We can love an infinite number of people. There are no limits to our capacity to care emotionally for another person, to accept and express our feelings towards others. Love can find many and varied expressions. The smile we give a waiter, a friendly greeting for a shopkeeper. We can feel love when stroking a dog, when driving a car – and we express it. We love both our parents and we can love more than one child. We can feel love for many men and for many women and we can live out this love with them.
However, society, history, culture, habit, our hopes, our dreams and wishes condition the way we love and have introduced limits to our positive expression of love. In most cultures, it has become customary to love only one man or woman at a time as a partner and lover. This is called monogamy and is related to monotheism – the commandment to worship only one god – and patriarchy, the male hierarchy. Women are to bear one or more male successors, and the blood of the child must match that of the father. My land, my woman, my child – my possessions.
Over the centuries, women have gradually won recognition and equality, and this is now anchored in the reciprocal betrothal of loyalty. When a man or a woman also loves another man or woman, this goes against custom and practice. If such a conflict should arise, then the future for both partners depends very much upon the vision and needs of all those involved. If the person who commits adultery needs only to feel and experience the love he or she has, then it can be a solution, or even a release, to follow that need with or without the knowledge of the partner. Telling the partner inevitably results in their being confronted with fear of loss and feelings of inferiority.
If we wish to be happy in life for a sustained length of time, then casual affairs with others are not to be recommended. They can often disturb partnerships for a long time, if not forever, and even irretrievably destroy long-term relationships. However, many people find themselves in this situation quite unexpectedly and without intention. They are not always sufficiently strong or committed to resist the temptation to follow their feelings. The distress this causes their relationship is thus not intentional. They then “only” have to bear the consequences of their actions.
It requires an almost unshakable self-confidence, an equally strong trust in the partner and considerable self-assurance with regard to societal norms in order to be able to love more than one lover for any length of time and to make it possible and bearable for all of those involved. One needs to determine one’s own need to experience the depth of one’s relationships. Where this need is great, this might only be achieved by separation from one of the lovers/partners, or by all of those involved electing to live together. Our readiness – or lack of it – to entertain these ideas shows, in specific cases, how close we are to putting them into practice.
[Text by Marion Schneider]