Written by Austin VanKirk—
If you are a reader who habitually picks up my column, you’ve probably gathered by now that I am not the type for “traditional” ideas of what relationships should or can look like. It might come as a surprise to some of you that I moved in with a romantic partner in July. To top it all off, I’d only known the guy for about four months before we made this decision. Please believe that this is the only time I’ve ever done something like this—and I certainly don’t plan to make it a habit. Generally speaking, I am a very calculating and anxious person. I also have a tendency to catastrophize, assuming that the very worst things that could go wrong will. What if he turns out to be a serial killer with an appetite for human liver? What if he collects pieces of old gum and uses them to create busts of former lovers? What if he’s secretly a conservative? I mean, he is from Montana.
Despite these envisioned catastrophes, we’ve been living together for about a month and a half in a rented house. It’s been something of a roller coaster ride. This guy, let’s call him Will for the sake of his privacy, is actually pretty normal. His most bizarre quality is that he prefers to listen to Fleetwood Mac over Rihanna. Our issues don’t come from him being too weird. The cause for our domestic difficulties, from an American (rather, Puritanical) conventional standpoint, is that I am too weird. I believe that you can love more than one person at a time. I believe that people, although they are in a relationship, should be individuals. I believe that each person in a relationship should have his own friends of both sexes and not have to be worried about being accused of “cheating”—which is an entirely different issue as far I am concerned. But, here’s Will, Plain and Tall, champion of all the social customs of love and relationships.
This difference between us has led me to ask myself the question of how did we each end up on such opposite end s of the spectrum in this respect although we are so alike in so many others. We both have a fear of public urination, we’re both hyper environmentally conscious, and we have similar mental health issues. We enjoy the same shows, the same movies, and the same video games. If our brains operate so similarly despite him growing up in Montana and me in Michigan, how could we have such polarized views on this one, rather important topic?
I imagine if I went back and read my own columns over the past few months, I could come up with a way to trace my thought processes and come to a pretty sound explanation for myself. That sounds like a lot of work. Instead, I’ll speculate that it’s because my field of work and study has brought me to these conclusions. As something of a man of letters, I read a lot. In this reading, I come across many different ideas, avant-garde ideas, ideas that I’d wager the vast majority of the American people are simply unaware of. These ideas, whether right or wrong from a moralistic standpoint (but what morals are and whether that actually exist might be a topic for a different column), have led me to my current understanding on love.
Will on the other hand, has not had this same experience. In fact, based on his sexual and romantic history, I’d go so far as to say he’s inexperienced. Although he claims that his viewpoints are not influenced by society, I find it curious that, assuming what he says is true, that he’s thought long and hard, challenging the status quo, and still arrived, more or less, at the same ideas as set forth by conventionality.
I don’t listen to the radio, nor do I watch television. I don’t have Facebook, I’m not sure how YouTube playlists work, and I read no magazines. I do however listen to Pandora, because it allows me to discover, what to me is, new music. I like artists who are different. I’ve been grooming a single station of the most obscure kinds of music and musicians for a half-dozen years now. However, Pandora occasionally throws out this really bizarre song by an artist I’ve never heard of that I quite enjoy. Later, much to my chagrin, I find out that the song is popular across the nation and is played on all the top 40 stations. Does this mean I have good taste in music, or am I simply programed by society to like certain kinds of music, just like everyone else? I’m not certain at all, but one must wonder. Analogously, can Will really be sure that his views on love are his own unique views, and not ones society has programed in him?
As I said, I’ve been reading a lot this summer (perhaps not as much as I should be, though). I just finished a book called Lust in Translation by Pamela Druckerman. In the book, Druckerman, through interviews with people from all over the world, comes to the conclusion that what counts as love and lust is determined by one’s cultural milieu. For instance, did you know that sex therapists and marriage counselors in Russia are now advising their clients to have open marriages because it is now understood to be healthy? It’s all a matter of perspective, where you are and whom you associate with.
Few things stay the same. Ideas on love and relationships are not, and should not, be among them.
But what do I know?