Imagine How It Would Be

Ancient, long-buried memories of what seemed, at the time, insignificant thoughts and emotions can erupt like geysers. Those recollections flood the consciousness with forgotten mental images that drown the present in pools from the past. So it was this morning when, purely by chance, I stumbled upon a New York Times article from August, 2001. The article—an obituary, I guess—told of the death that month of author Robert H. Rimmer at age 84. I did not recognize his name, but I recognized the title of what apparently was his most widely-read novel, The Harrad Experiment.

I remember coming across a paperback copy of the book that belonged to my late sister. I suppose it was around the time the book was at the peak of its popularity which, I learned this morning, was 1966 or 1967, when I would have been thirteen or fourteen years old. Though I doubt I read the entire book, I remember reading enough of it to recall that it appealed to the budding libido of a kid awash in hormones. The Times article described the book as a “…novel about an elite Eastern college where male and female students lived in the same dormitory and did pretty much what came naturally…” The article goes on “…some herald(ing) it as a ringing manifesto for free love.” I may be mixing up memories of different books, but I seem to recall scenes that suggested hidden sexual feelings between two strangers could be unleashed if the two of them would sit facing one another in silence, staring into each other’s eyes, for a period of time—I do not remember how long; it could be several minutes or several hours. Whether that scene was from The Harrad Experiment or not, I am certain Rimmer’s novel unleashed a fascination with all things sexual.

The article I read this morning told that Rimmer went on to write several more books (more than a dozen) that all dealt with unconventional sexual relationships that Rimmer “believed would foster fulfillment and freedom.” In an interview with Psychology Today, Rimmer said, “There will be socially approved group marriage, there will be bigamous marriages, there will be open-ended marriages in which each partner has a relationship outside the marriage.

After reading the article from the Times, I remembered my fascination with The Harrad Experiment. I think the book must have been responsible, at least in part, for my fascination with the psychology of sexual attraction. I suspect the book triggered my curiosity about and intellectual acceptance of unconventional sexual relationships. Despite my curiosity and my tolerance and acceptance—in theory—of such relationships, they were never sufficiently appealing to overcome my unwillingness to experiment with them. I never considered exploring bigamy, for example, nor trading marriage partners. But in my early teen years and beyond, I remember being fascinated with the idea of casual, short-term sexual relationships.

It’s interesting that happening upon an old newspaper article could prompt me to remember so much about thoughts and feelings from long, long ago. I suspect the book and subsequent literary explorations were responsible in part for my acceptance of people who were in unconventional relationships. Though the book itself is not responsible for my attitudes, my intellectual and emotional reaction to it no doubt shaped my liberal views. Interestingly, my liberal views apply to others’ relationships, but not to mine. My ego is not adequate to withstand “sharing” someone. And I am not confident that people with whom I am close would be able to withstand the emotional storms such relationships might cause. So, after all this openness and acceptance, I find that I am truly liberal in my thinking only to the extent that it applies to strangers. Admitting my hypocrisy, I suppose, is less painful than stitching up the wounds that “unconventional sexual relationships” could cause. Yet the hesitance to explore, first-hand, such unconventional relationships does nothing to constraint the imagination. The imagination is one reason people might have for holding tight secrets about themselves, for fear of being judged.


A foggy morning, again. As I gaze into the forest, trees in the distance disappear into a grey haze. The quiet of fog-enshrouded mornings is deep. Even the birds and the squirrels seem to acknowledge that silence is in order. But yesterday morning, before church, was like today; yet a few deer and a flock of turkeys in plain view behind the house went about their business—in silence. If I did not know better, I would say Nature is sayings its prayers this morning. Actually, I may not know better. I may know only my perspective; I know nothing of how anyone else—everyone else—experiences the world.

I will stop writing about this for now, but I won’t stop thinking about it. I never stop thinking about it. If I could stop, my head would be empty, luxuriating in the comfort of nothingness. I can only imagine…

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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