Listing

Remember Ross’s list in Friends? The one that so wildly offended Rachel, spiralling us all into another thirteen seasons of R’n’R agony? Don’t tell me I could have just stopped watching. Retrospect is a wonderful thing.

Anyway, it turns out that Ross was not alone. The love list, it appears, is something of a cultural phenomenon. None other that Charles Darwin made his own list before he met his wife. In it, he agonised over the pros and cons of marrige, including the memorable rumination, ‘better than a dog in anyhow.’

Transcription:

This is the question

Marry

Children — (if it Please God) — Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, — object to be beloved & played with. —  —better than a dog anyhow. — Home, & someone to take care of house — Charms of music & female chit-chat. — These things good for one’s health. — Forced to visit & receive relations but terrible loss of time.

W My God, it is intolerable to think of spending ones whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all. — No, no won’t do. — Imagine living all one’s day solitarily in smoky dirty London House. — Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, & books & music perhaps — Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ St.

Marry — Marry — Marry  Q.E.D.

Not Marry

No children, (no second life), no one to care for one in old age.— What is the use of working ‘in’ without sympathy from near & dear friends—who are near & dear friends to the old, except relatives

Freedom to go where one liked — choice of Society & little of it. — Conversation of clever men at clubs — Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. — to have the expense & anxiety of children — perhaps quarelling — Loss of time. — cannot read in the Evenings — fatness & idleness — Anxiety & responsibility — less money for books &c — if many children forced to gain one’s bread. — (But then it is very bad for ones health to work too much)

Perhaps my wife wont like London; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool —

I must admit, I find Darwin’s private act of decision-making reassuring rather than enraging. Why should anyone feel drawn to the idea of a wife in the abstract? His depiction of both the comforts of married life, and the ways in which it could drain his ambition are in fact quite insightful and accurate.

Very much in contrast, take a look at this Marital Ratings Scale, created in the 1930s to allow people to assess the quality of their marriage. In fairness, they could be highly useful if you were deciding whether or not to leave your partner – should they ever fill in one of these forms, you would surely have good cause to petition for divorce, no?


Source: The Atlantic

Monogamy: A Manifesto

Herbert and I got married because we didn’t believe in marriage.

We didn’t believe it was the moral or ethical thing to do. We didn’t believe it would validate or sanctify our relationship in any way. We didn’t believe it would stick us together for longer.

We got married because our parents couldn’t make it work. We got married because we grew up thinking that marriage was an absurd, oppressive institution that inevitably went nuclear. We got married because we thought the very idea of marriage hinged on a skewed notion of the nature of men and women.

Not everyone will understand this, but in the face of these beliefs, getting married was the most wildly romantic gesture we could think of, an act of blind faith in the two of us and our ability to make it work. We didn’t think that the institution could bind us together; we thought that we could. I took Herbert’s name for the same reason (although he offered to take mine): I had chosen my own family unit, and I was proud of it.

It is fashionable to say that monogamy can’t possibly work. The good old adulterer’s excuse that men can’t help but sow their seed has now been enshrined in the new evolutionary discourse of which we are all suddenly so fond. On the other side of the fence, we find the religious right curiously agreeing, arguing that men require the structure and discipline of God to keep them on the straight and narrow path.

And who would want tired old monogamy anyway, when there are so many more juicy options out there?

Well, I do, but not because I think it’s any better than any other choice. Quite the contrary: particularly before the seductions started, I would often feel a stab of envy at the polyamorous exploits of single friends.

I’ve recently been devouring the literature on keeping long-term relationships alive, and so many of them open with a variation on the line, ‘Monogamy is best.’ I find this attitude infuriating and small-minded. There is no best way, even for any one individual. We must all make our own compact with our partner, if we want to have a partner at all. So long as both parties agree, anything goes. It’s, frankly, none of my business.

And in all choices there are benefits and drawbacks. The compact of monogamy requires a huge effort on both sides to keep it alive and well, especially over the scale of an adult lifetime. Everyone interprets it differently, but for us it has always meant a commitment to staying above reproach, and not even indulging in minor flirtations that might give others cause to suspect our fidelity. Clearly, it also means missing out on pursuing the attractions that arise from time to time; monogamy doesn’t make you immune from them. We old marrieds still yearn for the head-rush of risk and romance, the thrill of the chase, and to some extent we have to accept that we’ve done with all that.

And the benefits? Well, there’s the growing sense of trust and certainty, and the privilege of having someone all to yourself. But most of all, there’s a kind of freedom in having made that choice. Perhaps this is the freedom of submission; but perhaps it is also the freedom of choosing not to continually wonder if your partner is good enough, if you are good enough. So long as you’ve picked someone pretty good in the first place, you can keep working towards that elusive state of perfection.

My point is that monogamy isn’t just one, dead choice. It is a daily, hourly choice, that should be made in full acceptance of the other choices available. It should be a conscious choice made by two people, rather than a bland acceptance of ‘the done thing’. If we fall into monogamy by default and never question it again, it will die. The compact can be broken by secret infidelities, but it can equally be broken by withdrawing love and affection. Monogamy is a practice, an ongoing pursuit; monogamists could learn a great deal from BDSM practitioners about taking responsibility for each other’s safety and emotional wellbeing.

Taken in this way, monogamy is a radical choice among many rather than a bland following of convention. It is not for everyone, and no-one should imply otherwise. But for me, it’s just right.

Married Love – Where it all started

I realise how prudish I am about to sound, but that’s not the case at all. At least I don’t think so. No, I am not prudish, I have just been married for ten years. There is a difference, although I suspect that, if I drew a venn diagram in which one circle represented ‘prudishness’ and one represented ‘having been married for ten years’, there would be considerable overlap. I mention this to Herbert, and he says, ‘a vulva-shaped overlap.’ This is how bad things have got. It’s way past Freudian.

Look, see, I am not prudish. There, in the paragraph above, I freely used the word ‘vulva’ without a care in the world. Oh, I can talk good sex, me. Just watch me down the pub on a Saturday night. I’ll be the one cracking bawdy jokes in the corner of the room, making the rest of the table roar with embarrassment.

I am, however, all talk. I am expert in sounding like a libertine. In real life, in the bedroom, I am about as sexually enlightened as Mary Whitehouse. Actually, scrub that. I have no right to cast aspersions on Mary’s erotic drive. For all I know, she could be a bit of a goer. It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.

The point is, I am not naturally uptight. I was not brought up in sexually-repressed circumstances (quite the opposite – my Mother’s sheer enthusiasm for sex would put Tracey Cox to shame), and I do not in any way disapprove of sex. It’s just that I’ve come to feel a bit icky about it involving me.

We started off on great form, Herbert & I (you may have guessed that this is not his real name). We could barely put each other down. But that was 14 long years ago now, and I was just eighteen. Now, at 32, sex seems so far away from me that I struggle to remember the point of it. It’s not that we don’t do it at all; it’s just that we usually do so out of a sense of obligation. How long’s it been? A month? I guess we really ought to have a shag then. Fancy it? Hang on, I’ll go and shave my armpits first.

It’s not the diminishing of desire that’s the problem. That’s the effect rather than the cause, I suspect. Our real issue is the limitedness of our sexual palette. The same sex, over and over again, is just pointless, no matter how good it is. I would have hated to admit it when I was 18, but I was inexperienced.  Somehow, by staying with the same partner since then (and both of us have been utterly faithful, I’m sure of that), I have retained the sexuality of an eighteen year old. Less saucy than it sounds, I can assure you, particularly without the benefits of an eighteen year old’s firm midriff. Herbert and I adore each other, get on like a house on fire and are extremely, smugly happy, but the fireworks ceased in the bedroom long ago. In their place, we have developed something resembling embarrassment.

Surely a loving relationship should encourage experimentation? In my experience, it does not. That sense of safety that has built between us is the most valuable thing in the world, and neither of us is willing to compromise it by asking for the wrong thing. More than that, neither of us is willing to express desire much at all any more. It would pain me to admit to Herbert that I found a film, picture, outfit or concept sexy. It would just seem too ridiculous. I think both of us feel the same way.

So why the change? Well, frankly, who knows, but two things have happened in the last few days. Firstly, we managed to have sex after a particularly long break, even for us (the previous time led to a row). Secondly, it was bloody good. So good, in fact, that (after we’d stopped reeling with surprise), we did it again. Three times in one weekend. Quite something for us, I can assure you.

I thought about it all the next day. What a perfect, complete idiot I’d been. What a bloody waste! So many women of my age are out embarking on sexual adventures but craving The One. I’d found The One, years ago, and wasted him. I suddenly saw (don’t ask me how) that my sexuality was my own responsibility. What was the point in sacrificing it to my own, very English, sense of embarrassment? Fourteen years together should lead to some sort of expertise; in our case, it has led to a kind of blind, dumbfounded ignorance. Even if I wanted to, I would have no idea how to turn Herbert on. I have no idea of his erotic tastes and preferences, let alone my own. I have made a habit of saying no, even before the question is asked, and it’s time that stopped.

That night, I nervously made a proposition to Herbert: what if we set ourselves a challenge? ‘We’re never going to be the couple who have sex every day,’ I said (we tried it for a week once and got thoroughly bored),’ so let’s be more realistic. What if we book a date for sex once a week, but with a twist. We take it in turns to arrange a seduction for each other, every week for the next year.’

I was surprised how readily he agreed – in fact, a lovely smile spread over his face. ‘Okay,’ he said.

‘Because, when we were first together, part of the reason the sex was so good was because we’d looked forward to it all day.  We could to with a little more of that anticipation.’

‘Fine,’ he said; ‘good. Great. So long as it doesn’t have to be too elaborate, always.’

‘No, not elaborate. Just interesting. Just intended.’

‘And that doesn’t mean to say that we can’t have sex at other times too.’

‘Don’t push your luck,’ I said.

The next morning, it hit me. I was going to have to go through with it. I had said it out loud. It wasn’t just an idea floating nicely around in my head. I had to imagine, and then own up to, 26 seductions over the next year, and be opened-minded with the 26 that Herbert threw at me. Inside, I was already curling up with embarrassment.

I had raised the idea, though, and so the first seduction, inevitably, was mine. I wondered about lingerie, but then I’ve been matching my bra & knickers for fourteen years now, and it hadn’t exactly worked for me so far.

Slowly, it dawns on me that I have an enormous challenge ahead.