Conservatism, Sex, Reality and TV Guide

Some recent issues of TV Guide have included material that annoyed me.

In the 8/14/06 issue, columnist Rochell D. Thomas wrote:
Does Gene Simmons' nonwife Shannon Tweed make it harder for the rest of us?

Shannon and the Kiss bass player (aka the guy with the Tongue) have been "happily unmarried" for 23 years. On the one hand, "Yea, them!" The stars of Gene Simmons Family Jewels seem content. They've got two well-adjusted teens, a nice house, etc. But on the other hand: "What the bleep?" Shannon has made it no secret that she wants -- and has always wanted -- to get hitched. Their kids hope they'll tie the knot. Even Gene's mother wants him to make an honest woman out of the Playboy centerfold. But apparently the self-called "rock god" refuses because he doesn't want to have to lie about his, ahem, extracurricular activities. And see, that's right there what freaks me out. Shannon lets the man dabble with other dames as long as he comes home to her. As if that's all that matters. It sets a bad precedent!"
Then, in the 8/28/06 issue, a reader's letter from Karan Ann DeLuca says:
Shame on him for making the married/unmarried distinction to justify not having to lie about his dalliances. And shame on his girlfriend for accepting that. Because if she really wants to be monogamously hitched, after 23 years, there is no difference!
Where to start on this?

Every relationship, married or unmarried, between lovers, spouses, or just two people dating, goes thru a dance of discovery and negotiation. There are "default" modes of relationships, and the one for marriage is usually "monogamous, for life".

But a default mode isn't set in stone; it's not the only option. And, as divorce rates and LifeTime tv-movies repeatedly show, even people who declare their commitment to monogamy don't always keep that commitment.

There's a bell curve for everything, and there's one for fidelity in relationships, too. Most marriages/relationships pretty much fall under that "monogamous" definition.

But not everyone wants that. Not everyone is comfortable with that. Not everyone is sure that they'll be able to keep such a commitment. Not everyone feels that "sexual exclusiveness" is THE most important facet of a relationship.

And if two people are honest with each other, and open about their feelings regarding sex and faithfulness, those feelings will become part of that "dance and negotiation". And they'll modify that default mode to acomodate those feelings. Or not, if they're too far apart on their attitudes and beliefs. (And if that's the case, it's probably best that they not try to become a couple.)

Back about, oh, fifteen years ago, during a local convention, Hilde and I went out to dinner with one of the writers attending the con. During the dinner, the writer mentioned that his impression of Phoenix fandom was that it was "pretty straight-laced". Hilde and I had to smile at that, because probably about 25% of the couples/spouses we knew had open relationships or marriages to one degree or another.

(I wondered at the time if the writer's choice of topic was his way of putting out a feeler to see if Hilde was available or interested. Umm, he was a very interesting dinner companion.)

There are degrees of "open": Some of our friends really were, in deed, monogamous and not seeking other lovers or relationships, but they'd discussed the issue and agreed that if it ever did happen that one or the other of them ended up in bed with someone else, it wouldn't be a marriage-breaker. Some had a "don't ask, don't tell" agreement with each other. Some people "made love" to each other, but had "friendly sex" with some of their close friends. Some found themselves ending up in polyamourous relationships with others. (One friend of ours, part of a 3-person poly group, told us that the nice thing about threesomes was that there was always someone available to run the video camera.)

And most of these people were, in public, "normal". With very few exceptions, they didn't make a public proclamation that their relationships were "custom", rather than "default".

Science fiction fandom tends to be a bit more liberated and open to alternative lifestyles, so the 25% figure I mentioned is probably higher than in the general populace. But the guess I would hazard to make is that probably around 10% of marriages/relationships at large have private agreements that occasionally having sex with other people isn't that big of a deal.

(Sometimes, though, it is, despite best intentions. When that 3-person poly group I mentioned above broke up, it broke up very publically, and very VERY ugly. But I'd still have to say that overall the sexually-open relationships I've known of have tended to be more stable and long-lasting than the couples who've promised faithfulness to each other in public, and cheated on each other in private. Like Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the sex wasn't the big deal, the lying about the sex was the big deal.)

That "harder for the rest of us" part of Thomas' TV Guide column is particularly annoying. Sorry, Rochelle, but the rest of the world is not going to believe what you believe, act like you want to act, have the relationship or marriage that you want to have, just to make it easier for you to get what you want. Deal with it.

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