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Romance, Sex, Love, & Marriage: Necessities to Negotiate

When it comes to teaching courses that reflect different dimensions of diversity I get all kinds of responses to various things I do or would like to do. At first glimpse a reaction that might arise from people discovering the fact that I teach a Philosophy of Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage (R, S, L & M) course is why a philosophy professor that directs a diversity center would think he is qualified to teach such a course. Well, you can’t separate elements of gender, socio-economic class, heterosexism and privilege from the subjects of romance, sex, love, and marriage! Even racism and ability visit these conversations readily. So, when I first cogitated teaching a philosophy course on R, S, L & M there was anxiety that the take on my desire to teach it would be that I was seeking to teach a titillating course, but one without substance. Yes, unfortunately, haters abound! Yes, regretfully some people live to find fault with others as a defense mechanism for their own inadequacies (lack of confidence/courage). If doers don’t because haters won’t, then doers don’t and haters won’t. Who wins? No one! Who loses? Well, if professors get too wrapped up in what some of their colleagues possibly say, then they won’t “do” what they should do, and those “haters” won’t do it either, thus the students lose. Well, we just can’t have that, can we!

Fortunately for me, as a young professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, my confidence was intensified from mentors like Dr. Beth Dixon, department chair of the Philosophy program and Dr. Dave Mowry, director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Honor’s Program, who both were extremely generous in granting a young brother an opportunity to hone his teaching skills. There is a specific relationship between my confidence in engaging a wide array of audiences and Dr. Dixon giving me my first teaching opportunity, followed by Dr. Mowry allowing me to design courses with exceptionally talented Honor’s students. When I think of the timing of certain events in my career it scares me sometimes. If I had arrived at a different time at SUNY Plattsburgh, in terms of teaching, I might have never developed my pedagogical techniques because of stodgy academicians who would have felt it necessary to reel in my creativity instead of encouraging it. You can’t possibly doubt that such egocentric personalities exist on college campuses. There isn’t anyone of us that attended college that couldn’t round up the usual suspects to fill out that lineup. Some say that luck is the residue of preparation. If that is the case, I don’t know how I prepared to meet Dixon and Mowry, but I was lucky I did. Oh, and if anyone wants to blame someone for the R, S, L & M course, start with Dixon and Mowry for giving me the opportunity to teach at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Dean Dr. Kathie Lavoie and Provost Dr. Robert Golden for assisting me in keeping the class alive once it became necessary for me to start teaching it as an interdisciplinary philosophy course. While I am framing colleagues as scapegoats to get myself off the hook, I must also blame Dr. Tom Moran for consistently believing in my vision. Now, my hands should be fairly clean having affixed the blame on this heavyweight cast of characters!

My thinking also was that those same students that I had the pleasure of teaching about diversity and social justice who had never been immersed in constructive conversations about diversity and social justice might also never have been immersed in proactive conversations about romance, sex, love, and marriage. I had never had any structured opportunities to discuss romance, sex, love, and marriage in a class room setting with others interested in the subject matter. How might my perspective have been different if I had an opportunity to consider how the two lovers Heloise and Abelard, John Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, Socrates/Plato, Martin Buber, Arthur Schopenhauer and others had engaged these topics. How might my perspective have been different if I had discussed many of their perspectives through the lens of Mel Gibson’s ability to read women’s thoughts in What Women Want? How much more skilled in the art of seduction/romance might someone be if they had access to how some men/women interpret the infamous hotel bar conversation between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, or the opening encounter between Denzel Washington and Sanaa Lathan in Out of Time? Would I have more/less appreciation for the extremely different type of romantic sensuality portrayed in Nine 1/2 Weeks or Secretary? How different might my interpretation of marriage have been if I had extensively discussed the intricacies of the relationship between Tea Leoni’s and Adam Sandler’s characters in Spanglish?

I hope you feel free responding to any/all the various questions I have implied/asked above and the more specific ones I am asking below. The R, S, L & M course begins in four weeks, so I am getting in the mood for it. Join me?

ROMANCE: Most of us would admit to having been romanced, but what does it really mean to be romanced, or have romance? Is the concept of romance a universal notion that everyone somehow intuits similarly? What is your definition of romance? When does friendship transition into romance? Must friendship end or necessarily suffer when romance begins?

SEX: Most mature young college aged students have either had sex, or are thinking about it because they anticipate it happening. But how does sex differ from love making. What is the difference between sex, and love making in terms of gender or heterosexism? Can they all occur within a given moment in a relationship? Under what circumstances do they occur separate from one another? Is romance a prerequisite for sex or love making? NOTE: Keep in mind this is a family show so creative phrasing is paramount if you choose to elaborate/explicate sex!

LOVE: Who hasn’t been in love, desired love, or lost love? Who hasn’t declared love and wished they could take it back, or regretted the opportunity to express it, though being too cowardly to say it? Who hasn’t given up tremendous opportunities or made humongous statements about what they wouldn’t do for love? Was this ever you?

MARRIAGE: Many of us are the products of marriage. If we aren’t, in a relatively Judeo-Christian society we are judged as less than, when in actuality we were underprivileged this way by birth. Many of us point to marriage as the end-all, be-all moment of our lives because our society prepares us for the monumental moment of matrimony without any thoughts on marriage’s devilish downside, divorce. Marriage is often considered good or bad, based on certain societal criteria, but marriage affords many the social trappings to express themselves with others in ways that they may never be able to express themselves outside of a marriage. Marriage also further sanctions procreation, though many attempt to create without being a pro. What might be some of the other societal underpinnings associated with marriage that might assist/undermine the advancement of social justice?

Do you think there might be value in taking such a class in today’s society? (Apparently the students belive there is. The course is currently taught as an upper division elective and it filled almost immediately with my phone still ringing off the hook with students jockeying me for the opportunity to take it.) What is the upside/downside to such courses? Assist me in romancing this sexy topic that more of us would love to engage if we weren’t married to societal convention. I’m waiting!!!

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Let's Really Talk!
A course on romance, sex, love and marriage might be necessary in times when identities are constantly changing and being negotiated. Evidently our highly connected society has shortened the distances between potential lovers; hence the knowledge learned in such a course may serve as romantic ammo for future erotic escapades. But what are some of the downsides to such a course? That’s a hard question to answer but if the purpose of a university is to only extend critical thinking to traditional subject areas and halt intellectual examination at the borders of romance, sex, love and marriage, then this course will be counterproductive. But if the real purpose of education in a university is to discover the universe, then it might be safe to say that love and sex are part of the stardust too.

Honestly, as a primary beneficiary of the course, I have developed a deep appreciation for the topics discussed in class. The subjects intrigued me so much that my final anthropology project was on romantic love in Japanese society. I wanted to analyze love beyond the walls of American culture and found that even though some of the ways Japanese people interpreted or showed romantic love were different, nevertheless they were captivated by it too. I also went on to try to further understand different types of love and wrote a couple of poems. Below are some lines from a piece I wrote called “The Romantic Fog”:

Love is just like jumping rope; you jump in and out of it,
Exhausting the heart with emotional workouts;
Leaving many burned out like old light bulbs unable to get back in shape.

Love is so elusive and confusing, painful and yet amusing.
It’s like painting or creating music.
The brush strokes are the kisses, caresses and emotional bruises.
The musical notes are the amorous talks inducing us into blissful intoxication.

Essentially, with writers like Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Thomas Nagel, Emma Goldman and others, I found ways to articulate my perspective on such subjects. It’s a beautiful and healthy thing to have conversations about marriage, love, sex and romance when we are constantly bombarded with images teaching us what these concepts mean and yet no one taps our shoulders to help us question or examine such terms. A definite upside of the course is that it extends critical thinking beyond the traditional subjects in academia and I hope other institutions practice similar tactics in terms of curriculum inclusion.

I can’t conclude without answering another question. I think it was what might be some of the other societal underpinnings associated with marriage that might assist/undermine the advancement of social justice? Let’s take Emma Goldman’s perspective into consideration. She said:

"The institute of marriage makes a parasite of a woman, an absolute dependant. It incapacitates her for life's struggles, annihilates her social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its gracious protection, which is in reality a snare, a travesty on human character."

What a take! If this were true then marriage is an oppressive tool that not only indoctrinates female inferiority but also extols male dominance and privilege. But I tend to slightly disagree with the great feminist on this one. Goldman wrote this in the early 1930’s, in a time when women had around 10 years since their right to vote was ratified. American culture at the time upheld strict gender roles and attempted to keep women in the home out of “man’s way.” But today, even though there is still institutional and cultural sexism, women have more access to positions of power and more freedom of choice. Now, marriage has become a kind of democratic axiom that people engage in to dedicate themselves to each other, not for mere oppressive agendas but emotional fulfillment. Another stab at the question is that traditional notions of marriage undermine the possibility for gay couples to engage in it. Social justice is halted when it comes to the “other” or to those who dare step beyond the boundaries of the “norm” if we are only willing to allow heterosexual couples to marry. All in all, the romance, sex, love and marriage class teaches students to do what I just did by examining different takes on these subjects, while at the same time using popular culture and helping students create their own definitions. But that’s my opinion. What’s yours?
Enigma AA

Just like, Enigma AA, I too benefited from the course--twice even! I am now left to ponder the enigma of the author's identity...hmm...

Anyway, I think the class is a wonderful idea. The unexamined life is not worth living right? So why not examine Romance, Sex, Love and Marriage. We should examine these aspects of ourselves, our sexual selves. "Sex isn't something you've got to play with--sex IS you."

I know homosexual men, who don't believe in bisexuality. My jaw dropped when I heard that--"it's either someone being greedy, or they just don't know what they want" That sort of thinking is probably more pervasive than I imagine, but it's the sort of misconceived (well, I believe misconceived) notion that a semester in a class on RSLM might clear up.

As for RSLM itself--it's life. Buddha said life is suffering--somewhere in the book Philosophy of Erotic Love (PEL), I boxed off the quote: "love is suffering."

I still love the line from PEL: " 'I love you' No sentence from a judge could be more threatening. It means I am making it very easy, if not certain, that you will harm me. "

But tis better to love and lose, than never to love at all.

When I was in college I suppose I might approached a course like RSLM similar to wine tasting (no, I'm not trying to be flip, here). I know I like wine but I'm not sure why I like one type of wine more than another. I also don't really know how to appreciate/detect subtle variations of wine within the very general characteristics of "red" and "white" or "dry" and "sweet." If I wanted to go a little deeper, I might choose to explore what really goes into making wine, what different societies/cultures think of wine. I like certain types that others do not. Why is that? Are the differences really important or merely cosmetic? To summarize, my first reaction to such a course would probably have been to view it as an opportunity to explore my own likes and dislikes and discover the reasons behind those preferences.

But, being 40 this year, (gads!) I would probably take a much different view. Sexuality and marriage are among the hotest of political issues right now. My opinion on marrage - particularly gay marriage - has evolved quite a bit over the years. (I'll leave you hanging on which direction). I would love the opportunity to explore such issues without all the emotionally-charged rhetoric. Or perhaps WITH all the rhetoric (we are talking about emotions, are we not?) expressed in a safe environment where the only rules are civility, respect and honesty.

While my mind might be a little deeper now that I'm older, there's also more to fill in the hole. I carry more baggage now. I have more life experience and can talk in the first person about more things, but, my objectivity has been blurred by those same experiences making academic analysis more difficult.

I'll try to be a little more specific:
Sex - the most interesting accademic part of this topic is how women and men view the act itself. For most men I know, having sex and making love are very different. One is not necessary to have the other. But for most women I know the line between having sex and making love is much less clear - if there is one at all.

Love - I have so little understanding of this emotion that it scares me. I know when I'm in love and I know when I'm not. Other than that, I'm clueless. The chance to explore this further would be a godsend.

Marriage - interesting institution in which I am currently a participant - even a proponent. It's interesting to me that people are waiting longer and longer to get married. I think that probably gives people a better chance at being married longer. The better you know youself, I think, the more likely you are to pick a life-partner that complements your own long term goals and plans. Before you hitch your wagon to someone else's, best make sure they're pulling in the same direction you want to go! Of course, I would hope a course like this holds the institution of marriage up for scrutiny. Is it beneficial for a society or not? It may help preserve social order, but, orderliness does not necessarily translate to happiness, or even, healthiness.

There is one thing I'd like to see such a course include that I haven't seen mentioned yet - the Love between a parent a child. Or more specifically, is a child best raised by one person or two? or More? Are women who seek to have children with no intention of involving the father being couragous or selfish? You may say, JW, that most of us were conceived out of love. Well, can the child of a single mom with no involvement from another party other than a sperm donor say that too? How would we view a single man who wanted to adopt an infant with no intention of involving another person in the parenting of that child?

Maybe there should be a 201 class?

*** CB, we actually do go down the road of parental love both in the scholarship we engage and class discussions. As a product of a so-called broken home my take on single parenting is different from most. I firmly believe it is better to single parent without relational dysfunction, than double parent with relational dysfunction. LAST POINT: What is your reference to a 201 class? *** -- J.W.

How do I like to be romanced?

I've gotta admit, for me it starts with lips, eyes, breasts, stomachs, legs and of course, that shapely rear end. And while my experiences prove such a spark will ignite at least one intimate experience, chances are I'm going to move onto fresh pastures if nothing beyond the so-called superficial presents itself. Not to seem crude or diminish the value of the person involved in the experience with me, but for my tastes, the romancing of the mind keeps me engaged, and magnifies the physical aspects of the relationship that had already enticed me. That isn't to say such a connection is somehow better, but it keeps my fire fueled.

There's nothing like an intellect to compliment kissable lips.

There's nothing like imagination to increase the excitement of fingers, necks, bellies and, well, you know.

Want to romance me, then challenge me, make me think, knock me off balance. Now that's HOT.

Of course, I also appreciate the more primal part of romancing. Physicality and agressiveness are definitely intoxicants, and female athletes are, well, mmmmmmmm.

Differences between sex and love making are participant creations, manifestations. in other words, it's all in the mind baby. Sex and its finality: a physical experience. All else surrounding it has been created by the evolved human mind. That's not to say sex and lovemaking can't be different. The reality you create for yourself is as powerful as you let it be. So for me, while a purely sexual experience can be beautiful, it's magnified when sprinkled with love's spices.

For me, love has amazed me, saddened me, nearly destroyed me, thrilled me, angered me, instructed me and so much more. And while it's intensity varied with experience, I'm glad I said it, am convinced today it was love and don't regret the journeys it took me on. they've all contributed to create me, a pretty damn lovable person!!

I would say that marriage definitely can bring restrictions and conditions and expectations with it. It is up to individuals to decide if what has been previously prescribed is right for them, or if they want to write their own prescription. Again, create of it what you will.

I can offer no advice when it comes to marriage. I've only done it twice thus far. Let me get a few more under my belt, and then I'll write my own blog.

*** Stephen, hey man, can you answer some of the darn questions (I only say darn because I try to remember myself that this is a family show)! Without a doubt you are the sage of non-academic amour (a legend in your mind at least) but what would a class on the topic have done for you? Would it have made you even sexier than you may think you are? Would 15 weeks of reading, talking, thinking, observing, engaging the topics of romance, sex, love, and marriage have put more hair on your chest? Or taken some off? Would you be less macho, less confident, or--and this is a frightening thought--more confident/perhaps arrogant? Would it have given you more game, or perhaps (as some people actually say) perhaps made you too thoughtful about actions that others just do, without thought? My man, can a brother get a straight answer from you? *** --J.W.

Would absolutely dive into a class like that and swim around in all its thought-provoking sexiness and most definitely emerge a better person, though I currently engage in such conversations quite often from an array of people with a variety of perspectives and have access to a certain professor who created and teaches such a class locally.

And yes, Diversity Man, I am very, very grateful already. Keep up the vital work.

Since I have not yet taken the course, I will engage the thoughts of RSLM from somewhat of an amateur approach...

Romance: This word brings me to a place of anticipation. The table is being set for a potential genital to genital encounter, and both parties hope the other does not knock over the wine. Although romance does not have to be perfect, there is an expectation that certain actions will come into play. For example, floral decor, a sweet, seductive serenade often accompanied by another gift of some sort, and an intense conversation inconspicuously digging deep into the minds of each other.

Sex: This does not have to come after romance, or marriage, or even love. Sex occurs when two people are attracted to each other in such an uncontrollable way, they need to release this desire. Sex can reveal feelings of love, but that constitutes love making. Sex can also occur in groups, where attraction is obvious among a variety of members (or maybe some people get into threesomes or moresomes to appease a lover-because of love).

Love: I don't understand this complelety. I'm not so sure if what I feel is love or I'm socialized to see it as such. I do know that how I feel for certain people is strong. Question...can you love someone and hate them at the same time? I've heard that love is unconditional. Do you believe in conditions on love?

Marriage: Maybe someday. Until I decide, I remain married to myself in attempts to discover everything I can-then I'll embark on my journey for my better half.

OOOOOWWWEEEEE!!!!! I can't wait to expand my thoughts and views on RSLM in class! Also, I'm anxious to make a black man blush!

Sure I already left one comment, but recent events makes me want to share this too.

You ask: Must friendship end or necessarily suffer when romance begins?

I am not positive, but I know, from too much recent experience, that in the eyes of some people, romance cannot happen (or perhaps merely should not happen) between friends. Too many times have I heard, "I don't want to date any of my friends. I want it to be someone new."

Perhaps what Harry said in When Harry Met Sally is true--perhaps there is no friendship between the sexes, at least no mere friendship, as sex always gets in the way.

Romance is an interesting field, due to the variety of thoughts people have on it. I have the opposite thought of many I know: I *want* to date my friends--they are my friends for a reason after all. But for some people, friendship and romance are incompatible, they are exclusive and not to be mixed. Many think that romance is too risky, why risk a good friend? Well, for a good lover, that is why.

But what does this hopeless romantic know?

*** BW, Methinks the hopeless romantic knows a great deal! The best lovers/partners you can have are your friends, as long as solid communication is in place before the relationship starts (unadulterated expectations clearly placed on the negotiation table). Friends desiring to be lovers need to not only play the "what if" game prior to removing clothing, but also need to check in occassionally to make sure everything is cool. If it isn't, or doesn't appear to be, then plumbing the depths of the disconnect is in order. Sadly, most people are not very communicative about matters of the heart (especially men) and therefore good friendships are decimated by one night of passion that both are never able to put into perspective. On the other hand, if one doesn't want to "do the do," then the other should not want to "do the do" because they both will ultimately be "undone." While I have admired many from afar I have never wanted a lover who didn't want me. That is far too much work! I'd rather save that energy for the real deal! Wouldn't you? *** -- J.W.

How do you know that you do not have a mutual admiration when a friendship becomes sexual. How should one feel when afterwards, the male friend tells the female friend that he didn't feel any chemistry, but he still wanted to be friends. Then, how should one feel when these people meet again and the same thing happens?

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