04 January 2010

more expanding gah

So it comes up on the theory of open relationships. I am not sure that there is anything or should be anything inherently wrong with this in concept or in practice. The problem is that human beings aren't very well designed to do them. They tend to place a great deal of importance on trust and intimacy and naturally having sex with other people is a potential deal breaker for one or both of those features of relationships. Such relations basically would work in situations where people place less importance on total intimacy within the context of a "traditional" marriage. As far as that goes, I think that we should be totally comfortable accepting that some people are in fact wired this way, but there are some problems.

1) Most of the people who are comfortable with a lower intimacy in relationships seem to be men. I suppose if most of our society's open relationships involve gay or bisexual men then this wouldn't be as much of a problem. But polygamous setups are typically used to select multiple mating partners, ie women.

2) Many such circumstances in practice are non-consensual, typically as examples of exercises in power. This happens in one of two ways. Either the man goes out and has extramarital affairs without consent or the man selects brides for himself who do not consent to having to share. And of course there's also the issue of selecting younger girls rather than actual ladies, which commonly violates a whole bunch of consent issues. When the modal practice is not the model practice, this isn't likely to be a very effective social habit. One could argue however that the nominal concept of marriage has a similar flaw. That is, that people don't typically get married with a full enough understanding of how to make that relationship work for an extended enough period to make it a model scenario and the relationship promptly fails. There are many such examples; people who get married "too young", people who are already re-marrying, people who get married because they have a child (as opposed to people who have a child because they are getting married), and so on. Sometimes these work. Sometimes they don't. We at least have a better track record with a normal two person contractual arrangement, but it's not exactly a pretty model.

3) Since the common usage does not involve consent or equal opportunity (ie, polyandry), then it's rather difficult to say that this should be a common behavior. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be use at all however or that society "condemns" the concept. Rather it just doesn't work as swimmingly as people think it will when they set out to do it. There are circumstances where it might. For example, if a woman marries a high status male who then seeks out additional mates, she could accept that her own status or consumptive patterns, etc are improved enough to compensate for the diminished attentions of her otherwise agreeable spouse (or vice versa for a high status woman). Or she could herself have such opportunities within their arrangement to seek out additional partners to balance out the equation so to speak. However in most cases, this isn't enough to compensate, and, moreover, such extracurricular activity usually happens without her knowledge and consent, meaning it fails to allow her the choice and trust to adapt as would be necessary to the situation and the entire system flops on its head. Basically the only way this would work is if a person is honest with their potential mates that they will seek out other partners and those potential mates don't mind (which is increasingly difficult to imagine what with STDs being a factor). Since it appears that the entire purpose of extramarital behavior is dishonesty, both with themselves and their partner(s), it's rather impossible for most people to actually make these arrangements work. In part because most people are incredibly dishonest as a habit. Many people don't bother as a result, to their credit, recognizing their weakness but reducing their ability to act upon it or simply focusing their attention properly upon a single mate within a nominally intimate context. A few salacious stares or some pornography seems to be the extent for many.
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