon in “The Philosophy of (erotic) Love” and the biologists Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha in “Sex at Dawn”, or even the Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in “Fidelity: How to create a Loving Relationship that lasts” as well as the psychotherapist Esther Perel in “Mating in Captivity”.

That is why I have the advantage over Goethe today that I can access a whole menu of different perspectives on the subject of “relationship skills” – furthermore I also know a handful of brave people who prove that ethical non-monogamy may not be simple every day, but that it is surely in no way an inevitable drama of “chaos and suffering”.

Sometimes, however, the “environmental conditions” for multiple relationships seem to have changed little since Goethe’s time. Large sections of the population still seem to have a hard time accepting any social and cultural dimensions beyond hetero-monogamous normativity. According to some interpretations, the four protagonists of the “Elective Affinities” were bound to fail in a novel of the 19th century “because the social acceptance wasn’t established” – and indeed it is a good question if the 21st century is much more advanced in that particular matter.

In fact, I believe that many people who are potentially interested in ethical non-monogamy would still agree to this assessment today.
And of course: it is always difficult to belong to an avant-garde of “dissenters”. Because this does not only mean choosing a different philosophy or way of life than the “mainstream” displays. Above all, it means to convince yourself of this different philosophy and way of life every other day, even though you are most likely in an environment that is predominantly based on other standards.
In other words: you need a pretty strong personality.

I believe that Goethe, who worked on the conception for nearly two years, recognised this rather clearly regarding his novel: Environmental conditions are an important factor – but there is also the factor of individual “resilience” – the degree to which a person, despite adverse circumstances, is able to remain true to its personal wishes and ideals.
And of course these two factors are interrelated. Goethe e.g., outlined four main characters, who all collapsed under external pressure for different reasons – and because at some point the various protagonists were overcome by their inner feelings of fear, despondency, insecurity, jealousy, or pride. At the same time, the whole story unfolds against the backdrop of highly authoritarian traditions and a petty bourgeois society which were precisely designed to keep their members dependent, immature and limited in their perspective.
What I perceive as “revolutionary” concerning Goethe’s story is that while formulating sentences like the one that introduces my Entry today, he pointed out quite clearly how strongly he was aware of a lack of encouragement regarding “personal development” during his time.

Concerning that insight, Goethe is still suprisingly topical.
Because in my opinion models of ethical non-monogamy, like Poly– or Oligoamory, will only have a lasting chance of success if we manage to preserve our individuality, our “diversity”, both socially as well as individually – and to understand this fact as a bridge towards community building.

The educational scientist Rainhard Kahl once formulated this apparent contradiction very impressively by calling us to dauntless action in this regard while inviting us “to be someone” ²:

»This is neither self-evident nor banal, because it means a risk to be someone, and not just to play a role or to behave.
Because “every person stands in a place in the world where no other has ever stood before” ³.
It is only from this diversity and peculiarity of everyone, which cannot be reduced any further – from this plurality – that the possibility of understanding arises. If we were all would be – or should be – identical, understanding would be neither necessary nor conceivable.
The price of plurality, however, is first of all an original strangeness:
“The risk of appearing as someone in a co-existence can only be taken by those who are willing to move among one’s equals, who are willing to reveal who they are and who are willing to renounce their original strangeness, a strangeness we all bear, having been born as a newcomer to this world.” ³
Renounce your original strangeness! A thought in need of getting used to. Maybe this original strangeness could be overcome by building a common world.
However, a misanthrope is a person who does not want to renounce this strangeness. Because:

“Any humanity that realises itself in talks of friendship, the ancient Greeks called ‘Philantropeia’, a love for other human beings that shows that you are ready to share the world with them. Its opposite, misanthropy or the hatred of human beings means that the misanthrope finds no one with whom he wants to share the world, that he does not consider anyone worthy enough to enjoy the world and nature and the cosmos with him.“[…]
“A whole world lies between people, and especially this ‘in-between’ – much more than, as is often thought, the people themselves or even humanity – is the main concern today. Every ‘truth’, whether it brings salvation or mischief to people, is inhuman in the literal sense, because it could result in all people suddenly agreeing on only one opinion, and by that a manifold world, which can only ever be formed between people in their diversity, would disappear from the earth. ”³

By the way – all the quotes that Rainhard Kahl is using on his part stem from the philosopher Hannah Arendt, who had been witness during the trial against SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, who had largely planned and implemented the “Final Solution (to the Jewish Question)”. Arendt had to face and to comprehend how a “compliant citizen” had turned into an unscrupulous executor of inhumane orders. Henceforth, this philosopher devoted much of her life’s work to the question what kind of conditions had to interact so that some people could split off part of their humanity – whereas others managed to remain compassionate and empathetic.
In her subsequent work she identified that refraining from “being (or staying) someone”, and becoming an adapted mass being and trend follower instead, contributed most to seductiveness and self-forgetfulness. And that such an adjustment ultimately led to an overall social climate of submissiveness and fear, which ultimately facilitated exclusion and excesses of violence all the more.

This is exactly where I, Oligotropos, see the connection to the present: In particular we – who try to live non-conforming, even queer ideas right up and down into our private relationships – are asked to practice “being someone” over and over again. Especially in a society that gives us today far greater freedom than the 19th century ever could – but a freedom that can still be put in perspective by right-wing extremes or digital mass hypes, so we have to remain vigilant.
For our loved ones, for our children, for ourselves, it is therefore important to cherish our profile, with its peculiarities and potentials – precisely to contribute to the integrative “colourful buffet”, which I describe in Entry 33 – which will be our best insurance against blind allegiance and oblivious crowd-following.

I leave the final word to Rainhard Kahl again:
»Hannah Arendt combines the desire to expose oneself with the willingness to be encountered by the unknown. Therefore, vulnerability is a prerequisite for gaining experience and being able to develop. In this way, vulnerability is a function of strength. A strength that grows with the abstinence of armour.
In a 1964 television interview she said:
“When we are starting something, we put our thread into a network of relationships; we never know what will become of it. This applies to all our actions, specifically because you simply cannot know it. It’s a venture. And now I would say that this venture is only possible while putting trust in other people, that is, in some kind of elusive, basic trust in the human nature of all people. It wouldn’t be possible any other way.”«

¹ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Elective Affinities”: Part 2, Chapter 1

² Reinhard Kahl, “In search of adults who have grown up”; essay in “Children are looking for Orientation”, 2002, Walther / Patmos-Verlag

³ Hannah Arendt, excerpts from her speech at the 1959 Lessing Award.

Thanks to Kurt Kleeb on Unsplash for the photo.