One for all – all for one!¹
As the author of a bLog, one is necessarily critical regarding one’s own texts. Again and again, I therefore regularly look again at entries written by me months – or meanwhile even years – later, and even in my eyes there are rather powerful but also sometimes less profound articles.
There is, for example, my Entry 16, about which I kept thinking whether I should consider it the weakest in terms of content – even a partner of mine said at the time that I had been too hard on myself when writing it, because successful communication would always depend on the contributions of all participants.
However, when I revisit Entry 16 today, I find its conclusion highly topical and universally applicable – even if I had chosen the contextual approach in a somewhat roundabout way back then.
In order to clarify what I mean, I would like to pick up the thread again today, because in my own relationships and also in those of close acquaintances, I have regularly noticed how quickly in “default mode” we are disposed to regard the perception of our part of the world all too readily as the presumable entirety.
Why is it so important to me – concerning Oligoamory – to once again very thoroughly examine exactly this complex ( which, strictly speaking, has a well-known and quite comprehensible mechanism)?
Because I would like to close a potential loophole in the oligoamorous “firewall”, which could present itself to a possibly well-meaning, but in the heat of the moment perhaps a little too self-convinced mind – specifically in relation to what I have established in my last entries as an oligoamorous basic philosophy:
Already on my starting page I invite my readers to build (multiple) relationship networks in which all participants could hopefully experience themselves as “more than the sum of their parts” by interconnecting and combining skills as well as resources. In Entry 64, which was the last article of a three-part series on “Meaningful Relationships,” I reinforce this key point in Oligoamory with the holistic thoughts of the early modern philosopher Shaftesbury, which could be summarized as follows: What is good for you is beneficial for a greater whole – and if something is beneficial for the greater whole, this in turn benefits you.
The latter, by the way, even the primatologist Frans de Waal (mentioned by me already in Entries 11 and 59) had derived from our biologically closest cousins: In evolutionary terms, cooperation could develop because through proven favours in a group by an individual showing solidarity, the probability increased that this individual would probably one day be among those “favoured” by the solidarity of others.
So far, so good.
However, we humans – especially in loving relationships – are not merely a holistically functioning ecosystem, nor are we a mere bunch of monkeys. Because “what is good (for us)”, that which is “beneficial (for us)”, is something we must – and want to! – decide for ourselves. I would even say: We must and should decide on this ourselves.
To remain with the example of the primate group: For us, on the one hand, it would be a bit too arbitrary to be at the mercy of whether or not some bananas would be left over for us during the distribution today. And on the other hand, only we ourselves can really know whether we would prefer to have a banana today at all – or a coconut or anything else – and we also want to decide autonomously about that for ourselves.
Why do I say this? Because I am convinced that a huge potential for conflict in close human relationships lies in the paternalism: “I already know what is good for you…!”
And this can sprout the strangest blossoms in loving relationships, to which I would not want to provide any support by the pretext of a superior oligoamorous group benefit for the sake of “the sum of the parts”.
If we look at monoamory (e.g. classical marriage…), this is already a problem for historical reasons alone: Because there – over several centuries – the role of the husband evolved into that of a provider of livelihood, and the role of the wife evolved into that of a dependent recipient. This distribution of roles already contributed to the fact that until today a certain “master attitude ” still characterizes our thinking, for example, when it comes to questions of occupation and earning (the most) money in general. In this way, even a parent-child relationship is reproduced in the constellation of a subsequent loving relationship: the one who provides (most) is allowed to decide, has the (supreme/ultimate) “power of disposal”.
This gets really complicated, unfortunately, because the mentioned “provider mentality” can meet in us humans a more or less established “wellfare mentality” – a comfortable attitude, which yields only too gladly, and is content with the fact that there is already someone else, who “cares”.
And this does not at all refer only to physical or material well-being. The title line of the languishing jazz song “Someone to watch over me“ by George and Ira Gershwin from 1926 is the perfect example for me in this respect, as this sentence wants to be pronounced with four childlike kissing mouths (try it yourself in front of the mirror…), thereby longingly proclaiming the desire for the quasi omnipotent all-round caretaker².
Even we, who believe ourselves to be emancipated from such a world of paternal “shoe-boxes” (or at least their moralizing superstructure), are far from being completely free of such thinking.
For me, this is evidenced by the fact that multiple relationship contexts (from polyamorous dating sites and forums to actual relationships) among other things regularly struggle with the imminence of genuine narcissism.
And that’s unfortunately not so surprising, because narcissism is either attracted by the possibility to become the undetected commander, decision-maker and object of adoration for a very long time – which is simply easier to disguise by a higher number of people involved (because from the point of view of a narcissist “someone else” is always to blame)… Or narcissism is virtually invited by people who want to hand over responsibility to “the community” so that a narcissistic personality quickly feels: Here I can lead and/or excel.
It is not that narcissism does not also exist in usual relationships of two – but an insecurely acting multiple relationship model is clearly more susceptible to tolerate such patterns.
But it doesn’t have to be narcissism that lies behind the urge to impose what one considers good for oneself on all others as supposedly beneficial.
In the vast majority of cases, it is simply our conviction about ” our own movie” that is at work, as I have already described in Entry 11. This conviction can even go so far that we see ourselves in the role of the romantic self-sacrificer who gives it all, really everything, for the community – and for the sake of a higher overall performance.
At the end of the day, though, I still haven’t had to engage in any real communication for this, and it’s just like I said in Entry 16, that I’m merely “imposing my personal reasons that I associate with a topic on any opportunity for communication – and thereby on my entire social group.“
Many “heroines and heroes in their own movie” (Entry 11) are often outraged by such an attribution, since – on the contrary – they are quite convinced that they communicate all the time and even very MUCH. Only, unfortunately, they would talk their mouths off, could even speak with the tongues of angels, however, the unwilling objects of such an expended amount of communication would simply and unfortunately not be able to receive the guiding message. Or perhaps they would simply be stubborn.
Already in Entry 4 I do not refer to “communication” as an absolute value in relationships, but call it a “flexible variable” (like a volume regulator on a mixing console, for example). The fact that this “regulator” is generally present does not say anything about the quality produced. Because especially in today’s world we often adopt – as far as our attitude to the “regulator” is concerned – an unhelpful attitude, which in linguistic terms is called “metacommunication”.
“Metacommunication,” however, is a mode of conversation that is one level behind – or rather above – real communication. In the truest sense: for we talk “about” something or someone – but not “with” them. Our modern means of communication make this even easier (and more habitual) in a way that is not very helpful, e.g., by allowing us to conjure up additional (meta)interlocutors out of thin air by means of our always-accessible communication devices and applications. In doing so, however, we are most likely only opening another echo chamber that will confirm us in our own opinion – or we will experience frustration in the experience of what appears to be yet another incomprehensible entity (in addition, “meta-partners” of that kind often miss and lack situational gestures, facial expressions or voice colouring). However, the actual purpose is still not helped – it would be as if we had only talked about the ” regulator” or the mixer all the time – but failed to put it into operation.
We can only counter the occasionally unpleasant course of (contentious) conversations with genuine communication, in talking with one another, if we make an effort to disclose that different sides may start from completely different premises, that misinterpretations may exist – and that misunderstandings want to be cleared up. Ambiguity, irony and sarcasm are not funny in this context – they are a hindrance. Rather, we have to ask how our interlocutors use certain terms, we have to agree on how the parties involved assess the current situation – and it is very important that everyone really (wants to) talk(s) about the same topic. Only in this way can we discover commonalities and identify more precisely which points are seen differently and why.
So it’s better to keep your options open? Or as an acquaintance once said to me, “Let some differences between friends simply exist and don’t really address them in detail…”?
In the Oligoamory from my point of view absolutely impossible.
Because the emotional contract behind every relationship (Entry 9) is not a tool, a mere label or an option – but a fact that manifests itself immediately with the establishment of a relationship. The emotional contract is always there, is ” performed in the background” – whether we want it or not.
Sure, sometimes you may take a bit of personal freedom of thought from it a way. I’ll give you an example of my own:
In Entry 31 I mentioned that one of my partners owns a horse. “Owns a horse” is, strictly speaking, already too superficial as a description – sometimes I say: “You can take K. from the horse but not the horse out of K.”. By that I want to express that this partner is connected with the whole being to this horse theme.
I, on the other hand, don’t particularly care for horses. Well, over the years with that partner I now know a little more than where only front and back are on a horse – but I would probably not keep such an animal on my own, for many reasons (horse manure, for example). Since the partner has now a time-consuming profession, it results that I take care of the animal occasionally, stable care, feeding, yes and also the little loved disposal of horse droppings.
As a motivational aid in my head, I sometimes stand on the paddock and tell myself that my action is an anytime terminable bonus, which I would not have to perform compulsorily. And that is often a reassuring thought and whistling I empty the wheelbarrow.
But would I seriously play this card?
It is actually the case that I was not asked for this service by the partner in question. Ok, a little bit it was simply the purely practical necessity, which arose to take care of a pet as a living being, which belonged to our household anyway. But the result of this was and is to a large extent a self-commitment that I initiated myself completely on my own (!).
A self-commitment, however, emerges from the personal “desire to assume responsibility” that I have already cited in several entries (otherwise I would have been better off leaving it out altogether). And in this sense regarding a circumstance in which I have taken (unasked) a contribution option to our overall housekeeping. And as an adult I surely have to confess: Not because I had nothing better to do, but because I consciously wanted it that way.
This self-commitment has thus at the same time immediately become part of the emotional contract as a “enjoyable voluntary obligation” (see definition).
This “enjoyment” for my partner in turn emerged from my investment in commitment and integrity. An investment in an entity, therefore, in which I obviously felt secure and involved enough when I made the investment.
But this is precisely where my investment has entered into our shared “more than the sum of the parts”, where individual “enjoyable voluntary yielded obligations, self-commitments and care” can no longer be easily separated.
It is precisely in this capacity that Oligoamory is “holistic,” which is why I used the example of the baby rattle in Entry 57. Of course, it would theoretically be possible to remove individual contributions from the emotional contract once again: I stop mucking out – You don’t go shopping anymore – I don’t keep our budget book anymore – You don’t call when it’s getting late at work anymore… etc. In the end, however, it would be just like the rattle: You would take the structure apart component by component and in the end… nothing would remain! It is probably because of this effect that breakups are so sobering: after stripping away all the bits and pieces that have been brought in, all that remains is a somehow uneasy emptiness, but what – as in the case of the rattle – was actually the operating sound – that is, what had filled the whole thing with life – that also escaped in the process, and no one would have been able to lay hands on it…
So as a “hero in my own movie” I can take care of my personal need satisfaction and try to find out what is good for myself.
If, with this goal of a succeeding life, I want to contribute to my group/community as a free individual, then I can possibly contribute to its overall good and the well-being for all in it.
But what I can never know or even decide is what is good for YOU or any other specific person.
This is the limit, the firewall, which we as individuals cannot realistically cross and therefore should not cross out of hubris.
What a nifty paradox of Oligoamory. It only performs smoothly if our intentions are aimed at the shared centre:
One for all and all for one!
¹ Wonderful phrase that gained eternal valor with Alexandre Dumas‘ novel as “Un pour tous, tous pour un!”.
² Featured prominently even in Star Trek Voyager Season 5 Episode 22
Thanks to FOTORC on Pixabay for the photo!