Dawning appreciation

Sex at Dawn didn’t so much show me how others live or reveal to me some mystic, hidden secret about human nature as much as it put form and structure around things I had already figured out about myself and human sexuality. It has left me thinking and feeling things more deeply than any book I’ve read in a long, long time. Maybe ever.

Cheating on Belle was certainly the most colossal screw-up of my adult life. I don’t see Sex at Dawn as a way to retroactively create for myself a pass on that in any way. But man, do I wish I had read it before all that went down (not that I could have since it was published about two years after those events). So much of how we human monkeys are put together I intuited from that and subsequent experience, but it’s all laid out in the book. It all makes so much more sense now.

The affair was about more than sex. It was about connectedness with another human. It was about feeling alive and vital. And in becoming involved with The Other Woman, I felt things I didn’t know one could feel for more than one person at a time. Not the same type of love I feel for Belle. But affection and interest and many similar aspects of how I feel for her. Nothing that detracted from Belle’s place in my heart. If anything, I felt more in love with her. I wonder what it would have been like had I been honest with her and all the feelings of significant guilt and fear hadn’t been clouding the picture.

But that’s in the past and it’s what led to the present and the present is good. I regret the choices I made, but not the consequences.

The most interesting reaction I’ve had to the book is how it’s colored my opinion on marriage. Not being in love with someone and wanting to spend a really long time in their company (up to and including the rest of your life). Not on being committed to them and pairing up and building a life. But absolutely on what I think is a government sanctioned perpetuation of the myth of one-man-one-woman monogamous bliss. I think that’s bullshit.

Monogamy is expected. It’s assumed to be the natural order (just like heterosexuality). But it’s not and everything about us says that. Our physiology and psychology are both hardwired against it and constantly fighting it. This is obviously so. And yet, when we succumb to our innate drive to be promiscuous, we either do so duplicitously and hurt those we love or we do it with their (or one another’s) consent and are judged harshly for it by others. The stock assumption is because relationships that are open to other loves or other sex partners are complicated that they’re wrong and should be avoided. This is the same kind of thinking that makes people avoid anything other than standard, married, boy-girl missionary sex and it’s just as wrongheaded.

All human relationships are complicated, it’s just that we have more experience with some than with others. There is nothing innately bad with being in some kind of affection dynamic with more than a single person. There is nothing intrinsically immoral about having sex with more than the one person you’ve decided is the one you love more than any other. Because we have all been culturally indoctrinated to believe we are a certain way and to reject dynamics and realities that don’t align with that paradigm, we react negatively. We recoil and feel uneasy and fearful. We are afraid of who we are because we don’t know who we are.

And that’s why I think state-sanctioned marriage is bullshit. There are many ways for people to find happiness and love and commitment. It’s no one’s place to judge and it’s not the role of the state to pick winners and losers. Conservatives like to say that gay marriage will lead to the destruction of “traditional values” and I hope to fucking god they’re right. People can be happy and children can be lovingly raised and the world and our society will be better for it once we get out of the way of who we are and how we need to be, both on the scale of us as a species and the scale of us as individual people.

Of course, those who choose monogamy are free to do so. Just as those who choose to have their junk locked up by their spouses are free to do so and those who want to be tied up and beaten are also free to do so. Just as any consenting adult is free to do anything else with another consenting adult (or group of adults) that results in no harm to any other uninvolved person. Is there any better definition of freedom than that?

Reading Sex at Dawn has crystalized a lot of things I was already thinking. It’s given form to feelings. I don’t think I’ll ever think specifically the same way again. And that’s a really good thing. If you haven’t already done so and are sex-positive and open to new experiences and want to better understand what it is to be a sexual, loving human being, read it. Just read it. If you’re not those things…what the hell are you doing here?

7 thoughts on “Dawning appreciation

  1. Excellent review. I agree that oftentimes people who cheat are looking for a human connection. I don’t condone cheating as a way to fulfill those desires, but I do think it’s a basic human need to crave those connections. Some people are better at blocking them out than others, others feel content with the one that they have (monogamy). I like that you came to the idea that there was life outside of the scarcity model of love. That caring for another person doesn’t take away from the love we have for our wife/husband. Unfortunately, that is what society has beaten into us and what most people are afraid of when thinking about open relationships.

  2. We teach kids how to handle most of their emotions-sharing toys is good, helping others is good, empathy is good. And we tell them that jealousy is good, possesivness is good, that there is a zero-tolerance rule for “betraying” a relationship. If we told kids the same sorts of things we tell them about being social in every other relationship in their lives about romantic relationships I wonder how much hurt and confusion would just ooze away.
    I keep reading novels where much of the emotional dynamic is based on forbidden attractions, and wanting to see the characters realize that they could have it all, as it were. Maybe, I’ll just have to write the damned thing.

    1. If we told kids the same sorts of things we tell them about being social in every other relationship in their lives about romantic relationships I wonder how much hurt and confusion would just ooze away.

      One of the main points of the book, actually.

  3. And that’s why I think state-sanctioned marriage is bullshit.

    This is different in the US, again, than in other parts of the world. Here, even state (secular) marriage has a quasi-religious tint to it, because clergy can perform marriages that are then valid by law. It’s not done that way in much of the rest of the world. In Germany, for example, clergy will ask you for the state-issued marriage certificate (not just license, but certificate), and then once they know you are legally married, they’ll perform a religious ceremony, which has no legal ramifications.

    Marriage has many components to it that I like, and I am not ready to throw it all out. There’s the social / societal aspect to it: Marriage is immediately understood and, mostly, respected. It travels borders really well, and that’s very important to me. I need to know that our marital rights exist when we travel.

    There’s an emotional aspect that can be surprisingly strong even for couples who have been together for a long time without marriage.

    And there’s the “easy contract” aspect of it which is oh so very handy. Healthcare, ability to pass things on to my spouse without the state taking gift tax or inheritance tax, hospital visiting rights, &c, all without needing to create a stack of documents (and hiring a lawyer). It’s a neat way to wrap a bow around it and say “this entire stack of something like 1,000 federal laws now applies to us, plus the state ones.” And when we’re abroad, assuming we’re careful to travel to places that recognize same-sex marriage, then the entire stack of rights available in THAT country applies to us in one fell swoop.

    I think there’s real value in having that package of rights and responsibilities available to people in an uncomplicated way. And marriage does that.

    Marriage has not been available to me for most of my life, maybe that is why I see its benefits in a different light. I can tell you that not having peace-of-mind regarding inheritance sucks big green slimy donkey balls. I am much calmer now.

    I like the idea of people having such contracts outside of one-on-one marriage. I have yet to see a good proposal on what that would look like, and I don’t think I’d want the state out of it. Leaving it all to people and lawyers to write individual contracts case by case is too ripe for abuse.

    1. Whether or not it’s done by a religious offciant, it’s still basically the same thing. All the necessary and fundimental rights you mention that are part of marriage in our society could easily be conferred in other ways if marriage was not an option. In the US, married couples also get tax advantages that unmarried don’t. All this should change, IMO. I don’t think the state should have any part in sanctioning one type of emotional commitement between consenting adults over any other kind. If they want to get married under a church, they should have the right to do it. But there shouldn’t be any special privileges for doing so.

      The act of marriage is ancient and outdated. I wouldn’t feel any differently about my wife if that label was just a word rather than a legal construct.

  4. Great recommendation. With all the blogs and such, hard (well, not hard, given current state) to get in a full book read. This was excellent – thanks for recommending!

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