[Content warning: TMI, polyamory.]
Another one of those times three very different people writing three very different things all remind me of each other.
Ozy got very excited recently because Heartiste wrote a post attacking polyamory (Ozy reminds me that the appropriate trigger warning for Heartiste is “trigger warning: literally the worst person alive, I am so serious about this, you think I am joking but I am not”).
Reversed stupidity is not intelligence, but it’s still nice to know that somebody known to be generally evil takes time out of his busy day to dislike my way of life specifically. It’s like a weird sort of reverse validation.
But since the Devil sometimes speaks true, what exactly does he have to say?
Genuine, egalitarian, open polyamory for all practical purposes doesn’t exist among white Westerners. There’s always one or another party out in the asexual or anhedonic cold, nursing feelings of rejection and traumatic self-doubt. And if that party is a willing participant to his or her sexual/romantic exclusion, it’s a good bet he/she is psychologically broken, mentally unstable, physically repulsive, or suffering from clinically low sex drive. In other words, human trash.
Applying enough charity to fully fund the Red Cross for the next fifty years, Heartiste seems to be saying something along the lines of “Polyamory is especially well-suited for asexual people”. And I agree!
Many of the people I know in successful polyamorous relationships are sexual, sometimes even highly sexual. But I also know a disproportionate number of asexual polyamorous people – including myself – and the combination seems to work really, really well. Part of it is the ability for asexual people to date sexual people without having to worry about the partner having no way of satisfying their higher sex drive. Part of it is the free layer of protection against sexual jealousy. And part of it is the neat ability to sidestep most of the risks of polyamory, including infection, unintended pregnancy, and the sense of disgust that some sexual people – especially Heartiste – seem to feel at the thought of having sex with less-than-virginal partners.
For me polyamory doesn’t get into any of that. It just means lots and lots of free cuddles.
Which brings me to the second thing I read recently. There is a new app out, Cuddlr, which is “like Grindr, but for cuddling”. Unequally Yoked has come out against it, saying that cuddling people without knowing them first is “objectifying”.
You already know what I think of objectification, but the criticism is unusually jarring in this instance. For me, cuddling is the opposite of objectifying. I go into social encounters viewing most people as a combination of scary and boring. I can sometimes overcome that most of the way by spending months getting to know them and appreciate their unique perspective. Or I can cuddle with them for ten minutes. Either one works.
There’s a Graham Greene quote which, being a philistine, I only know because it was included in Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal:
He took another drink of brandy. As the liquid touched his tongue he remembered his child, coming in out of the glare: the sullen unhappy knowledgeable face. He said, “Oh God, help her. Damn me, I deserve it, but let her live for ever.” This was the love he should have felt for every soul in the world: all the fear and the wish to save concentrated unjustly on the one child. He began to weep; it was as if he had to watch her from the shore drown slowly because he had forgotten how to swim. He thought: This is what I should feel all the time for everyone…
Wright’s point was that, there is this pure universal love that we wish we could feel for everyone all the time, but in practice we’re only able to feel it for our children, presumably because of evolutionary imperatives. As for me, I have no children, but the pure universal love I wish I could feel for everyone all the time, I’m only actually able to feel for cute girls I am cuddling with. It is definitely a good, correct kind of love – Leah would be more likely to call it agape or philia than eros. And this is important to me, because that kind of love is definitely an important psychological nutrient and my brain is very bad at feeling it any other way without, like, knowing somebody for ten years.
So this is the second reason why I think polyamory and (my particular variant of) asexuality go well together. It allows me to cuddle whoever I want and fall in love with whoever I want and have absurdly fond and protective feelings toward everybody if I so choose.
The third thing that made me think of this was actually something I wrote in my post yesterday and realized I should expand upon:
Testosterone is said to affect sexual libido but not desire for “sensual touch”, and a lot of people have mentioned how anomalously some of the nerd communities I’m in tend to value cuddling compared to sex relative to the general population.
In the general population – let alone for people like Heartiste – men are supposed to consider cuddling to be that extremely annoying thing that women sometimes want to do instead of sex, and which they must be very careful to avoid lest women get the impression that this is acceptable.
On the other hand, in the nerdy, polyamorous communities I’ve been in, it’s been generally understood that people of all sorts, man or woman or Ozy, can like cuddling and there is no shame in it.
This has been really liberating. Like, if you ask someone if they want to have sex, they might say no, they might slap you, but at least they will understand the context: that is definitely a known thing people ask. If you ask someone to cuddle, they will usually just be very confused, which in a way makes it even creepier.
The formation of communities where it’s not creepy and you can just ask is, at least to this asexual, one of the more important pieces of social technology to come out of the weird incubator that is the Bay Area. It creates so many positive feelings and so much of the good kind of groupishness that it seems like a comical Publishers’ Clearing House-style $100 bill left on the ground in the relatively high-stakes Forming Cohesive Communities Game.
I am left speculating that it only works after you get a certain percent asexual, or a certain percent polyamorous, or a certain percent low testosterone, or a certain percent low jealousy. Or maybe that you have to have a certain amount of community cohesion before you try. Or maybe you need people with a certain amount of willingness to experiment and not take themselves seriously. I don’t know. I can certainly imagine most attempts to initiate it would implode horribly. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one who tries to import cuddle culture to some other group where social cohesion is important, like the US Senate.
It just seems to be one of those really nice equilibria that form spontaneously in certain places for reasons that are difficult to pinpoint, just like the rest of civilization.