Living the Scarcity Myth in a World of Abundant Love

I just began watching the season of Once Upon a Time where Elsa is introduced. There’s a ridiculous love triangle building between Robin Hood, Marion, and Regina. Robin and Regina are clearly in love, but when Robin’s “dead” wife comes back, he feels compelled to return to her and hold true to his marriage vow. However, when Marion falls under a freezing spell, Robin is unable to save her with “true love’s kiss” because he is in love with Regina.

The whole situation was such a blatant illustration of the scarcity myth of love. Love triangles are annoying even as it is, but it’s even more infuriating when the love triangle involves a supposedky dead loved one come back to life simply because it implies that in order to love someone else after losing a spouse or partner that you have to stop loving the one who is presumed dead.

Regina lives out a fear that I’m sure many people feel—that as the “second,” they are not loved as much as the first. If the first were to return, the love they experience now would be taken away.

But why would Robin’s love for Marion necessarily have to cancel out his love for Regina?

One of the most important ideas that I’ve picked up as a sex-positive bi-feminist is the concept that love is not finite. We aren’t all equipped with a limited supply that we have to dole out in rationed doses or give entirely to one single person.

The poly community espouses the motto that it’s possible to love more than one person.

It’s true.

What often gets left out of the conversation is that everyone already loves more than one person, even monogamous people.

But we don’t think about it as being polyamorous because society has conditioned us to view romantic love as “real love”…or at least the most important kind.

Whether it’s the continued love for a lost (or not lost) partner that doesn’t diminish the love for a current partner or the love for one friend that doesn’t cancel out the love for another friend or family member, we all can look to various relationships where we love multiple people, sometimes in similar ways, sometimes in different ways.

Ironically, the whole point of Frozen, from which Once Upon a Time is drawing its curse, was that an act of true love didn’t have to be strictly limited to romantic love.

Love was love, regardless of whether it was coming from a romantic interest or a sister.

Are there clear differences between love for friends, partners, or family?

In my experience, no.

There are differences in boundaries, commitment, sexual attraction, and other things that can be tied up with love, but none of those is love itself.

Perhaps thanks to hook-up culture, more and more people are realizing that love and attraction can be separate.

I’m not sexually attracted to everyone I love…and I don’t love everyone I’m sexually attracted to. Learning to separate the attraction or the ability to act on attraction from care, affection, and concern for someone’s well-being is eye-opening in terms of understanding the depth that love can take.

Learning to recognize that a love that includes attraction isn’t more valuable or valid than a love that doesn’t include attraction is just as eye-opening.

Absolutely it’s possible to have more than one person that one is “in love with” in the sense of true love’s kiss, and maybe one day I’ll live to see a movie or show acknowledge that reality.

But more importantly, love doesn’t need to be confined to the “romantic interest” box in order for it to be valid, true, or magical.

And that is something that I think we should expect to see in our current entertainment.

 

 

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I’d Rather Be a Unicorn Than Exist On Your Terms

While I’ve heard some cheering about how bisexuality is no longer being erased, I’m not celebrating the recent study that articles are brazenly proclaiming proves that “women are never straight.” This is not a halt to bi-erasure; it’s just another form of it. We’ve gone from declaring that bisexuality is not an identity to making it ubiquitous.

Moreover, it carries forward the biggest problem with sexuality research in academia. This study is not interviewing women to find out how they identify. Nor is it seeking to understand their subjective experiences around attraction and arousal.

Just like the previous studies that “proved” bisexuality “doesn’t exist,” this one relies on the manipulation of people’s states of arousal…which is then interpreted by a stranger to determine their identity. The audacity of power and privilege that assumes that a person’s individual experience of themselves in relation to others isn’t as important as whether or not you, as a researcher, can get them off is quite impressive.

Unfortunately the flaws in logic that jump from “they are/are not getting aroused” to “they must be/must not be straight/bi/gay” should be obvious. There are lots of reasons why hooking someone’s genitals up to some sort of equipment would give less than accurate readings on their sexual orientation.

If achieving arousal with pornographic material can determine sexual orientation, then what does that say about lesbians who enjoy gay male porn? Are we going to declare that they’re really gay men now? What about if a gay man watches lesbian porn?

People find all kinds of porn enjoyable without actually wanting to go out and do those things themselves. Sometimes, yes, people get ideas of things to try. But sometimes they just want to explore something that feels different and out of character. That doesn’t determine their identity, certainly not better than their lived experience of who they find attractive and with whom they would build a relationship.

Not only is determining someone’s orientation from their arousal to porn a ridiculous way of studying bisexuality, studying someone’s arousal in the lab is problematic as well. It’s an artificial environment, presumably where people know they are being studied, even if they don’t know their arousal is being studied…but who couldn’t figure that out with the measurement methods? Seriously. It’s pretty safe to assume that there would be some differences in how they respond to stimuli on their own.

The biggest flaw, though, is the failure to take into account the importance of mirror neurons and empathy. Someone who becomes aroused at certain stimuli may be aroused because they find the material hot and would want to participate. Or perhaps they just recognize that the person in the picture or video is receiving pleasure and have a sympathetic response to that. Or maybe they’re thinking about how nice it would be for their partner to do that to them.

There’s also the binary flaw of failing to take into account anyone outside of cis people. Once again, bisexuality is being reduced to a binary attraction, despite the repeatedly vocal ways that bisexual people have said that it’s not binary. Moreover, the study is trying to categorize types of arousal or behavior as “masculine” or “feminine,” with lesbians, of course, being described as more “masculine” in their arousal. Apparently sexism goes hand in hand with heterosexism and cissexism. But I didn’t need a research study to tell me that.

I don’t doubt that bisexuality is far more common than we assume, but saying “all women are” or “no men are” in direct contradiction to their stated experience simply because of a badly designed study is something that science really needs to stop doing. It’s an abuse of power and bad research. If someone really wants to study bisexuality, start with a phenomenological study, interviewing individuals about their identity and their experience with their identity. Build from there. Don’t further steal their voices and contribute to prejudice. Use science to highlight and empower who they are. Better yet, have bisexual people conduct their own research on bisexuality. Then you won’t get people who mistakenly think that genital engorgement is the end all be all of sexual orientation.

Rumpelstiltskin: A Fairy Tale Analysis

Ever since reading Women Who Run with the Wolves, I’ve been fascinated by the depth of meaning I often find in fairy tales. Recently, Rumpelstiltskin has really come alive for me as a metaphor.

On some levels, it’s a coming of age story. The main character doesn’t have an identity of her own at first. She is the miller’s daughter. She is known by her relationship to her father. Her tasks are assigned to her by the miller’s boasting and the king’s greed, which both land her with an impossible task—spinning straw into gold.

We all start out being the “daughter” or “son” of someone else, struggling to forge our own identities. And whether it be in a relationship, job, or school, we eventually face something over which it feels impossible to succeed.

We don’t live in a society that prepares us to say “no” to unreasonable demands. We don’t live in a society that respects those who do. Like the miller’s daughter, we often feel trapped in trying to meet other’s expectations…but not just other’s expectations. We internalize those same expectations until they become our own.

And the consequences aren’t negligible. In the story, the miller’s daughter is threatened with death if she fails. In life, when an employer exhibits the same greedy attitude as the king, a job can be at stake. Or maybe it’s a grade for school…or a relationship. And with those on the line, it can often feel like being threatened with death. If we fail, we might lose our ability to provide for ourselves or our career options or our love—in short, the future.

At some point, Rumpelstiltskin shows up. He can spin straw into gold. He can save the miller’s daughter…for a price. The miller’s daughter doesn’t think twice before giving up her necklace. Sure it’s valuable. It might even be an heirloom. But it’s seems like a small sacrifice in the moment.

How many of us get sucked into a similar deal? It might be sleep, time with friends, a principle, a boundary, but it’s something that seems small at the time. Sacrificing it gets us through. Makes us successful. Puts off that dreaded something that we would lose.

But it’s a setup.

In the morning, when the king comes and sees the impossible accomplished, he wants more.  The miller’s daughter is given more straw to spin into gold and locked up for another night. Again, Rumpelstiltskin shows up offering to help, and the miller’s daughter is quick to hand over her ring now too.

In the story, the miller’s daughter does this twice before Rumpelstiltskin ups the ante. But in life, this could go on any number of times. Some of us have more little valuables to bargain with than others. However, the specific number of times isn’t as important as the fact that it becomes habitual—so habitual that the sacrifice no longer even crosses our mind as such. It’s just what we do.

The third time, the miller’s daughter is promised not just the oh-so-appealing promise of keeping her life but also of becoming the queen. She’s promised an identity—and power! Even if that power might be in service to the king that had been making the unreasonable demands in the first place.

But the sacrifice this time is different. It’s not the one time sacrifice of giving up a trinket (symbolically, giving up a night of sleep or ignoring the violation of a boundary). No, this time, it’s big. Rumpelstiltskin has taken all of the little sacrifices already, now he feels the right to demand the future, to demand her first-born child. Habituated to the sacrifices and her own dependence on Rumpelstiltskin, she agrees.

After the third night, the miller’s daughter becomes her own person. She is referred to as the queen now. Does she love the king? Can she love the person who threatened to kill her if she failed to fill his coffers? Presumably, he doesn’t ask her to spin more straw because she doesn’t have any contact with Rumpelstiltskin until she gives birth to her child.

Children are symbolic of our hard work and our creativity. Her child is a product of her union with the king just as our creative enterprises will draw from our previous experiences, but it is genuine to her. Rumpelstiltskin helped her “fake it ‘til she made it.” But her child—that’s her own genuine creation. Her genius, so to speak.

It’s the one thing that Rumpelstiltskin can’t create. He’s good at parlor tricks, doing what others want, scheming his way through life. But he cannot germinate and gestate something of his own within him. He can’t give birth to life. He can’t create; he can only manipulate.

But Rumpelstiltskin comes back to demand the sacrifice of before. This time, though, instead of helping to succeed, he threatens to destroy what has come naturally from the queen. That habit of sacrificing boundaries, well-being, or principles comes back to haunt.

The three days that the queen has to guess Rumpelstiltskin’s name are significant. A perfect mirror of how long it took her to enslave her future to this creature. But the naming part is also significant. Within a psychodynamic perspective, bringing the unconscious to light is the majority of the “cure” of talk therapy.

It’s not that once we understand what is driving us to behave a certain way that we automatically change. We do have to work at it. But it’s far easier to change when we know what we’re up against.

Naming is powerful magic.

It’s only when the queen is able to name Rumpelstiltskin for what he is that she truly comes into her own power, the power to protect her creation and hold her own boundaries.