Where do Our Attitudes Toward Relationships Come From?

I know many of my attitudes come from the dominant religion in the area I grew up so I’ve just accepted I need to learn new ways of looking at relationships. As I have been looking at this more in depth since starting this blog, I’ve been surprised that those attitudes I was raised with are more wide spread than I anticipated. Over the last week or so I’ve come across some people talking about those attitudes. What follows is what I see needs to happen based on where our attitudes about relationships, especially sexual relationships, come from.

The algorithms in some of the social media and search engines really give me some interesting suggestions at times. A few of those have led to some very interesting reads and watches for me. Though not the one that started my recent thinking on this, an interesting one was when YouTube suggested an interview with Alan Alda by an Australian TV show. As I recall it said it was from three years ago, but I don’t recall the date it was posted to YouTube.

He was asked about his support for the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970’s. He mentioned some of what was being said to scare people into opposing ratification of the amendment. I remember a lot of really bad things being said, most of which were totally absurd. He mentioned some I hadn’t considered a big deal. Two really stood out in my mind. Passing the amendment would bring about gay marriage and women in the military. Both of these results have come without the ratification of the amendment. He did mention that at the time he was campaigning for the amendment a woman in at least one southern state couldn’t own property unless a man’s name was on the paperwork along with hers.

These attitudes of property, women’s places in society, and other things that relate to our views of relationships have taken a long time to evolve into Western Culture. I think that term should be more European Culture. Another search I had done didn’t have anything to do with sexuality but a podcast came up about indigenous societies as talked about by Dr. Kim Tallbear. The podcast was from multiamory.com about Settler Sexuality. It came out about a year ago. It was trying to communicate some of Dr. Tallbear’s ideas in a little more common language. She talks about some of her academic writings. I went to her web site and find some of it a difficult read as my academic training is in other fields. The main point I got from the podcast episode is that our current idea of the nuclear family has come from religion, the state, and academics.

As I look at what I understand from history, the academics part comes more from people being products of their times and starting from where they are. The state and religion part has worked hand in hand as they grew in power and tried to control who controlled property. In certain times in Europe, the control of property was controlled by the feudal system. Since the church was a powerful player in that system they could influence that the control of property was handed down father to son. As the state and the church became more and more separate, the state continued to control the disposition of property and its passing from father to son. This has continued into my life time as the comments of Alan Alda mentioned with why people felt a need for an Equal Rights Amendment.

Dr. Tallbear and the Multiamory podcasters talk about how many indigenous peoples didn’t stress what today is called the nuclear family or even the couple. They lived in more extended types of family. The settlers coming in to the U.S. and Canada brought these ideas supported by the state and church to control the property. They didn’t accept the indigenous peoples ways of life as it didn’t include the same control of property.

A few months ago I read a biography of Chief Red Cloud, a leader in the Lakota Nation. He was at the point where he would be taking a wife. He had two that he wanted and that wanted him. He chose to have a wedding with one but didn’t really talk with the other about his plans. His people would have accepted him being married to both. Since she didn’t know his plans, the woman he was hoping to marry the next day killed herself thinking she would never have what she wanted. It seems poor communication isn’t a new problem in personal relationships. Assuming certain things without talking about them is a really big problem.

Assuming all women want to marry a man and follow him is something that is slowly going out of style. Assuming we must live as couples is also not a universal belief in our society. These assumptions do still hold a lot of sway and are expected by many.

In the podcast they mention relationship anarchy as a current way to move from this state, religion, academic imposed view of the kinds of relationships we should have. My one exposure to someone talking about relationship anarchy made it seem too self centered for my liking. As the podcast went on I started to see it as simply being able to communicate with each person in your life as to what you want the relationship to be. There doesn’t need to be a couple at the heart of each person’s life. There can be, but there doesn’t need to be.

With Father’s Day recently past, and neither my wife or I having a living father to honor with our time, I’ve been thinking a lot about family. Does family have to come from sharing the same ancestry? Can family come from having some people who want to have a close relationship even though they have very different ancestry?

My father died a few weeks after my middle child was born. My oldest was only about three at the time. So none of my kids ever really knew him. Grandpa to them was my wife’s dad yet they had two grandmothers to get to know. To me the interesting thing is that when my wife’s dad passed on, I felt the same loss as when my dad died. I know those roles played in a family need not be filled by someone with the same blood lines.

I think we need to realize how old and ingrained in society some of the relationship models are. There will always be people that want only one sexual partner at a time and will probably draw emotional desire from them as well. There are others that will only be comfortable socially with one gender while sexually desiring the other gender. They will find drawing emotional support from a sexual partner something that just doesn’t fit them.

What needs to happen is each individual is taught to communicate. Each person can decide on what kind of relationship they want with each person who comes into their life. Not just those that include sex, but all the relationships, should be based on consent and safety. For some people rock climbing isn’t consider safe. If a couple of people who both like to rock climb consent to being friends and going climbing together keep the safety of both in mind, then I think this would be an ethical relationship. If they decide to include sex in the relationship, they need to include the same good communication about what they expect from each other and what they are willing to consent to having happen.

It seems every where I look lately, I see the steps to a good sexual relationship being the same as for any relationship. The communication of wants and desires has to be open and respectful enough for both to understand and give consent. The safety, physical and emotional, of both have to be considered. If more than two are going to be involved, each pair needs to understand the relationship between them.

If three people are involved and two see themselves as a couple with a third person interacting with them, I can’t call that wrong. I think it would be better for all involved if each individual worked to establish what their relationship is with each to the other two. It might come down to two live together while the third lives alone and they all get together from time to time. It might be all three live separately. It might be all three live together. These last two start moving away from fetishizing “the couple.” It may take a few generations, we may use terms like anarchy and chaos to describe what is going on. What it really needs to be is a shift from doing what the state, the church, and maybe even the academics that try to define what relationships should be, to ethical relationships. These ethical relationships can be monogamous, non-monogamous, heterosexual, homosexual, or even non-sexual. It will be up to the people involved in the relationship to determine what is expected in that particular relationship, and up to each person to keep them within bounds they have agreed to in other relationships. The key is teaching and expecting clear open communication so what is being consented to is understood, not just doing what others expect.

©2018 Michael Yocom 

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