“I want our relationship to be equal.”
Sounds good. But what does it mean?
What if one of the two is afraid to lose the other and starts accepting patterns that hurt him or her?
Let’s say it’s a closed relationship and no one is cheating. However, she adores him too much and ends up working to please him all the time, while he is cruelly ignoring her. (That could be a happy relationship, if she is masochistic — as many women are. Or it could be an unhappy situation for her, if she has less of a taste for his cruelty.)
Or vice versa: perhaps he is constantly giving her love and attention and this makes her lose interest in him sexually. (That could not be a happy relationship for most men.)
Unfair situations arise because one has more power than the other.
Can the more powerful person mend this?
We would like to say: Yes, the more powerful person can shape the relationship. The more powerpul person should not abuse his or her power.
But the answer is: No, the more powerful person cannot fundamentally change the balance of power.
One can strive to be honest and not to abuse one’s power. But in sexual relationships if you have power, you have it. And whatever you do won’t change that. You can’t hand over the gun.
You cannot give the other the freedom to do what they want if what they want is to please you. Freedom cannot be given, it can only be taken.
And you also can’t make yourself feel like doing things you don’t feel like doing. You can pretend within narrow limits of minor favors. But the other doesn’t want favors, they want you to want to — and controlling that is simply beyond your powers.
Can the less powerful person mend the imbalance? Only to a limited degree: One can strive to hold one’s own, correcting the balance. But if you don’t have power, it’s hard to hold your own indefinitely.
Either one could end the relationship. The one to whom it is unfair should end it, right? But perhaps he or she doesn’t have better options. So ending it would be sacrificing a measure of happiness for the abstract ideal of equality.
Or the one who is more powerful could end it. But perhaps he or she is enjoying it, despite (or because of) the unfair form that it takes.
In reality, the unfair relationship just reflects a larger unfairness of life: that the two don’t have equal options. Should the one with better options be required to give them up and be less happy than they could be?
I say no. After all, it would mean that the more powerful one is asked to accept a relationship that he or she would be better off without.
Is any perceived unfairness always just a reflection of the relative options of the two?
I don’t think so. There are situations where people fuck others over by making them underestimate their power, by making them helpless and dependent, so that they feel they don’t have other options, when actually they do. For example, if the other died unexpectedly, they might find themselves better off after a short while. Some men do this to women; some women do it to men. It’s dishonest.
While it sounds good to say both should strive for equality, it’s unclear what that really means.
Does equality mean both are allowed to do the same things, like sleep with other people?
Ideally yes, but then perhaps one has more options to do such things, and so, despite the symmetric rule, it’s not actually symmetric.
Or perhaps both have equal options, but one has no interest in sleeping around. And so, again, it’s not actually symmetric. Or perhaps, both have equal options and equal interest, but one is hurt every time the other does it and the other doesn’t care comparably. And so, again, it’s not actually symmetric.
Or should equality be taken to mean both get equal love?
That seems closer to a meaningful definition of equality. But then this likely means somewhat different things to each.
For example for an average man, getting love might essentially mean sex. And for an average woman getting love might essentially mean attention.
If there’s a script in which attention precedes sex, women can take men’s attention and not give any sex.
And if there’s a script in which sex precedes attention, men can fuck women and not give any attention.
When each gives something they’d rather keep to take something they want, that’s prostitution. It comes in two varieties, an honest and a dishonest one: the bordello and marriage (or monogamous relationship), respectively.
I want none of that at all, no prostitution of any type.
I want sex with people who want sex with me and friendship with people who want friendship with me. And ideally these should be the same people, but that complicates things. And ideally both the fucking and the friendship should be deep and thorough, and this further complicates things.
Doing both at maximal intensity with a single person is perhaps the deepest and most satisfying experience. But it is also most complicated and least likely to occur, let alone last.
The symmetry this non-prostitution sex-love or fuck-friend ideal suggests is only present at an abstract level. For the sex to be hot, there must be a strong sexual polarity.
Women are generally turned off by men who don’t have power — while men can love women who don’t have power. Conversely men are generally turned off by women who don’t have beauty — while women can love men who don’t have beauty. ‘Opposites attract’ — and opposites are by definition maximally unequal. But then also ‘birds of a feather, flock together’: similar interests on top of sexual polarity make the perfect mix of contrast (for sex) and concord (for friendship).
Because of the major gender differences, a relationship that is both happy and fair in terms of love given and received is often not a symmetric one. For example, the man may need more power (unequal) and the woman may need more beauty (unequal) for an exchange of equal love.
And then with age, beauty fades and power rises — to a point, before it drops. So the woman may have more options in her twenties; the man may have more options in his forties. This is why relationships, where the man is older (unequal) may be better matched in terms of sexual options (more equal).
If both are equal in genetic attractiveness and age and in their twenties, the woman may run away (singing ‘I’m like a bird’), because she has many exciting options. Perhaps around thirty there’s a period of equality (of sexual power for age-matched partners equally ranked among their peers). But this equality of sexual power is short-lived: In their forties, the man may run away, because now he may have more exciting options.
Let’s say I had five girlfriends who love me and I them — five open relationships, because I am honest. We tell our friends that it’s
symmetric and open. But perhaps one of them only wants to sleep with me — it’s not unheard of. So actually it’s only symmetric in theory. Is it unfair?
Maybe. She might suffer because I’m sleeping around. But then maybe she doesn’t mind that as much as leaving me for a different guy. And maybe if I became monogamous, she would be less enticed by me.
So, in summary, we can have symmetric rules (that meet our friends’ approval), but still an unfair relationship — even one where one misleads and fucks the other over. Or we can have major inequalities (appalling to all our friends), but still overall a fair and honest relationship, in which both are as happy as they can be.
It is very superficial things (looks, power) that make us fall. But the consequences are not superficial. The love is real, and the sex is good.