Sylvia was living in an unsanctioned relationship.
It wasn’t the fact that she was dating a girl that was bothering the World Romantic Relationships Authority. No, same-sex relationships had been sanctioned decades ago and were commonplace. The problem was that Sylvia was also dating a boy.
This was not a problem in itself. The WRRA could be more aptly named the World Romantic Relationship Advisory – it didn’t make laws, it offered recommendations. But even though it wasn’t illegal not to follow the WRRA’s guidance, it still felt wrong somehow and Sylvia couldn’t wait to be back in full compliance with the Authority’s recommendations.
Because, you know, …, it could hurt her. The world was a mess before the the advent of the WRRA. Romantic relationships, dating, love, it was all pretty complicated and people made lots of mistakes. This resulted in a large number of relationships where one or both partners were unhappy.
Relationships don’t work by default. You have to find a compatible partner and even then, you have to make an effort to maintain a relationship. Worse still, sometimes you discover you’re unhappy only too late. This wasn’t taught at schools and it wasn’t studied. People learned from their elders who passed onto them anecdotes.
Back then, problems started even before the actual relationship was established. People spent much of their childhood and adolescence in romantic troubles, moving from one failed relationship to the next, missing out on whatever other experiences they didn’t have time for.
The WRRA changed all of it.
Founded in the 1950’s by several small European countries as a joint research project into the psychology of love, it soon spiraled into something far greater. Under the umbrella of the WRRA project, its scientists organized a large array of trials to test theories and conjectures on love in the real world. The results were better than anyone expected. Even before the coming of computers and organized data science, the WRRA was able to produce books full of clear, supported instructions on how love works and how to make it work. These books were, in turn, subjected to tests and trials themselves and iteratively improved.
The WRRA soon discarded Freudian pseudoscience and replaced it with data-supported experiments with real results. People who adhered to WRRA’s guidance had a significantly improved chance of being in a happy relationship, and it took them far less time and resources, too.
As nations noticed the boost in happiness, and by extension, productivity, of people applying WRRA’s guidelines to their lives, they joined the project and the WRRA grew into the huge international body it is today.
Sylvia knew all of this and it worried her. She would have to think on this. She slipped out of her clothes and entered the bathroom. After turning the bathtub tap, she looked at the picture on the wall while waiting for the water level to rise. She took it in her hand.
It depicted Sylvia and her two best friends – Anna and Jace – hugging in front of a beautiful sunset. It was from their trip to Colorado, one of her best memories. It was hard to believe that her relationship might be a mistake. She had read many books – some of them written by the World Romantic Relationships Authority, some of them by independent authors. According to virtually all of them, what she felt for both of her friends was true romantic love. In one of her fits of obsession, she had both Anna and Jace fill out a dozen tests from different authors and they all said that Anna and Jace loved her, too.
They were all happily living together for two years now. It should be fine. And yet still it didn’t seem right to Sylvia. The WRRA did not think it was a good idea to love more than a single person. Mind you, it didn’t think it was a bad idea either, it just didn’t have an opinion.
The Authority issues recommendations with varying levels of certainty. Level 1 recommendations are statements that the WRRA stands behind. “People in a loving relationship are generally happier than people outside one.” is a level-1 statement. The WRRA does not make such statements lightly and each is supported by a mountain of data. National laws are sometimes built upon such recommendations.
Level 2 recommendations are still largely supported, but might not function for everybody. WRRA’s famous thesis on flattery is a level-2 recommendation, for example. This thesis says that if you give compliments to your partner, your relationship will improve as a result. The WRRA found that even if you say compliments solely to improve your relationship, even if you say to your partner that you are only doing this because of this research, and even if you are both familiar with the thesis on flattery, that even then the compliment still works, no matter how insincere it is.
Finally, level 3 opinions are still more likely to be true than not, but they are often the result of preliminary research and few people are interested in them.
Besides all of these recommendations, the WRRA also provides a sanctioning service. Certain kinds of relationships are sanctioned, to a different level, to provide information to the population on how successful such relationships are. The Authority not only gives out this general information, but also allows couples to come to a WRRA office to have their relationship validated against the Authority’s schemas.
Polyamorous relationships, however, cannot be validated.
Sylvia sighed and replaced the picture. The tub was ready. She climbed into the bath and lowered herself into the water. It’s just not fair. Sylvia was a big fan of the World Romantic Relationships Authority. She still remembered reading with avid attention all the booklets and pamphlets she could find in their local office. She was still subscribed to their newsletter and purchased their books as they came out. It wasn’t just to get advice. She admired their mission.
“Because it is part of the physical universe, love has to be lawful,” one of the WRRA pamphlets read, “like the rest of the world, it is governed and described by principles we can discover but cannot change. If we only knew where and how to look, we should be able to find emotional laws whose actions a person could no more resist than he could the force of gravity if he fell off a cliff.”
And so, the Authority set out to discover these laws and furthermore, to find ways to exploit them for maximum satisfaction. Over the course of its existence, the Authority helped countless millions of people find their partners in a fraction of the time it used to take, and helped them also maintain their love throughout their existence.
It did its best to avoid being mired in bureaucracy but it was still a sprawling organization and it was slow. Ever since Sylvia fell in love with Jace, she scoured through the WRRA’s archives, searching for whatever she could on polyamory – the concept of intimate relationships involving more than two people.
There was a level-1 recommendation against cheating, i.e. maintaining a second romantic or sexual relationship against one’s partner’s will or without their consent, but Sylvia reasoned that didn’t apply here. Anna and Jace knew of each other and after a while, had fallen in love with each other, too.
There was a level-2 recommendation for loyalty, i.e. not leaving a romantic relationship if doing so would cause harm to one’s partner. Break-ups were rare these days. Most people followed the Authority’s guidelines that prevented them from finding incompatible mates and that ensured that most relationships went smoothly. Still Sylvia had no intention of leaving either one of her partners so she wouldn’t go against this recommendation either.
She went through all the documents she had read in her head but came up empty. She couldn’t find any support for her situation either. A single memo talked about the concept of loving multiple people and said that it “merited further investigation” but nothing came out of it. It was too uncommon and the WRRA had limited resources. In such situations, the Authority defaults to its basic advice: not to try unsanctioned relationships because they carry a risk of failure.
Sylvia decided she had soaked enough and climbed out. She looked back at the tub. It wasn’t too pitiful, just the day before she bathed there together with Anna. That was fun. Maybe they could do it again when Anna next comes home.
Sylvia shook her head. No, such thoughts were wrong. She couldn’t very well make the right choices while thinking of her love. She wouldn’t be thinking straight.
The choice should be made as soon as possible: will she maintain her polyamorous relationship and continue to love both Anna and Jace, in spite of the WRRA’s recommendations? Or will she abandon them and find a more traditional relationship with the promise of stability?
It didn’t feel like anything could go wrong now. They had two years of love behind them and it worked. They even made a plan for the future and didn’t encounter any major problems. But Sylvia had read romantic fiction from before the time of the WRRA. She knew that problems could occur in the future and a break-up or a divorce is a possibility. If instead she followed WRRA, she would be quite safe. This would probably still take her some time to figure out.
She put on her clothes and went to get her letters. Most of them were not interesting and she scheduled them for reading later but one envelope looked rather official and what’s more, on the envelope was printed a logo that Sylvia recognized all too well.
She quickly unsealed the envelope and lay down on her bed. She suppressed a squeal. The World Romantic Relationships Authority is sending a letter to her – boring old Sylvia. What an honor! With trembling hands, she extracted the letter. Wait. What if they tell her they’re disappointed in her? That she must cease her relationship at once?
No, no. That cannot happen. They wouldn’t do that to her.
“We would like to thank you for your contributions to the World Romantic Relationships Authority online forums and for your moderation work, as well as for your volunteer work at our local office.
Oh, but that’s so sweet of them. This letter must be framed. The question is only where to put it. What place in her home is significant enough?
“You have helped hundreds of people find more meaning in their lives. Your efforts are exemplary and it is through work of people such as yourself that we are able to function as well as we do.
Perhaps her desk? No, too ordinary. A picture on the walll… opposite the main entrance? That might be work.
“You have already done much for us but we were wondering if you would perhaps be willing to take it to another level by accepting an offer of employment at our newly created department.
Sylvia dropped the letter. A job… at the WRRA? Could life get any better? Would they mind her relationship? Would she be willing to abandon it for the sake of WRRA? …No, she wouldn’t. It would pain her to miss such an opportunity but she had already grown too attached to Anna and Jace.
Okay, so, what would this job be about?
“The new Nontraditional Relationship Styles Exploration Department (NRSED)’s mandate is to develop research into new kinds of relationships, especially those that are not yet covered by our existing research and that are nonetheless still practiced in the world.
“In particular, we noticed a series of queries you made of us two years ago regarding polyamory and our recommendations concerning it –”
“– and this is one of the areas NRSED wants to explore. We would be quite honored if you decided to join us and –”
Yes! Of course!
Sylvia got up from the bed. The WRRA did not say outright that her relationship is wrong or doomed to fail. Quite the opposite, really, they wanted to investigate it! Maybe Sylvia could become a test subject? No, that wouldn’t be impartial research. She would have to find trial participants the usual way.
It is possible that the research she will help with will not result in anything. It’s possible that there are too few people interested in having multiple partners that no statistically significant data can be collected. But that is unlikely. There is no polyamory community to speak of, naturally – few people are foolish enough to try relationships unsanctioned by the Authority. But the practice hasn’t completely disappeared. Even outside that, romantic troubles still existed, albeit diminished, and Sylvia could think of many situations that could easily be resolved, if only the people involved were willing to see that they don’t need to have exactly one partner. There would be people willing to enrol in the trials.
So what if the data discovers that most such relationships are doomed to failure? Furthermore, what if it is found out that such relationships work for some people only and that Sylvia is not among those people? Then she would be back at the beginning.
But so what. It is as the WRRA says – while relationships are important, they are not the most important thing in the world and people can be happy without them. If her relationship breaks, it will be a pity, but she will survive. For now, Sylvia could just concentrate on her dream job, working as a researcher for the World Romantic Relationships Authority.
And she could hope.