A letter from James in Dallas: I've gotten into arguments with people who can't understand how someone could choose love over family, under any circumstances. I say that romantic love isn't rational, and it can cause all sorts of senseless behavior. Am I wrong?
Not only are you wrong, you are the one that is irrational. Can you have sex with your family? Orgies? Well, it's possible, but our society has more or less put the kibosh on that. It's called incest, and there is a very strong social stigma around it. Have you ever heard someone say, "Motherfucker!" to someone else? It's not a compliment.
The urge toward physical consummation of love is, and should be, more strong than the social structure we call family. That's why "family" has actually swallowed up the sexual act itself, in an attempt to control its at times reckless power. Marriage is the social thumbs-up to sex.
Family is not necessarily those that are your genetic forebears--many adopted people would consider, or not recognize, their genetic parentage to be "family." What would be wrong with treating your genetic family like strangers, if they treated you that way, or abused you, or were trailer trash, or were pretentious elitist English professor assholes?
But you're probably not referring to genetics in your letter. Like many of those on the hard Right, "family" to you really does mean something, but you can't really describe it without referring to deep feelings that are difficult to communicate. Like, to you, family may mean you, your wife, and the kids you've had, and your parents, their relatives, and so on. But "family" is probably something that two moms or two dads living together with adopted kids can't have in your moral universe--it's just too aberrant, or too abhorrent.
Why you're so wrong in valuing family over romantic love is because the two intermix. Son X is gay; of course he's going to go against his family and love other men. Daughter Y is from India, and fell in love with a medical student while on a college scholarship in the States; do you expect her to go back to Bombay and sweat her ass off, popping out babies for some 48-year-old shopkeeper she'd never met before the wedding?
It's actually pretty ingenious to have the social structure of family supersede sex/romantic love. Very human.
But James, my friend, you are all too caught up in current "traditional" values. They're not really there. Families are big and burdensome, and "family values" don't apply to all situations, some of which I've mentioned. People need to make their own decisions for their own lives. Does my family know what I really want in life? God I hope not--what are my deepest darkest desires to them, other than ugly, unrecognizable statues in a cellar? Do I know who I'll be tomorrow? I hope I ain't that predictable, even for myself. Do I need to tell my brother not to do something because that would be "going against the family"? He can handle his own shit, and he knows what's best to have at the end of his cock. I shouldn't even have to imagine such things, and goddamnit, you should leave it to your family to act according to their needs in individual situations as they see fucking fit.
James in Dallas, obviously your question was not drawn out of abstract philosophical discussions "with people." You've got a problem with telling other people what to do with their lives. You think that "family" or government or religion should be able to swoop down into people's private lives and control what they do. If your nephew's "going gay" (or being himself, as others would say), or if your med school brother wants to marry outside the fundie Christian stock by marrying a fine piece of Bombay ass, do your family a real favor and follow my family's value of shutting the fuck up.
--Adam S. writes Bad Advice