What would life be like if our greatest goal in life was not to own someone else’s freedom?
by Liam Scheff
As we grow up, we suffer the slings and arrows of childhood and adolescence. We’ve undergone the imprecise tutelage of the adults we got stuck with. We manage to not kill them, ourselves, or our annoying brothers and sisters. We know that a day will come when we are allowed to leave the pod that our parents constructed when they decided to “take that vow” — and then we will finally be free.
It comes at the end of high school, or the beginning of college, or graduation from all schooling into the working world. We throw the hat in the air, receive the piece of paper, wave our childhood friends goodbye — we feel it and know that for the first time, it’s true:
We are free! Free, free, free! Free of those crazies, the teachers and parents who knew so little and got so much wrong. Free to carouse and stay out late and laugh as loud as we want to. Free to drink and smoke and wake up regretting it — because that is freedom, too.
And we’re on our own, moving with our pack of friends and colleagues. And then it happens.
We meet someone. And it is GREAT! Wonderful, glorious, rapturous, dazzling. We’ve never been more full of joy and mad, mad happiness in our whole life! Is this what we’ve been waiting for? They didn’t tell us it would be this good.
Our bodies are thumping with what feels like liquid gold; adrenaline and brain chemicals that propel us to a high 24 hours a day. Who needs sleep? Who needs food? We eat standing up, we laugh all the time, we run in the streets, we own the town! And now it’s our time to be heard! To be understood! Away from the stupefying idiocy of the adults we grew up with.
We look at our beloved, our paramour – our LOVER – and we see a light in each other’s eyes. For the first time, someone actually sees us. Recognizes that something special, unique, lovable – something deserving praise, love and attention. We want to heap it on each other, but we’re terrified. What will it mean? What does it mean to be in love? What’s the plan? The process?
We fumble. We’re at a loss. It’s an unknown land. Why didn’t we learn about this in school? Why is there no map? And we — gangly-limbed, fresh-faced, unslept from too much new feeling — we grasp, we blurt, we awkwardly spurt it out:
I like you!
– I like you too!
– Do you REALLY Like me?
Yes, do you REALLY like me back?
Oh GOOD! So now we can’t like anybody else.
We love each other, we said so. Now we can’t like anybody else!
– Ohhh. Oh. I…uhm.
What? You love me right? You said you did.
– I did! I mean, I do!
Okay, let’s do it! Here’s the key.
– The key to what?
My genitals! You own them. Now give me the key to yours!
– Uhm. Oh. Oh. Oh….kay.
I love you!
– Well, I love you, too, but…
Great! Let’s enslave each other!!
And so, we do.
Genital Ownership: Your Kitten in a Box
Love in our culture is ground down to this concept: you can be a great friend, co-provider, communicator, sharer of dreams, builder of houses, gardens and businesses, an excellent parent, and a reliable listener. But if you just fancy a kiss and cuddle away from home — it’s all over. And despite love, if genital ownership is violated, then all is lost.
Saturday Night Live did a skit a few years ago where Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg both mocked and reinforced the “anything goes” sex talk of the 2000’s generation. They dressed in their best shiny suits but had a kind of jewelry box with a bow sitting below their belt line. They appeared to be holding it with their hands, but when they let go — it remained. “It’s my dick in a box” They explained. Gift-wrapped for their “beloved” (of the moment).
And this is the deal we make. We offer our “dicks in boxes,” and our vaginas, too, in what we promise will be tamper-proof safes to which only one person forever and ever will have the key.
That “box,” by the way, travels up and down the body, and can involve the hands, arms, backs, legs, feet, calves, head, neck, ears and earlobes, and the eyes (and anywhere they look, gazes or wander), or any set of words, expressions, or even affectations, indications, throat noises, funny walks, head tilts or shoulder positions. Or, anything at all that might indicate that you are sending notices of attraction to a person who is not your partner.
You don’t even have to be sending them to anyone — you can just be experiencing a feeling, and if you are caught, you are — and here’s the word to remember — “cheating.”
You can cheat with your body, but you can also cheat with your heart or mind. You can even cheat in your dreams, wishes and fantasies. So, you’d better hand those over, too. They go into the box.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? And to think, if it doesn’t work, you can always get divorced, split everything you’ve ever owned in two, give half to a lawyer, light the other half on fire — and start all over again! Such are your options in our monogamous world.
I hope that you haven’t chosen a partner because you wanted to own his or her genitals. I hope that you’ve partnered with someone because you expand — not contract — each other’s worlds. If you do, then you’ll be able to better navigate the normal attractions that happen throughout life, making room for flirtations, affections and openness that will help a friendship or partnership, either romantic or platonic, thrive for a long period of time.
The biologists, sociologists and anthropologists will tell you: attractions happen quite naturally throughout the lifespan. Multiple attractions through life are completely normal and healthy. But you wouldn’t know it from the cover of the tabloid magazines. We see “cheating, divorce, heartbreak, face-lifts and boob-jobs,” lined up for our mocking pleasure.
Why do we get off on seeing other’s sex live’s exposed as “failed” or full of “infidelity?” Is it because we are so busy suppressing those normal attractions in ourselves that we can only feel relief by watching others suffer for what we deny? (We have a word for this: “Schadenfreude” — happiness at someone else’s pain.)
What if instead of shrouding this reality in shame, fear and doubt, we instead decided to embrace it. We admitted that it’s true: we’re going to have many attractions, always for different reasons. Some will be friends, some will just be physical turn-ons. Some will be close friends, and a very few will meet all of the magical criteria of “partners.”
The Discussable Relationship
At present, we thrust ourselves into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ contract, which demands a universal fealty and sexual-ownership and obligation to each other – for the entire lifespan.
Why don’t we put that emphasis on communication, instead? In place of “love, honor and obey,” we instead put “I promise to communicate with, share with and listen to?” Imagine a culture in which we allowed individuals to create personal rules for what they are comfortable with inside of each relationship?
What would happen if we removed the fear, shame and guilt from our normal attractions throughout life? Besides driving People Magazine out of business — wouldn’t we all be a lot happier knowing that our stability didn’t depend on whether we were occasionally attracted to people other than the one we know we like?
I think we’d find ourselves in a less paranoid, reactionary world, which sounds like a good thing. But ask this question.
Who benefits most from the business of marriage and its mirror image, divorce?
The answer is: if we allowed a looser, more personal and more flexible definition of marriage or partnership, who would lose the most? If you said “Church and State,” you’re ready to move on to the next lesson.
Liam Scheff is author of “Official Stories,” because official stories exist to protect officials.
He is currently working on a new book or two.