B1 Intermediate 20 Folder Collection
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To a greater extent than we perhaps realise, when it comes to what sort of relationships
we are allowed to have, our societies present us with a menu with only a single option on
it: The Monogamous, Cohabiting Romantic Relationship, usually served with a Side Order of Children.
To be considered remotely normal, we are meant to develop overwhelming emotional and sexual
feelings for one very special person, who will then become a combination of our best
friend, sole sexual partner, co-parent, business associate, therapist, travel companion, property
co-manager, kindergarten teacher and soulmate – and with whom we will live exclusively
in one house, in one bed, for many decades, in substantial harmony and with an active
tolerance for each other's foibles and ongoing desire for their evolving appearance, till
death do us part. But what is striking, for an arrangement supposed
to be entirely normal, is just how many people cannot abide by its rules. At least half flunk
completely, and a substantial portion muddle along in quiet desperation. At best, only
around 15% of the population admit to being totally satisfied, a thought-inducingly low
figure for a menu option vigorously claiming universal validity.
In our societies, those who can't get on with Romantic Monogamous Marriage are quickly
diagnosed as suffering from a variety of psychological disorders: fear of intimacy, clinginess, sexual
addiction, frigidity, boundary issues, self-sabotage, childhood trauma etc. We powerfully imply
that someone might be psychologically ill if they don't want to keep having sex exclusively
with the same partner, or seek to spend every other weekend apart or want to develop a close
friendship elsewhere.
But there might be another approach, this one drawn from the pioneering work of advocates
of gay rights, namely that any taste or proclivity must by definition be acceptable and non-pathological,
except in so far as it might hurt the unwilling or unconsenting. From this perspective, while
many ways of life might be different to society's presently preferred option, it cannot be right
to judge, correct, amend and seek to re-educate all those attracted to them.
With this in mind, the menu of love we should use starts to look very different. Aside from
Romantic Monogamy, all kinds of alternative ways of living could be devised, including
(to kick-start a list): The Parenting Relationship A union oriented
first and foremost towards the well-being of children, where parents are free to form
unions with other parties, once the welfare and security of off-spring are assured.
The Separate Spheres Relationship A union which understands that no two people should
ever be expected to be in total proximity night after night – and respects the role
of certain kinds of privacy in contributing to emotional well-being and a robust sense
of self. The Yearly Renegotiated Relationship A union
which is accepted by both parties as having only a one-year assured lifespan, after which
it must be re-negotiated but without any presumption that it will necessarily be so or resentment
if it is not – a source of insecurity with surprisingly fruitful and aphrodisiacal side-effects.
The Love-or-Sex Union A union which recognises the difficulty of fusing love and sex in one
couple, and makes the possibility of dividing the two, and seeking fulfilment from alternative
sources, non-tragic, unshameful and predictable. In love, we accept an absence of choice that
would be intolerable in other areas of life. We consent to wearing a uniform that cannot
possibly fit our varied shapes, and without daring to make even minor moves to assemble
our own wardrobe. All our collective energies go into creating astonishing varieties of
foods, machines and entertainments, while the entity that dominates our lives – our
relationships – continue in a format more or less unchanged for the last 250 years.
It would be a genuine liberation if, whenever a new couple came together, it was assumed
that they almost certainly would not go along with the romantic monogamous template, and
that the onus was therefore on them to discuss – up front, in good faith and without insult
– the arrangements that would ideally satisfy their natures. Extra marks would be awarded
for innovation and out-of-the-box schemes – while protestations of satisfaction at
the standard model would raise eyebrows. Once upon a time, male offspring of the European
upper classes had only two career options: to join the army or to join the church. Such
narrow-mindedness was eventually dismissed as evident nonsense and eradicated, and the
average citizen of a developed country now has at least 4,000 job options to choose from.
We should strive for a comparable expansion of our menus of love. We are not so much bad
at relationships, as unable – presently – to understand our needs without shame,
to stick up politely for what makes us content, and to invent practical arrangements that
could stand a chance of honouring our complex emotional reality.
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Alternatives To a Standard Relationship

20 Folder Collection
Summer published on August 2, 2020
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