The New York Times “Ethicist” got a jaw-dropping inquiry this week:
Nearly a year ago, I began dating two friends — I’ll call them Rachel and Dave — who were already themselves in a relationship. We all had no experience with polyamory. The throuple ended fairly quickly, with no one being at fault; the other two continued to date but broke up not too long afterward. Since then, Rachel and Dave have dated on and off, Rachel and I were casually together and Dave and I have been close friends who sleep together occasionally. There have also been relationships with others outside this group. At times, we have all behaved badly, sleeping together behind the other’s back, knowing the knowledge would hurt the other. Strong emotions, love and pain have arisen on all sides.
Throughout the past year, as multiple complex situations arose, we have all wished for a model of behavior. Monogamy-centered media suggests that one should avoid dating a friend’s ex-partner. Is this correct? And if so, can this concept be universalized? Do Rachel and Dave get “priority,” in that they should be together and I should not pursue either, because they dated first? What do we owe to our romantic partners and friends when the situations are complex?
His advice doesn’t interest me; you can read it here if it interests you. My focus is on the inquirer, predictably signed in as “Name Withheld.”
Ethics and human society are long term, indeed never-ending, learning experiences. That is how we acquire stability and productive traditions, standards and habits that keep life from descending into chaos. Individuals who arrogantly or foolishly (or, in most cases, both) assume that they can safely discard the lessons of history and civilization because they know better, or are “special,” generally end up in a metaphorical ditch with their wheels spinning.
Is it really so difficult to figure out that a three-way romantic and sexual relationship is doomed to fail? A passing familiarity with literature, drama, human nature and common sense would make that clear, I would think, but apparently not. The writer is a revolutionary, a free-spirit, a pioneering and bold advocate of “Love is Love,” and now has to resort to asking for guidance from a newspaper advice column?
“A polyamorous arrangement without explicit zones of exclusivity and clear conventions can leave things perilously murky,” Prof Appiah, “The Ethicist,” says among his other diplomatic comments to avoid the obvious verdict, “You and your friends are nuts.”
Society without explicit zones of exclusivity and clear conventions can leave things perilously murky. Most of us figured that out long ago, as our ancestors figured it out centuries ago.
5 thoughts on “Psst! When You’re This Estranged From Human, Societal And Cultural Norms And Standards, No Advice Columnist Can Save You”
It is apparent we are in an era where disregarding societal and cultural norms, as well as biological science is flaunted as some sort of heroic action. These “normal behaviors and attitudes use to be the focus of psychotherapy. I see in the story conveyed elements of Antisocial Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder as well as Sexual Addiction. A well-grounded psychotherapist can certainly make a career out of treating this “throuple.” (BTW Word Spellcheck does not recognize that word and asks if I want to add it to my dictionary, I declined)
This attitude is not new. When I was in college, the drama of my friends and their issues was prevalent. By the time I reached graduate school, most of my friends were in some form of crazy open relationship. My husband and I were one of only a few pairs (plus) that approached relationships with anything resembling cultural norms.
Thirteen years after we left the culture of college, those who chose to follow the dominant culture at a fairly conservative institution and have open relationships are pretty unanimously miserable with how their lives have gone. Generally speaking, they blame the world for not being accepting or open-minded enough because there has always been this belief among them and so many others that cultural norms, societal norms, and even human nature were only there for the oppression of our generation (mainly themselves).
What this woman says is of no surprise to me, but instead sounds exactly like several of my college friends. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is only a few who believe in it. The failure rate of these relationships has been calculated in the better than 90% range, but there are so many people who really believe that it’ll work because…I’m not sure why…they want it to, I guess.
Understanding human nature, cultural and societal norms, and other safeguards against this kind of stupidity are failing in this narcissistic society that we now have.
I strongly suspect this letter is fake. Remember the guy who admitted to writing fake letters to Dear Prudence? https://ethicsalarms.com/2021/09/14/fick-sighting-in-advice-column-land/
Whenever I see an advice question that sounds like a bad soap opera plot, I assume it’s fake.
What? You think an ETHICIST would present a false letter as genuine? Heaven forfend.