A civic union made in heaven
By ALAN CLARKE - Nelson Mail, 07 April 2009
I lay no claim to expertise in marriage, yet it's been the only state I've known since pretty much my first stirrings of adulthood.
Ten days after my 20th birthday, sporting a mochaccino-brown, flared, double-breasted polyester suit, a cheddar-yellow tie and a cheesy grin, I marched into a church to wed the rosy-cheeked bride I'd been "going out" with for the previous four years.
Thirty-three years, two children and four grandchildren later, and here we still are ... and whether that sounds like the plot for a romance, a comedy or a horror story will depend on individual experience of the yin-yang, Mars-Venus, ongoing shakedown that underscores the "conventional" relationship.
I'm not for a moment claiming any moral superiority in having stuck with a partnership that has, so far, lasted the distance. Clearly, there is nothing that can be less healthy or more debilitating than to be mired in a negative, destructive, go-nowhere relationship. Inevitably we grow, and perhaps evolving a relationship that is able to accommodate such change is more about luck than intention.
Those who have tried again, and again, and again, for the perfect marriage often seem to learn something fresh each time about themselves and others, and become better and more understanding partners with each trip down the aisle.
And I recognise and embrace the right of others to choose less conventional life-models. A woman I got to know quite well, though not in the Biblical sense, eight years ago - long before Big Love hit our screens - was an in-your-face flag-bearer for the multi-partner joy known as polyamory.
She lived a very cosy life on a lifestyle block with her lawful husband, her other "husband", the children, the goat, the two bitzer dogs, a scrappy cat and various other livestock. The children were well balanced and seemed particularly happy with life. After all, if one adult said no to a bit of extra pocketmoney, there were always two others to hit up.
Each of the adults had their own bedroom, she divided her time reasonably evenly between all three, and all lived quite harmoniously. There was an extra income to help pay the mortgage, never a shortage of baby-sitters, and the lifestyle seemed to suit their temperaments perfectly well.
When pressed about their sleeping arrangements, they were adamant that it was not the non-stop threeway orgy that one might suspect; far from it. Their relationship had its boundaries like any other.
The first rule of polyamory, apparently, is full disclosure among all involved. Its proponents claim moral superiority over "swinging", which is predicated on casual encounters and often involves cheating and sneaking around.
They were adamant that it took real emotional maturity to handle some of the jealously and possessiveness issues that can arise and that underpin many "normal" relationships.
A few years back polyamory was quite trendy among a Nelson subset. Followers moved into three or four neighbouring houses in one inner-city street, a group with regular meetings and a website was established, and they even had a stall with brochures set up at one of the community open days at Founders Heritage Park.
A national magazine did a feature on the group and all was swinging along beautifully, until first one member, then another, started drifting off overseas and now, so far as I can gather, it has totally disbanded.
Anyway, I digress. My point was simply that there are a range of different types of relationships, and all of them have their own structures and integrity and validity. Unless we are perfect, none of us is really qualified to judge. However, I am still struck by the notion that, for most of us, the natural state is to either be looking for a partnership that is right for us, or already in one - even if growing numbers of people have become fed up with compromising and catering for the needs of others, or are otherwise perfectly happy on their own.
Nor do I buy into the old soppy theory of a marriage being two halves joining to form a perfect whole - far from it. My ideal is to see two (or maybe more!) perfectly formed individuals joining in a partnership that really is greater than the sum of its parts.
There is strength in unity, in partners combining their strengths and talents in order to tackle a common purpose. My Christian friends would say that's the way God planned it. Hence the pressing, compelling need for Nelson city and Tasman district to get over their petty differences and pointless anxieties, embrace their shared heritage and future and join together in a formal civic union.
I believe there would be cost savings in the millions of dollars, efficiencies in terms of planning and staffing, and a new vigour and potency that would come from provincial leadership with a single vision and clearly articulated sense of self and purpose.
It was interesting to read among the detail of the royal commission report into the greater Auckland local authority scene an acknowledgement that while community boards with designated power would be needed for the likes of Waiheke and Great Barrier islands, the best part of a third of the country's population could be best served by a single, over-arching group of 23 councillors plus a mayor.
Faced with such logic, it is staggering that some of those purported to be answering a calling to serve us in our best interests can continue to reject the principles espoused by the commission. Surely, whether in Auckland, Wellington or the top of the south, the main driver should be what is in the best interests of the district involved, not self-interest or parochialism or fear. Compared with what's involved in reshaping Auckland, a top of the south amalgamation should be a breeze.
I urge Local Government Minister Rodney Hide to turn his gaze towards Nelson and Tasman. However, I hope even more that it does not take a shotgun wedding to produce the sort of restructuring that is so clearly needed to advance our region's interests.
It is time for the good folk of Tasman district in particular to get over their fear of rape and pillage and at least be open to participating in an objective investigation of the pros and cons of a full-scale merger between equals with Nelson - and if Marlborough wanted to swing in for a Top of the South three-way merger, even better. With the right attitude and contract, it might just prove a match made in polyamory heaven.
Two's company, but three's allowed!