The title of that linked column -- which is actually the transcript of a podcast -- is "Status Games, Polyamory and the Merits of Meritocracy". There actually isn't a lot of poly content in the article, but it did touch on a few things I'd like to briefly cover, and in some cases rebut; there are also some unrelated things that made me think.
Agness Callard, the philosopher being interviewed, makes some remarks about jealousy that really make no sense to me, to wit:
When I think about times I’ve been jealous, I have wanted to know about the character of the conversations that my beloved was having with his other beloved, right? Where it’s like, I want access to the you that you are for them. And what that speaks to is a kind of bottomless desire to own them. I want to own everything about you, even the parts of you that don’t exist for me.
Oh, dear. I mean, this framework seems to work for her. It sure as hell doesn't for me.
Quick refresher: jealousy is rarely justified, and it usually has nothing to do with another person's actions. It is, instead, basically an alarm letting you know you're insecure, or afraid. That's all it is, and when it goes off, you do a quick self-check: what am I afraid of? Do I have reason to be? The answers are usually (a) FOMO or fear of losing your partner and (b) probably not. Unless you partner is violating a previously agreed-upon boundary, or neglecting you, your jealousy is yours to work through.
...I want to know the character of the conversations....
No, you don't. You tell yourself you do, but if you actually heard those conversations, they'd hurt you. If you actually want access to everything your partner does and says, please do that partner a favour, tell them that this is your expectation for a relationship, and let them run away as fast as their little feets'll carry them. Because that demand is psychotic!
I want access to the you that you are for them.
I have been thinking about this, because my original reaction was to scoff "but I'm the same person". That is, of course, not true. Different partners are different people, and the person you are with each is different too. But do you really want me to let loose with a rousing talk on this thing I'm geeky about, when that's a thing I share with her simply because she's geeky about it too and you have no interest in it? And incidentally, the same holds true for her: there are things I only share with you, because you appreciate them and she doesn't.
And what that speaks to is a kind of bottomless desire to own them. I want to own everything about you, even the parts of you that don’t exist for me."
I don't own you. I don't own anyone but myself, and that's just as it should be, and it's never going to change. That line up there is pretty much the most toxic thing I've ever seen.
That is a big part of why people like going to dinner parties with their partners. I think jealousy is integrated, at a low level, into most romantic relationships. And it brings people pleasure. To see their partner being desired by others, kept at a certain simmer or something — even though they feel jealousy, and even though there’s some kind of painful emotion, they want that pain. They want some of that pain.
What in the hell...?
Yes, it does bring me pleasure to see my partner desired by others. Put that baldly, people assume I get off on watching my partner being pleasured sexually by another, and guess what? I've never seen that and likely never will. My desire to see that rests comfortably just below -- let's see now -- oh, yes, um, zero. NOT because I'm afraid I'll be exposed as a two-pump chump, either. I have exactly the same reaction to my partner having private time elsewhere that you would have with anyone having private time anywhere. Note that word PRIVATE.
No, I mean I see my partner being ogled and I think oh, look, a man with taste. I mean, I find her gorgeous, why shouldn't you? That's not a painful thought at all, that's a positive thought!
Ezra Klein says:
Yeah, I know polyamorous couples. And one of the things I will sometimes hear from them is that it’s demystifying of that love, that, in some ways, it is less threatening to see your partner go out and then watch them come back, and they’re just the same person and, in some cases, a little dissatisfied and tired the next morning, as opposed to wondering what it is they want that you cannot give them, that it is a — that that acculturation removes it of some of its mystical power.
This is true. This could not be more true. Your partner's other partners -- your metamours, in polyspeak -- are human beings, not gods or goddesses. Their relationship isn't perfect any more than yours is and they have flaws maybe not just like you do, but they have flaws, believe me. Realizing that, really grasping that your metamour is just as insecure about you as you are about them, really drives down the jealousy.
Later on in the column they're talking about parenting, and while I don't have children, I was "supposed to", so I do have some things to say here, too.
I'm reflexively averse to the goal of chill. I think nobody ever believes that. People say it. Nobody believes it. Nobody acts upon it. I do think it’s important for your kid to see that you care who they become. And having that tension is a way for that care to manifest itself. Part of what you’re doing is being your kid’s superego, in some way. You’re maintaining — you’re holding a place for their conception of who they’re going to be. And you want that to be big and expansive. And you want it to be much bigger than a toddler or an eight-year-old or a 12-year-old or a 17-year-old, as my kids are, can imagine. You want it to take up more space than that, right? You want them to expect a lot of themselves. And part of how you’re doing that is by expecting a lot of them.
I wasn't pushed as a kid. At all. There was some griping over my grades because I achieved As and A-pluses in any subject that had nothing to do with science or math, and I did that without studying, and Mom used to occasionally lament "think how well you'd do if you tried!" Not much better, actually. I mean, I'm not bragging here, just stating: I'm an Ontario Scholar, and I graduated OAC with a 92.5 average across the board. Would 94.5 have been that much better?
But in terms of being prodded to set and achieve life goals, there was none of that. Do I then blame my parents for my listless and drifty existence? I do not. I DO NOT.
Most people seem to just have life goals embedded in their DNA. My mom and stepdad both exemplified this. Especially John: I'm convinced that to this day, the word "relax" is either a curse or at best semantically null to him. For whatever reason, I didn't come with goals installed, and they never thought to check, goals being standard equipment on humans and all.
I would agree with Callard's entire paragraph up there with one GIANT caveat. "You’re holding a place for their conception of who they’re going to be." BE, not do. What your kids grow up to DO is up to them, not you, and pushing them into any one thing is likely to backfire in your face.'
I would expect a lot of my kids. I would expect them to care about others, to fight for what is right, to live and love honestly and freely, to own their emotions and USE them, including ESPECIALLY all the ones supposedly outlawed to little boys. I would teach them to think critically, to spot and defuse logical fallacies, and to trust experts. I would have my own homework for them, too. One of the things I would ask a young teenager to do is to rewrite the Ten Commandments into something that makes more sense for them. (The ten that actually exist are really, really lame. Not a word about rape or slavery, 'cause God's okay with those things, but three separate commandments to let you know God's a needy, jealous bastard; a commandment to honour your father and mother (what if your parents aren't honourable?); a vague exhortation against killing (God killed almost everybody on earth, and just relished punishing people all through the Old Testament, and often outright commands killing, but He says "thou shalt not kill"? Bugger off, hypocrite.
No stealing, which is good...or is it? Would you steal to feed a hungry child? I would; I have. Also, people steal due to a a lack of pride. But pride is a sin: one of the Seven Deadlies, in fact. (Those aren't Biblical, but plenty of Christians don't realize that and act as if they are).
Okay, so yes, adultery is bad and you shouldn't do it. Why are there two commandments basically saying the same thing? (Incidentally, women: you can't commit adultery either, but I see nothing in 9 that says you can't lust after your neighbour's husband...)
I would never ask a child to do something I haven't done myself.
Thanks for reading.