Copyright © 1998, 2000, 2007, 2015 by Jim Hull
(Please cite the author if you quote from this work)
In the 1960s Robert Rimmer wrote several books, including "That Girl From Boston" and "The Harrad Experiment" that dared readers to think about the farther reaches of the sexual revolution. Rimmer believed many social problems could be helped - and people might find more satisfying love in their lives - if we entered into close partnerships with more than one member of the opposite sex. This wasn't about communes or polygamy or "free love." It was about caring and sharing responsibly in a larger arena than the often-cramped confines of monogamy.
Not long before he died in 2001, Rimmer announced his search for a new writing partner, someone to create a sequel to his bestseller, "The Harrad Experiment." Now called "LOV-ED 2000," the new book would visit the near future, "when hundreds of colleges and universities are offering the Harrad co-ed roommate option" whereby students live with multiple roommates of both sexes.
In 1998 Rimmer had kindly reviewed my Web site and sent an enthusiastic e-mail to me. It began with, "Hope you know my name." Here is my reply:
Dear Robert Rimmer:
I read three of your books in the 1970s: The Rebellion of Yale Marratt, The Harrad Experiment, and Proposition 31. Back then I struggled with self-esteem, horniness, romantic delusions, and wide interests - it was hard to settle down! I enjoyed your books, though, and they helped me realize there's "more than one way to skin a cat." Still, I made a hash of most of my relationships, especially the brief multiple ones. Back then I wanted freedom for myself but couldn't stomach it for HER. Too painful. That seemed pretty unfair, so I dropped the subject. Recently - my sense of myself having improved - I've had the emotional luxury of greater freedom from jealousy. Still, it's been quite a while since I experimented with other people's hearts, so to speak.
Is the time ripe for a reappraisal of your ideas?
I'm afraid the public, by and large, would reject them for several reasons, including:
...STDs. AIDS, etc., have put a scare into many people. Rather than think carefully about how to select safe multi-partners, most people have copped out and dashed back to the comfort of plain-vanilla monogamy. (How fragile are our youthful ideals!)
...Jealousy. As you have so well documented, the very idea of sharing someone romantically can feel like a punch in the gut. We're terrified of losing what we've worked so hard to gain. If we doubt we can make friends or find lovers easily - and who hasn't carped about how hard it is to meet someone special? - then whomever we discover we guard jealously. It's the same with careers: many brilliant, creative people struggle hard to reach the top, then grow guarded and defensive protecting what they've won. The long battle for success can make us conservative. Our society promotes competition; a side-effect is the sense of scarcity that so often curses us in our private moments. Despite all the technical and intellectual advances of the past thirty years, despite the sexual revolution, despite your many bestsellers, people don't seem to have changed much.
...Religious proscriptions. Our dread
of punishment runs deep - deeper, I think, than most would
admit. The angry, bearded God we feared as children stays with
us as adults, thwarting our most daring desires. It's hard to
question our unreasoning terrors. They act like governors,
little brakes that stop us from taking the road less traveled.
We become like the person with fear of flying who refuses to go
into therapy because "I'd get over my phobia, I'd fly in a
plane, and then it'd crash!" It takes a lot of digging to get
down to the irrational stuff that holds us back. Meanwhile,
other people's sexual liberty threatens us. Look at the anger
stirred up by the women's movement. To a religious conservative,
this cry for women's freedom - including freedom from old-style
family obligations - is the work of the Devil. How much more so
is any call for alternate sexual lifestyles.
But suppose people grew to think of themselves as attractive, worthy, and creative, with plenty of opportunities - social and career - open to them. Suppose we stopped thinking of love as ownership and began to think of it as friendship. We might then be big enough to let our romantic partners have their own lives, whatever that might entail. If they wanted someone else - or wanted more than one sexual partner - we might no more object than we would our regular friends having other friends. Meanwhile, we'd stop fretting about career rivalries: clients, like lovers, come and go, but there are always "plenty of fish in the sea." Freedom from jealousy opens many vistas.
I'm inclined toward the Libertarian view (as distinguished from libertine), which upholds personal choice, but I'm not likely to go on a crusade, since people are entitled to be scared and uptight. Besides, I don't claim to know what's good for others. And I'm not sure I want to go galavanting off in search of extra partners. I'm happy to opine about it, though.
Having said all this, what the heck, I'm for more novels about multiple partners. People can cower and turn away, but it's the writer's calling to stir things up with daring proposals. And at the millenium, who knows? Maybe people are ready for something new, something with more love and less fear, more freedom and less guilt, more gentleness and less bitterness. Maybe it's time for Harrad 2000, and I wish you well in your search for an author to carry on the tradition.
By the way, may I recommend for your reading pleasure a novelist who - in a different genre - walked some of the same paths as you? Robert A. Heinlein wrote science-fiction books in which the main characters often shared romantic partners. Stranger in a Strange Land, Friday, Glory Road, and I Will Fear No Evil treat your topic in detail. Heinlein was also a heck of a storyteller.
Another book that touches on personal choice is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World by Harry Browne, the recent Libertarian candidate for president. He discusses jealousy, marriage, and friendships - among other topics - and stresses that there are many alternatives for each of us.
Thank you for all the entertaining, challenging books you've written, and good luck with your future projects: I know you have several on the burners. Your work may seem Quixotic, but perhaps one day things will be so different that people will look back at your novels and proclaim you a conservative. That would be a kind of compliment.
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But caveat auctor: Jim reserves the right to put your little screed on his Web site! (And he has no dignity about this, so be careful what you say...)
...And Readers Respond!
"Ever notice how these books about the sexual revolution and alternative lifestyles always revolve around people in their late teens and twenties? Notice what kinds of images come up in your mind? The women are trim athletic types with high breasts. The men are studs, taking care of their urges several times a day. No one worries about the rent, car payments, credit card bills. KIDS ARE NOT EVEN ON THE HORIZON!" Bruce Rowe, software company owner
THE ARTS! CITY LIFE! PHILOSOPHY! POLITIX! NATURE! HUMOR!
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