Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

On Romantic Affairs and Sexual Experience

Posted by Jerry on March 24, 2008

I know of some Objectivists whose moral views on sexuality, romantic love, and virginity have a remarkable resemblance to the views of the Catholic Church on these issues (I am deliberately choosing to not provide links to substantiate my claim). Of course, being an Objectivist does not make you immune to errors of judgment; neither does it mean that an Objectivist would accept anything merely because Ayn Rand said so.

Here is what Ayn Rand had to say on these issues in her Q&A session titled “Of Living Death”:

On the question, “If romantic love includes more than one person, what does this do to the institution of monogamy?”

Ayn Rand: To begin with, if you want to ask it in principle, I’m fine. It is not only permissible, it is virtuous and moral. I have never said that marriage is the only proper form of romantic love. There is nothing wrong with a romantic affair, if there are reasons why a couple cannot be married or if they are too young to marry; and that is not promiscuity, provided it is a serious feeling based on serious values.

Now, as to more than one love, now remember men have free will. It is the Catholic Church that advocates indissoluble marriage. I don’t. And a reason one cannot is because man is not omniscient. He can make a mistake in his choice of partner or the partner may change through the years and therefore a man may fall out of love, or as so can a woman, if the partner he or she has chosen no longer lives up to the proper values. In Atlas Shrugged, … [Hank]… was romantically in love with [Lillian] at first because he thought she was a certain type of woman and she deliberately faked the kind of image she thought he would want and he got disappointed. Now, he was very wrong in carrying out a secret affair with Dagny, but what was wrong with it was not sex, but secrecy—the lie.

An open relationship with as many men as you can meet if you are unlucky—but not several at a time—is appropriate, except that of course, one cannot be as unlucky that often, one would have to then check one’s standard if one makes constant mistakes. But as a principle of romantic love, one cannot say that only a single life-long romance can appropriately be called romantic. That is the ideal. If a couple achieves that, they are extremely lucky and they must have extremely good premises, but one can’t make that the norm. Sometimes it is an exclusive single love for all time; sometimes not. The issue to judge here—the moral principle—is the seriousness of their feeling and one gauges that by what kind of values is it based on. What is it that the person is attracted to in a man or a woman, and why. That is the standard of romantic love.

=======

I have transcribed Rand’s speech verbatim; you can hear the entire Q&A session for yourself by going to the Web site of the Ayn Rand Institute, create an account (if you don’t already have one), and then go to their library of free multi-media resources.

I have edited Rand’s references to events in Atlas Shrugged in order to not have spoilers, because my friend who reads this blog is currently reading the novel. Please keep this in mind when you choose to comment.

7 Responses to “On Romantic Affairs and Sexual Experience”

  1. I think I shall refrain from reading any comments to this posting… just to be safe.
    😉

  2. Charl said

    How thoughtful, Jerr😀

  3. Tim R said

    So from that reading I take it that Ayn Rand would disapprove of multiple partners or open relationships, even if they were attempts at serious relationships? (eg/ polygamist mormons)
    I realise that she would strongly dissaprove of promiscuity.

    I think that you get more happiness from monogamy but it’s hard for me to explain why exactly. I’ve observed open relationships go bad and I’ve also known promiscuous types that I don’t consider happy. But these judgments are empirical and judging happiness is difficult.
    Also, I have learned emotional responses to what sex should be from my Christian conservative upbringing, so it’s a hard topic to think about rationally.

    My reasoning for monogamy is: I think monogamy is more efficient in terms of time and energy. I think the exclusivity of monogamy allows for more trust and also somehow allows a relationship to reach its highest potential. And I think sex and romantic love are extremely important.

    Can anyone give better reasoning for the ideal – monogamous and serious relationship (with the option to quit if required of course).

  4. Ergo said

    Tim,

    Actually, I think Ayn Rand says that one must be extremely careful in passing judgment on another person’s relationship or sex life. She says that the issue is so incredibly complex and the context is vast–you need to know the values involved, the stage in life they each are, their reasons, their physical and environmental contexts, etc.–to be able to reach any objective judgment. And in any case, Rand also points out, it is usually not your business to examine the relationships of others unless it has some direct connection with you (for example, if you are interested in knowing your own partner’s previous romantic experiences in order to evaluate the person’s standard, character, and values).

    That said, I think Rand did not disapprove of romantic affairs and open relationships. Moreover, she positively approved having sexual experiences in serious affairs (see the first line of her quote), meaning that she most certainly did not regard virginity as a virtue in practice or a value to be sought in your partner.

    I agree with you that as a person grows in his understanding of romantic love and maturity, he will seek one ideal, single partner to have the most fulfilling romantic relationship with. He will seek a focal point toward which all his admiration, love, eroticism, and worship will be directed. In this sense, monogamy allows for the realization of an ideal romantic love. I believe Ayn Rand also agrees with this as seen from her quote above.

    However, this type of heightened romance with an ideal partner is very rare and happens only to very few people. Therefore, for some people, having several partners over time (or simultaneously with mutual agreement and honesty) may be a means of discovering their own expressions of values in their partners as well as a means of fulfilling their desires for values that are different in each partner.

    As young teenagers or young adults, having a healthy romantic life is necessary, important, and virtuous because it is an inseperable aspect of experiencing the joy of existence and the pursuit of happiness based on rational values. Young people should not seek to remain virgins in the hope of finding their ideal, life-long romantic partner. Such is a delusional form of romanticism.

  5. Tim R said

    OK first I should say that by “open relationship”, I mean more than 1 partner at a time. But I think Ayn Rand means (see start of 3rd paragraph), not officially married.

    I totally agree that if your marriage has gone bad over the years for whatever reason that an honest affair or a divorce is a good idea. I also see that someone’s optimal romantic situation at a point in time can vary and be quite unique to them.

    I assume Ayn Rand was quoting this around the 1960s in the US – a culture of conservative Christian approach to marriage. A culture of heavy sexual censorship, belief that masturbation was somehow wrong and that pre-marital sex was wrong, and that marriage was a union with God as well as people etc. In this culture it would be necessary to tell people, they don’t have to rush into marriage, that virginity is not a virtue in itself, that there are legitimate reasons for divorce, and that you shouldn’t stick with a bad marriage, particularly an abusive marriage. Even in this day and age, listening to the marriage vows of the last wedding I attended, I wasn’t sure if the bride was marrying the groom, or marrying Jesus himself!

    So when Ayn Rand speaks of having an affair, I assume that she would be imagining a situation where your romantic love would be mainly directed at the new partner and your old spousal relationship would be more like a friendship, or co-habitation. Agreed?

    However I still find it hard to put into words why the optimal romantic situation for mature adults would be 1 serious partner.
    It seems to make sense that with 1 focal point as opposed to 2/3 focal points you can achieve more pleasure and love intensity – because (and this is my attempted explanation) 1) it would take time and effort to achieve serious intense relationships with 2/3 partners and you’d have to neglect other parts of your life and therefore would reduce your relationship worthiness 2) Also there’s the privacy and trust elements of knowing someone elses’ consciousness deeply.
    I’m not that well versed in the objectivist literature, so I’ll go to the Lexicon and see what references come up on romantic love.

  6. well advice and sharing,I will buy one this good shirt for me .thanks

  7. […] and “moochers.” She was vociferously anti-religious, pro-choice, a sexual libertine and critical of the idea of democracy. She kept a journal in which she proclaimed, ‘I want to […]

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