Commitment, Monogamy, Polyamory, Relationships
Insecurity, jealousy, possessiveness ... love ...
So you get along really well with somebody, you feel like you have a lot in common, the making out is great, the interest is mutual, you're both "single" or "available" ... so you start dating each other. A relationship is born. Expectations arise. Now that you are dating, a set of rules apply. Supposedly. What are these rules? Where do they come from? Often each person in a dating couple has a different set of rules. Sometimes people don't know what they want the rules to be, or they want to change the rules as the relationship "progresses" into something more "serious".
Sometimes you don't like the rules, even when you believe in them. Sometimes you don't even realize they are rules until you break them.
The rules often go well beyond purely sexual fidelity. There might be certain conversational topics that are kept within the couple, certain secrets. There might be certain activities that are kept within the couple, certain special restaurants or movies -- such as "our song" -- you'd never dance with somebody else to "our song", that would be a betrayal.
The purpose of the rules is to keep others out, to defend a relationship hierarchy in which the couple is supreme. In practice, the rules are more a matter of emotion than logic. Is your partner OK with you doing this, or will he feel hurt by it? Would you feel comfortable doing this, or would it bother you?
Where do these feelings of hurt and bother come from? They come from a societal relationship model that values couplehood more than singlehood. They come from existential insecurities and fear of loneliness. They come from sexual inhibitions that protect us against sexually transmitted diseases and so-called illegitimate children.
The existence of exclusive couplehood creates an artificial scarcity of sex & intimacy for those who are not properly coupled. Those who discover that they don't actually need couplehood to satisfy their needs for sex & intimacy are typically viewed as "immoral" sluts who are "afraid of commitment". If everybody realized that they don't need couplehood to satisfy their needs for sex & intimacy, then maybe more people would be tempted to leave their partners ... and that would be "bad" because the model values couplehood more than singlehood. And, anyway, losing a partner hurts, a lot, perhaps more than anything else in the world.
Of course, all this is more complicated when children are involved. Because children take so long to grow up, they often outlast the optimal parental relationship-timeframe (7 years?), yet our society believes that parents should be responsible for raising their own children through the age of 18-22+. Couplehood is also more complicated when significant property is involved -- who should get what? Heh, you can solve most of your couplehood problems by avoiding children and wealth ;-)
Some people openly and intentionally claim that they have the ability to form multiple romantic relationships simultaneously. Some of these people call themselves "polyamorous". I tried being poly for a few years. I'm not sure whether that label still applies to me now that I have no official romantic relationships at all ...
Having an ability doesn't necessarily mean we have to act upon it ... in my own experience multiple romantic relationships means multiple emotional rollercoasters operating simultaneously ... a replication of the monogamy model rather than a reformation.
The strange thing about commitment is that it doesn't seem necessary. Typically people don't want to commit to each other unless they are quite certain that they like each other, and that their feelings are reciprocated. If you both really like each other a lot, and you are obviously the best person for the other, why go to the trouble of making a "commitment" that you will continue to like each other a lot? Why can't you just keep liking each other a lot?
The only logical purpose of commitment is to keep people together after they no longer like each other.
Well, perhaps a secondary purpose is to keep people from pursuing other people they might like.
The concepts of ownership and investment affect our thinking about relationships. We think that we've put a lot of effort into this relationship, so we don't want it to disappear. It is ours. We don't want to "start over" with somebody else. The more anniversaries, the more we've "invested". We get used to thinking that this person is my partner. A significant portion of our decisions were made together, compromises and sacrifices were made together. Some of our skills atrophy as we depend on our partners to do certain things for us.
Most obviously, we typically view the end of a relationship as a great loss, not as a great opportunity. Something we owned has been stolen. Instead of viewing singlehood as a creative adventure, we view it as a pitiful between-couplehood holding tank for those temporarily incapable of making a relationship work.
We call past relationships "failed relationships" and wonder what we did wrong, or blame the other person, or both.
Imagine if each time we passed a grade level in school we viewed that as a loss, as a waste of time, as an investment that failed. By viewing our romantic relationships as permanent we expect them to last forever and feel bitterly hurt when they don't. Perhaps if we viewed each relationship as a temporary class in the school of life we wouldn't feel so bad when we both move on to the next one.
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