Autonomy and the Human Relationship
This essay rose out of an attempt to advise on insecurities such as jealousy and fear of loss in a relationship. It may also help in cases of a fear of commitment. There are ethical rules that exist, which may restrict people's behaviour and help guide relationships. However, not everyone obeys, or even believes in all the rules. Therefore, in order to establish the bare minimum of what you can expect from a relationship, it may be appropriate (at least in this essay) to abandon any ethical constraints and continue from the single assumption of human autonomy. The essay therefore seeks to demonstrate honesty and responsibility (and therefore security and trust) in a relationship logically, without than appealing to any rules, 'oughts' or 'shoulds'.
Human autonomy refers to the fact that human beings can do anything (within practical constraints). The word ‘can', here, is taken to mean ‘it is possible to do' rather than ‘it is alright to do' or ‘you should do'. When a thought, or behaviour, is in accordance with the fundamental premise of human autonomy it can be said to be ‘meaningful', and one that contradicts this fundamental premise can be said to be ‘meaningless'. This is explained in greater detail below.
Categorisation and Advice on Human Relationships
Society appears to have assumptions about human relationships. These assumptions include that it is appropriate only to kiss or have sex in a relationship, and (at least in Western Culture) only to have a relationship with one person at a time. However, if one accepts that all humans are autonomous, it is necessary to abandon these ‘relationship rules', because it is possible for people to do whatever they want. Consequently, the first realisation that we can accept is that people can kiss or not kiss (etc) whoever they want, whenever they want. The category/concept ‘relationship' consequently fails to exist, because it is very much defined by the constraints we have just abandoned. And, if you can have a relationship with everyone (because you can possibly do any thing with anyone), then essentially you have a relationship with no-one. From now on, therefore, the commonly used word ‘relationship' would be better substituted for ‘interaction'. However, for the sake of simplicity, ‘relationship' shall still be used, although it has now adopted a simpler meaning. The person(s) you are having a relationship with (interacting with) shall be called partner(s).
Wants and Desires in Human Relationships
The second basic premise that one must accept is that all people have desires. These desires are usually discriminate (viz., you would rather kiss one person over another, you fancy some people and not others), and there are many of them (e.g. sex, emotional support, friendship, understanding, intimacy - anything you want).
If we combine this second premise that all people have wants with the acknowledgement that all humans are free to act in any way, a further minimum realisation about human relationships that we can accept from this is that People can (and are likely to) do whatever actions will satisfy what they want and desire (within practical constraints). They can do whatever they want. Additionally, as we have also abandoned relationship rules and ethical constraints, we can conclude that no single want or desire is ‘better' than another. We cannot meaningfully say that intimacy is a ‘better' desire to have than emotional support; or that sex is a ‘worse' want than friendship. In other words, it is meaningless to judge in any moralistic way your own and another person's wants and desires, and therefore meaningless to judge in any moralistic fashion how you or your partner(s) conducts a relationship (interacts) with you or with others.
‘Faithfulness' and ‘Unfaithfulness'
Anyone's experience will dictate that it is possible to like more than one person at a time, to a lesser, equal, or greater degree (this is always a common fear in relationships). Following this premise, it follows that, if this does occur, it is likely that that you will be tempted to want both the partner you are having a relationship with and the other person/people. As humans are essentially free, it is possible that they can act on these wants and desires. Thus, it follows that we can expect that humans can (i.e. it is possible to) have a relationship with more than one person at a time. Here rises the source of ‘unfaithfulness'. However, we cannot meaningfully judge this in any moralistic way. Though it may hurt, it is meaningless to demand of your partner that they are ‘faithful', because doing so is not admitting that they have the same autonomy as you do. You must accept that if your partner wants to kiss others, then (s)he can do so, just as much as they can want to kiss only you. Furthermore, ‘faithfulness' and ‘unfaithfulness' imply the existence of relationship rules, which, as argued, may not exist. Therefore, it is more appropriate to talk not of ‘faithfulness' and ‘unfaithfulness', but oneness and multipleness.
Advice on Relationship Styles
Consequently, there are two broad ways of having a relationship with your partner(s):
1. You can decide to practice oneness; viz., you can interact with only one person at a time
2. You can practice multipleness, and interact with whom-so-ever you desire to, whenever you desire to.
If we are to abandon ethical constraints and admit freedom, as said above, both styles are equally acceptable, simply because they are both equally possible. Because people are autonomous, it is possible to practice one of these ‘relationship styles' one moment and then change to another. Additionally, you can adopt or change a style with or without your partner's knowledge.
Choice of Relationship Style
However, in acting under one's own autonomy, you are effectively choosing, whether consciously or unconsciously, to act in one relationship style rather than another. Consequently, a further revelation we must accept about relationships is that all people have the choice to adopt any relationship style at any time - be this on a permanent or short-term, and hidden or confessed basis. Furthermore, as we cannot meaningfully place any moral judgement upon their actions, we cannot meaningfully appeal to a moral code and demand that our partner behave in one way over another.
The above premises point to a valuable realisation about relationships that we can expect to encounter: This is that no person has power, or a right to power, over another person's actions, feelings, choices, or desires. No person can realistically expect to be able to manipulate another person's action, because doing so is denying that they are free people like themselves, and this is a logical contradiction. Each person stands alone in any interaction with anyone else - whether they want to or not, or whether they realise it or not. Everyone must accept, and frequently remind themselves that they act because they have chosen to do so, not because they were forced. There are no rules, only choices.
Advice on Making a Relationship Choice:
Consequently, as everyone is free to act as they desire, and all behaviours are done out of choice, it is reasonable to examine how relationships behave under this light - viz., if all relationships involve behaviours, and therefore involve choices, then behaviours can be viewed in terms of what the person choosing those behaviours is seeking.
What a person is seeking is essentially what that person desires. Therefore, deciding whether to go into a relationship or not, or deciding how to act in a relationship, can be (and is) made on the basis on what you want from that relationship.
The relationship styles of oneness and multiplesness mentioned above are mutually exclusive - they will, logically, lead to different ends. As the two styles are mutually exclusive it follows that some desires will be more easily satisfied if you adopt one style rather than another (e.g. a variety of sexual experience is more easily obtainable by practicing multipleness; whilst intimacy, depth, and/or support, which tend to increase with time spent in a relationship, this may be more readily obtainable if you adopt a oneness approach).
Consequently, the only meaningful way people can decide how to act in a relationship is to decide what they desire. Then they must decide what the outcome of each style is likely to be, would they adopt it, and make a decision as to what way to act in the relationship on the basis of this. However, what is important is that you identify what you want and choose that behaviour/style which has the outcome closest to what you want. Furthermore, as you have no realistic control over another person's behaviour and desires, your decisions can only realistically be made on the basis of what you want. To behave in a relationship to the detriment of the fulfilling of your own desires is meaningless, and may indicate either a confusion over what you desire, or expectations that this negation of immediate desire will result in getting what you want in the future.
If this is done, then a further minimum expectation you can form from a relationship is that in a relationship people behave in particular ways because they desired to do so and have chosen to do so. However, a relationship, by its definition, involves two or more people. Consequently, the behaviour your partner(s) adopt(s) affects what happens during the relationship and, therefore, what you receive from the interaction. As a result, in entering a relationship attaining what you desire will be effected by what your partner(s) is trying to attain. As the two different relationship styles are mutually exclusive they are likely to lead to the satisfaction of different desires. Therefore, two people in a relationship who wish to adopt different relationship styles will usually be constrained in the attainment of what they want by the other person's behaviours.
Consequently, it is more profitable in terms of your desires to have a relationship with someone who wishes to adopt the same style as you.
This raises the importance of planeness and honesty. The most efficient way of conducting a relationship (i.e. attaining your desires) is to openly confess what you desire and what you are looking for. This does not impose upon you partner's freedom but aids it, because it then leaves then in the position to be able to decide whether they are right for you or not. If they decide not, then you have avoided a lot of confusion, if they decide to stay, it because they want and not because you have persuaded them of they don't know what they are letting themselves in for.
Complications in a relationship:
There is a possible conflict that arises between wanting more than one person and still wanting a oneness relationship. Attempting to have both (wanting to be ‘unfaithful' whilst demanding that the other(s) remain ‘faithful') means that you want something that can only be fulfilled by going against what your partner wants. However, because all people are free, all people can try and have both. As this style is not compatible with your partner's, your partner may find that their desires are not being fulfilled. Consequently, they can choose to have a relationship with someone else who does have a more compatible style. As you have chosen to act in a particular way, exercising your own autonomy, it is meaningless not to accept the consequences of your action. Consequently, all people have responsibility for their actions, by virtue of the fact that they always choose to do acts with have consequences. This is not the same as blame. Blame is a responsibility that you can be punished or praised by - viz., blame is responsibility with value-judgements attached to it. True autonomous responsibility is an awareness and acceptance that the way you behave affects what happens in any interaction, which may, or may not,be to your liking.
A person who has desires which can only be fulfilled by adopting a relationship style which opposes their partner'(s) style will inevitably have more difficulty finding a willing partner than someone who has desires which are compatible with yours in their behavioural fulfilling. Therefore, it follows logically that choosing a partner with the same desires as yours will be the most effective choice in giving you what you want.
The Oneness relationship, insecurities, and how to meaningfully behave.
(i) The reality of insecurities.
Most people, at some point, are worried that their partner may be unfaithful. If this is you, then the reality is: if they want to kiss someone else, they will.
(ii) Is there anything you can do?
No. When people feel insecure, they show many reactions such as to try and do things that will make their partner like them more, or to be malicious in order to make their partner feel sorry. These are attempts to manipulate and take control over someone else's feelings. By manipulating, you are denying that they have a freedom to act and choose that is independent of you and your actions. Any idea that the insecure person has control over another person's autonomy is an illusion. The insecure person's attempt to manipulate the other takes a lot of emotional (and thought) energy because it is difficult (because it is trying to do a task that is impossible). Much of what makes a person feel sad is the constant emotional energy spent to seemingly no avail.
(iii) The security of a relationship
The only realistic way to achieve security is to admit that others have an autonomy as you do which allows them to do whatever they want. There is nothing you can do to change that. Consequently, the minimum you can expect from a relationship is that if someone is with you, it is because they have chosen to be so. And when they don't want to be with you, they won't be.
Furthermore, as you also have autonomy, your actions in a relationship can only meaningfully be done with reference to what you want. If you find that you are not getting what you want from the relationship, then it is you who can make the choice to decide what to do, so long as this decision does not involve trying to manipulate the other person's autonomy.
(iii) Have no expectations.
Telling your partner what you desire and consequently what style you wish to adopt, and asking them their desires and style, makes it easier to work out compatibility, should that be your aim. However, people can change their mind at any moment. Consequently, forming expectations about how your partner will behave with in the future is not admitting to yourself that they have autonomy. Therefore, expectations cannot meaningfully be created in a realistic relationship. As a result, relationships are only ever realistic if they are grounded in the here-and-now; there is no other way to meaningfully live a relationship except day-by-day.
It is meaningless to realistically form expectations of your partner for the future. Consequently, phrases such as "I don't need to keep telling you ‘I love you' because you should believe when I told you a few days ago" (for example) have no meaningful value because they carry the implicit assumption that that person's feelings are the same now as they were then. This assumption ignores the possibility that that person may change his/her feelings and act accordingly. As a result, it is meaningful to ask for, and to give, everyday reminders about how each person feels for the other. Doing this reflects a choice they have just made, which in turn reflects what (and who) they desire.
Accordingly, habituation to a relationship ("getting lazy" or "taking for granted") is also meaningless and akin to not acknowledging each other's incessant freedom. Therefore, should you desire love and attention in a oneness relationship, a realistic satisfaction of what each person desires in a oneness relationship will involve the continual demonstration of how each person feels about the other.
(v) Ignoring someone else's autonomy.
In the same way that people can meaningfully demonstrate love (or whatever) continually, the recipient can only meaningfully respond to that demonstration with a genuine acknowledgement that it is true. Consequently, phrases such as ‘compliments mean less from you because you fancy me' or ‘you're only saying that because you have to' are meaningless because implicit in them is the assumption that the giver is adhering to ‘relationship rules/norms' rather than truly expressing his thoughts and desires. This assumption therefore fringes upon not acknowledging the other person's autonomy, thereby making him/her, and the relationship, meaningless. (he/she can, after all, decide at any point not to say them). Likewise, only saying such things because you feel you ought leads to the same conclusion.
Conclusion on Human Relationships
This essay is internally valid - viz., there are no contradictions within it. However, this essay only claims to be true if the reader agrees that ethics and morality cannot be considered in establishing what we can expect from a relationship and that the only thing we can start with is that everyone is free. Should morality be introduced (‘oughts') the argument changes. This essay was constructed only to act as a reassurance that if there were no rules this is the minimum we could expect in a relationship - although anything can be done, some things are meaningless whilst others aren't. And it is the meaningful things which point to a greater sense of truth and harmony in a relationship. From this, all readers can feel encouraged and reassured.
<!--[if !supportFootnotes]--><!--[endif]--> It is, or course, possible to have the desire for ‘duty’ or ‘long-term trust’. This would seem to make the argument invalid because they demand that the partners don’t need to live day-by-day and can from expectations about the future. The latter part is true. However, my argument is not invalid because it is possible (by very virtue of the fact that all are free) to change your mind and no longer desire to be duteous or trustworthy. Consequently, the absolute minimum you can expect is that your partner be duteous or trustworthy that day. Furthermore, promises are meaningless.
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"Not only is this article 5 star worthy, I plan to post a link to it in my blog. It would be nice to know who wrote it so I can give credit where credit is due. I think that if I had read this article as a young woman still in school, I would have saved myself from 20+ years of grief in relationships. Thank you to whoever wrote it. You are a frigging genius."