Strong love is not codependency

In various places on the internet, people like to give relationship advice. One type of advice people like to give is about what kind of love they think is healthy.

Sometimes, a person seeking help with their relationship might describe their feelings about their significant other as follows:
  • "I couldn't live without my SO."
  • "I can't imagine life without my SO."
When a person writes that, someone will inevitably respond:

"It's wrong to say you can't live without someone. Saying that is giving them power over your life no one should have. This is unhealthy codependency."

No. It isn't.

First of all, what the person is saying isn't: "I am 100% for sure going to kill myself if this relationship fails." What they're saying is: "This relationship is very valuable to me, and losing it would be very painful. Ending this relationship is not an option I will consider at this point." Phrasing this as "I can't live without my SO" is merely saying it dramatically, and succinctly.

Second, merely having strong feelings about someone isn't codependency.

Codependency is an unhealthy type of relationship where one person has a pathological condition which they have no intention of overcoming - usually narcissism or drug use - and the other person lets themselves be psychologically or physically abused, because to them, this is preferable to ending the relationship. For something to be called a codependency, there has to be a relationship, and there has to be an unhealthy, abusive dynamic.

Strong love may enable codependency to happen, to the extent it may weaken one's will. But merely feeling strong love isn't codependency. A person may feel very strong love, without letting themselves be abused by their loved one. A relationship where one or both partners feel they "can't live" without the other might not involve any pathology, or any abusive dynamic at all. If there is abusive tendency, a person can stand up for themselves, and resist a codependency, and thereby cause the relationship to end, even if this causes them to suffer greatly, and even if they could not imagine life without their partner.

For some people, life without their significant other actually isn't worth living. A couple might live together happily for 50 years; then one dies, and within a year, the other dies too, because they don't have the will to continue. This isn't codependency. It's wrong and presumptuous to imply that what this couple feels for each other is somehow unhealthy, or incorrect.


The perceived threats of non-monogamy to children

A significant number of people think that parents being polyamorous, or swingers, or in an open relationship, is somehow harmful to children. When parents are divorced, this is often used to keep children away from a parent involved in completely ethical non-monogamy. In a recent /r/polyamory post, someone asked what grounds people have to maintain this prejudice.

This is the kind of question for which it's difficult to find a rational answer. One must resort to asking people who actually have these opinions, and figure out their thought process based on their evasions and non-replies.

To many of us practicing some of these lifestyles, it's obvious there's no danger at all. But try to explain that to people whose range of opinions might include that homosexuality is an abomination, and that gay people should not adopt children - presumably because they'll raise them to be homosexual, or tolerant of homosexuality, which they basically consider just as bad.

If you ask them why they believe this sort of thing, they won't be able to tell you. These aren't people who form opinions based on arguments, they form them based on the first emotion that comes to mind. This emotion might be a feeling of disgust, or jealousy, or some other kind of generalized wrongness.

Last time I had an argument with a person like that, they pretty much equated feelings of disgust and jealousy with conscience. By that, this person explicitly meant that if one overcomes jealousy in a poly setup, or does not feel disgust for a homosexual act, then one either (1) does not have a conscience, or (2) is repressing their conscience, and the only thing that's left of a person on this track is sociopathy.

What we have here is a majority of people who lack introspection in any meaningful sense; who don't differentiate between disgust, jealousy, and conscience; who think that any instinctual negative feelings are God-given and right, and trying to overcome them is immoral.

The way these people see it, it's immoral to expose kids to social structures where they might receive insight that would encourage tolerance, and hinder instinctual negativity. They want the child to be like them, which is to experience the same destructive emotions which they think constitute "conscience".


The three kinds of sexual risk tradeoffs

In my 10+ year experience discussing this issue, I find there are roughly three kinds of people, according to their chosen sexual risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff:
  • The reckless. These are a small minority who don't care about consequence, at all. They might engage in behaviors such as unprotected receptive anal sex from strangers. These behaviors spread serious diseases, such as HIV, and make all other STIs more frequent.
  • The practical. A significant proportion of the population chooses what they consider a reasonable risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff. They don't expect to go all their lives without a cold sore, but they still care about their health. People in this group will avoid risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex with strangers; but they are willing to let down their guard if they have reasonable evidence that their sexual partner is safe, such as recent negative STD test results.
  • The anxious. A substantial proportion of the population is extremely concerned about any kind of sexually transmitted infection at all. In the minds of people in this group, getting herpes is nearly as bad as HIV, and they will go to the same lengths to avoid it. While it would make sense for people in this group to be monogamous, a fair proportion of polyamorous people are of this type. A person in this group might be unwilling to forgo condoms not only until they have reasonable evidence that their partner is safe, but until they have positive proof that this is so. A non-monogamous person in this group might be concerned about the sexual behavior of their partners to the point of intrusiveness. They might be extremely uncomfortable if their partner doesn't use condoms with someone else, even if they always use condoms with them.
As you might expect, I find myself smack in the middle of the "practical" group. Here's a response I wrote today to one of the "anxious".
It sounds like you are an extremely risk-averse person, which you have the right to be. Many people on here are like that. However, it does sound like this makes you incompatible with people who are more practical in terms of how far they think it's worth going for safety, and what risks they will tolerate in exchange for what reward.

As one of those people, I would personally find it frustrating to have an intimate relationship with you. You have the right to be concerned about all the things you are concerned about, but if this concern was directed at me, I would find it more than a little burdensome.

Based on my conversations with people who shared your concerns, I don't think it's easy to change someone like you to be like me, nor is it easy to do the opposite. To be true to your values, a person like you needs to limit their exposure primarily only to other people who you believe are like you.

If your goal in life is to make it to the finish line without acquiring a cold sore, then you will need to severely restrict your potential intimate hookups, and all your partners need to do that, too. You must sacrifice many promising opportunities, and exclude a lot of people you might like, in exchange for avoiding that cold sore.

For those of us who think the value of life is in the experiences one has, and the relationships one forms, and not so much in the nuisances one avoids, your sterile approach does not make so much sense. This does mean that you can't be intimate with us without violating your values; but I would like you to respect that this only means we're incompatible, not irresponsible. We are responsible within our value system, in which it makes sense to pursue a different risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff.


The doghouse: Costa Rican employment bureaucracy

Finally, and for the first time ever, we have a full time maid, and a good one at that, and - gah, it's amazing!

But there are also downsides.

One is, well - it's even harder to get sympathy if I ever complain about anything to anyone. "Ah, life must be tough for you, with your house clean all the time..."

Another is that we now have to deal with the employment bureaucracy in Costa Rica. Specifically, the Social Security office, CCSS.

I hate having to deal with bureaucracy. Fortunately, there's an excellent law firm that I like to work with, and they were kindly willing to help me with the registration needed for the domestic employee.

Today, I get a phone call from the lawyer on my mobile. It went something like this:

- Hello Mr. Bider. How are you doing? I am at the Social Security office. They are asking if you have a land line in your house. (In Costa Rica, everything's a house. Our apartment is a house.)

- (Hoping in vain I can dodge the issue) Well, we have mobile phones. The number should be on the form.

- Unfortunately, they are asking specifically for a land line. They want to call a land line to talk to the maid.

- (Sighing deeply) Do I really have to set up a land line, just so they can call the maid?

- If you don't have a land line, the alternative is that she comes to the CCSS office tomorrow. They want to talk to her to give them a statement.

- (Sigh.) We do have a land line, we just don't use it. Give me 20 minutes to set it up.

I don't want her to have to spend 2-3 hours to go there, just because mobile phones aren't good enough for the CCSS.

So off I go, fumbling with the cables and adapters. Our internet and telephone are provided by ICE, which is a government company. (Obviously, by government mandate, they must be at least 5 years behind the times in the internet speeds they provide. But that's a separate story.) The way they chose to set up our land line is through a voice-over-IP connection. We had no choice in that. So, we don't simply have an outlet in the wall, and a phone to plug it in. The outlet is instead for the internet connection, which is hooked to a modem, which is hooked to a router, which is hooked to a VoIP box, which is hooked to the phone. I had recently moved the router, and I didn't bother also moving the VoIP box, because seriously, we never, ever have a need for this "land line".

Except now.

Twenty minutes later, I've set up the land line in the storage cabinet, back where its paired router is. I return the call:

- OK, I've set up the land line. The number is XXXX YYYY.

- Very well. I will tell them.

- Are they going to call right now?

- Oh, no no. I don't think they will call now. They're going to call you in about two weeks when they do the inspection.

You see, employing a domestic worker in Costa Rica is no trifle thing. There needs to be an inspector who comes to your house to make sure... umm... I'm not sure what. But it's super important.

Well, if they're not going to call right now, and I need to keep this land line for the long term, then I ought to set it up somewhere other than the far away storage cabinet. So I unplug the whole thing and take it to the living room. Try to set it up with the other router there. It doesn't work. Sigh. Seems like it's paired to the original router. I'm taking it back to the storage cabinet, when my mobile rings again.

- Hello, Mr. Bider? They said they tried to call the land line, but it didn't work.

- Oh. I was just trying to move it to another room. You said they weren't going to call right now. But no problem, I'm just about to plug it in again...

- Well, ah - they now say they want the maid to come in personally tomorrow.

- What? Why?

- They aren't happy that the land line didn't work when they tried to call. She has to come in for an interview in person.


Pura vida!

The doghouse: Vibrator import, part 2

Last month, I wrote about the difficulties with an online order of a simple vibrator that we ordered online from the US, for delivery to Costa Rica.

Wanna know how that turned out?

We got the vibrator. But it took a week to get it through customs. We had to provide the following documents:

Just in case you don't speak Spanish - the rightmost document is a required translation of the contents of the shipment. It says:

"Vibrator - personal massager. For use with the clitoris. For the feminine orgasm."

Fortunately, FedEx made this easier by sending the forms by email, and they sent a messenger to pick up the documents, which was convenient.

The whole process involved duties and fees totaling USD 135. Depending on your perspective, that might be a lot; it nearly doubles the cost of the order (originally $189). However, Costa Rica doesn't tax my foreign income, so for me, it's a happy compromise. I'll take even a high consumption tax any time over intrusive income tax bureaucracy.



Can't believe it! Greek yogurt made in Costa Rica, found in the wild at Walmart!

Update - October 28, 2015:

I have to undo this endorsement. I have stopped buying Nikkos because, in my experience, the quality is too inconsistent. It's rarely tasty and sweet; most often, it's sour-ish; and quite frequently, I'd say 5-10%, it has gone bad even before its consume-by date.

I have to say that Nikkos has definitely taught me to appreciate the tasty consistency of US brands. Fortunately, stores have been better stocked recently. I most prefer Fage and Oikos, followed by Stonyfield and Dannon. I have not yet seen Chobani here.

The conscience of bigots

I learned something interesting today.

There was a Facebook conversation, which I reproduce in its entirety below. (As of the time of this post, anyway. It later continued.) It started with general statements about love, but devolved to pretty heavy verbal abuse as soon as I disclosed that I'm in an open relationship.

If you read the whole thing, never mind my feeble attempts to offend them. I'm not very good at it. :)

I'm happy I participated in this conversation, because it turned out to be educational. The two people sparring with me, Caomeng (the Asian letter guy) and Nadia, appear to be deeply prejudiced not only against open relationships, but also against homosexuality. Sensing that there's something to be learned from this, I kept challenging their views, and they ended up making some serendipitous revelations.

What I learned is that:
  • The guy feels jealousy when he thinks of his partner with someone else. This is normal. (Though there's nothing wrong with people who don't feel that.)
  • The guy feels disgust when he thinks of sexual acts related to homosexuality. This isn't nice, but it's common. A large proportion of the population feels this way.
  • But crucially: The guy equates these feelings with conscience, and believes there's nothing more to conscience than this.
Let me summarize the most "aha!" portions of the conversation - omitting the many mutual insults:

denis: You guys seem to think you're superior for having built-in emotions and preconceptions about sex that you have never thought about, or overcome. You take these feelings for granted, and ridicule another person who has mastered them.

Caomeng: That's called a conscience, Denis. "Overcoming" your conscience makes you into a sociopath. ;)

Nadia: you must not have had positive male role models in your life, i feel sorry for you

denis: Can you give me one logical reason why there's something wrong with [insert slightly homosexual act]?

Caomeng: One logical reason? It's wrong, immoral, and disgusting. Pedophilia arouses pedophiles, are you saying that's not wrong either?

denis: Wait a second. Are you saying that homosexuality is wrong and disgusting in the same way as pedophilia? BTW, none of the words you used - "wrong", "immoral", and "disgusting" - are logical arguments. They all describe your personal disapproval of the act, without explaining it.

Nadia: ok, i'm done here. laters.

Caomeng: So you have no conscience, then? Cool. I'm done. :) Later.

Let's think about this for a moment.

What would it take for a person to think that conscience equals learned feelings of disgust and jealousy?

What does it take for a person to think that, if one overcomes the feelings of jealousy and disgust, there is no conscience left? That in this case, all that's left is a sociopath?

What it might take is a person who doesn't have actual conscience - making them confused enough to think that "conscience" is just learned social prejudice, or that "conscience" is jealousy rooted in insecurity.

Let me provide an example of what I think actual conscience is.

When I was a child, perhaps 6 years of age, I was playing in a pile of sand with my neighbor, Uroš. I was sitting in the pile of sand when, all of a sudden, my world blacked out for a moment, and I felt this tremendous pain in my head. When I came to, I saw Uroš standing over me with a hammer, and giggling. He had the thought to just hit me with a hammer for no reason, and he found it funny. I was pissed, but only when I expressed my anger, he began to realize that what he did was wrong. He offered to make it right. He give me the hammer, sat in the sand in front of me, and told me to hit him.

I couldn't hit him. I was pissed, and angry, and my skull was throbbing in pain with a growing bruise. But I couldn't hit him, because I just couldn't do that to him.

That's actual conscience. I didn't hit someone because even though I was angry, even though they had hurt me, I didn't want to hurt them. I didn't need anyone to explain this to me. I didn't need to learn this from a role model. I just knew it was wrong.

What we have in this Facebook conversation is two people who are completely comfortable bullying someone. Yes, I did start it by being aggressive in my initial comments. But once they learn I'm in an open relationship, you can see them willfully trying to use words in a way that might produce maximum pain. They don't flinch, don't shy away from it. They have nothing in them to stop them from relentlessly trying to hurt a person. It is fun for them. They just don't see what's wrong.

Yet in the same breath, these people defend "conscience". A "conscience" which they equate to conforming to learned social prejudice, such as being disgusted by homosexual acts. A "conscience" which they believe is crucial, because if it were removed, there would be nothing left in them but sociopathy.

These people do not have an actual conscience, so they mistake the only feelings they do have for it.

Finally, I must add this: I feel badly - and I ultimately apologized for that in the Facebook topic - for being verbally abusive in my opening comments. That was inappropriate. I acted out of injury, because I still feel strongly about this girl, and I felt Caomeng was being dismissive of that. I should have had better self control. Being on a short fuse is my shortcoming, and I'm sorry about that.