All posts by David Chastity

About David Chastity

Tryin' to follow my God as best I can. Polyamorous. Christian. Bad at labels.

Monogamy Ruined the Friendzone

0d0f4b720a07a4cdf65ccd6bbd7d7931

By David Chastity and Geena Cain

You know what’s awesome? Friends. Friends are amazing. You talk to them about your mutual interests and your feelings. You do activities you enjoy and you high five and you go through real shit together. Friends are the people in your lives who will give you a ride to work when your car breaks down. Friends are there to play board games. If you need to complain about your work day, a friend has an ear. Actually, let’s just let Flight of the Conchords take this one away:

And yet even that anthem to friendship can’t end without a wink at romantic love. Check that final verse. Some gay “special friends” just have to show up.  Thanks for the reminder of the sexual tension underlying every intimate human interaction, FoTC. But think about it. If you show up at a wedding or an office party with your friend, everyone raises an eyebrow. You must be either lonely or lying. What possesses you to bring someone to an obligated event and *not* fuck later? Why couldn’t you find a somewhat attractive acquaintance to meet all your aunts? Aren’t you afraid of dying alone?

As though wanting to sex is the reason to clock time with important people in our lives.

The Monogamy Problem

Falling In Love With The One is assumed to be the only way to achieve all kinds of social ends. It’s where you get physical affection. You need a romantic partner to rear children and sharing household duties and risks. Romance goes hand in hand with emotional intimacy. Your lover will care for you in times of illness, share your hobbies, and more. We treat The One True Love as an essential part of our identity and narrative. We act like existing within a Couple is necessary to be “complete.”

Moreover, the romantic partner and the friend are seen to be in competition. The same jealousy machine that fears cheating looks askance at any expression of intimacy. For the couple to be the model of true intimacy, it must be protected from interlopers. Sex isn’t the only threat: other kinds of closeness with outsiders erodes the couple-foundation. Every time you get a need met by a friend, you threaten the myth that your lover makes you whole.

Poly and queer people are critical of compulsory heterosexual monogamy. And yet, even here, there is an assumption that romantic relationships have primacy. Other kinds of relationships cannot have comparable intimacy or importance. Monogamy has created artificial limits for all kinds of behavior. People think that they need to put all their eggs in this one person-basket. And the rest of us have swallowed that myth. Who visits you in the hospital? Who jumps/tows your car? Who ends up flaking on you at these important life events when you make no promises of sex? Monogamy has capitalism behind it. Where do we even start to get people to set up their lives in other ways?

There are three levels of change we have to do here. The first is within ourselves. We each have to decide that friendship is just as valuable as romantic love. The second is from inside a relationship. We must revel in the special love between friends. We must take care of and be committed to one another. And the third is at the community level. Society must recognize alternate relationships. Norms must be revolutionized.

One strategy is to gain explicit, sober, intentional, informed, excited consent at every step. Relationships may be compromise, but certain things are not up for debate. Don’t compromise your bodily autonomy or hard limits. Negotiate clearly and consistently about all your needs in every relationship. Consent isn’t just for sex.

Non-Romantic Physical Affection

We live in a society that frowns on non-sexual expressions of physical affection. Monogamy is a fragile state. People in relationships are encouraged to police their partners’ interactions with others. Why have we selected this sort of arrangement over more resilient choices? This model allows jealous partners to avoid confronting their emotions. Over time, repressed emotions add up, though. This strategy is prone to backfire.

Physical affection isn’t always sexual or romantic. Humans need it for emotional and mental health. From the handshake to the hug. Even the European kiss on the cheek of greeting. Some folks even view certain acts of genital stimulation as friendly and non-romantic. Sometimes you just need affection that your partner cannot give. Why not get it from a friend? We live in a world where professional cuddlers exist. No one has to sleep alone. Why hire someone if you have a willing friend?

Non-Romantic Cohabitation

The problem extends to our physical space. “Household” almost always means “two people in a romantic relationship and their children.” There aren’t easy solutions to live near other kinds of people you value. Living with friends or roommates is viewed as temporary, less serious. You might do it while you’re looking for the person you’re going to settle down with. It’s not a permanent choice you can make. Cities are built for cars and business, not community. The kinds of housing that would make intimate friendship easy just doesn’t exist.

We must resist the narratives that non-romantic relationships are not built to last. We must find ways around financial system that privileges marriage. It’s time to get creative with our spaces. If family is to mean more than a fertile biological unit, it is up to us to redefine it.

Non-Romantic Emotional Support and Intimacy

Friendship is supposed to come without all the cumbersome commitments romantic love implies. As long as you’re “just friends,” what right do you have to expect someone to talk to you every day? How dare you ask someone to make you a priority in their life? Maybe if you’re both single, helping each other stave off loneliness between partners. But as soon as someone has a consistent date, friendship gets shelved. The romantic relationship is too special, can’t impinge on it with mere friendship.

We, David and Geena, are in a romantic and sexual relationship, and we say fuck that noise. Friendship is at least as good as sex, and honestly probably a lot better. Don’t marry your best friend. It is inefficient to have your spouse and bestie be the same person. You can’t talk shit about your spouse to themselves. Conflict of interest is rampant in relationships strategies. Spread your support out across as many people as you can convince to be in the same room as your farts.

Get excited about people! Invite them to the Friend Zone with you! That is no kind of rejection. Staying up all night sharing secrets is not a consolation prize. Even poly people are bad at this. We act like it’s a rejection to say “the love I have for you doesn’t include making out.” It’s not. Every relationship has different limits and boundaries. Stop pretending ones without sex are less valuable.

We spend too much time and energy trying to please people only because we want to see them naked. Let’s all agree that’s a gross model. We need to make time and spaces for the people in our lives who don’t fit monogamy’s fairy tale. Let’s summon a fraction of the enthusiasm for our friends as we do for every damn wedding.

Here’s a challenge. Send a cute message to someone you love without restraints like fucking and romance. Send that cute message and remind them that they are a desirable mate forever. Find those spaces where you are missing intimacy. Fill them with someone you’ve overlooked.

Whether you’re monogamous or poly, pause your thrilling, romantic Valentine weekend plans a second.. Touch base with the folks who support you when those breathless feelings are over. Steal a hug or a snug from your favorite platonic bestie. Invite them to catch a dinner and a movie. Do whatever it takes to celebrate that most important gift we give ourselves, friendship.
—-

Call for submissions! We wrote this to start the conversation, not end it. Got friend-love opinions or experiences to share? Send us an email! Think of this as the introduction to an anthology. Help us write the next chapters. We’ll feature your submissions here, and assemble a zine. Your planning and editing energy is welcome too!

Read more from Geena on their blog over here.

Advertisements

On Talking to Strangers and Street Harassment

This started as a comment on a friend-of-a-friend’s Facebook, and I figured it deserved a broader sphere for discussion. The friend-of-friend posted about the #DudesGreetingDudes thing (which is great and I love). My friend hopped in to say “well okay, but also there is this thing where folks in small towns *do* say hi to each other on the street- to people of all genders- and it’s weird that this conversation doesn’t include that. There are places where saying hi to someone isn’t harassment, and we need to talk about that, too.”

So then I jumped in, ’cause I live in a big city but I feel this tension. Because the culture of talking to strangers outside *does* exist in cities- it’s just not a white culture. I’m a white girl and I live in a mostly black but gentrifying part of West Philadelphia. My black neighbors (primarily folks who have lived here for generations) have a “small town” culture- one that includes saying hello to people on the street. One of the complaints I hear about white gentrifiers is that they mess up the friendly culture of the neighborhood- always walking too fast, acting too busy to acknowledge anyone else, etc.

So I find myself in a tough place. I didn’t grow up in a place where people walked anywhere; I have no lifelong training about how to interact with humans as I go from point A to point B. Like everyone else who reads as female, I get harassed on the street on the regular. Moreover, I’m an introvert- even if everyone who wanted to interact with me outdoors was 100% innocent and friendly in their motives, it takes energy for me to notice, acknowledge and come up with a pleasantry for each person I pass. *And* it’s a big city and there are a lot of people out there.

I happen to be a feminist, so I don’t believe that I owe other humans anything. Women are socialized to be nice and to be available to the needs of others- i.e. to always be willing to provide a nice, polite social interaction to any other human who requests one, regardless of said woman’s own needs and abilities. My feminist values tell me that’s Not Okay- I have the right to protect my own energy and take care of myself first.

But I also want to respect the culture of my neighbors who were here long before I was. I don’t want to make the people whose home I have moved into feel uncomfortable. So I find myself in a bind. The fact that men of all races are douchebags who sexualize that basic interaction gives me an out to be more introverted on the street. But is it okay that I don’t always have it in me to nod and smile at some old lady ’cause it’s 8 am and I’m on my way to work and under-caffeinated? Does that old lady’s dream of a street where everyone knows and likes each other trump my interest in just going about my business and not being “on” every time I happen to leave the house?

#LoveSongs: To Make You Feel My Love

Here we’ve got perhaps one of the most-covered love songs out there. Bob Dylan knows he loves someone, but they aren’t so sure, so he’s gonna show how good at love he is. Let’s see if he succeeds, but we’re gonna listen to Adele sing it because that’s what YouTube gave me.

It’s a good thing I already like this song, ’cause sheesh have we got some sap here. I hope a real person never tries to say anything like this to me because then we will never see each other again. But in a song it’s pretty okay! Songs are for exaggerating.

The first verse is actually exactly what a nice relationship should be about. You’re having some bad times, and someone who loves you wants to give you a hug! That’s super-nice, Bob Dylan, I would like that a lot. You are even willing to hold me for a million years, which is probably longer than anyone needs a hug. But nice follow-through, I guess?

Unfortunately, from that point, our friend Bob starts getting a little over-promising and, frankly, it makes him sound a little desperate. Claiming that you’ll never do wrong by a person is a pretty common early relationship move, but I prefer honesty. People hurt each other, and what I really want to know from a partner is that they’ve got the sensitivity and skills to work on recovering from our inevitable mis-steps. Someone who thinks you can go a whole lifetime (or a million years!) without ever hurting someone close to you has very little experience with real relationships, and that’s a red flag. More importantly, holding up “never hurt each other” as a relationship standard makes it harder for people involved in real, imperfect relationships to know that there’s nothing wrong with sometimes messing up.

Then we go headfirst into more desperation, where Bob promises that he’ll go hungry and get bruised and otherwise come to harm in order to prove his love, which is just impractical, really. Self-harm doesn’t show me that you care, it just shows me that you can’t think of better ways to get my attention.

I’m not totally sure how the winds of change relate to loving someone a whole lot, other than, hey, it’s Bob Dylan. Let’s skip down to that final verse, where we have one of my biggest love song pet peeves. “I can make you happy” is not a reasonable relationship promise. No one can make anyone else happy. I can feel happy when I spend time with certain people, or when I do certain activities, but, ultimately, my mental state is up to a combination of circumstances, brain chemicals and my own choices. I don’t appreciate anyone telling me they can control my emotions, nor do I want to hear that they can “make [my] dreams come true.”

If you really want to make me feel your love, Bob, give me some space, treat me like a real human, and let me make my own damn choices. Emotional support is great, but it starts to turn to emotional manipulation by the end of the song. Give me time to make up my mind and respect my choice, rather than going to greater and greater lengths to try to make me feel a thing. If you love me, I’ll be able to tell.

#LoveSongs: She Moves In Her Own Way

One of my hopes for this project is to lift up the love songs that show really solid, healthy relationships, in hopes that we all start putting them on mix tapes and having more realistic standards. This fantastic effort from the Kooks is just such a song.

I love what’s happening in this song. Our protagonist is the kind of norm-defying rebel that features in most rock and roll songs, and he’s gotten himself an equally non-conforming girlfriend. But he’s not trying to force her into being some flat Manic Pixie Dream Girl, nor does he expect her to sacrifice what she’s doing in favor of his rock and roll dreams.

At the start of the song, the singer reminds the girl that “I was hoping someday you’d be on our way to better things.” Like him, though, she doesn’t care for “paper dreams,” and is happily living in the present, in her “mindset.” She’s able to talk to him about her feelings, and he supports her.

My favorite part is the repeated “you don’t pull my strings ’cause I’m a better man.” Without the chorus that reminds us how much he loves her, I might think this was from a break-up songs (“kiss-offs” as Songza calls them), but instead we have a true rarity in a love song: an acknowledgment of the need for romantic partners to maintain separate identities and motivations! The singer is in control of his own life, as is his lover, and they are both excited to share those lives with one another.

He mentions her make-up and her fashion, but that’s not what he’s in it for: “looks are deceiving” he says, and she’s made him believe it. Maybe he thinks her style’s weird, maybe she’s not the kind of girl he would normally go for. It doesn’t matter, though, because he loves how different she is.

The idea that she comes to his show just to hear about his day fascinates me. Is this the only place she can find out what he’s been up to? Is he better at communicating through music than in just talking to her? Lots of people might hate having a partner who didn’t tell them about their day, but this lady seems pretty down with it; she comes to her boyfriend’s show and learns what she needs to learn. She’s meeting him where he is, and he’s doing the same for her.

This isn’t a song about the perfect relationship that everyone should aspire to. Instead, it’s a song about a relationship that is really great for these two specific people, in their specific circumstance. Sorry, Tolstoy, but sometimes every happiness isn’t the same, and that’s a beautiful thing.

#LoveSongs: It Matters to Me

Sometimes I almost prefer writing about songs where the relationship is failing than those first-blush-of-love ones. For one thing, you’re way less likely to have an assault on your hands when you’re falling out of love. But I think you can really see someone’s relationship skills in how they break down or break up. Perhaps that’s why I like to balance my lovey mixtapes with a few breakup ballads. This one from an early Faith Hill is a favorite of mine.

I’m not sure you could start out more heartbreaking than the image of fighting without saying a word. It’s the opposite of that country classic “When You Say Nothing At All:” instead of love in a touch, we’ve got silent, hostile distance. Faith is reaching for something deeper, but her lover remains just beyond her reach, unaffected.

This song isn’t a bad template at all for expressing that the spark has gone out of your relationship. It’s possible that things aren’t even as bad as Faith fears. In all relationships, one person pursues and the other distances, and a balance must be achieved. Clearly, there’s too much distance here for Faith to feel secure and loved, but letting her partner know that may be enough to salvage things.

What permeates this song more than anything else is a lack of knowledge arising from a lack of communication. Faith doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know if her partner even cares about the state of things. She’s out of ideas, but, fortunately, she is not yet alone. Naming the pain the distance brings her may snap her partner out of his fog and bring back the talking, touching, and loving that Faith needs.

And if not, if he’s perfectly content with the situation as it stands and refuses to do more, we can already see Faith accepting that and preparing to move on. In the second verse, she asks how far the distance is, and how her lover can cope, and then acknowledges that she isn’t sure she can. She’s not entirely giving up, but she isn’t willing to stay in a situation that hurts her this much.

One of the best things about this song is that it has no protests that she’ll die for this love, or attempts at emotional blackmail. In far too many songs, the protagonist gives all the power in their emotional life over to their lover. There’s none of that here, just a matter-of-fact statement about Faith’s feelings and needs, which her lover can respond to as he will. It hurts and it matters that Faith feels ignored, but this still isn’t her entire life.

Overall, we have here a song that sounds like words real people might say to one another. There’s a time and a place for whatever terrible relationship habits Taylor Swift is cultivating, but when it’s time to actually interact with another person, I’m glad we’ve got Faith Hill to show us the way.

#LoveSongs: Take Me Home Tonight

Today we’ve got Eddie Money’s 1986 hit “Take Me Home Tonight,” which got nominated for a Grammy. As we know, award shows are about the worst on telling us how creepy a song is, so let’s dive in!
Not too shabby, Eddie Money. You see a person, you want to go to their house and cuddle all night long. And so you are asking them to do that, except you aren’t totally sure how questions work! That’s okay, sometimes you spy a super-cutie and grammar gets hard, I understand.
Big points on having no gender markers in this song; all those me and you pronouns mean this song can work on a mixtape for anyone at all, no matter their gender. You sure do emphasize how much you want this person to be your “little baby,” but technically that’s your pal Ronnie Spector who is bad at pet names, so we’ll give you a pass. Plus maybe you’re into that whole adult baby scene, and who am I to judge? That’s between you and your sweetie.
In the first verse, Eddie is really horny, and expresses his sex feelings in hunger language. This person’s sexy, they make Eddie drool, he wants to turn their engine on. With his key, which he needs help finding. If the key is Eddie’s penis, it sounds like he is not super-familiar with his own body. Maybe the key is the thing that Hottie enjoys doing sexually! I’m impressed by Eddie’s focus on his partner’s pleasure.
Wikipedia tells me this song might be about the producer’s obsession with getting the drunkest girl at the bar to take him home, which is definitely Grade-A Creep behavior. Without that back story, though, the lyrics give us no reason to assume that Eddie’s intended partner can’t consent. I’m pretty weirded out by the line “with all the power you’re releasing/it isn’t safe to walk the streets alone,” which sure does sound like some rape culture bullshit about how sexy ladies are asking to be attacked. Fortunately, Eddie doesn’t continue in that vein for long.
The second verse switches from Eddie’s horniness to his nightmares and fears of the darkness. Perhaps this is some 80s pickup artist technique, showing vulnerability to make someone want you more. It’s a little sappy and overblown, sure, but we’ve certainly seen worse. Does it work on his intended? Their heart beats faster, we know, which is either from being turned on or from being afraid and wanting to escape. I hope for everyone’s sake that Eddie is reading the nonverbal signals correctly.
The song asks more questions than it answers. We never do find out if Eddie makes it into someone else’s bed. Is Ronnie a good wingman? Does Eddie keep mentioning Ronnie because he is actually hoping for a threesome? The world may never know.

#LoveSongs: I Will Always Love You

Today we tackle Dolly Parton’s classic breakup ballad, originally written to commemorate her feelings about leaving long-term collaborator Porter Wagoner to focus on her solo career. Dolly’s been a personal hero of mine since early childhood, and Tiny Me knew what she was about. Dolly writes songs that exemplify what we want in a love song. Let’s take a closer look.

People have asked me before how to break up with someone, and Dolly’s template here isn’t a bad place to start. She’s looked over the situation, and describes it in terms of the other person, which is helpful to get them to listen! Sure, that opening line is a little bit patronizing, but it’s also realistic: sometimes a relationship that was previously a place of mutual growth stagnates and prevents us from reaching our potential. Rather than insisting that love requires us to always stay together, in spite of the odds, Dolly acknowledges that sometimes the most loving action is to split, painful though it may be.

I do have to fault Dolly for asking her partner not to cry just because the split is the right choice. It’s perfectly mature to mourn that which is lost, even though the loss is necessary and ultimately for the better. She may be setting a boundary here around emotional support, though, insisting that her former partner find someone new to process the lost with. A great choice!

I am most impressed with the final verse, in which Dolly wishes all the best for her former partner. This is one of the best definitions of love; wanting someone to flourish no matter what. Often, this is one of the hardest lessons to learn: we love people because of what they can do for us, and have trouble coping when their needs conflict with our own. Learning to send someone else on their way and get our needs met elsewhere is an essential and difficult skill.

All in all, we have about the perfect break-up song here. Dolly beautifully encapsulates what it is for a person to let go of someone else without objectifying them. She reminds us that there are forms of love that don’t involve dying in each other’s arms, all while avoiding most platitudes. If I had to complain about anything, it’s the face that the song is rather sappy and doesn’t quite promise us that Dolly herself will go on and find other loves. At the same time, being directed at the one who is lost, it would be cruel of Dolly to remind the other person that she, too, has bigger and better things to do.

In short, I’m very glad that every big-voiced female artist wants to cover this song, because it remains such a solid example of how we should treat one another, and we need to keep those examples on our radio.

#LoveSongs: Baby It’s Cold Outside

There are so many Christmas love songs, but this is probably the most difficult one out there. It sounds so cheery, so flirtatious, so fun, and yet we’re all pretty sure that it’s a model of about the worst consent there is. I’ve gone back and forth a lot on this song; last year, I could barely listen to it, and this year I’m hoping to salvage it for karaoke delightfulness. So let’s dig in and see if this is the original Blurred Lines, yea?

Alright, let’s start from that worst line “say what’s in this drink?” I’m going to have to side with this great blog post and remind the world that this used to be a pretty common idiom, and not a literal description of drugging someone. This, of course, reminds us that we’re working with a song written in 1944, and are going to need to meet the song in its cultural context.

Unfortunately, it’s an awful context. The real theme of the song is that two people want to have sex and spend the night together, and their social context would frown on this behavior. In the original score, the two are identified as “mouse” and “wolf” (which predatory image is definitely uncomfortable), and not by gender. However, most recordings give the mouse part to a woman and the wolf to a man, and the rigid control of women’s sexuality is definitely a key to understanding the song. (I’ve chosen to embed a version that swaps those gender roles, because it’s great.)

Rather than a woman who is struggling to escape a man, we have here a tale of a woman struggling to escape the judgment of those around her. From the beginning, she describes the evening as “so very nice,” and later speaks of being under a spell–“enchanting” is a compliment, so it also seems reasonable to assume she’s enjoying herself. Meanwhile, the objections she raises are about what others around her will think. Her family disapproves of her spending the night with her lover, but she is working up the courage to do so anyway.

The lines that most save the song for me come in the middle, and depend on listening to the man as well as the woman. She starts with “I ought to say no, no, no” (that “ought” is key), and he responds “mind if I move in closer?” Instead of pushing him off or firming up her resistance, she instead drops to “at least I’m gonna say that I tried.” We’ve got a verbal request for consent right there, and the physical closeness of her lover reminds the woman that she does, in fact, want this, in spite of the societal pressures that tell her she should not.

What really sets this song apart from other anthems about rape is that it is a true duet. Each vocal part gets equal time, and the back-and-forth of the two is much of what makes it so much fun. Rather than most songs, where one person reports on the other’s feelings, each person has a chance to say their part. They end in harmony, singing happily of their agreement to stay together. Don’t get me wrong, this song does not model ideal consent. But I think we can salvage it and continue to sing it with our friends and crushes without guilt.

#LoveSongs: Total Eclipse of the Heart

Is there a song more fun to belt with your friends than this one? I’m not sure it gets more 80s than this, but what on earth is this song actually about?

It’s not about fencing, I don’t think. I do think it is about a current relationship, but possibly the worst relationship. I don’t know why Bonnie Tyler is so stuck here, but I really hope she figures out how to escape.

The first few verses tell us how miserable Bonnie is. She gets lonely and her partner never comes around, she’s literally cried so much that she is boring herself, and she’s worried that it will never get better than this. None of these are signs of a good relationship, Bonnie. We’re not even in “something good was here but you’re in a rough patch.” There is no evidence that there is anything worth saving.

But there’s that look in her lover’s eyes! It maybe makes her less terrified, but it’s not clear what the relationship of that look to Bonnie falling apart is. Also “a little bit terrified?” Terror is not a mild emotion, Bonnie.

Now, it’s possible that Bonnie is the crazy one and her partner is very patient and helps calm all of her wild fears. That repeated chorus “once upon a time I was falling in love but now I’m only falling apart” worries me, though. Why would these be connected if Bonnie were experiencing an unrelated craziness? Nope, her love has been replaced by fear and darkness.

“Your love is like a shadow on me all the time” she sings, as if that’s a healthy and exciting thing. Even if her relationship is what’s keeping her grounded, it’s not okay to make your mental health dependent on another person. The long version includes a verse that says Bonnie’s lover will “never be the boy you always wanted to be,” and yet he’s “the only boy who wanted me the way that I am.” Frankly, it sounds like Bonnie’s caught up in an abusive situation, convinced that she is so worthless no one else would have her. That’s never true, and beyond that, she could have a fulfilling and happy life without a partner.

Bonnie seems to know how precarious her situation is- “living in a powder keg and giving off sparks,” but she has no motivation to improve it. She remembers the light, and the happy days, but she is hopeless that they could ever return, and can no longer remember what her identity was before this relationship.

There’s nothing here to really stop us from belting this song with our friends, but any time I actually start to think “wow, Bonnie Tyler really understands what I’m going through,” I’m going to consider that a huge red flag and change that situation as fast as I can.

#LoveSongs: A Thousand Miles

It’s 2003, I’m in the auditorium of an old women’s college-turned-retreat center, surrounded by 200 or so other teens, and a guy on stage with a guitar and too many necklaces is telling us about how we have to fall crazy in love with Jesus, and I’ve never had a boyfriend before, but I’m pretty sure I know what he means. And then we all sing this Vanessa Carlton song together, except it’s Jesus that we all want to fall into the sky with.

Later, after small group Bible study, a boy named Chad, who doesn’t look a thing like Jesus, will pull me into the corner of a stairwell and I’ll have my first very underwhelming kiss. We’ll go on to talk on the phone a few times and he’ll mail me his guitar strap and I’ll never quite be sure if I should tell my friends I’m dating someone. It’s hard for 15-year-old boys to compete with the heady combination of pop melodies and carefully packaged religious experiences.

I’m pretty sure Vanessa Carlton didn’t actually write this song about Jesus, but it’s hard for me to untangle it from all those experiences. An important part of this project, though, is to look at exactly those songs that defined my (and your) young experience and see what weird, terrible ideas about relationships got transmitted through them. So how bad is this one, Jesus or no?

I mean, on actually looking at it, this song is more unclear than anything else. The best I can guess, this song is about a breakup, which makes its use by mid-naughties Christians even weirder. Vanessa’s floating through life because her sweetie is just a “precious memory,” and she sure wishes she could touch and hold this person again. Tonight.

None of those are the worst feelings, I suppose, but they definitely seem one-sided. Vanessa has no idea if Precious ever thinks of her, and her person has probably moved on. I worry for Vanessa, who seems to have lost all sense of independent self. She needs some hobbies, other than whatever drugs are making her forget how gravity works.

The bridge is the worst part here: “I don’t want to let you go, I drown in your memory, I don’t want to let this go.” The pronoun switch shows a literal objectification: “you” turn to “this” over time, as Vanessa’s obsession is not even with a person but with the feeling that person produces for her. It also sounds like a protest, as if someone else in her life is telling her to let go, to move on. No, Vanessa insists, she will choke and die on this unrequited affection.

In the end, this song is kind of sad and pitiful, but not actually all that harmful. It’s a nice outlet for a freshly broken heart, before you decide that, yes, you do want to let this go. Or at least spend some time with someone you can both see and touch.

It’s still a fucking weird choice for a worship band, though.