The reason one would enter into a relationship is that the two of you can create something more than either of you could accomplish on your own. From a biological standpoint, that something is a child. From a romantic standpoint, that something may be a lifetime of fulfillment.
The longer you plan on entering into a relationship with this other person and the more invested you wish to be, the higher the importance should be paid to having both of your purposes aligned. For an in depth dive into what purpose is, I recommend taking my How to Find Your Purpose course over at Plato University. As a primer, purpose is a direction of action that is meaningful to you and consequential to society. What is meaningful to you will be based on your values, your personality, and your path for self development. What is consequential to society will be solutions to problems and needs of the collective. Pursuing purpose requires your full commitment to these two pieces, including use of your resources. So if you plan on spending your life with another person, you should share nearly identical pursuits in purpose, otherwise you will battle each other on direction in life and allocation of resources.
Whether practicing monogamy or non-monogamy, let’s observe each stage of a relationship. In doing so we can discern whether someone is right to move to the next stage based on purpose alignment, investing more time, energy, and resources into this person.
Our most basic level of relationship with another person is that of an acquaintance. You both enter into a relationship in order to fulfill a basic human need. This could range from financial transactions to purchase food, saying hello to a stranger to gain human connection, or having a one night stand to have sex. The relationship is serving its most fundamental purpose - fulfilling a basic need that requires two people to achieve. At this stage, purpose alignment is minimal and the only resources shared are those needed to fulfill the basic need.
Monogamy: At this stage, those that practice monogamy will see this person as an acquaintance. If there's attraction, they may consider getting to know this person more, becoming friends or moving to dating.
Non-monogamy: If the person practices non-monogamy, they more likely have other people at various stages. They most certainly can just keep people as acquaintances, however if there is attraction, they are more likely to engage sexually with this person at an earlier stage because they have the freedom to do so.
In both cases, attraction triggers a move to the next stage. That attraction is a combination of biological & psychological matches and identifying a match in values, signaling that purpose may be aligned.
We begin spending more time with another person beyond a one off encounter when we realize that doing so will bring us more benefit. We see that this person can be a consistent source of need fulfillment. As we spend more time with this person, we learn more about them and their direction in life. If it matches ours in some way, we’re more likely to continue engaging with this person. We see that they will help develop us to fulfill our purpose. So alignment of purpose is beginning to occur.
Monogamy: During the friends and dating process, the two people will see how much attraction exists and whether the goals for the future match with one another. If they do, it’s more likely this relationship will move to a commitment of exclusivity to each other, denoting they will share resources with each other.
Non-monogamy: At this stage, the non-monogamists are spending more time together, both sexually and platonically, which will divert resources away from other relationships. If the direction in life is shared between the two individuals, they may wish to start diverting more resources to each other and making a larger commitment.
In both cases, an identification of deep attraction, values and life direction trigger the moving to the next stage which tests whether or not this relationship is worth a larger commitment of resources.
Through extended time spent with the other person, we’ve received signals to how aligned the other person is with our purpose and if the relationship will help us achieve our purpose. During the romance stage, we are testing whether we can in fact work together to achieve small outcomes we both want in life. Oftentimes we are going on trips, mixing social circles, meeting families, doing small projects together, and possibly even living together. At this stage we begin to see if purpose is truly aligned because resources will either be flowing towards an aligned purpose in life, or it will feel like the two people want to go in seemingly opposite directions.
Both the monogamist and the non-monogamist are considering this other person as more than just friends and building a deeper relationship with them akin to the “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” label. If the tests and life tasks being worked on by both people are going well, it will trigger a move to the next stage, where a sign of commitment is made to this other person.
If purpose is aligned and the two people are working well together to achieve shared goals in the relationship, then it makes sense for them to signal to each other that they would like to continue the pursuit of purpose with each other and combine resources in order to do so. Oftentimes this means living together, an increase in time and energy, and combining finances. You are partners, working together, to build something greater than the two of you.
Monogamy: The commitment made by the monogamist is that of a marriage proposal, turning them into finances, and proposing that life should be spent together, pursuing the same purpose.
Non-monogamist: The commitment made by the non-monogamist may be engagement, or it could just be treating the other person more as a partner, further diverting large amounts of time, energy, and resources into that relationship.
The engagement period is essentially a second trial period with a stated commitment larger than the first trial period but still has the socially acceptable escape clause to drop the relationship. Should things continue to go well after combining resources, it will trigger the final stage, where commitment is fully undertaken.
At this stage, purpose is so closely aligned it’s as if the two people are essentially one because they are acting as a unit, diverting all resources towards a shared course of action. However, small differences and polarity must be kept in order to keep the relationship effective and thriving. Nature exists with duality. A complete unification would result in collapse.
Monogamy: Commitment is finalized with marriage.
Non-monogamy: Commitment may be finalized with a marriage, a spiritual union ceremony, or a mutual acknowledgement that this person will be here for the remainder of their life.
Now this commitment is a lofty ideal. In a perfect world, our purpose would remain the same for our entire life AND we would have thoroughly vetted that our partner is the best candidate to pursue this purpose with. Reality is, our purpose, and therefore our direction in life, may change. We may also have done a poor job at discovering each other’s purpose, values, and what we care about in life. As a result, divorce and changing partners are the norm. There should not be shame in that. It’s a sign of development.
You’ll see I did not prescribe what these two people’s purpose may be. For some, starting a family is their purpose. For others it may be building a business or serving their community. For the ambitious, it may be taking on a global challenge. What matters is that the more committed you want a relationship to be, for instance aiming to be married one day, the more it would behoove you to understand yourself and your own purpose and find a partner that is completely aligned with that.
Your odds of that relationship reaching the lofty ideal are far greater.
Marriage appears to be an agreement, a social contract, between two people to continue ongoing negotiations about how each person will show up to better themselves, each other, and the relationship. Each individual enters the agreement under the belief that this union is more beneficial to each individual’s life than what that individual could do on their own. As a social institution, marriage provides the motivation for ongoing negotiations between each individual. From an evolutionary perspective, marriage is a time tested strategy for successful conception and raising of children. In which case, marriage is of utility.
So why do we complicate marriage with love? You would not enter a business contract under the influence of cocaine or heroin, yet we enter the contract of marriage under the influence of love. Wouldn’t this contract be better conducted if we were in a rational state? Love may be the glue that keeps the contract intact, providing motivation to connect, to help the other person in their worst times, to sacrifice parts of you for them, and for agreeing to continue negotiations.
Maybe we have confused the type of love that is correct for marriage. The Greeks understood that we are capable of more than one form of love. We want to believe marriage is for Pragma, a mature enduring love, or even more, Agape, an unconditional love. Despite this romantic ideal, building long lasting love takes time and marriage, being a contract, is anything but unconditional. Maybe the form of love marriage is aiming for is Philia, a deep friendship and soul connection based on values. However, should the spiritual union of two people in love be tied to this social contract? Maybe there is another form of love. One based on conditions of mutual growth and utility. But that does not sound much like love at all.
Love in marriage may be a deep desire to want the very best circumstance for that other person, because you see the beauty of humanity in its unique manifestation in this other person. But what if that best thing is not you?
In the agreement of supporting the development of the other person, there may come a time when the development of each spouse would be better done in separation. In which case, if marriage is not to end in divorce, it would require more flexibility, allowing time for separation and then reconciliation of identities through ongoing negotiations of values. If marriage is a contract, why don’t you periodically negotiate terms as each person develops? Contracts have terms and dates. Surely, the contract does not serve in the same way forever.
As each person in the marriage changes, their type of love changes, and what compatibility was right for one time may not be right for another, calling for a new form of marriage. As there are different forms of love, there are different forms of marriage. Two people may form a bond strictly around companionship, devoid of passion or romance. People in a parenting marriage may commit to raising children together, agreeing to stay in the marriage for the duration of raising those children, yet spiritual or sexual connection may not be part of the package.
And what of monogamy? Is monogamy truly the best way to handle the goal of marriage? Of course, there are open marriages where both people consensually agree to see other people. Love is not finite. I can love more than one person and love each in a different way. Maybe, I have a social contract with one person, for financial or parenting reasons, and the erotic lover of another because it fits each person's circumstances better. It’s too much of a burden to place all my needs to be fulfilled by one other person. I don't hire one person to fill all roles in my company, so why expect that in my family?
I’m coming to the conclusion that love and spiritual union of two people should be separate from the social contract of marriage. The feeling of building a life with another should not be taken lightly. This spiritual union of two souls helping each other to grow should be respected and acknowledged, not in the form of a legal contract stating terms and dates, but a point of development where the true act of love would be to let that person go.
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