Sustained fidelity between two people seems to be becoming increasingly unpopular today. First of all, when people choose to live together today rather than get married, they are putting themselves in a position to separate from one another with much less difficulty than if they were legally held together by marriage. When no legal contract is involved, it allows them to engage in the practice of serial monogamy much easier. Nevertheless, even when people have taken their commitment seriously enough to get married, the divorce rate is still very high.
There is another romantic arrangement which mitigates against sustained fidelity between two people and that is polyamory. Because it is a relatively new practice in American society, we have no way of knowing whether this notion of a kind of a group marriage is durable But, certainly, it seems to be the intention of the participants within polyamorous relationships to make them durable. To polyamorous people, they see their commitments to their partners as being every bit as strong as those made by traditional monogamous people. Just as in a truly committed monogamous relationship, people enter a polyamorous relationship with the belief that it will not break up and that it will last forever.
In effect, people maintain two contradictory notions at the same time with regard to intimacy today. On the one hand they want relationships which, although they manifest themselves in diverse forms, are nevertheless, all meant to lead to a “happily ever after” state of mine. At the same time, because people today lack an organic grounding in their living environment, they all are experiencing a certain numbness in their lives. They are all living in an experiential vacuum which, as a result of entropy, tends to pull them apart and fragment them as a result of the disorder present. And to pull their relationships apart in the same way. No matter how strongly they believe in the intensity of their intimacy, the intensity of their bonding, they are all subject to the pressures of entropy. Now there are many intimate relationships that, in spite of the entropic pressures that they experience, are able to stay together. But far more relationships begin to fall apart than say those relationships that developed in a traditional culture in a traditional natural living environment.
And, at least for Western culture, the forms of less durable intimacy that are widely manifested today – living together, serial monogamy, and polyamory – have built into them the capacity for people to break off relationships much more quickly than in the main traditional form of intimacy in Western culture, namely monogamous marriage. And patterns of relationships evolve. When one lives in an ambiance where sustained binary intimacy is diminishing in popularity, it ceases to be the norm or the standard for romantic relationships. Furthermore, as the amount of organic stimulation continues to diminish in one’s living environment, love attachments, rather than being used for strong bonding in a grounded living environment, are increasingly used to generate abrasive friction in order to pull oneself out of numbness. In other words, the whole purpose of love attachments changes profoundly as the nature of one’s living environment shifts. More and more love attachments today provide kicks rather than a bonded intimacy in our modern living environments. An extreme although rather popular example can be found in the app for Tinder. Tinder is the app for the quick hookup. It allows the most energetic to have several hookups in an evening. This is all well and good for people who have no apparent interest in leaving preserved imprints on the surface of their field of experience. However, such people end up dying in a very unhappy state as a result of having spent their lives without adding to and building up a personal surrogate immortality, a bundle of memories and achievements that remain after one has passed away.
This is a very unfortunate situation, because it affects the very structure of human society. Human society needs predictability and stability in order to maintain itself. The collective wisdom of human society needs to be passed on through the smooth flow of generations. If the flow of generations is broken up as a result of weakly bonded relationships, much of the wisdom that holds society together gets lost. And this imperils the very existence of the human race. Certainly, it affects the survival of humans in Western culture if nothing else.
One particular aspect of humans is particularly affected: a person’s sense of self. Self-definition is best developed in a strong nuclear family. In such a family, where there is sufficient stability such that people have clear places in it, the environment is perfect for the development of good self-boundaries. With good self-boundaries, a person is more capable of opening himself up to a strong-bonded intimate relationship, is more capable of making and preserving clearly defined organic imprints and thus preparing for death with a clearly defined surrogate immortality. Such a person is more capable of having a vibrant life and a well-defined life narrative. All these positive qualities are best manifested in a culture which promotes solid romantic intimacy between two people. And I just don’t believe that a strong sense of self can be developed to the same extent in polyamorous or polygamous family situations.
© 2023 Laurence Mesirow