Saturday, May 19, 2007

The One?

A correspondent asks whether it is possible to love two people at once. My response is to wonder whether it is possible to love just one, famously "The One."

Let's set aside the various kinds of love: for family, for friends, erotic or romantic, and altruistic or self-giving -- in Greek: storge, philia, eros, and agape. I wrote about this here.

Defining love, classifying it, moralizing about it, are all distractions.

We all know what love is, most prominently we notice its absence from our lives, our communities, our world. The question about loving two need not be circumscribed to romantic love, although it most often is.

Still, I wonder whether it is possible to love just one person.

Might there not be one person with whom it is a joy to discourse about the economy, politics, literature? Another with whom a shared meal, perhaps cooking for or being cooked for by that person, is a sheer delight? Could not another offer a storybook home, replete with children? Yet another share an interest in tennis or boardgames?

Why must these affinities and shared pleasures lead to the bed, or merely the sofa, or skinny dipping, in only one instance?

All right, we carry the Judaeo-Christian monkey on our backs. Adultery is wrong because ... it muddied up paternity for the purposes of inheritance during the period in which property was almost exclusively held by men. That's not what God allegedly told Moses, nor what the rabbis and priests want you to take home with you after you've helped fill the collection plate.

But it happens to be the best explanation for a moral imperative so widely contravened.

Yes, surely, there's also pregnancy and disease, but there's also birth control, safe sex and medicine. Besides, didn't I just finish pointing to the sofa (or the back seat of a Dodge), the quintessential locale for making out of a non-penetrational nature?

Must every expression of intimacy, desire, pleasure in another necessarily end up with an exchange of genital fluids? Isn't kissing and embracing just as necessary for the sanity of mammals?

Might there not, then, be two or three bed partners, five or six sofa partners and ten or eleven merely hugging and hand-holding partners, each with a different set of emotional, intellectual and activity affinities?

Admittedly, this is a question more often raised by a man. Just as my correspondent's question is most often raised by a woman.

Yet even the most Puritan of women experience a range of physical intimacy -- from sex to kissing, embracing and even just touching -- with a very large set of concentric circles of people. In contrast, the serially monogamous male usually is physically intimate with one adult at a time, perhaps a few children.

Women will often admit that they wished they could be lesbian, as they share so much with other women, even though for sex they desire a man, preferably one man. Why couldn't a community of women sexually share a man? Or why couldn't a community of women share a community of men?

Why couldn't a community of men share a woman? The woman would be too lonely; a community of men is an unsentimental, competitive, relatively Spartan environment.

With the divorce rate what it is, with relationships in general so ephemeral, with the reality that it is unlikely that one person -- The One -- will amply satisfy another emotionally, intellectually, physically and so forth, shouldn't we rethink the couple paradigm?

Yes, Virginia, it is possible to love two people at once, intensely, honorably, lovingly. Indeed, I doubt that it is possible to love just one, happily ever after.
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