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The Polygamous Sex
by Esther Vilar (1976)


This is a book about love. About what love is, what it can be, and what women have made of it.



4.   Love between man and woman is monogamous, jealous and faithful


4.1    WHAT IS LOVE?

Love between man and woman is based on sexuality, as we have said. But why do we generally love one partner at a time and not several? Why is it that even those who have a choice do not sleep with a different partner every night? Why do we go without sex when the beloved is not present, instead of taking an accessible sex partner to bed? Why are we faithful when we love, jealous and intolerant? Why does love between a man and a woman include a fixation on a specific person?

To understand this, we must first of all know what a person is, i.e., we must briefly consider the structure of the 'I'.

What a person or a thing is, says Wagn (Klaus Wagn: What Time Is, and What It Is Not, Munich 1975) is defined by everything else which the person or thing is not. All of this context is its system, within which that which is defined by it is the object. This system-object relationship is equally valid for physical as for psychological events. In the case of the object 'I' the system is made by the people who define 'me': it is the other people who make 'me' what I am; without their definition of me I would not be an individual, because I would have no characteristics to differentiate me from anyone or anything. The fewer persons define me, the more dependable becomes the definition offered to me, because of the lesser danger of self-contradiction. The happiness which an individual feels when precisely defined, i.e., when voluntarily submitting to the criteria of others is what Wagn calls The Pleasure of Unfreedom. Its contrary would be existential anxiety, the result of lacking definition and thus having freedom.

[For most people, it is the case that one's personhood is defined by other people, in the sense that it will only exist if other people have defined one to be such-and-such. This is only so because of their lack of individuality, not because it must be the case. It is only the case with most people. Similarly, Vilar's wording is misleading when she says the precisely defined individual is the one that has submitted to other people's definitions of oneself: actually, the precisely defined individual is only the one defined by oneself. Keep in mind that Vilar is not enlightened, so her views are of a kind of idealised egotistical perspective. — KJ]

The ideal definer, to revert to the theme of this book, would accordingly be a single other person, and the person best adapted to that role would indubitably be the love partner. For while I am first of all a human being, the very next thing I am is a sexual being: the crudest or most primitive way we differentiate human beings is as male or female. I accordingly prefer to let myself be defined by a member of the opposite sex. This has a twofold advantage: the other — my system — is a single individual, his view of me is not in danger of being contradicted by the views of others; and he is my sexual counterpart: who can define me better as a woman than a man? He who can tell me most precisely what I am like, as a human being and a sexual being, is my lover. This is also why love can bring more happiness — or unhappiness — than anything else.

A happy love relationship is based upon voluntary mutual submission. A man and a woman who love each other enjoy a state of total definition — each of the two knows at each moment who, what and how he or she is; each is the other's highest authority. Between lovers, one is the other's object, but also his system; they are all in all to one another. Definition here is as complete as it can possibly be: the definer is one person, and he defines me totally — my mind in conversation, my body in the act of love.

[Although her conclusions stem from her premise stated earlier, a genuinely rational being would find it ridiculous. It is easily disproven, given that one can fully know one's true self using one's own reasoning powers. It is strange that Vilar, having recognised the woeful father-daughter relationship, cannot perceive how she is submitting like a daughter throughout her espousal of a man to tell her what she is. It's an obviously childish, ego-centric perspective on love. Such is the false I - the ego. — KJ]

A friend or an enemy can tell me something about my subjective being, a casual lover can judge my body — the man I love judges my entire being. Every one of his caresses tells me how I am: attractive, desirable. Every one of his questions and answers tells me what I am: a person with whom he wants to enjoy himself, who interests him more than all the others he knows. By choosing me among all others, my love has made me unique; I alone in all the world am the one he loves, and no other. If I am lucky in love, the definitions become more precise from day to day; after each date I know even better than before what I want to know about myself. The others can say what they like about me; I don't have to believe a word of it. Only the one I love can tell me about myself. Since his definitions grow increasingly precise, my dependence on him also grows more acute as time goes on, but he is in the same position with regard to me. I tell him that I belong to him alone, that he can do with me what he likes, that I cannot live without him.

It's no exaggeration: I actually could not live without him — I would not know for whom to go on living, because without him, I do not know who I am. He is my system.

If my lover forsakes me, I find myself with an instant, acute lack of definition, a condition of total freedom to which I can react — if it really was a great love, i.e., an absolute definition of body and soul — only with apathy, despair, madness, suicide; with, in other words, existential angst. Lovesickness, the butt of so many jokes, may well be the greatest disaster that can befall a person: it is the most intense experience of freedom that the world has to offer.



If love is the total definition of my person, body and mind, by means of one other person, then it necessarily has the following characteristics.

Love is monogamous

I can let myself be loved by two partners, but I can love only one. Bigamy means a highly ambiguous definition, because the views my two partners have of me must necessarily be contradictory, at least with respect to the ultimate details, but these are precisely what love depends on. When I subject myself to the judgments of different people I cannot be sure what I am like, and therefore I cannot be happy.

This is an important difference between protective love and sexual love: one can love several protégé at a time, but only one sex object. Protégés are weak definers. All they tell their protector is, 'I need you.' On the basis of what personal characteristics he is needed is something they do not say, because they do not care about all that. They are also prepared to drop him at once, if necessary, for a better protector (see FATHERS ARE POWERLESS). Because of the difference in intellectual level between ward and guardian, protégés also feel only moderately well defined by their protectors, on whom their dependence is chiefly 'physical'.

Love is jealous

If my lover defines someone besides myself with his love, I lose my individuality. I become like the other object of my lover's concern (since love is monogamous, he loves neither one of us, but I am not aware of this). I acquire a Doppelganger. To get back to being my own unique self I must either destroy my double or else find a new lover.

Jealousy is not necessarily a sign of love, but there can be no such thing as love without jealousy. Tolerance is no proof of love but quite the opposite. Whoever is ready to share his lover with another is telling him unmistakably that he is not interested in him as a sex partner- what he feels is at best altruistic love or friendship for him.

[Vilar has forgotten her opening dialogue, which she presented as an example of true love between a man and woman. — KJ]

A friend does not define me as a love partner, so I can become jealous only if I lose his friendship to someone else. The so-called 'open marriage' — which tolerates the taking on of another sex object by one's partner — is based not on love but on friendship. The sex relations between partners joined in 'open marriage' is a friendly mutual service which has nothing to do with love.

Love is faithful

If I do something my love partner knows nothing about, his definitions no longer fit me. Sexual infidelity is possible only when I do not value my partner's definitions of me: when I no longer love him. If I am unfaithful to a partner I still love, even so, I have to confess everything to him afterwards. No matter how awful it feels to do it — it is the only way I can regain my precise definition through him.



The love between a man and a woman can last for a lifetime. There is no compelling reason why a couple that fell in love at seventeen should no longer be in love with one another at seventy. That such love rarely occurs, in reality is due in part to the misconception of sexual love as a form of altruistic love, and secondly to the lack of suitable love partners.

What is a suitable sex partner? Remember the two basic requirements for love between a man and a woman:

  • the greatest possible physical polarity
  • the greatest possible intellectual similarity
The outward polarity is usually present in most unions: the laws of biology tend towards producing an optimal mix of the extreme hereditary factors within the same species (see WHAT IS A SEX PARTNER?). We instinctively choose a sex partner who is unambiguously different from ourselves physically.

But the intellectual likeness is usually lacking. It is a necessity, however, for the following reasons:

  1. When the sex partner is mentally inferior, the tendency is to feel protective towards her-him. When one tries to satisfy one's sexual needs with an inferior, one feels that one is taking advantage of one's sex partner. Sex with inferiors means sexual misconduct (incest, polygamy) and causes conscience trouble (prudery).
  2. The lover who is not his sex partner's intellectual equal cannot define the partner. If he is mentally inferior, he cannot provide the other's optimal definition; if mentally superior, the other cannot understand him.
In other words, if love between a man and a woman is to last, the partners must be equals in every respect except those areas they regard as sex-specific, in which they must be opposites as far as possible. Depending on the degree to which both conditions are fulfilled, such a love will be more or less long-lasting.



— love affairs — occur when one partner is considerably inferior to the other intellectually. Love affairs can turn into marriages and chain two people together for life — this does not change the fact that their love was basically a lackluster affair.

How can love come into being between two unequal partners? How is it possible for a man to confuse his affection for a protégé, even briefly, with a great love for a woman? Why can a woman lose her head over a man whom she basically does not understand at all? We must remember that love equals total definition, of body and soul. In a love affair, my body can feel perfectly defined, especially if my lover's outward appearance satisfies my sense of beauty to a high degree. My beautiful lover's embrace says to me 'you are beautiful,' 'you are desirable', and my embrace say 'you are beautiful', 'you are desirable' to him. To maintain these flattering definitions of our bodies, our psyche resorts to a little con game: if my love is dumber than I, I idealize him; if I am dumber than he is, I idealize myself.

Idealizing the other

To idealize a stupid man with whom one wants to go to bed, so that one can believe one's desire to be love, is easy. It is entirely possible to perceive the stupidity of another person as a special form of intelligence, for a while. While intelligence expresses itself in understandable, logical behavior, which makes it measurable, calculable, and controllable, the conduct of the stupid is senseless and therefore cannot be predicted or evaluated. Stupidity can be amazingly effective: a stupid person may, for example, appear poised and in command of the situation in the midst of danger, simply because he does not have the imagination to realize the threat. A stupid person can appear to be decisive, merely because his inability to think abstractly leaves him with only one choice in a given situation — an instinctive one, and therefore quite possibly the right one. Being ignorant and therefore incapable of making comparisons, the stupid person is likely to be amazingly consistent in judging intellectual problems.

It may take months before one finally discovers the pattern behind the apparent lack of pattern, or system, in a stupid partner's thinking, and is able to see behind the mask of self-assurance its true basis; an incapacity for abstract thought and a lack of sensitivity, founded on a lack of experience. Once he has been seen through, the intellectual inferior can never again be idealized — and with that, love is at an end. A simpleton is incapable of defining the many-sidedness of his partner: a child that tells its father what a marvelous man he is can be touching, but not credible — the father knows that the child does not have enough experience to make a valid judgment of how he compares with other men.

Once you have perceived that your lover is basically stupid, you will soon cease to enjoy his embraces, regardless of how beautiful or handsome he still looks to you. To find yourself in bed with a stupid partner is the loneliest feeling in the world. Sex becomes 'only sex' and if no 'adoption' has taken place by then, the affair is over.

Idealizing oneself

My lover, Professor X, is enchanted with me. He tells me how he admires me for Quality Y in particular, a rare quality seldom found in women. Although I do not quite understand what he means, I feel flattered just the same: I am a woman with that Quality Y, a pretty unusual human being — I idealize myself.

In time, however, boredom begins to creep in: Quality Y doesn't mean a thing to me; it doesn't exist as a value on my scale of values. My professor and I do not understand each other, we lack a common language. That this erudite man loves me implies a certain amount of definition — it makes me the beloved of a cultured gentleman — but it does not tell me who and what I am in terms that mean much to me personally; if there has been no 'adoption' I will soon abandon my erudite lover and find a man on my own mental level, who speaks my language and shares my concepts*. The professor will not do as my love partner; our relationship would be based on 'only sex' because it would not define me satisfactorily as an individual.

[*If Vilar has her own language and concepts, then she is doing her own self-defining... In other words, this chapter on love is a merely justifying her own mental laziness. — KJ]

'Only sex' is the act of love without love; it is sex between partners who fundamentally do not understand each other. Sex partners who live on different intellectual levels can stay together only when each one has someone else to define him. 'Only sex' means psychological infidelity — a favorite escape hatch for couples forced by circumstances to live together all their lives. The woman has a best friend whom she defines in accordance with the strict rules of femininity, and who represents all womankind in defining her value as a woman, depending on: how many children she has, the quality of her furniture, how well she dresses, the social position of her husband, etc. The man has his friends, colleagues, political associates, who provide him with partial definitions of himself. This extramarital source of self-definition permits the two partners to go on regarding the reason for their life together as love.

'Only sex' can be had with several partners, of course: a man who has a stupid wife and a stupid mistress has, with his wife, 'only sex' and his nurturing function, and with his mistress 'only sex' without nurture. His definition comes from elsewhere.



— occurs when there is a change of intellectual level from equality to inferiority in one partner, or a change in the appearance of one formerly contrasting partner, as follows:

  1. One of the partners ceases to participate in the struggle for existence at the start of the love affair, while the other goes on struggling for both of them. As a result, one partner goes on growing from day to day, while the other remains on the same level, or even sinks to a lower one. In time they have changed too much to be able to define each other in every way; their love is over.
  2. One of the partners is unstable and therefore has no firm views. Instability often goes hand in hand with above-average intelligence. All things can be seen from more than one aspect; it is possible to have at least two different views of anything, and each view is somehow right, somehow wrong. The person of average intelligence is not aware of these complexities and sees only one aspect at a time. The one of above-average intelligence is aware of them, and tends to fall from one extreme into the other. Naturally the partner of an unstable person is not safe from these constant shifts in mood or perspective, being in fact more immediately exposed to them than any other part of that person's environment. The love partner of the unstable person is constantly faced with contradictory definitions of himself: he is good one day, bad the next, praised or damned, never sure what to expect. He finds himself always exactly defined, but the quality of the definition can never be depended on to last. In time he ceases to believe what his partner tells him — he will withdraw his confidence from his partner and try to find a more dependable definer of himself.
  3. Love can also come to an end when the intellectual equality of the partners is maintained, but their sexual polarity is diminished. A female engineer who adopts not only her male colleagues' professional expertise but also their attitudes and bearing — who cuts her hair, laughs, talks, and moves like a man — will gradually cease to be attractive 'as a woman' to her partner. A male hairdresser who takes to manicuring and perfuming himself and dying his hair, will lose his attractiveness for a partner who fell in love with him before he went in for all these cosmetics — she will find him 'less masculine'.



— is rare, as everyone knows. A great love arises on two conditions, as we have said: the partners must be sex-specifically opposites, a very masculine man and a very feminine woman; and they must be equals in all those respects not considered sex-specific: intelligence, sensibilities, etc. These conditions are rarely fulfilled.

Women who are outwardly strongly differentiated from men — the ultra-feminine kind — are biologically more attractive, because the biological law aims at the best possible mixture within the species of opposite hereditary characteristics. Their attractiveness guarantees their survival — they do not have to compete and the men who want them will pay any price for their company. Such an ultra-feminine woman would have to be endowed with extraordinary will power or talent to resist the constant barrage of temptations from men seeking to corrupt her, and to expose herself to the same competitive struggle as that of men. She usually chooses the easy way out and leaves the struggle to the man. Ultra-feminine women do not need to be intelligent to survive, and so they generally let themselves fall behind. They fulfill only one of the necessary conditions for love: that of being outwardly their partner's polar opposite.

Women who are outwardly not unmistakably different from men — women whose appearance is not especially feminine — are biologically less attractive than the others, and not likely to be pursued by men seeking to corrupt them. To survive, these women must plunge into the same hard struggle for existence as men do, and are equally compelled to develop their minds. These barely feminine women — in appearance and effect — accordingly also fulfill only one of the two necessary conditions for love: that of intellectual equality. The other condition, of outward polarity in appearance, they mostly tend not to fulfill.

This leads to the following consequences:

  1. Whomever the man chooses as a partner, he is likely to find lacking in one of the required qualities for love (the woman is either too unfeminine or too stupid).
  2. Whomever the woman chooses as a partner, she is likely to find lacking in one requirement for love (the man is either too unmanly for her, too stupid, or too intelligent).
  3. Since the fulfillment of biological law has priority — since biological drive is more powerful than a psychological need — feminine-looking women, though stupid, are preferred to unfeminine-looking women, who are intelligent.

This leads to the following misapprehension:

  1. Men believe intelligence makes women unfeminine. In reality it is the other way around: a lack of femininity makes women intelligent.
  2. Women believe that intelligence puts men off. This is not so: men don't mind intelligence in a woman, but they are put off more by an unfeminine appearance more than by stupidity (it is a matter of priorities).
  3. It is a vicious circle: men cannot find women whom they can love, and those women who value a man's love more than his protection cannot be lovable. Since they believe that men will avoid intelligent women, they studiously avoid whatever will expand their mental horizons, and so move ever further away from fashioning themselves into true love objects. The few, rare great loves that do bloom into being and last a lifetime only prove that there are exceptions to every rule.




    Chapter 5




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