The Concept of Privilege - A Rant.

Cleo

New member
Yes, married people have privileges. Not all married people lord those privileges over single people. Couples who have been together a long time have a rhythm and mutual understanding, but is that a privilege? I would not wish to get involved with a man who is in another relationship that he holds higher and more important than the one he has with me, as I prefer egalitarian poly, but I would call that a couple-centric attitude, not "couple privilege." I think that some people are specifically talking about veto power when they cry couple privilege. And while, yes, I would walk away as fast as my legs could take me if a guy told me his wife or gf had veto power, and I myself have used the term "Holy Dyad" to refer to couples who have these sorts of couple-centric relationships, I don't go crying about privilege. I just think it's unnecessary.

This. It's about couple-centrism.. putting yourself as a couple in the center, instead of yourself as an individual. Couple-centric couples tend to act 'priviledged' though.. or maybe 'entitled' is the more correct word? like they are entitled, have the right, to certain privileges?

I'm married, but couple-centrism makes me want to run. And not just in poly situations. Mono couples can be infuriatingly couple-centric as well.
 

Emm

Stealth Mod
The word privilege, as it's usually used in these conversations, is rarely about the actions of the person observed to hold it but rather about how those around the person (or in this case couple) treat them.

If I were a man in my current job (military), I would have the privilege of knowing that when I walk into a meeting at least 90% of the other attendees will be of the same gender as me (I've been keeping a tally in my diary). When I need to speak to others at a similar level of authority I would have the privilege of knowing that I would be dealing with someone of my own gender. When I start a new job in a new office I would have the privilege of knowing that I will be judged by my actions rather than my appearance. If I were to become angry that my instructions to a subordinate weren't being followed and expressed my displeasure I would have the privilege of knowing that nobody would make jokes about menstrual cycles. When a new item of uniform clothing is issued I would have the privilege of knowing that it was designed to fit my body shape (seriously, I don't know what they measured when designing our old shorts, but it wasn't a human female).

None of that says that a male in my position is in any way lording it over me that he's male and I'm not or that he feels entitled to more respect than I get, but he's starting from a position of comfort that I'll never know. The fact that he has never asked to be treated any differently doesn't reduce the fact that, simply by being a male officer rather than a female officer, he is demonstrably treated differently in countless ways every day.

In the case of couple privilege, it exists whether the people in the couple use it to fuel their sense of entitlement or not. When an outsider assumes that the members of a couple will act a certain way and makes room for that to happen without friction then that's couple privilege in action. By asking people to examine their privilege nobody's saying that they should reject it out of hand or feel guilty about it, just that they should realise that not everyone has the same advantages.
 

Natja

New member
Emm, that is a very powerful statement, thank you. It was precisely what I meant by unexamined privilege.

I have recently been on the receiving end of some people reacting badly against being told they have privilege, personally I think they were entirely ignorant of the term but I have seen people get defensive about it before because they take it as an accusation, rather than it just being, what upsets me would be people who deny it and get hostile.

The situation I am referring to hurt many women (myself amongst them) and denied them a safe space, I was gutted. I still get a bit emotional when I think about it.

Natja
 

Emm

Stealth Mod
Part of the problem may be that the word has different meaning in a casual or conversational context than it does in a sociological context.

Just as non-scientists often equate the word "theory" with a wild-assed guess rather than as an explanation based on observation, experimentation and reasoning that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena, "privilege" is casually understood to be a special right either gained unearned through birth or by deliberately stomping all over those less fortunate, whereas in a more academic context it can simply mean accidentally having an advantage that others accidentally lack.

If someone feels you're accusing them of deliberately putting people down in order to gain advantage for themselves when they've done no such thing it's no wonder they become defensive. Unfortunately the English language is imprecise in just enough places to allow that sort of miscommunication.
 
Great conversation.

Annabel: Yes, I do see patterns in relationship forums for sure; it seems like a lot of that is centred around inexperience, the loss of ideals and having people's limitations pushed way beyond comfort zone.

I have a lot of respect for the way you do poly, and totally hear what you're saying - it helps it make a lot more sense to me to have those quotes, as it provides context for a theory.

BG: Hell no, there is no attempt at justifying a lack of integrity in partners, ever. Everyone has unique experiences in poly; isn't learning/growing/becoming aware on a more and more subtle level of relationships what it's all about?

Emm: "Part of the problem may be that the word has different meaning in a casual or conversational context than it does in a sociological context.

Just as non-scientists often equate the word "theory" with a wild-assed guess rather than as an explanation based on observation, experimentation and reasoning that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena, "privilege" is casually understood to be a special right either gained unearned through birth or by deliberately stomping all over those less fortunate, whereas in a more academic context it can simply mean accidentally having an advantage that others accidentally lack.

If someone feels you're accusing them of deliberately putting people down in order to gain advantage for themselves when they've done no such thing it's no wonder they become defensive. Unfortunately the English language is imprecise in just enough places to allow that sort of miscommunication
."


This perfectly sums up the reason for me creating this post. Exactly what I was reaching for, but couldn't grasp - thank you!
 
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Tonberry

New member
It's always difficult to come up with instances of your own privilege, as you mostly notice when you're treated badly, not when you are not, and I've been in a relationship or another for something like 10 years now. But here are a few I can think of:

- I can mention my relationship status and to this date nobody has implied that because of that relationship status, I must be unhappy, or that this status is caused by being a bad person.

- When people have met me recently and they invite me to something, what they add ("and your boyfriend/husband") actually matches my reality, so I do not have to correct them, nor do I feel like I'm somehow not good enough or different.

- People do not constantly try to introduce me to people I have never met and try to get me to date them, despite my lack of interest and my telling them I'm not interested.

- When I walk with my boyfriend, I do not get harassed, flirted with and then insulted due to refusing advances from complete strangers.

- I can adopt in many countries where I could not, were I single. I had already had a child, it would not be assumed that I am a lesser or worthless parent due to my relationship status.

- I can get tax benefits in many countries where I could not, were I single (requires a certain of time living together, and in the case of some countries, marriage).

- I can get medical benefits (varies based on country, usually requires marriage).

- I can get trust and opportunities based on being introduced as my partner's girlfriend. I can get invited to events based on being his girlfriend as he gets a +1. both of us can be invited to anything that someone organises for couples.

- I have someone to turn to when things go wrong.

- I have someone I can have sex with if I'm horny, without having to worry about danger as I already know and trust him.

- If I turn on a TV, read a book or even listen to a song, my relationship model (being in a relationship) is the most common model, I can be certain to see it everywhere. Furthermore, I do not see my current relationship status being portrayed as a phase to go past as soon as possible, or a terrible result of things going wrong.

- I have access to a fair number of deals on a variety of things that have a reduced price for couples (or sometimes for any number of people larger than just one).

- I can go to the restaurant with my boyfriend and not be stared at as the weird/poor/sad woman eating alone, even though when I did it as a single I always enjoyed myself. Instead, people who come up to me will be telling me I look happy, cute with my partner, or that I'm lucky. They will not tell me how terrible or sorry they feel for me. Same thing with going to the movies.

- If I have a bad day and get frustrated or angry, I won't have to hear people comment that it's because I'm single, or that it's the reason I'm single.

These are a few I can think of. I know there are many more, but as I said, it's hard to think when most of these are the way you would assume and want everyone to be treated.
Some of these privileges disappear when you're in a relationship with someone of your gender. Some of them disappear when you're in a relationship with more than one person (which can lead couples to try and hide additional partners in order to keep their privileges). All of them are things I have personally experienced/had to deal with or witnessed someone experience/have to deal with.

I don't feel guilty for any of these things, nor should I. But that certainly doesn't mean they don't exist. And it doesn't mean that now that I don't have to live with them all the time, everywhere, they're not a big deal anymore. It can still be hard to live with when everything around you constantly tells you that being single means specific things about yourself, that it's not "right", that it's something you should change, that you're sad or pathetic or less worthy, and so on.
 
Thank You!

Ahhh!!! That makes more sense Tonberry, thank you!

I would say though, that a lot of the below could be enjoyed with a friend (2 for 1s, going to dinner together, not getting harassed, etc.) I understand that the privilege referred to is a pretty specific context, but when a lot of those things can be experienced with a friend, a father, a co-worker, it gets muddy for me. Plus 1's are often friends for me at events, too.

But! It's a little less foggy now; seems like it's all centred around bad behavior when I've heard it applied, instead of just about the benefits of two people together.
 

Natja

New member
Part of the problem may be that the word has different meaning in a casual or conversational context than it does in a sociological context.............
If someone feels you're accusing them of deliberately putting people down in order to gain advantage for themselves when they've done no such thing it's no wonder they become defensive

Definitely, I have been caught by that before so in that last explosive case I made sure to go on to define the context so as to make sure they knew exactly what I meant. Alas, I was told that I was patronising her by assuming she did not know and doesn't matter because it is offensive anyway.....

I think she was lying through her teeth but never mind, it is all water under the bridge now.
 

Tonberry

New member
I think the times it's used as an accusation in poly contexts is when people act badly in order to preserve their privilege. It doesn't mean they're guilty of anything for having the privileges in the first place. But it doesn't justify acting badly.

For example, if two people were in an established couple and got used to the perk, chances are they know if they come out as poly or as part of a triad, V or other configuration, they will lose the perks they got from being "normal". They will be considered weirdos and so on. Therefore they might try to still appear as a couple, in effect hiding the relaitonship(s) with any new partner(s), since they need to "pick one" to introduce as their partner, and usually many people already know one person, and it's simpler to keep the same person for everything so you don't forget who knows who, or run into trouble if two people who know you as dating someone different run into each other and talk about you.
As a result, a third person is excluded from sharing privileges you get from being in a non-hidden relationship (which contains some advantages listed above, but also things like being able to hold hands or kiss in public, being able to talk about your partner(s), etc) and still gets treated as single (if they don't have an "official, out of the closet" partner too) even though they are not.
When their partners are invited to something, they're never the +1, because it would be weird. When they see their partners and other people are present, they have to make sure not to kiss, hold hands or use affectionate language. They might have to hide their relationship from their friends and family, too, if that's needed so the couple can stay in the closet.

All of this would happen because the couple wants to keep their privilege. They don't want to have to deal with discrimination. But they're fine with their partner having to deal with all the crap, so they can keep getting benefits they got used to. That's not okay.

Simply having the privileges is one thing, and it's neither good nor bad. In many cases, a privilege is really just a lack of being treated like crap, and it should be everyone's case rather than being restricted to some people.
Wanting the privileges is a different thing, and a very understandable one. Wanting to be treated with respect is pretty universal I would think.
But throwing someone else under the bus for the sake of keeping your privilege, and then denying that you're doing it, because you might not even realise it, that's when you're being shitty. Because you met someone second rather than first, they don't get to be introduced to your friends, family, coworker as your partner. They don't get to have dates with you in places where you could be seen. They don't get to talk about you to their family, friends and coworkers. They don't get to be invited to important events in your life. Had you met this person first, at that stage of your relationship, with the same level of commitment, they would have access to all those things. Instead, they don't.

Some people look at it, and instead of saying "this suck" and seeing what they can do to be more fair, they react by saying "Well you should be happy you get to be with me at all!" It's quite natural to want to preserve your privileges, especially when they are things everyone should be entitled to, but it's not fine to treat other people terribly because you're too afraid of losing them, and it's important for people to notice they're doing that, and that it's NOT "normal".

Treating someone you've been with for 10 years differently from someone you've just met is normal. Treating someone you've been for 2 years less well than you did your first partner after 2 days or 2 weeks or 2 months, simply because they didn't come first, and expecting them to be fine staying at a "not even as many rights as you'd have if I'd just met you and didn't have an other partner" for the rest of the relationship is not, in my opinion, fair or realistic.
 

nycindie

Active member
This. It's about couple-centrism.. putting yourself as a couple in the center, instead of yourself as an individual. Couple-centric couples tend to act 'priviledged' though.. or maybe 'entitled' is the more correct word? like they are entitled, have the right, to certain privileges?

I'm married, but couple-centrism makes me want to run. And not just in poly situations. Mono couples can be infuriatingly couple-centric as well.

Yes! It's the sense of entitlement that is so barf-inducing.
 

ThatGirlInGray

New member
I would say though, that a lot of the below could be enjoyed with a friend (2 for 1s, going to dinner together, not getting harassed, etc.) I understand that the privilege referred to is a pretty specific context, but when a lot of those things can be experienced with a friend, a father, a co-worker, it gets muddy for me. Plus 1's are often friends for me at events, too.

The social pressure to be in a relationship really is ridiculous. And while I know single people CAN enjoy some of the same privileges as a couple by doing something with a friend/relative/etc, sometimes that adds a whole new dimension of awkwardness and possible negativity to deal with. Instead of "Oh, couldn't you find a date??" you get "Oh, how long have you two been dating? You're not?! Why NOT?!? You'd be SUCH a cute couple..." or "You couldn't find a REAL date?!?" etc. There is such a horrific stigma, still, against being single.

Now you and I, BP, can ignore (if we're not already oblivious to) the stares, whispers, snide comments, and general nosiness of people, especially if we have no particular connection with them. But not everyone can, nor should they have to, imo.

Also, Tonberry, thank you for, once again, writing out my thoughts better than I ever could!
 
True that.

Good point ThatGirl; it totally wouldn't bother me, and I wouldn't pay much attention to people who had nothing else to do besides judge me (Do people judge me? They must! Who knows? It's none of my business what other people think of me:D).... but I do have two girlfriends that have never had a boyfriend, and it would sure bug the shit out of them - they've told me as much. Makes perfect sense - thank you.
 

hyperskeptic

New member
Children; Obligations

It's notable that no one has yet discussed children and child-rearing in this thread.

One of the functions of marriage is to provide a stable environment for children as they grow up; the traditional model is for the two individuals who produce a child to commit to being and working together to raise that child.

(I hasten to add that, of course, this doesn't always work out in practice, and other models are workable, as well, as more and more people are beginning to realize.)

The point is that part of the dynamic between my spouse (Vix) and me is that we are raising two daughters, and we are committed to being together at least long enough to launch them into the world. I think of it as a binding obligation I have to the girls, and to Vix.

I don't intend to have children with any other partner, nor can I reasonably expect any other partner to take on any of the responsibilities for raising my children.

This means that any other relationships I might have would be different in character from my relationship with Vix, and that my relationship with Vix and the girls may have more of a claim on my time and attention than other relationships.

It also means that there are social pressures and expectations and, yes, advantages that swirl around us, serving to reinforce the priority of my marriage and my family as a social institution.

That said, I don't think any of this would excuse bad behavior toward other partners, or veto power, or any of that nonsense.

It just complicates everything. Really.

I have sometimes wondered if I should even have any other relationships, at this point, because the obligations of my current relationship and all the various social pressures on me - tied to advantages and status I really can't give up just yet, including a career that makes it possible for me to raise my children in security! - would make it so difficult to hold up my obligations to my other partners.

It occurs to me that one thing I'm doing here is shifting away from the language of privilege and entitlement and toward the language of obligations.

What obligations would I have toward other partners?

At minimum, I have the obligation to respect their standing as free, independent human beings with goals and choices of their own, to protect and support their capacity to choose freely. If I can't live up even to that basic obligation toward another partner because of the obligations and pressures and advantages of my existing relationships, then I have no business even thinking of myself as polyamorous.
 
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BoringGuy

Banned
Hyperskeptic, you make a good point. Not the only good point, but it's odd that no one has mentioned "the children" until now.

That said, it pisses me off when people ask me "but why did you get married if you don't want to have kids?" that is a good way to get into my "not-friend zone".
 

hyperskeptic

New member
Path Dependency

Some people look at it, and instead of saying "this suck" and seeing what they can do to be more fair, they react by saying "Well you should be happy you get to be with me at all!" It's quite natural to want to preserve your privileges, especially when they are things everyone should be entitled to, but it's not fine to treat other people terribly because you're too afraid of losing them, and it's important for people to notice they're doing that, and that it's NOT "normal".

Mulling over the ideas in this thread, it occurs to me to introduce a further twist into thinking about privilege and, especially, entitlement.

Maybe the more basic problem has less to do with giving priority to one relationship over others, but in assuming that one is entitled a particular relationship or kind of relationship. This is what I read into Tonberry's spot-on characterization of a deeply offensive attitude: "you should be happy you get to be with me at all!" This, to me, says: "I am entitled to your unquestioning allegiance or compliance in exchange for the tremendous pleasure of being with me."

Maybe this is why the dismay of frustrated unicorn-hunters is so hard to take. Some of them, at least, seem to feel cheated that the world is not giving them what they want . . . because they think they are entitled to get what they want. The world owes it to them to provide a single and suitably attractive and compliant bisexual female, on precisely the terms they offer - and she'll be lucky to have them.

Turning this back on myself, I like to think I'm open to the possibility of having more than one relationship at a time, but I don't think I'm entitled to having more than one relationship, nor am I entitled to any particular relationship with any particular person I am drawn to.

In fact, I think the odds are against me, because of choices I've already made and responsibilities I've already taken on. As already noted, I have been married for 20 years. I am committed to a career path from which it would be difficult and very risky to deviate: I have an advanced degree in an academic field, and tenure. I'm also in a position in which my "morals" may someday be subject to scrutiny, and I work in the Deep South. I have two daughters to raise, which tends to make me risk-averse.

I am not complaining. I simply note the path that led me here, and the constraints those choices now place on me. I have no sense of grievance about this, because these have been my choices in a context that has provided me - tall, straight, white, middle-class male whose native dialect is broadcast-standard American English and who is, to all appearances, in a safely conventional family situation - with any number of advantages.

I am not complaining, I have no sense of grievance, because I do not think the world owes me a girlfriend.
 
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hyperskeptic

New member
Hyperskeptic, you make a good point. Not the only good point, but it's odd that no one has mentioned "the children" until now.

That said, it pisses me off when people ask me "but why did you get married if you don't want to have kids?" that is a good way to get into my "not-friend zone".

Indeed. I did not mean to imply that having children is the only reason to get married. I said only that it was one of the functions of the conventional model of marriage.

There are all sorts of reasons to get married. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
 

BoringGuy

Banned
Indeed. I did not mean to imply that having children is the only reason to get married. I said only that it was one of the functions of the conventional model of marriage.

There are all sorts of reasons to get married. Let a thousand flowers bloom.



Did you think i was directing that statement at you? Do you ever say that to married people who don't want to have kids? I don't recall reading anything like that in your post.
 
The different between privilege and being a jerk.

Reading through the responses makes me realize why I wrote this thread in a clearer way. I had some serious questions about why people were using the term 'couple privilege' with an almost accusatory tone. A 'holier than thou' attitude has been creeping into forums and chat groups that borders on shaming that chafes at me. I enjoy certain privileges by being part of a couple. That's a recognition of something that has been built over centuries amongst the human community. Recognized. There's no shame in it, nor is there shame around privilege of being a caucasian woman - I'm aware of it.... so now what?

It seems to be the equivalent of saying that someone is more likely to be a racist if they are caucasian. Having travelled extensively and listened to others in different countries, reading extensively, it becomes apparant that EVERYONE has the capacity to be racist, and that being caucasian has nothing to do with that human tendency. Being of Anglo-Saxon descent doesn't inherently imply that I am going to be a racist, and being part of a couple doesn't mean I'm going to be a jerk about it, but it seems that I am being lumped in with people who are with the way that the term 'couple privilege' has been used in various places.

It seems that the idea of couple privilege is being married to the idea of bad behaviour, and that is something that I will actively speak against. The naive or idealistic approach of 'unicorn hunters' is not the same thing as 'couple privilege'. Certainly there may be overlap for those that are not particularly conscious, and I can see trying to draw attention to selfish and alienating behaviour by talking about privilege, but to unify the two as though they belong together doesn't jive with me.

So when did people start associating one with the other? And how does couple privilege go from a recognition to an inflammatory term? When I offer perspectives against, say, living in Tunisia, it's not to imply that "you should be grateful to be with me" it's to shine some light on the fact that these are pretty nice challenges to be having. It doesn't mean, "be happy with what you get" it's more a statement around the extent of the privileges that we all enjoy in our developed lives (BG made a great point about even being able to go on a computer and talk to other likeminded people - talk about an amazing gift there). It's about perspective, for me and when there is suffering in my world, it DOES help to zoom up to a bigger picture. I like the quote, 'when you point a finger at someone, there are three pointed back at you' and I feel like it's applicable to the idea of privilege. Nobody is exempt from some form of privilege over another demographic in our world; and absolutely, it's immportant for me to have the perspective to recogize those privileges. Having perspective doesn't mean I'm exempt from working to be a better person - if anything it allows a deep sense of gratitude to sink into my being, and gratitude cancels out entitlement and creates humility, no?

I feel like there is a big difference between educating someone who is floundering in bad decisions, and attaching the words 'couple privilege' to their behaviour. Selfish is as selfish does, and I believe there is a big difference between being a jerk, and having privilege. Absolutely, the two CAN go together, but they're not inherently linked, and I think the 'holier than thou' attitude has got to be removed to prevent alienation within the poly community.
 
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Natja

New member
o

Maybe this is why the dismay of frustrated unicorn-hunters is so hard to take. Some of them, at least, seem to feel cheated that the world is not giving them what they want . . . because they think they are entitled to get what they want. The world owes it to them to provide a single and suitably attractive and compliant bisexual female, on precisely the terms they offer - and she'll be lucky to have them.

Oh yes, this is something that frustrates me when I see it 'Can't for for us to meet our special third, we know she is out there...' then later on 'When is she going to arrive? We have have contacted SO many women, the women here are so fake!' 'You are all being SO judgemental, there is someone out there for us, we just know it, don't try to crush our dreams just because it did not work out for you, we know we are looking for a niche but we won't stop until we find her'.

Urgh....
 
ItI don't intend to have children with any other partner, nor can I reasonably expect any other partner to take on any of the responsibilities for raising my children.

This means that any other relationships I might have would be different in character from my relationship with Vix, and that my relationship with Vix and the girls may have more of a claim on my time and attention than other relationships.

It also means that there are social pressures and expectations and, yes, advantages that swirl around us, serving to reinforce the priority of my marriage and my family as a social institution.

It just complicates everything. Really.

I have sometimes wondered if I should even have any other relationships, at this point, because the obligations of my current relationship and all the various social pressures on me - tied to advantages and status I really can't give up just yet, including a career that makes it possible for me to raise my children in security! - would make it so difficult to hold up my obligations to my other partners.

It occurs to me that one thing I'm doing here is shifting away from the language of privilege and entitlement and toward the language of obligations.

What obligations would I have toward other partners?

At minimum, I have the obligation to respect their standing as free, independent human beings with goals and choices of their own, to protect and support their capacity to choose freely. If I can't live up even to that basic obligation toward another partner because of the obligations and pressures and advantages of my existing relationships, then I have no business even thinking of myself as polyamorous.

I have been the secondary partner to two people who have children and were married. I have also dated people who have children and were not married. In both cases, I deeply respected their responsibilities, obligations, challenges and joys around having kids, and when they were married, extended my respect and care to their partner in all ways that I knew how. I never felt like it made our relationship less than - it was just different, and in my experience, different is good. When I am involved with someone, I feel like it's important to accept them as they come; not as they could be, or as I might want them to be. If someone's life doesn't work for me, I am capable of stepping back; I don't feel like that decision has to be made for me. One of my partners DID make that decision for me - they felt it was unfair to give me so little time, and they had so many obligations that they couldn't incorporate me into their life in a way that THEY felt was meaningful.... however, in my reality, our connect was SUPER meaningful, and I loved the fact that I didn't have to carve out huge chunks of time from my busy life to be with him. When it worked, it worked - I didn't have unrealistic expectations of what he had to offer, and was fully on board with him. If anything his commitment to his family, career and friends, and time for self made me respect him even more, and made the time that we had together even more special. The ultimate decision to end our relationship because of some perceived shortcoming on his ability to give me/us what we needed was... hurtful, insulting and offensive. Not everyone requires 'equality' in that sense of the word - lord knows I don't! I have a full life, other partnerships, family, friends, a career - I love the time I get with my partners, but am not resentfully expecting more than they have to give while maintaining their own balance and equalibrium.

So date without shame! And share your love - just because it can't be 'equal' doesn't mean that you're not going to bring your same, amazing qualities that make you who you are to another person in a meaningful way. Be honest about what you have to offer, and let others decide if it's right for them. You don't offer small change just because you have a wife and children - you offer your heart, affection, attention and love from a heart big and fearless enough to love and be present for your family, and others.... and what could be better than that?? The only 'obligation' my partners have to be is to be open, honest and protect my sexual safety - the rest is up to us to define, and provide meaning in each other's lives regardless of our other obligations and responsibilities.
 
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