Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Martyrs of Sex

The Martyrs of Sex

Wade through the heteronormativity of this Esquire piece, because the conclusion John H. Richardson comes to is breathtaking:

The only way out of this horrifying violent loop of repression and explosion is to learn to wallow in the sperm and blood and shit of life, to smear it on the walls and call it art and laugh at the fools who say it demeans us, to encourage our husbands and wives to cheat if they need to, to embrace our gay brothers and sisters and all the other “deviants” whose suffering has protected and insulated us, to open the prison doors of civilization and finally learn how to live free.

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Should Radicals Be Pro-Gay Marriage?

Should Radicals Be Pro-Gay Marriage?

I mean, obviously radicals should be pro-marriage equality, ’cause of intersectionality and what-not. This post lays out all the ways marriage benefits the poor, disabled folks, people of color, and others, and is spot-on.

I went to one of the most radical colleges in the US. We had a gay president, he and his partner got married while I was there, held a celebration with the school, and a bunch of students who felt clever or something chalk-graffitied the area with anti-assimilation slogans (let’s not even talk about what an effective social change strategy chalk graffiti at a hippie school is). Those people are immature and selfish and wrong. Just because I don’t directly benefit from a social good doesn’t mean I should bar other people from it. I want to make society better for all people.

But.

I still wonder if marriage IS the best way to make society better for all folks… look at this list of the great benefits we give people who are married. And we usually give those benefits out because we sit around going “well, you see, marriage in and of itself is a social good, think of the children, etc etc.” And I question that logic, especially when the definition of marriage remains so narrow. We can extend marriage to (monogamous?) same-gender couples, but no gay marriage law is gonna let me make my family legal, nor am I interested in only setting up households where I have to pretend every relationship lasts until death.

Extending the huge number of rights we give to straight married folks to queers: good idea. Decoupling those rights from marriage and coming up with an alternative way to support families of all shapes and sizes: way better idea.

A Million First Dates

A Million First Dates

Another day, another trend piece about how online dating is ruining relationships forever. Let’s see what we’re all doing to kill happiness this time, shall we?

The positive aspects of online dating are clear: the Internet makes it easier for single people to meet other single people with whom they might be compatible, raising the bar for what they consider a good relationship. But what if online dating makes it too easy to meet someone new? What if it raises the bar for a good relationship too high? What if the prospect of finding an ever-more-compatible mate with the click of a mouse means a future of relationship instability, in which we keep chasing the elusive rabbit around the dating track?

To prove that this is the case, we follow Jacob, a 30-something adult male who admits “I’ve never been able to make a girl feel like she was the most important thing in my life. It’s always ‘I wish I was as important as the basketball game or the concert.’ ” Surprisingly, this man has been able to convince some ladies to date him for as many as 5 years, before they finally decide to spend their time with someone with whom they have common interests and goals, and leave him.

But good news for Jacob! There is the internet now, swarming with hot, single ladies who are willing to go out with all kinds of dudes, and Jacob is juggling some 6 or 7 at the moment. However! He worries he will not be able to “commit” to the one he likes best, because of the other options. If only there was some kind of ethical option for him to date someone and also have sex with other people….

I am entirely unconvinced that the problems laid out in this essay are actual problems. One of the experts quoted actually says “the future will see better relationships but more divorce,” as if this is a trade-off we should all feel sad about. Maybe what we are seeing here is nothing like “too much choice,” and more like a movement toward a healthy standard of relationships: namely, that monogamy-until-death is unrealistic and not even all that attractive for most people.

And we are whining about the fact that it is easy to meet people with whom you share common interests? EHarmony’s relationship psychologist Gian Gonzaga tries so hard to spin things in favor of marriage, and still can’t quite:

“You could say online dating allows people to get into relationships, learn things, and ultimately make a better selection,” says Gonzaga. “But you could also easily see a world in which online dating leads to people leaving relationships the moment they’re not working—an overall weakening of commitment.”

Another result from the research on online dating? “Low quality, unhappy and unsatisfying marriages are being destroyed as people drift to Internet dating sites.”

Have we really put so much of a premium on marriage that we would rather people be eternally shackled to someone they don’t care about than spend some time meeting someone new who might push them to grow and change and be?

At the end of the article, we return to Jacob:

“Each relationship is its own little education,” Jacob says. “You learn more about what works and what doesn’t, what you really need and what you can go without. That feels like a useful process. I’m not jumping into something with the wrong person, or committing to something too early, as I’ve done in the past.” But he does wonder: When does it end? At what point does this learning curve become an excuse for not putting in the effort to make a relationship last? “Maybe I have the confidence now to go after the person I really want,” he says. “But I’m worried that I’m making it so I can’t fall in love.”

This almost sounds to be like the kind of argument about how masturbation makes it so you can’t enjoy sex. Yes, if you masturbate one way only, always, you’re gonna stop responding to any other kind of stimulus. So maybe Jacob needs to vary his technique a little, and do some soul-searching about what he wants from a partner other than sex and basketball games, but the first part of his statement is much more true than the last. Dating more people is one of the best ways to learn about yourself, including perhaps learning that you don’t want to commit to one person for the rest of your life. Marriage is not the Number One Goal of Life. Let’s celebrate making some space for people to try other things, hmm?

Love In the Age of the Internet

Love In the Age of the Internet

Over at Aeon, Claire L Evans is processing what it means to break up in the shadow of Facebook and other social media:

Let’s return to that online breakup. In your attempts to clear the debris, you discover that, like an ecosystem, your social network reacts holistically to change. For one, it doesn’t want you to sever ties with anyone: at every turn, it seems to ask you to reconsider. The architecture of the social web, like that of a Las Vegas casino, always leads the user back inside. The engine depends on connections: groups, rather than individuals, are the commodity being sold.

She goes on to bemoan the internet in general, the way our over-connectedness destroys our ability to feel real emotions, or some similar nonsense that always shows up in these kinds of pieces. But as long as she’s keeping it out of Slow Media and focused on relationships, I’m intrigued.

I had a breakup about a month ago. This is perhaps the first time I’ve said that publicly on the internet, although I certainly dragged a few lucky confidants through every agonizing moment over instant message. Two weeks ago, some pictures from Hallowe’en, the two of us in full-on adorable couple mode, surfaced on Facebook. I didn’t untag myself or decide it was time to unfriend anyone, or in fact react with anything other than maybe nostalgia. Seeing pictures of happier times, in fact, forced me to remember how good that relationship was at its best, and not dwell only on the ways it fractured and failed. Both of those are true: we had really great times, and really terrible ones. I want to know both of those things.

But I’m also pretty sure I am living my relationships in exactly the private shadow Evans proposes. I changed my Facebook relationship status to “it’s complicated” about two and a half years ago when I started dating Thing One, and it hasn’t changed since. I tweet pretty constantly, but never about new love, or really any details of any of my relationships. Some of this is because I am open-door closeted about being polyamorous, and Twitter is the wrong place for my mom to learn I have multiple partners. (Of course, bringing a new paramour home to Thanksgiving didn’t trigger that revelation, either, so maybe she’s a special case.)

At the end of the year, Facebook’s algorithms automatically assembled a collection of “highlights” meant to represent that which was most important. Mine showed my most-commented on posts, and some job changes, and it was all pretty much expected. Until I scrolled back to January, and Facebook chose to highlight one friend that I had added from the whole year: Thing Two. With whom I had not been tagged in a photo until November, whom I use Facebook to communicate with very infrequently, who has never been connected to my online relationship status. Of course, we’ve been co-hosting a lot of Facebook events recently, including a fake wedding, and there sure are photos up now of him in a wedding dress and me in an over-patterned suit and maybe the algorithm is fancy enough to see that the kiss at the end of the ceremony wasn’t a joke. I’m not sure.

Thing Two and I are working on what we call a Partner Prenup, a big, written set of agreements about our relationship and how we want it to go down, right up to and including the end. Discussing that now, when we’re still very much in love and healthy and working, feels like one of the healthiest and smartest things I’ve done. We know, almost without a shadow of a doubt, that it will be me who gets tired of this relationship or grows past it first. If we get unhealthy, it’ll be Thing Two who pushes me to break up, but I’m going to be the one who says the words and makes it so. And we’ll figure out how to get all of our belongings out of each other’s houses, and divide our friends back up, and build new lives apart from each other. And now I’m thinking about the internet of our relationship. Will we unfriend each other? Will one of us un-tag the wedding photos? I hope not.

One of the things polyamory has taught me is that relationships end, and that’s okay. Part of escaping the relationship escalator is escaping that unhealthy idea that any relationship that ends is a “failure.” That the only definition of success is “one of you died and you were still in love.” Humans don’t work like that. We grow and we change and some people are really close to us for a time but not forever, and this is a thing to be celebrated. I’m glad that I can’t burn the reminders of my relationships like a box of love letters under the bed. I want the chance to remember how good it was, and what I learned. I want the chance to be emotionally honest.

The End of Courtship?

The End of Courtship?

This weekend in the New York Times, Alex Williams bemoaned the “end of courtship.” In his opening, he recounts a story of one lady’s disappointing OKCupid not-quite-date:

“At 10 p.m., I hadn’t heard from him,” said Ms. Silver, 30, who wore her favorite skinny black jeans. Finally, at 10:30, he sent a text message. “Hey, I’m at Pub & Kitchen, want to meet up for a drink or whatever?” he wrote, before adding, “I’m here with a bunch of friends from college.”

I laughed and sent the link to Thing Two immediately; on our first date, which I’d spent two or three months rescheduling, we finally met for coffee around 10 pm two blocks from my house; I put on pants for the first time all day, he showed up with his partner’s dog and two college friends. Some year and change later, I’ve seen Thing Two drag as many as seven or eight friends on a first OKCupid “date,” and seen much more success from the folks who meet the whole gang all at once than those who get to start out in one-on-one territory.

But maybe that’s just us. Williams is worried none of us even know what dating means anymore:

Instead of dinner-and-a-movie, which seems as obsolete as a rotary phone, they rendezvous over phone texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other “non-dates” that are leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Williams blames all the usual suspects: “hookup culture,” online dating, the “mancession” (I thought we were calling it “hecession?”), and 20-somethings’ confusion about gender roles for the end of formal dating with flowers, romantic dinners, and phone call invitations.

Ignoring the heteronormativity and the ridiculous premise that men are for some reason supposed to put all the effort into designing a date, I have to ask why dinner and a movie are the go-to date activities. Sure, I like movies plenty, but they make it kind of hard to do much other than awkwardly grope someone you just met. And why is dinner a bigger commitment than coffee? Coffee or a beer leaves open the option that we want to spend more time together and go find dinner; if we’re not compatible, we can wish each other the best and go our separate ways.

One woman in the article complains about “hanging out” replacing dating. I, for one, am so pleased when someone I’m interested in wants to do something interesting with me, or, shock, introduce me to other people they care about, rather than falling back on tired romantic comedy tropes. You know who talks about courtship? Abstinence-only evangelicals who want a way to describe the process of interviewing potential spouses without doing anything heathen like holding hands or spending unchaperoned time together. Those of us who want a little more variety in our relationship than “meet, marry, procreate, die” deserve better.

Let’s kill courtship and all the notions of the relationship escalator it implies once and for all.