Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Laminated Card

We have a friend who claims that he and his wife both have “laminated cards.” Actually, they’re signed laminated cards, and they give each of them permission to “fool around” a little, to have someone on the side. He says that after 30 years, they both believe that a little variety is a good thing.

Now this isn’t a total free pass; there are limits to what each of them can do, and using the traditional baseball metaphor, it meant that they weren’t allowed to hit a home run with anyone but each other. Sure, they could get within a couple of inches of home plate and then turn around, but making it all the way home with someone else just was not allowed.

I was intrigued by this idea. After all, it’s not “cheating” if you have permission, now is it? But also, I got to thinking about the biblical story of Jacob and Rachel…and Leah…and Rachel’s maidservants…and Leah’s maidservants. I was once part of a Bible study group that talked about Jacob as a model of marital fidelity, and I said that if he’s the model, then we moderns have been being way too strict on ourselves. I mean think about it…anyone can be “faithful” when being faithful includes a second wife and all of their maidservants. It also means that no matter who has a headache, there’s always someone to play a little “sofa hockey” with. Maybe that laminated card idea wasn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.

And yet, it’s also not as easy as it sounds either. If you have that laminated card, you’ve been given a great responsibility. It was enough that you were responsible for not hurting your spouse, and it’s wonderful that you trust each other to give each other permission to “sample elsewhere,” but what about the people you’re sampling with? What’s your responsibility to them?

Going back to Jacob and Rachel…and Leah…and company, this was also one of the great biblical tragedies. After Jacob was tricked into marrying her (and probably even while the ruse was taking place), Leah spent the rest of her life knowing that she was second place…if she even made it that far…in Jacob’s mind. As the holder of a laminated card, you’re responsible for not “using” anyone or leading them on. That was simple enough when you were just prohibited from having anyone on the side because of the standard rules. But if you’ve got the card, you have to be very careful with the emotions of whoever you’re seeing on the side, and making sure that they know that they’ll always be #2, with no chance of advancement. That can be very tricky. But then again, some people are perfectly happy with simply being an occasional #2.

And what of your responsibility to the relationships of others? It should go without saying that you can only use your card with people who are single, or married people who also have laminated cards. But there should also be a sense of respect for other people’s relationships, whether they’re duly noted and registered by the County Clerk or not.

You know, this whole “laminated card” idea seems like a really great idea at first – until I think of all the ways it can be abused and misused by unthinking people; and how easily people can be hurt by it. Maybe that’s why we have the rules we have – because most people just couldn’t handle this kind of responsibility without causing a whole lot of heartbreak.

But there undoubtedly are those who can; and I hope that our friend is one of those people.

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