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Love is Not a Commodity: A Relationship Transition Wish-List for Progressives


Here’s what I want: A radical new notion of love, and an accompanying radical new notion of loss. Of loss, healing, redemption, and forgiveness. Radical forgiveness is asymmetrical, not reciprocal. Radical forgiveness transcends the question of whether you have been adequately forgiven by the other person.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
–1 Corinthians 13:4-7

You’ve just been dumped from a long-term relationship. Maybe the dumping was ugly. You hurt like hell. Maybe you feel like you’ve been cast out to sea. Maybe you feel like you’ve been left inside a burning house. Something inside you is about to decide whether to panic, or to forgive. And of course it’s not that simple.

I once knew a Wobbly (an Industrial Workers of the World activist) who not only threatened to kill the guy with whom his ex ran off, but held a grudge–a murderous grudge–against the guy long after his ex was no longer with that nefarious lothario. Apparently, it’s not just the working class and the employing class who must fight an inevitable battle–it’s also this Wobbly and whoever dares “steal” his girl. While this was clearly an atypical Wobbly, too many progressives are unwilling or unable to apply the ideals they impose on the political world to their personal relationships.

Here’s what I want: If I date you, and you like how I treat you, I’d like for your ex to send me a thank you card. “Dear Mr. McGregor: Thank you for taking good care of my ex-wife. I will love her until the end of my life, and although losing her caused me great pain, her happiness is more important than my pain, and so I thank you, and wish the best for both of you.”

Instead, here’s what I get: “McGregor: Leave my wife alone, or I’ll fucking kill you.” Dude, she’s not even your wife anymore. Or if she is, in some formal sense, she isn’t in spirit. You know that you can’t argue someone into staying in love with you, right? You can’t orate, or persuade, or reason someone from leaving you. Moral, theological, and utilitarian arguments all fail. Being gone from you is her condition. It’s her context. It’s your context too. It’s your material condition.

And as I climb into an empty bed
Oh well. Enough said.
I know it’s over–still I cling
I don’t know where else I can go
–The Smiths

Here’s what I want: I want your ex to love you as much as he or she ever claimed to. I want him or her to want your happiness, above all else, with no regard for the bruised egos or the deprivation of his or her own lost love. You left your ex because it was time to move on, or because your ex hurt you, or because you fell in love with someone else. Why isn’t (s)he grateful for the time you had together, instead of resentful that you left? Why does your ex say that you were “taken away” from him or her? Why does your ex use the language of commodification and possession? What’s up with the treating you as property?

All suffering comes from wanting your own happiness.
Complete awakening arises from the intention to help others.
So, exchange completely your happiness
For the suffering of others — this is the practice of a bodhisattva.
–37 Practices of the Bodhisattva, Verse 11

Granted, your ex’s heart is breaking, (s)he is scared, (s)he is bruised and not behaving the way (s)he might wish to behave in the best of all possible worlds.

Look, nobody’s at their best after having been dumped. We need a rapid response network. We need to quickly talk these unlucky, jilted progressives down. And we really, really need to remind them –remind each other, constantly– that our principles require letting people go who want to be let go: whether those principles are the autonomy of every individual, or the non-property nature of love and relationships.

In other words, our solution for heartbreak is the same as our solution for poverty, conflict, and alienation: solidarity. Knowing we’re not alone. Surrounding ourselves with people willing to give, and to live, asymmetrically.

Because if we want to remake the world based on principles of cooperation and communalism, we need to apply those same principles to our personal relationships.

“There was a pretty prince of Troy named Paris. He and a Greek queen ran off together. Her husband called the other kings of Greece together, and they went to Troy, a great army in a thousand beaked ships, to get the woman back. Helen was her name.”
“What did they want her back for?”
“Her husband’s honor demanded it.”
“I should think his honor demanded that he divorce her and find himself a decent wife.”
“Lavinia, these people were Greeks.”
–Ursula K. Le Guin, “Lavinia”

Consider one piece of the legend of Helen of Troy. Helen’s father awarded her to Menelaus, king of Mycenaean Sparta, based on Menelaus’s wealth and power. When Paris seduced (or kidnapped) her, Menelaus started a war–just as any wealthy tyrant whose property had been stolen would do.

Is there a story of a king letting his beautiful wife go? Of an emperor or aristocrat giving leave to “his” woman, out of love, charity, and humility? No, but we could use such a legend for our own time.

In that legend, Menelaus says to Paris: “Well, good luck old boy. I cherished every moment I had with her. Treat her right.” And Paris says “I’m awfully sorry about this, Menelaus,” and the old king nods in understanding. And lots of conscripted soldiers don’t die.

One Response “Love is Not a Commodity: A Relationship Transition Wish-List for Progressives”

  1. skyrocket
    May 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    I love everything expressed here. Love is a revolutionary process and proscribing old practices and viewpoints is beneath us. I’m no advocate for free love, but we have an opportunity to find people who truly feed us and that may very well change as our lives and purposes change and evolve. We have a responsibility to grow new paradigms of love that include equity, non binding treatises, and complete honesty. We have a chance to make the horrors of separation and divorce more like a peaceful transition from one phase of life to another. Complacency in any movement equals death, why not in love?

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About Thad McGregor

Pseudonym for a writer who has been around the global block, leaving a pile of lovers, political victories, and empty beer bottles in his wake.