Thursday, February 26, 2009

How Big Can Love Be?

I've become quite a fan of the HBO Series "Big Love" that airs on Sunday nights. The show features a fictional Mormon family who live "The Principle" - the idea that a man should take multiple wives and have many children. I don't know much about The Principle; actually, I don't know anything other than the tiny bit I've gleaned from the show, and I don't count an HBO series an accurate source of information. I do know two things - the show opens up all kinds of thought about the nature of romantic love, marriage, and family, and the show paints a beautiful picture of people trying to live their faith in a positive, loving way.

Ever since I first read Robert Heinlein as a young adult, I've been intrigued by the theory of multiple partner marriages. The idea of love and realtionships simply expanding to encompass as many people as want and are wanted to be there makes perfect sense to me. At the same time, I am personally and intimately aware of the difficulties and pitfalls of such relationships. What I wonder most is - are those difficulties unavoidable or somehow inherent in human nature, or are they the product of our belief that such relationships are supposed to be limited to just two people?

That's not a new or original question. A lot of people ask and there are numerous answers. There are those who firmly believe that the two person partnership is the only legitimate romantic relationship, whether through Divine sanction or human nature, or both. There are others who believe that love will, indeed, expand to include multiple partners. Some, like the small number of Mormon Fundamentalists who continue to practice polygamy, believe that God encourages (commands?) the practice with rules about how it takes place, including the one-man-many-wives rule; others simply believe that the human heart has a limitless capacity for love, that we are not monogamous by nature, and that with conscious choice and effort "polyamorous" relationships of various types are not only possible but desirable.

My own heart is split on the issue. Philosophically, I embrace the idea that love is big enough to share. Ah, but when I think about my beloved with another woman, I feel a strange mixture of compersion and unease. I want him to know all the love there is to know in this world; but I still feel...what? Threatened? Maybe...sort of...though I know he loves me and I don't believe that would change? Jealous? I'm not even sure what that means, to tell you the truth. Scared? Yeah...I just don't know what I'm scared of.

Before I go any further, it's important to add that this is a conversation I have mostly in my own head. My husband and I are monogamous and have had no serious discussion about changing that. We do talk about the idea of polyamory, though, and about how, in an uncertain world with more and more demands on our time and resources, forming bigger families makes sense in a lot of ways.

And I'd like to know what you think...if you even think about these things. I suppose there are lots of people who don't even give it much thought. If you do, though, I'd love to know what you're thinking.

Back to the show, "Big Love"...

Another thing I've enjoyed about that show is the way they portray the lead character, Bill, responding to those who disrespect and try to discredit his faith. In one episode recently, a man contradicted a portion of history that Bill and his family believe to be true. Bill didn't engage or call the man down for it and, later, his young son asked him why. Bill's response was that there was no need to embarrass that man in front of his family. They knew they were right and that was enough. Later in the same episode, he was accosted by a man claiming to be a Baptist minister and behaving very badly. The man was angry and accusatory, telling Bill that they had perverted the gospel, among other things. Bill tried talking to him a bit, but finally turned and left without engaging further.

In my book, the title "Big Love" applies to more than the show's marital configurations. Bill's love is bigger than that of a lot of people I know. It was big enough that he chose to disregard someone contradicting and dishonoring his path rather than embarrass him. It was big enough to walk off and leave a spittle-flinging man arguing with himself rather than engage in a fruitless battle, and without degenerating into the same kind of accusations and name calling.

What I want most is a world where no one disrespects or discredits another's walk or accosts anyone with accusations of perverting whatever sacred text they have decided to follow as the path to truth. Until that day, examples of people who won't allow themselves to be dragged down to the same level are worthy of note, even if they're fiction. We should all be so strong.


  1. It makes me laugh when people say a relationship with more than two people is so much more difficult... How EASY are relationships with just two people? The amount of people involved isn't what makes a relationship more difficult... it's the attitudes of those involved. If you have multiple people who are caring, attentive, giving and emotionally secure you'll have a more successful relationship then most couples have...

  2. Hi, Katrina...thanks for singing along...

    Yes, you're correct about the difficulties inherent in the standard two-person doubt. Two things came to mind when I read your comment.

    One: When you add more people, you increase the complexity; it starts to look like one of those diagrams (I forget what they're called) where you sit in a group of people and draw lines representing who is speaking to whom at any given time. To say it gets complicated is an understatement.

    Two: You make a really good point; maybe the discomfort I feel (and I can only speak for myself) is based on the multiplication of whatever insecurities I already have by the number of people involved. Whatever fear I have about one person in a relationship looks a lot bigger when you add people. If I'm afraid of losing my partner to someone out in the world with whom he is not intimately involved, how much bigger might my fear be when we add someone with whom he is involved to the mix?

    For me, the questions are all about the internal struggles. I believe, as you stated, that "...caring, attentive, giving and emotionally secure..." people can choose to form intimate multi-partner relationships and make it work. I'm still trying to figure out why I can believe that intellectually, accept it with open heart and arms in others, and feel so conflicted about even entertaining the mere idea of it as a mental exercise for myself.

    My standard answer so far is, "I've still got some growing to do." Is that the answer?

  3. IndigoSatin10:35 PM

    I too enjoy 'Big Love', and have yet to figure out just why I'm drawn to it. I've not known many 'real-life' folks with multiple partners, but it seems crucial that each partner fully respect the others. I would imagine that 'respect' would make all the difference. On the show, the wives are married to each other as well as to Bill. Wives have been sharing their husbands for centuries, but most often without knowledge, and certainly without respect. If each partner were considered, each having their own accepted place in the relationship, how different that would be.

  4. Hallo :)

    Phew what a topic!! Very interesting read and one to get my head around. It is hard to know whether that pang I get in my heart/stomach with just the mere thought of my love being with another person 'that way' is either a programmed way which society conditions us, my ego (!) or an innate feeling, one that is there, within.

    I think this blog illustates very BIG debate that covers a multitude of issues.

    What is love? Can love manifest in a variety of ways? (I tend to think so) Are love and sex the same thing? And where does lust fit in to this? Can love exist without sex and vice versa. Does one need to have intimate relationships to prove love? Obviously not if, as I believe, love can mnifest itself in a variety of ways.

    Personally I think love occurs on many different levels, coverng many different relationships and levels. But I still feel that twinge when I think about my love with another in 'that' way..

    Or maybe that is just indigestion? Or maybe I should get out a bit more and stop asking bloomin questions!

    Great Blog flower, made me think quite a bit there!


  5. Indigo Satin and Lily-Wren...thanks for singing along!

    Indigo Satin: You're right about women sharing husbands for centuries without knowledge, consent, and respect. And you pose a good question - what would it be like if everyone had their place and respected everyone else's place and contribution to the relationship? For me, the question remains, "How?"

    Lily-Wren: Yes, the love questions! You're hitting on the heart of the matter, I we view love and sex and the partnerships we form. I wonder if anyone who actually lives in a multipartner relationship would have answers that differ widely from those who don't? I wish someone would join in!

    Thanks for your comments...hope you'll come around and join in often.

  6. My lady love and I have been exploring some of these same questions of late. Synchronicity, I suppose. I've not seen Big Love, though I read Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land many, many moons ago. Are you familiar with the essay "A Bouquet of Lovers" by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart? ( She writes some very cogent points from a Pagan perspective on the things which must happen for polyamory to be successful, though her points transcend any one religion. Much to consider, because even if you're monogamous, how you approach the idea of polyamory still reveals much about how you view love and relationships.

  7. Greetings, Grey Glamer...always good to hear your voice in the choir!

    I'll check out Morning Glory's essay; I believe I've read it but it's been a long time. I agree fully that the way you approach the idea of polyamory reveals a lot. My husband and I are monogamous...but we're not the typical monogamous couple in a lot of ways. We're very open to cuddling and sharing non-sexual physical intimacy with others. Our sofa often resembles a puppy pile! We really do believe that love, as Lily-Wren points out, manifests in many ways. It still fascinates and confounds me how different the emotions are when I see my husband happily cuddling with a friend as opposed to when I think of him happily making love to a friend. Why the change? What threat, real or perceived, crops up with the addition of sexual intimacy that isn't there with other forms of physical/emotional intimacy?

    So many questions...much to consider, indeed!

  8. Polyamory is VERY interesting to me. I don't know if I'd ever be able to do it - it would probably bruise my significant other too badly, though he might not complain out loud - but I never really saw a problem with it theoretically. Practically, it would be hella hard unless you cultured a certain type of relationship.

    Honestly? I know for a fact that I can handle loving more than one person at a time with different shades and grades of love. For me, though, it would boil down to how much time I could spend with them. Maybe that's the reason some people are naturally monogamous; they want to spend so much time in the others presence/life/etc. that while there's room in their heart there's not enough hours in the day. I know that's how I feel. It wouldn't be fair to my other partners that my time would be split.

    Of course, that's me being optimistic.

    When the boyo and I first started dating, he had to become accustomed to me having male friends. He had to learn to trust that I wouldn't ditch him for sweet lovin' from some other guy just because I had bond of friendship. Most of my close friends since elementary school have been male. Entering my life, my boyfriend had to come to terms with what kind of background in interpersonal relationships I had.

    Oblivious as I was at the time, I realize now that it was hard for him. The gut reaction of, "I LOVE you, pay attention to ME" is something he has since told me that he dealt with. From him, a request for more of my time was somewhat of a wakeup call that we both had to give a little more to the relationship. I had separated out 'Romantic Lead' from 'Dudes I Chill With' and wasn't inclined to mix the buckets.

    Part of how we grew in our relationship is trust. And that was just the TWO of us. I think a poly relationship would have to have ridiculous amounts of trust.

    A weird idea, but maybe that gut instinct you're talking about is the first twinge of pain from the trust-muscles that we don't usually flex? I know that I can stretch and exercise my trust-muscles by holding onto the faith that my boyo loves me and respects me enough to come to me with the issues he has in our relationship. But, it does take a little bit of effort and an understanding that communication is the essence of that.

    ((I could relate another story about a guy I know who knew that his wife was the woman for him when they threatened eachother over the kitchen table with a sword and a kitchen knife. But, I digress...))

  9. Hi, Alii...nice to have you join in!

    "... maybe that gut instinct you're talking about is the first twinge of pain from the trust-muscles that we don't usually flex?" What a good way of saying it...and I think you may be onto something. As long as we keep our relationship boundaries close, the trust required is no more than the ordinary trust needed for an intimate relationship (significant though that certainly is!). When we start to even consider expanding those boundaries, we stress that trust by moving things further from our control.

    You know...even though, for my husband and I, this is a philosophical and theoritical discussion (at least for now), I think there's a lot to be gained through the discussion. Trust is important in any relationship, and understanding the underpinnings of trust, jealousy, intimacy, and emotional response can only help.

    Thanks for the good comments, to my ears!


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