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essays

Mar 10, 1897

Against Marriage: Lloyd’s Vision of Free Love

Lloyd supported no institutions or laws, “but an ideal to be realized [as] character will permit by those who freely accept it.”

Editor’s Note

In March 1897, J. William Lloyd, columnist for Moses Harman’s Lucifer, the Light-Bearer, delivered on his standing promise to readers for an expanded discussion of his own ideal system of romantic, family, and sexual relationships.  Lloyd’s social ideals flowed from his libertarian first principles and a distinctly modern, semi-scientific, semi-mystical worldview.  In the following article, “A New Love Ideal,” Lloyd begins by extolling upon the nature of humankind: absent the virtually endless list of historically-generated social taboos, people are naturally attracted to a variety of other individuals and seek multiple loving and sexual relationships.  Throughout the course of history, however, the various powerful interests that dominated social affairs enforced monogamic marriage and monogamous cultural preferences became as deeply engrained in human societies as any other artificial traditional constraints. 

While he suspects that many readers imagine jealousies would run wild and even turn violent in polyamorous or non-monogamous relationships, Lloyd assures readers that social systems closer to the natural order in fact militate against such negative passions.  Under the Free Love ideal, partners would marry in pairs for primary familial relationships and enjoy subsidiary, non-monogamous and poly-amorous relationships outside of their marriage.  Each marital partner would, of course, retain full individuality, full and equal rights, absolute privacy (up to maintaining separate households if so desired), and above all, unwavering respect for equity within the constellation of relationships each enjoyed. 

Anthony Comegna, PhD
Assistant Editor for Intellectual History

“A New Love Ideal,” Lucifer, the Light-Bearer Third Series, Vol. 1 No. 10, 10 March 1897.

By J. Wm. Lloyd

I hold that in the love-nature of man, as in the external universe, there are two forces always at work, a centrifugal and a centripetal, and that both must have full play in a really normal life.  The centripetal force tends toward a center, toward one exclusive love-partner; the centrifugal force tends from the center toward variety and a general love for all persons of the opposite sex.  The extreme of one is monogamic marriage, the extreme of the other is promiscuity, but the normal state, the golden mean, is a state in which there is a central love and side loves and each force balances the other in normal action.  Every day we see examples of people who have gone to the centripetal extreme.  Every hope is fastened with feverish intensity upon one object.  There is desirous love, tortured, quivering with fear of death, fickleness, coldness; madly altruistic, deaf to prudence, indifferent to self-right; insanely, often murderously, jealous of the regard of others; sensitive to the extent of disease.  If the affections wander, what guilt, bitter recriminations, shame, self-reproach; yet no nature could maintain such morbid intensity of passion forever.  If the loved object is lost, dies, what melancholy, madness, heart-breaking, wasting suicides!  Worst of all, how the whole glamour of passion, like an iris-hued bubble, disappears when “all goes well” and the two have spent a year or two in married unity.  Viewed by any scientific, reasonable mind the whole phenomena of monogamic love is pathological.

But the other extreme is no better.  All our finer instincts call out against those who wander from fancy to fancy, shallow, unstable, deceptive, gross, to whom love and sex are synonymous.

The trouble is that we have forcibly separated what should always be united.  There is not the slightest reason why a man should not love one woman above all other women, and, at the same time, love several other women with various degrees of lesser love according to their several relation to the needs of his nature.  I say there is no reason in nature against it; there are numberless reasons for it.

In every deep nature, unless there is some central love, some object of supreme regard, some “grand passion,” some soul-mate and heart-comrade whose faith and loyalty are as certain as life and the procession of the seasons, there is always a vague unrest, a thirst unquenched, a universe without a center.  Again if the liberty of the eyes to admire, of the lips to praise, of the hands to caress, of the heart to love everything lovable, is denied, there is a secret rebellion, an irksome restraint, a dearth of romance and fresh emotion, a lack of growth, and an irritating consciousness of unfulfilled needs and denied experience which will not down, and often leads to restlessness, pain, and even the death of the central love itself.

Centripetal force leads to a natural desire for a central love—a man or woman to be the hero of the heart, capable more than any other of complementing the deeper needs of the lover’s nature.

But centrifugal force and the fact that no one person is perfect or can perfectly complement any other, satiety, “reversed magnetism,” the ordinary pleasure of change, new experience, gratified curiosity, these lead to a natural desire for less complete love-relations, grading from passionate attachment down to friendship and mere admiration, with other persons of the opposite sex capable of partially complementing the needs of the lover and especially of supplying those qualities lacking in the central love.

A whole new world of joy, peace and higher character dawns upon the human soul when these side loves are recognized as just as innocent, pure and right as the central love itself.

But the possibility of such a state of things has been so long denied that the majority of refined people today (precisely the ones most capable of it) regard it as something that could not be.  This is pure superstition and fear of words.  I am happy to be able to say positively, from my own experience, from much observation, and from the confessions of many of humanity’s best, that it is possible to love several at the same time, to love one person supremely and several others at the same time truly, and for mutual harmony to prevail throughout the entire group of lovers thus related.  To the mean, narrow, selfish minds this last statement seems hardest of all.  They cannot comprehend how there can be love without greed, suspicion, jealousy.  But when the larger life comes in all this is easy.  It is purely a matter of education and of moral ideals.

“Your ideal is right…But my nature is too jealous, I could never endure it,” a lady said to me some years ago.  But a few weeks ago she wrote me how much she loved a woman who had been her husband’s lover.  “I love her because she loved him,” she wrote.  And a gentleman wrote to the woman he loved:  “I love your husband because he loves you and is good to you; anybody who truly loves you must be my friend.”  This is the true spirit, which is perfectly possible to any high nature, and which will some day be as natural and commonplace among men as any other sympathy arising from common devotion and pursuit.

I do not hesitate to say that the time is coming when mutual love for the same man or woman will be regarded as a truer and closer bond than blood relationship itself.

And jealousy will be an unnatural and contemptible crime in the true society of the future.

And here we glimpse the new family of the future.  Around each pair of central lovers, by the most natural laws of affinity and magnetism, will gather a group of side lovers, loving the central lovers and each other because of that love.  What a beautiful family that would form, what sympathy, what friendship, what hearty comradeship, what a wall of warm hearts and tender arms around the children.  And each one free in his own sphere to live and love as he pleases.  Each one with a separate life and home.

And that is not all.  Mary, who is the central love of John in Family No. 1 is the side love of Robert who is the central love of Emma in family No. 2, who is a side love of Fred who is a central love of Isabel in family No. 3.  Families in this system will become so mingled and inter-related that society will be like an interwoven garment, with every thread bound to every other by numberless ties, and the only way out of the difficulty will be for all families to join in one great family and the great Federation of Man become an accomplished fact.  Just as jealousy, and the monogamic love which justifies it, splits society into fragments, the doctrine of “I love all those who love whom I love” will reunite all into a living and healthy organism, cured of its now infinite antagonism and disease.

Let this be understood clearly, that the above is not an institution, to be enforced by laws and petrified customs, but an ideal to be realized so far as circumstances and the gradual expansion of human character will permit by those who freely accept it.

Free love, as heretofore taught, has been mainly unsuccessful because it has usually taken either the monogamic or the promiscuous extreme.  It has either taught that lovers should be “true” to each other—that is exclusive of side lovers—or else that permanent love was a delusion and a succession of episodes all that a wise lover could expect.

In the one form it still left the heart cramped and narrowed, in the other it denied the deepest intuitions and cravings of our nature.  But in this new ideal, which I present, the two are for the first time reconciled; the beautiful episodes still go on yet at the same time the heart may have a secure home and resting-place.

On another point practical free-love has failed.  It has slighted and ignored courtship and in this has greatly erred.  Courtship is the most delightful phase of love-life, and the wiser love-culture of the future will endeavor to emphasize and prolong rather than abbreviate it.  In nature the female makes the male “woo” her, arouse her admiration and finally her sex-passion by the most brilliant possible display of his beauty, kindness, courage and grace before granting sex-favors.  This is the natural order—the gradual stimulation of the sex-passion by the exercise of all other mental and physical delights, in their highest possible expression, first.  This is the natural origin of courtship and holds the key to all normal love and sex-relation.  No matter what superstitions have been taught, no man who has won a woman’s loving and admiring consent by the gradual and full display of all his manly virtues and charms can feel that he has committed a wrong act—his conscience acquits him…

For the love of the brain and heart being “pure” love, a love that has originated in these and descended in this natural order for its final consummating expression to the genitals is pure throughout, and so felt to be.

But where courtship is disregarded, and, impelled by sex desire only, strangers rush immediately into each other’s embrace (thus inverting the natural order and doing first that which should be last) there is an instinctive and natural feeling in both (the stronger as the nature is finer) that they have violated a natural law, deprived themselves of their due delight, lost self-control and some way degraded themselves, and a tendency to part from each other in disgust and shame.  It is in the attempt to express this that all our terms of sexual reproach have originated—“vile,” “dirty,” “filthy,” and the rest.  The very act which in its proper place and order is the proudest and most delightful in human consciousness, when out of order is the most ashamed, disgusting and degrading.  Women feel this law more deeply than men, and are more sensitive to its action. No matter what the woman’s creed or refinement, if her love has been properly called out she gives her body freely; and again, the coarsest woman feels that sex-relations not preceded by finer endearments and emotions are revolting and stupid.  And all through the love-life the lovers must maintain courtship and this natural order or relation, or they will at once begin to grow apart and their couch will be the “grave of love.”

In brief, true love is that which always reckons with mutual desire, and satisfies the deeper yearnings of the heart and the higher forms of sex-pleasure before descending to the lower.  Such love may reasonably be expected to endure, for love is usually brief in exact proportion as it is purely selfish and sexual.

Reserve—never to quite attain—is the secret charm in courtship as in all pursuit.  Free-love, where the lover is never quite possessed, aid this, and the above ideal more than any other.  The method of sex-relation, too, practiced by the Oneida Communists was wise in this regard, as aiding to maintain enduring love, but of this I cannot say more here.

As no other force equals the passion of love in its power to call out all the worthy and admirable qualities in human nature—courage, honor, industry, genius, wit, grace, beauty, generosity, so nothing equals repressed or invasive love in its power to call out everything low, mean, cowardly, disgusting and cruel—in producing disease and a weakness which makes all disease possible.

Therefore it is manifest that to elevate and ennoble humanity and lift it to its highest pitch of mental, moral and physical health and development, we must have the highest possible ideal of love, make that love perfectly free, and encourage the greatest possible variety in its normal expression.

For this is true:  All other sorrows are light as thistle down on the nature which loves and is truly beloved.