SEE UPDATE BELOW
As some of you might know, I'm currently in an open relationship with my girlfriend, Jill. Originally, this was a pragmatic decision: we knew we were going to be apart for at least a year, and possibly much longer (depending on where she decides to go grad school). But after spending some time thinking about it, I also realized I had some philosophical issues with closed relationships -- namely, they reminded too much of a property claim.
Property, in its simplest form, is that to which you have the right to exclusive use (and can correspondingly exclude others from). In a very real sense, that's precisely what a closed relationship is: a mutual grant of exclusivity, reducing at least one element of another's personhood to the level of property. Ambrose Bierce, witty as always, defined marriage as "the union of a man, a woman, and two slaves, making in all: two." (You can see more arguments along these lines in this excerpt from the book "Open", though I find the author's tone quite off-putting).
Now, part of me finds the above argument at least a bit anachronistic. This is the 21st century -- nobody views women as "property" anymore, right? Well, wrong. A lot of bloggers have taken apart the risible Dennis Prager's sex advice column, in which he advises married women that they should have sex with their husbands even when they don't want to. The most thorough fisking of this monstrosity can be found here, and there have been plenty more around the web.
But the fact is Prager is a prominent author, who regrettably is reasonably influential in some right circles. Consequently, I also think Spencer Ackerman's short post needs to be kept at the fore: It's easy to laugh at Prager -- a twice divorced man -- acting like he understands how to keep a marriage together. But women get abused because men read arguments like Prager's and decide that sex is their birthright. And since Prager insists on defiling my religion by writing from a putatively "Jewish" perspective, I have to add that Jewish women -- particularly from very religious backgrounds -- are particularly vulnerable to this sort of poisonous ideology.
The point being, the property aspect to how we view relationships is nowhere near dead. I'd like to think of it as part of a bygone era, but it isn't. And so it is important to at least challenge social norms which lie, even in part, on a view of another's person which can go so badly, badly wrong.
UPDATE: Well this post was one of my bigger epic fails in awhile. First of all, my girlfriend was -- quite legitimately -- a bit annoyed I posted it. The thought process was something we had briefly kicked around, but was something she wasn't entirely on board with and something I knew she wasn't totally on board with. I can post my own haphazard thoughts as they come, but she has the right to know that every step in our relationship won't be put onto the web in real time (don't worry -- she pre-cleared this update before it went up). So the first and most important apology goes out to Jill.
Meanwhile, the emergent consensus in the comments section is that I'm being a dick. Hard to blame them, given the aforementioned apology #1. Anyway, I think it's pretty clear that this argument has a couple of serious holes in it (as usual, Jill's instincts prove vastly superior to my own). I still don't think it's totally groundless, and in general if I didn't post theories and ideas that were somewhat inchoate, I wouldn't have a blog. More importantly, some other folks touched on something that I think is evidently true -- much of the "problem" here stems less from deep philosophical insights than from the more mundane fact that I'm trying to mediate between being 22 and wanting to experience the big wide world, and possessing the horrible misfortune of having already found a beautiful, intelligent, sexy, witty girlfriend whom I adore and love more than anyone in the universe. I know, woe is me.
Jill and I are looking at at least another half year apart, and perhaps a lot longer. And we're still trying to figure out the best way to make sure we're both happy while maintaining the incredible bond we've developed over the last three years (two as friends, and one as a couple). As I've now demonstrated in rather humiliating fashion, there will be missteps along with the way. But the important thing is I know she loves me, and she knows I love her. And fortunately, that gives me (well, both of us, but I tend to use it more often) a generous cushion as we head out together on our way.