Why We Have To Let Ourselves Have Healthy Romances Our Whole Life Long
by Liam Scheff
When we fall in love with someone new while we’re already involved with (or married to) someone else, we imagine that we have to sacrifice the first relationship in order to allow permission for the second. I think this is false, utterly and dangerously so, and nothing but a bit of propagandistic programming implemented to pit us against each other, to curtail our freedom, creativity, tribal bonding, and personal happiness.
Our culture gives us one bad idea for how we must pair for life: that of “till death, forsaking all others, genital-owning” marriage of the inherited, women-owning, capital-obsessed herding cultures of the ancient Near East. This Levitical (from the Torah/Old Testament book of Leviticus) conceptualization of domineering (and brutalizing) male and subservient female roles and responsibilities is directly passed to us in our marriage vows and our concepts of love and fidelity. It has nothing to do with actual human nature, which is far more open and permissive than that of the old herding tribes.
After curtailing all normal expression, this Levitical system then calls every other possible romantic arrangement “sin” and “failure,” no matter how mature, honest, genuine, communicative, deeply considered, or based in our actual natural inclinations they are.
We’re offered one highly restrictive maze to run for the length of our lives, and we’re told that anything else that we might prefer is nothing but “betrayal, weakness and debasement” – when the only values wanting to be expressed are, in actuality, love, affection and kindness.
I don’t think the Levitical view is the truth. Should you really imagine that when you meet someone new and are deeply excited to make a new relationship, that you are now infested by bad values, “lusty flesh,” or actual devils? This is the lie that we’re given. The reality is this: there is something calling to you. You want to form a new friendship, a new relationship. That relationship might involve sex, and it might not.
Because we’re so sexually possessive, restrictive and repressed, we immediately imagine that sexual intercourse must be the ultimate goal of a new attraction. And that sexual intercourse must lead to either marriage, or divorce and re-marriage. Once again – we’re so culturally conditioned to be terrified of affection that we constantly suppress it, thus making the release of desire explosive rather than gentle. We walk around all day like shaken cans of soda pop. Give us even the smallest release valve, and we explode.
What if we allowed more affection instead of less? A normalization of hugs, kisses and physical affection in public and private? It is my experience that in the presence of regular affection, one finds that the “run to the finish line” sex that Americans think is normal, diminishes substantially. This overheated response to attraction is a kind of pressurized over-reaction to a culture that forbids us from the normal processes of connecting and feeling loved.
“We imagine that any show of affection must lead to intercourse, and that intercourse must lead to marriage – or divorce and re-marriage. You can see in this triple-bind the roots of much of our daily neurosis and dissatisfaction.”
Love is Not Sinful, But The Old Testament Is
There are so many varieties and levels of affection – gentle, playful, warm or deeply sexual – but we think that there is only one, and that we must always replace one with another. We cannot be allowed to experience two kinds of love at once – or so we tell ourselves. Of course, this is nonsense, because we allow ourselves to love in variety constantly: we shop in variety, own varieties of DVD movies, read a variety of books, and love our variety of friends and children.
But when it comes to sensual or sexual love – after you’ve already established a long-term relationship – you’re supposed to be essentially dead to the impulse to life, the impulse to bond, to form new long-lasting friendships. Or, you’re supposed to show your “moral character” by resisting all love and affection. But what kind of morality asks you to resist love and affection?
The truth is, these rules don’t come from morality, or love. They come from Leviticus, the ancient legal screed written when one of the Hebrew tribes was on the run from their Babylonian slave-masters, from whom they absorbed most of the myth and law that comes to us in our “Bible.” These laws come from a place of brutality and fear, of management of animals, women and slaves, of servility and payment to kings and tyrants.
This animal-driving and slaughtering tribal guidebook should have no more bearing on us than that of any contemporary, isolated Middle-Eastern tribal group – the kind we ridicule as being “undemocratic” and “anti-woman.” But it’s presented to us as some sort of moral code, though it encourages physical abuse of women and homosexuals, and murder of those who don’t subscribe to the rules of a very small, limited, beleaguered tribe.
Our attractions should be viewed without notions of “sin, cheating and betrayal.” These are normal moments in the bonding process. Your level of interest will emerge without strain or that feeling of sexual pressure if you take away the notion that all affection is “sin,” and you allow its greater expression on a normal basis.
Fair enough, you say. The Bible is full of problems for a politically and socially conscious, modern society. But leaving that behind, why are we attracted to new people? Why isn’t one person enough?
You might as well ask why you’ll ever need to eat again, because you’ve already eaten so many times. The answer is: because this is the way we are – a cyclical, repeating, and not all at once life form. We are a tribal species; we’re a creative animal; a social animal. We need each other. We form relationships over and over again throughout life, building support networks and following the spiritual and psychological impulses to bond and create strong social, tribal networks.
“Falling in love is the healthy impulse to develop a new, important friendship.”
You find that you’re irresistibly drawn to someone new. Why is this happening? The answer is: you’re being called to do a project with someone. That project may be an unfolding of personal ideas, of consciousness; it might be an art or writing project; it might be a construction or building project. It depends on who you are, what you do and what your interests – both hidden and apparent – are. Strong attractions reveal your personality to yourself. We tend to fall in love with the freedoms that we cherish, with people who are manifesting traits that we want to reveal or release in ourselves. Or, in the negative aspect, we fall for people who challenge us to face our own obstacles.
In any case, you’ve found a new person to talk with, trust, lean on and enrich your life. Contrary to our current belief system, you don’t have to replace your current partner to enjoy this friendship. In fact, you shouldn’t. That’s not the point. The calling is felt because you’re ready to experience something new and to grow. You’re not replacing what you’ve already accomplished. You’re adding to it. You just have to make room for a new friendship. That involves telling the truth. And that’s a big idea, so here it is in a sentence:
Most of us will get swept away by something interesting every few years, and some loving and some projects, plans and ideas, art or music, (or whatever creative thing you do) will come out of it. And that’s it. It won’t remain in “high gear” forever. It will diminish to a normal, long-term affectionate friendship, like all romances tend to do. But it has to be allowed to blossom and flourish to show its gifts.
One more time…Instead of thinking that you’re being a “sinner,” “cheating,” or that you “have marriage problems,” try on this idea:
Every few years or so, you’ll have a ‘swept away’ experience, (some bigger and more intense than others) and you’ll have to pursue it as a kind of living project. You’ll have to make room for it, while keeping up other responsibilities. We have to be very tolerant of our long-term partner’s continued growth; and when developing a new, strong friendship of our own, we have to be aware to keep up our responsibilities and not to neglect our ongoing relationships.
And, voila. That’s it.
But What About Sex?
If you want to be truly alive in this life, you have to allow that affection, sensual and sexual contact will happen when bonding. There is no rule for how it happens or how far it goes. Some strong friendships are purely affectionate. Some are purely sexual. Both have their merits. You’ll have to be open to discovering what that level is, and allow it, with respect to real-world considerations (like not getting pregnant, if that’s not what is wanted), STDs, and other realities.
You can talk with your long-term partner and create a rule about how far you’ll permit each other to go in the realm of sexuality, sensuality and affection. I can tell you from experience that sex matters much less than communication. That is, that the sex that you think will destroy your relationship matters much less than the deep conversations you have with your long-term partners. Conversations about who you are, what sex means to you, the varieties of experience of love, sex and affection, and all that is revealed in deep communication.
You’ll be surprised – even amazed – at your ability to simply enjoy and appreciate your partner’s openness about what he or she is experiencing. And when jealousy and self-worth issues come up (and they will and do), you’ll be grateful for the healing power of being heard with compassion.
The greatest pain in what we call “cheating” isn’t the sex itself; it is the exclusion from a friend or a partner’s internal process. Allow the communication, keep each other connected on the mental and psychological plane, and you’ll find that you’ve just grown about three sizes as a person, and that love is indeed much bigger than pride or ego.
We’re trained to feel that sex is a sacred experience to be shared with one person for all of life – after marriage, (and if not that, then it’s a total betrayal, or the domain of whores and sluts). But this isn’t even remotely true. “Sex” is a short word representing a wide and highly variable set of interactions. It is a variety of physical and psychological experiences. In the end, it might be a warm shared moment that takes you nowhere in particular (except feeling satisfied), or a moment of great psychological insight revealing hidden parts of one’s psyche and being.
The worst sexual experience comes from rushing. The best comes from going very slowly into affection, first, and taking away any notion of a goal – whether it be penetration, orgasm, or any other thing. I’m not diminishing deep sexual experience; I’m trying to reduce it as a goal, so that when you feel a strong connection, you first enjoy prolonged affection, conversation and safe, bonding touch.
Some of the best times I’ve had have come from back rubs, talking, listening and hand-holding with dear friends. Gentle kissing and cuddling are both beautiful, connecting experiences. And while the other stuff is enjoyable, I recommend taking your time and having no end goal, except enjoying knowing your friend and yourself better.
In time, as with all romances, the sexual urge will likely decrease and stabilize from its initial high, (unless you’re on a journey of sexual exploration, and sex itself is the project that you’re doing with this partner). But no matter what projects you do, all real friendships revolve around real-world, rewarding activities.
I know we don’t have a working model for this in our world, but this is how people are. We are inspired into love, business, building and art projects. This happens cyclically, not just once (and forever), but on an on-going basis all life long.
We meet new people, we bond with new people. Some of these relationships are deep and special. That is what happens in a tribe over a lifetime. There is nothing strange, sinful, unhealthy, neurotic or perverse about it. It is how we are built; it is how we survive and thrive in a tribe, with many strong connections, and not just one. When we admit this to ourselves, it is be easier to handle our actual human nature.
Romance is seen as the inevitable beginning of a marriage – but the reality is, it’s the beginning of deep friendship that is trying to form. If you choke it at the beginning and treat it with fear, scorn and repression, as Levitical marriage demands, you will destroy not only the new friendship, but you’ll damage your ongoing long-term relationship. In stifling your natural urge to bond with new important friends, you’ll create a web of neurosis, frustration, dissatisfaction and deep, brooding resentment and depression.
You can marry for love and romance, but don’t imagine that will stop you from ever wanting to form a deep connection with someone else in the future. An established marriage should be able to mature and create stability for raising children, and for developing a larger, supportive extended tribe or family. But if you marry for an exclusive lifetime of that feeling of initial romance, then you’re mistaking what the initial feeling was for. Once you’re already bonded, you can loosen the grip on each other and allow the freedom – with respect to familial duties – that excited you about each other in the beginning. Marriages should provide stability, not chains.
Varieties of Love
We imagine that if we aren’t absolutely “in love” with our partner in every possible way, then we’ve failed somehow. The self-help aisle is packed with books coaxing and coaching you on how to regain that lost verve or vigor that you once felt. But that’s not realistic for most couples. Once we pass through the romantic and highly sexual period, the daily rituals of life take over, and we have to regard each other as a kind of business partner. We have the business of life, children, households, food, shopping, clothing, bills, travel, payments, taxes, health, education and a dozen (dozen) other capital concerns to attend to. Some couples manage to hold onto a good sex life through this (and they are indeed fortunate and should count themselves so), but most do not. We’re told that this represents a kind of failure of effort, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The ancient Greeks had a half dozen words for the varieties of love. “Eros” is that powerful sexual love that hurls us into bed for days on end, intoxicated by the scent and sweat of each other’s bodies. “Ludus” is a more playful, kittenish kind of love; teasing and enjoying, heavy flirting and attention getting. “Mania” is that desire that is obsessive; the notion that you simply can’t exist without the attention of another person. It is powered by one’s own doubts more than a real appreciation for another (give it time and keep other friends near – it passes). “Storge” is a gentle love that develops from friendship that is based on shared interests. “Agape” is that selfless spirit of universal love you feel for all humans, animals and every other thing that lives and breathes on earth.
And “Pragma” is the love that forms in the durable friendship-based interweaving of a household over time. Pragma – from which we derive “pragmatic,” does not, however, bind the sexual, romantic and artistic life with nails and barbed wire, but allows it to be free, while the feet remain firmly planted on the ground. Pragma is where most marriages end up as a natural process.
Even couples experiencing continued Eros and Ludus must allow some Pragma into their lives so that they don’t fall victim to their own weight. The desire for new, strong, resilient friendships is inevitable in almost all people (who aren’t actively suppressing their spirits). Allowing this keeps us healthy; forbidding it makes us crazy.
This is who and what are. Artists (like me) might be more in tune or aware of these processes, but it happens in everyone. The divorce rate doesn’t just represent hippies or free spirits. In fact, it tends to represent people who bought into the highly dubious sexual-binding version of marriage, who are unable to keep it going according to the flawed inherited script.
A New Idea or The Most Ancient Reality
Consider this as an idea: we’re not sexually or affectionately monogamous over a lifetime. Nor should we try to be. Our affections and romances create powerful friendships that will enrich and safeguard our lives. And many romances don’t proceed to intense sexuality, but rather only desire the expression of kindness and warm, liberal affection.
If you feel there is something to this notion, as I do, and you’re willing to consider that it might, in fact, be the solution to our half-century of wedding-bell-mind-control, then you have some work to do (in fact, we all do). We have to carve out a dialogue in which we right the mass hypnosis of our inherited mind-programming. We have to free ourselves to be ourselves.
We’re all expressive, creative, social beings. We want to bond, we want to love, we want to build and create, plan and devise, paint and photograph, we want to make new friendship and new projects. If you put forward the energy to have these discussions, if you make room for this in your life, then your life will become your own, instead of a strange carbon copy of something you unconsciously inherited from watching TV or going to church.
If you work on these understandings with your longer term partner, you won’t have to sacrifice the stability of what you’ve already built in order to allow deep, new friendships to form over your lifetime. You just have to admit to your ‘stable’ partner that this is what you are. And you have to admit it to yourself, of course, above all.
We’re poorly trained to understand our actual nature. It’s taken me my whole life (43 years) to see the floating lies clearly; the objects put in our vision to convince us that we somehow should be this soul-dead automaton that is unfree to love and unfree to think.
This is the love we all have to offer. When we meet someone who excites us, they are not a replacement for someone we already love. New love is a door and a key to achieve new work, new goals and new creativity. This is what we do. This is what we are. You don’t have to leave one stable love to pursue a new one. You just have to make room. All you have to do is turn the key and walk through the door.
Love and Merry Solstice Xmas Saturnalia Winter Sun.
Liam Scheff is author of Official Stories, and is currently working on his upcoming book about relationships, marriage, sex and love.