What Atavism promotes is not, as it might seem at first, ‘free love’. This mantra of past revolutionaries was useful for its time, because love was, for that society, incredibly expensive. To love someone, at least physically, it was generally considered appropriate that you should commit to them for your entire life first.


That’s a pretty high cost.


But ‘free’ love? That’s too cheap. If it’s even possible. Most young people now, I think, understand that these two options form a false dichotomy, where there should be a spectrum. Giving away love and sex for ‘free’ - without any emotional or physical commitment - feels hollow and empty, as anyone who’s had a one night stand knows. And even with birth control, there are plenty of long term consequences from sex. Unintended pregnancies can still result from sex, as well as diseases. And, since our culture as a whole still judges women negatively if they’ve had sex with ‘too many’ men, women will sometimes internalize costs from that ‘free love’  for their entire lives; men may internalize gains, since their social value may go up if they’ve been with many women.  


So, we don’t want to commit our whole lives before getting to enjoy a physical connection through sex, but we can generally agree it can’t be given away for free. So we settle into intermediary positions - think of a girl having guidelines for how many dates she has to be taken on before she’ll consent to various levels of sexual activity. It usually doesn't last forever, and we careen through our young adulthoods as seriel monogamists, loving and then leaving.


But now consider the loving couple on the precipice of marriage. In order to continue living with their love, it’s still the norm to ‘pay’ by committing, at least theoretically, their entire lives. ‘Cheaper’ love is relegated to a ‘phase’ in young people’s lives that they outgrow when they settle down with a single person who they’re expected to sacrifice everything for. Often, it doesn’t work forever, so marriages are followed by divorces and remarriages.


The point is, there are other ways to lower the price of sex. In serial monogamy, the cost of love can be lessened only by limiting its temporality - you’ll be exclusively devoted, but for a limited time. But the cost of love can also be lowered by limiting what each partner expects from the other. Instead of committing to love only one person until you don't want to any more, you could commit to love and help support one person for the rest of your life, without excluding the possibility of helping to love and support others.


Why is it that one method for lowering the cost of love has become perfectly acceptable, but another is still radical, crazy?

The Goldilocks Price

by Douglas Payn

August 4, 2014

Not too hot, not too cold... ok, she's pretty hot. But that's not the point.