Humans form relationships for the same reasons as other animals: instinct ensuring that we form bonds, which guarantee the continuation of the species. Although the mating behaviour of our kind portrays the illusion of monogamy, in truth it is nothing of the sort; but because we have evolved a spiritual nature, and wish to take our partnerships beyond the simple reproductive agenda of nature, mankind has tried to make monogamy a reality. Society is structured so that this ideal is encouraged, and most cultures of the past, as well as a number of them still in existence, have even gone so far as to impose a penalty of death for those who fail to live up to these standards. Such extremes, of course, accomplish nothing aside from making individuals more discreet: people are after all, still animals, and their relationships are displays of animal drives.
Statistics on paternity and infidelity show that attempting to impose a sexual moral code via threat of retribution, whether it be through law or religion, has no effect. The concept of finding a partner who is ideally suited to you, and with whom you can share a spiritual, rather than a primarily physical, love; is belied by the fact that there is no difference between random chance and specific choice. Arranged marriages are exactly as successful, and have the same level of happiness, as those in which the couple went through a courtship period. This indicates that people in general are simply fulfilling an innate need, and justifying their situation; you can convince yourself that anybody has the qualities you desire, because your expectations will change to suit the circumstances. Having a mate satisfies an instinctive need, whereas being without a partner is contrary to your “first instinct”; consequently you are biased towards finding reasons to pair with someone, or anyone. The initial desire that creates pair-bonds clouds the ability to reason, and is a natural process in the perpetuation of the species. The overwhelming emotions that mark the early stages of a romance will cause us to behave in ways that strike us as obsessive in retrospect; yet the chemical reactions in your body give you no alternative but to experience feelings that evoke both euphoria and yearning at the same time. Nature assures a genetic legacy.
Trying to enforce abstract values that are intended to supersede innate drives will never succeed because you cannot suppress instinct. Life-forms exist to form part of the chain of existence within their species, and simple conditioning cannot break that chain without exacting a psychological price. Does this mean that everyone is trapped in this two-level system of pair-bonding: society’s illusion of moral conduct disguising our simple animal drives? Innate codes can be compromised by redirecting desires and thoughts in a constructive way; this is called sublimation. Athletes will express the instinct for mate-competition, in the emotion they put into their sport. When you observe a Catholic priest orating with great passion, it is a manifestation of his sexual desire; when a celibate clergyman commits pederasty, it is a manifestation of his failed attempt at suppressing desire. Although sublimation is considered to be a defense mechanism, it is also a positive tool when consciously applied to our own behaviour. Employing reason can allow us to guide the physical drives in a direction that suits our mental, or spiritual, inclination.
We know the emotions that compel us to seek romance, and form pair-bonds, are instinctive: but we interpret these feelings from a human standpoint, and justify forming a committed relationship using our own mental criteria. Just what is the core reason, from this mental perspective, for wanting an exclusive partnership? Is it the desire to have a stable environment in which to produce offspring? Although this is an innate drive, it is not one we universally see as a “spiritual” cause: for it does not account for those who do not wish to have children, divorced individuals who have already raised a family, or young people who have yet to even consider the prospect. Is it for sex? No: if one wishes to frequent drinking establishments, sex is readily available; and for males, even purchasing the services of prostitutes is often less of a financial encumbrance, than sustaining a relationship. Companionship and intimacy can be secured through friendships, which do not require the level of commitment present in pair-bonds.
What we really desire is to have someone care about us more than anyone else in their world. We want to feel that we are of ultimate importance to at least one other human being. When in a relationship, it does not matter how cold the rest of humanity may, at times, seem to us: there is always that person who cares about the way we are feeling, and is concerned about our well-being. Lovemaking is meaningful because we like to think of it as exclusive: secretly believing in the fantasy that we satisfy all of our partner’s sexual needs, and that they require no-one else; nor would want to experience anything so intimate with someone less significant than ourselves. No matter how close we are to our friends, it is never the same as with a mate: friends have other people of importance in their lives, whereas your partner is considered a devoted confidant who you rely upon for privileged moral support. You expect your mate to defend you regardless of the circumstances, while friends may allow logic to interfere.
Generally, people are looking for the unconditional love experienced in infancy: a fulfillment of all their mental and physical needs, the ability to trust and be trusted, and a sense of permanence. It is reasonable to conclude that when requiring these things from a partner, one must be willing to reciprocate. Therefore, you must cultivate the qualities you are searching for in a mate, within yourself. Being a loving, trusting, and committed person does not guarantee that your partner will respond in kind, but it does take you halfway to the goal, and sets the desired standard. It is also mentally healthy for you to be living by the values that you consider as ideal. A person may think that this attitude leaves one vulnerable to selfish individuals, who only pretend to hold to high morals: but though it is wonderful to be deeply in love, it is foolishness to be blindly so. For example: you have a positive outlook when you trust someone by default; but it is illogical to do so, no matter what the circumstances, once they’ve given you sufficient cause to believe otherwise. This is not to say that you would then automatically distrust your partner, but they have made you aware that they are capable of deceit.
The key to forming a successful relationship requires an honest evaluation of oneself. People with radically different values are unlikely to form a lasting spiritual bond. If you are a person who is capable of being unfaithful to a partner, it is unwise to choose someone who sees sex as an expression of love and commitment. You may consider this quality to be highly desirable in a mate, but realistically, you are better suited to someone who would understand what it is to be overcome by simple lust. A person who shares the same level of morality can accept your transgressions because they completely understand your perspective; whereas an individual who has no experience of these feelings can only see it in an abstract way: they may forgive your weakness, but that aspect of your personality will always be alien to them, and a future source of doubt and insecurity. Everyone has a unique set of personal values and, from a moral perspective, it is difficult to define “right” and “wrong” as absolutes. What we can do, in regard to relationships, is determine that a person can be wrong for you, but is right for someone else; the reverse being true as well. Without similar moral attitudes, two people will never be a partnership that is greater than its separate components; but only two separate individuals, sharing some common ground.
We can make a distinction between two types of people: those who see relationships as purely self-fulfilling, and those who view a partnership as mutually beneficial. The vast majority of people fall into the first category. Persons in this group look for someone who will satisfy their needs, and see their own reciprocal actions as a price they must pay for their own fulfillment. If they perceive this price to have become too high (meaning they are not enjoying an advantage), they will search for another partner. Such people are opportunistic, and are therefore more likely to be unfaithful due to their quest for a relationship where they receive the maximum benefits for the least amount of effort. Whereas the average person will have six different sexual partners in a lifetime, the self-serving individual will frequently have considerably more. Later in life, they will normally commit to a relationship out of a fear of “dying alone”, and settle for whosoever is willing. Most people who are in the self-fulfilling category actually do not believe that they are part of this group, and delude themselves by finding reasons to explain away their behaviour: but their actions contradict their beliefs. The person you wish to portray to others, is often not the person you truly are.
Another contrast we can make between sorts of people, is the “alpha” and “beta” personality types (not to be confused with the biological classifications in pack dynamics). “Alphas” are those who wish to be in control: not necessarily in a dominating way; but being independent and decisive by nature, they tend to assume a leadership role. “Betas” prefer a more submissive position, in which they free themselves from making decisions that they do not wish to be burdened with; and are often referred to as the supportive mate. Plainly, relationships that include each of the two personality types are likely to have the most favourable results, with each person’s preferred guise complementing the other’s. Two “Alphas” can also have a successful, albeit occasionally stormy, partnership if they find ways to share the two roles required in a pair-bond. Two “Betas” rarely form a lasting relationship because neither person wishes to assume responsibility for the day-to-day choices which govern the direction their lives together will take: as well, each has a valid concern that they may be trapped into living the “Alpha” persona. People naturally gravitate toward the most successful pairings, and this is the source of the old adage “opposites attract”.
A major factor in choosing mates is the tendency of individuals to determine male/female roles by comparing to those conditioned into them by their parents. It develops into a major problem when one of the parents was abusive toward the other, because it becomes part of the child’s perception of what a relationship consists of. Even later in life, when the child has grown to maturity, he/she may realize that such behaviour is wrong: but the other character traits of the opposite-sex parent are still implanted within the offspring’s subconscious. This is the reason why people can subsequently find themselves in adult relationships that are abusive. A person seems to always end up with the same type of cruel individuals, not because of bad luck, but due to their conditioned preference for the traits that contribute to such behaviour in their mate image; and because their same-gender model is one of someone whose apparent role was to be abused.
What of the people who wish to strive for an idealized form of romantic interaction? Is it possible for a person, who finds typical relationships to be lacking the depth they had envisioned was an integral part of bonding, to work toward a deeper bond? It becomes a matter of degrees. You can improve your level of ethics in various areas, through reason and sublimation; but there is a price to be paid for seeking spiritual transcendence. If you are already in a relationship, changes in you will have a positive effect upon your partner: however, this does not mean that they will ever change to the same degree. Without understanding and compassion on your part, creating an ever-widening moral chasm between the two of you may eventually destroy your bond. If you have not yet formed a serious relationship, you must be aware that the higher your expectations, the less likely it is that you will find someone who shares the same values. If you wish to live by the highest of moral codes, then you must accept the fact that you may never encounter another who lives up to your standards: so your perception of life has to be defined by much more than just pair-bonding. A small minority of people are willing to follow a virtuous path because they feel that the reward of having a high self-image, and the possibility of meeting an extraordinary mate, are worth the price: but you must be sure that it is the path for you. Seeking the middle ground is sometimes the appropriate action.
Let us look at some principles that can be considered as idealistic, yet allow for lesser levels of conviction.
A partner must always have the potential to be someone you would be willing to make a lifelong commitment to; otherwise you are only using them to fulfill your short-term desires, while you wait for someone better to come along. The notion of keeping a temporary partner around just to supply one with sex, money, entertainment, companionship, et cetera; is very common in Western cultures, and is indicative of the consumerist nature of the society: where everything is used up, and then discarded. The concept works if certain criteria are met. Both people must be self-serving, and consider each other more as instruments of gratification, than human beings; both must be well aware of the situation; and birth control must be strictly observed. In other words: no harm, potential or otherwise, may come to anyone. Without the possibility of commitment, what you are doing is wasting a portion of both of your lives. If you are maintaining a relationship with someone who you know is not the type of person you are willing to devote yourself to, then you are placing your immediate desires ahead of their long-term happiness. Your selfishness prevents them from meeting a person who could fulfill their needs, and your actions may cause them to miss the only opportunity they have to encounter their perfect match. From a self-rewarding perspective, you may be doing the same thing to yourself. The time you spend sustaining a relationship that is destined to fail, is time better spent nurturing one that has real potential. This would mean that there will be periods in your life when you do not have someone fulfilling the simple desires: but every moment you spend in a meaningless partnership diminishes the value you place on a spiritual bond. Sex becomes more and more a physical routine, rather than an exclusive sharing of very personal emotions; affectionate embraces become more a physical sensation, than an emotional one; a romantic liaison becomes methodical, instead of a precious experience. As you desensitize yourself, something is lost from the experiencing of a loving commitment: there is progressively less meaning to shared experiences, when they have also been shared with numerous others during superficial encounters.
One of the most selfish of actions is the inclination toward surreptitiously cultivating a bond with a new companion, while still paired with someone. People will deceive their original partner with an illusion of a sound relationship, while they become involved, and usually engage in sexual intercourse, with another person. In this way, they always have the security of the first relationship to fall back on, if the new one does not live up to expectations. Such behaviour seems more the conduct of a solitary predator, than that of a member of our gregarious species; and may bring into question whether such a person is capable of feeling the social emotions innate to our kind: but this is actually an example of how individuals selectively follow the most basic of animal instincts, which is to distribute a genetic legacy. However, if we wish to be more than beasts governed only by our innate physical drives, we must stress the mental side of the situation. From an ethical standpoint, one should end a relationship that is unsatisfactory before attempting to start another one; otherwise you are intentionally doing something that you know can cause great pain to someone you presumably care enough about to be involved with. This is a case where inflicting grief upon someone else is entirely avoidable, and hence your actions are “evil”, by society’s standards. Shopping for a better mate, while holding on to the security of your current partnership, is treating human beings as objects. If this is your nature, then you should only pair with others of your kind, because it at least lessens the possibility of moral people ending up in a relationship with you: a condition doomed to failure. From the perspective of a person who becomes involved with someone already in a relationship, you must ask yourself what you stand to gain: do you really want a partner who has proven that they will be unfaithful in their search for someone better?
You may try to explain away your behaviour by claiming that it is a matter of vengeance, and you wish to be cruel to your partner in order to “teach them a lesson”. Revenge under these circumstances will only teach them two things: that you are a contemptible person who ultimately deserved the earlier mistreatment, and that you in particular are an “evil” individual. Whatever perceived wrongs occurred in the past are kept alive by you, and it was your choice to remain in the relationship. Since they had proven that the two of you are not suited to one another, the logical step is to let go of both the mental and physical parts of the bond, and retain your self-respect. People will come up with numerous ways to defend their purely selfish activities, attempting to convince themselves that such predatory behaviour is acceptable: but the simple fact that they feel a need to consciously justify their actions, means that they already consider such conduct to be wrong.
The concept of keeping a partner “in reserve” applies, to a degree, when we look at the common practice of dating more than one person at a time. People who do this consider it as “comparison shopping”, intending to choose the best one of the assortment. Logically, what this says is that none of them quite meet your criteria, otherwise you would have stopped seeing anyone else when you met the “right” one. As well, it shows that you plan to settle for the best of the available lot, rather than your perfect match. If your reasoning is that you are simply cycling through various partners, until the ideal person comes along: then what is the point of retaining the ones you already know are unsuitable?
There are two perspectives to such dating practices: that of the person requiring multiple partners, and that of being one of the partners. If you are seeing someone, and still wish to see someone else, then you feel that something is missing from the bond: they do not fulfill all of your needs, and you obviously do not want to exclusively put the time and effort into developing that particular relationship. Ethically, you should free them to pursue a partnership that can become meaningful. By keeping them around only for what they can do for you over the short term, you possibly harm three individuals: by wasting a portion of the partner’s life, preventing their potential long-term mate from meeting them, and putting yourself into a position where you are more likely to settle for someone, rather than wait for your ideal. You are causing unnecessary harm, for entirely selfish reasons.
When you are dating a person who also wishes to date other people it should be plain that, regardless of how you feel about them, they find something lacking in you. In this predicament, some individuals believe that they can change their own behaviour enough to turn into the “right” person, and consequently end up in a monogamous relationship. But can you live the role of someone you are not: maybe for the rest of your life? Wouldn’t you rather wait for an opportunity to form a bond with somebody who loves you for the person you are? Some in this situation think their partner will eventually come to realize that they are the best of the bunch, and subsequently will abandon the other companions. This does occur on occasion, but what you usually end up with is someone who settled for you, even though you weren’t quite what they had in mind. You must ask yourself: what will their reaction be in the distant future, when someone closer to their target comes along? They have already demonstrated that they prefer to “shop” from a position of security. If you are only one of the people dating a particular person, is it morally right for you to even be in this situation? Is your presence a hindrance to them forming a lasting bond with someone more fitting? They may only be using you for self-serving purposes, while searching for somebody better: yet aren’t you also selfishly holding on to the relationship for the short-term benefits, when you know that a future together is unlikely? Everyone prefers to think that they are the most desirable of mates: but if someone isn’t prepared to focus on finding that out, each needs to find someone who is willing to give, or worthy of, their undivided attention.
Continued as Part 20.