So today I landed on my happy internet-land with a few of my pals on twitter buzzing about some June Cleaver wannabe whining about what she wants in a marriage. Normally, the June Cleavers of the world don’t really interest me that much, but this one does. Why? Because she wrote for Oprah.com. In fact, it is the same reason that my friends don’t want to bother with her that I would like to shake her world up some (if I could). The fact is, when Oprah or her peons say something, it shakes our world up. People listen to her and they need a hundred voices arguing back at her before they’re going to listen to us. As a result, I’m going to eat this woman’s marriage. Or, shall we say, her marriage that apparently didn’t happen.
Apparently, our June Cleaver (or, in this episode, named Karen) is a good little Jewish girl who also had pre-marital sex. She uses her religious upbringing as a cornerstone in her arguments against what our dear Ward Cleaver would ask of her, but apparently didn’t care enough about them to use them when he and she decided to sex it up like a couple of wild bonobos:
Steve made his request after he and I were intimately involved — catching me totally off guard. I’m a nice Jewish girl from Philadelphia who grew up in a cul de sac where we played kickball and said “darn” instead of “damn” when we missed a kick.
Of course, the implication is that “intimately” means they fucked, right? When did the Jews start teaching that premarital fucking was OK, but suddenly the ages old practice of having multiple partners was not? As I recall, Jewish religious texts include stories of non-monogamous relationships. Which, by the way, is what our Ward Cleaver (in this episode, Steve) asked for.
The problem with June’s article is that she is one of many people who are incapable of separating the concepts of “love,” “marriage,” “relationships,” and “sex” and she expects that her own trouble with defining them should be a problem for everyone else as well. All of those concepts are related, but they aren’t the same thing. Many people, however, are incapable of disconnecting them. I won’t fault June for her own desires, that’s not something she deserves to be attacked for. Being able to draw a line to define one’s own boundaries is extremely important. The problem is when one draws one’s own boundaries and then expects others to draw their boundaries in the same way.
Flings are simply superficial sensory delights. There’s no difference between your partner enjoying a pizza with anchovies without you and your partner enjoying a blonde with blue eyes without you.
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I read that as “Snark, snark, snark, snort, snark!”
This honesty enables couples to avoid the emotional downward spiral of hidden affairs because the need for secrecy is removed.
If someone is in an open relationship to avoid an affair, they’re doing it wrong! Affairs are not the product of lack of openness or lack of honesty and dishonesty can still happen in open relationships. Open relationships, ideally, should be about getting the needs met of those involved. Of course, the ideal doesn’t always happen, but the ideal doesn’t happen for all the June Cleavers of the world, either.
On a side note: Karen Salmansohn’s (June Cleaver’s) article does something really odd. It claims to be presented as an article listing “good” and “bad” elements of a concept (pros and cons?) and then in the “good” section, argues against itself, listing “bad” under the “good” label. I could be wrong, but that seemed like some under-handed writing, didn’t it?
Moving herself into her description of the “bad” elements of an open relationship, June completely fails to mention if Ward ever gave an explanation as to why he felt he needed an open relationship in her “good” or “bad” section. Further, instead of listing any pragmatic concepts in her “bad” section, June describes her own definition of a healthy relationship and uses that as a guideline to exclude the possibility of an open relationship from her idea of healthy. It is a nice trick, but I’m not falling for it. Essentially, her own insecurities that she voices as her own opinion then become her basis for defining all open marriages as unhealthy and even potentially hazardous relationships to be in. The thing is, while June is welcome to have her own insecurities, her assumption that they are hang-ups for others is a tremendous problem. June doesn’t want an open marriage, essentially, because she sees her marriage as too closely tied to sex. Other people, however, don’t see marriage that way. In fact, marriage has a longer history of being more about property rights and social ties than it has being about primarily sex. Confining monogamous marriage and sexual behavior to the same shackles is a recent development in Western History and is certainly not a universal stance, even from June’s own Jewish background.
One major beef that I have with Karen’s complaints (I’ll stop calling her “June,” now, it is becoming less entertaining to me and that childish part of me is moving on to more adult things) is that she’s equating open marriage with, as she puts it, “rules for cheating.” In other words, she has already redefined a term in order to fit her own paradigm. The fact is, a healthy open relationship isn’t about “cheating.” It isn’t cheating when it is allowed.
Steve’s desire to have three days of ‘alone’ time morphed into some concept of four-sevenths of a marriage to Karen. The average employed person spends about a quarter of their lives working. Does this mean that if Steve kept a full time job during their marriage, that Karen was only getting three-quarters of a marriage? Is Karen only married when her spouse is with her? What happens if Steve works overtime or two jobs? I think that at some point in her article, Karen went from not wanting to share Steve with another woman to suddenly wanting a set percentage of Steve’s time and attention. I’m not going to say that desire is right or wrong, but just want to mention that the statements were incongruent with their context and what seemed to be her intent.
Karen clearly hasn’t studied open relationships enough, or, Karen’s interest in selling her book outweighed anything she might have learned from studying open relationships. See, Karen also makes it clear that her feelings about open marriages are tied to how she defines what’s healthy in a relationship. In her article, then, she refers to her book, Prince Harming Syndrome which, based on this article, refers to conditions she deems harmful in relationships with men:
Prince Harming is someone who does not make his partner feel safe, calm, secure, confident — and the idea of an open marriage does not leave me feeling that way.
Aside from using a pun to discriminate against any man who may not fit her tidy outline of perfection, the above quote brings up some entirely different issues. Since when should a woman, independent and strong (one would hope) need a man to make her feel “safe, calm, secure” and “confident?” If one’s self-esteem has all of those riding on the back of one man, one’s marriage is going to suck no matter if it is open or not. In a healthy world, our self-esteems are our own responsibility! No other person in the world is accountable for how wonderful any given person is than themselves. You may gain power from your loved ones, your friends and your peers, but your main power source should be you. If you are not your main source of mental support; if your ego lies in a basket on someone’s head, then when those that you have put under yourself as your pillars trip or fall, you have nothing to land on. Our responsibility to ourselves is to be our main pillar. Our responsibility to our friends and loved ones is to share a truss system which will hold us up when any one of us trips, but which we aren’t using as our only weight-bearer.
So what is the difference between love, relationships, marriage, and sex? Love is an emotional response that we can have with nearly anyone. It is a chemical reaction in our brains that we often need and are addicted to. Love feeds our social brains so that we can build unifying relationships that help protect us within our social groups. Relationships are our connections to other people. The deeper the connection, the greater the chance that person will be someone for whom we are willing to sacrifice or who is willing to sacrifice something for us, usually for the good of the (forgive me for being so dry) social unit or family. Marriage is a social contract. I know a great number of people wish it to be more than that, and for many, it is, but marriage usually exists outside of love or as a marker for love, but primarily shows the world where property belongs. Marriage is historically our civilized way of peeing on our lover’s insurance, retirement plan and even their offspring; much like a dog pissing on a bitch’s burrow. I’m not saying marriage can’t have more meaning, people define it to suit their current needs. Because of this, Karen’s idea of marriage works. Marriage is also an incredibly ambiguous term that designates a social standing. At the root of it, though, in our society, it is simply a polite alternative to dumping urea on our lover’s lazyboy. As for sex, sex is an innate desire. Sex is evolution’s answer to how we are to keep our genes alive. Sex is how we roll our dice to attempt to win the genetic lottery. We don’t have to love to do this, we don’t need social bonds for it and we don’t have to pee on a lazyboy first. Sex is evolution’s genetic insurance and our bodies are evolution’s willing puppets. (And with the way natural selection so nicely provided us with an orgasm, who are we to complain?)
I sincerely hope that Karen finds her monogamous man and her picket fence and a cul de sac for her children to pretend they didn’t say ‘damn’ in. I hope that Steve (Ward) also finds his happy, open relationship that suits whatever needs he was looking to satisfy. I hope that Karen learns a little, someday, and stops trying to make her boundaries fit the rest of the world. Finally, I hope she looks up every marital arrangement mentioned in the Torah. I don’t usually suggest people read religious texts, but I think that quest may enlighten her some.
Note: This isn’t to say that cheating can’t happen in an open or polyamorous relationship, it can. I’ve had a partner manage that one. It sucked. The cheating, though, is different and has a different set of rules and norms that accompany it, usually ones that are built by the couple. As an example, my experience involved a problem of neglect. The sex didn’t matter; I didn’t care. Instead, my emotional and mental well-being were suddenly placed on the back burner while my partner’s attention was elsewhere and that’s where everything broke apart. I don’t hold anything against that person, either. Because in all of my experiences, I’ve also learned that sometimes we build rules that people simply can’t follow. That person’s unique situation in their life led to such a problem and they, for whatever reason, could not have predicted what ended up happening. Thus, they’re still my friend, we just recognized an incompatibility and moved on. Aside from that one bad experience, my other experiences with open and polyamorous life have been good and I still consider myself to be an open-poly-flexible person. This basically means that I build relationships based on the needs of those involved. It also means that my future can hold anything from monogamy to polyamory to open relationships and I won’t know until I get there.