I know, a lofty topic, albeit one that’s appeared in a lot of my writing since the very beginning of my writing career (which began at age sevenish). Well, at the beginning of my writing career I had very little personal experience with relationships to draw on, aside from a brief romance at age five with a boy named Jack who I still refer to as my “first boyfriend.” I even gave him the rose I received at school to present as a gift on Valentine’s day (one of which was given to each member of my kindergarten class with the definite intent that we gift it to one of our parents… I was a ballsy child, I guess, back before I learned to be self-conscious or became aware of the possibility of rejection). Anyway, I would say now that my experience with relationships – platonic, romantic, and in between – has expanded dramatically, even if I did wait until eighteen to have my first real kiss (after Jack, of course) and still have much to experience down the road. But this isn't going to be about my personal experience in the wide world of love (sorry to disappoint).
The inspiration for this post comes from a rather odd situation: I found myself, the other night, sitting on a stoop in a deserted street on the island of Mykonos, Greece, circa four o’clock in the morning, with an engaged man (as in engaged to be married) who claimed that my very presence at the club we had both happened to walk into that night was at that moment making him question EVERYTHING (his upcoming marriage, that is). It was his bachelor party weekend; all of his friends, already married, were there. He was the last in his group to bite the bullet and tie himself to another human for the rest of his life, and he was clearly doing it against his will. It was peer pressure of the worst kind – the silent kind, the kind that comes not from a verbal enticement or order that you can reject, but from a grating knowledge that everyone else is doing it so you must too. A man of his age (35ish, maybe a little older) and of his social standing (nice clothes, bottle service, hop on a plane to Mykonos for the weekend to celebrate your last moments of celibacy) should want to get married by this point, should be ready to settle down and should certainly not be interested in chasing after tall blonde strangers any longer. After all, the chase should become exhausting at a certain point, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t we all be ready by 35 to just come home at the end of a long day to one person we love and trust, someone we can just cuddle up next to to watch Netflix, who’s used to our quirks and particularities and sometimes annoys the living hell out of us but who we are still going to love because, after all, we agreed to it however many months or years ago in front of all of his (or her) and our friends and family? And yet, the helpless engaged man cursing the gods (or so he claimed) that I walked into the same room as him that night (we’ll call him Rafael, because that’s his real name and there’s no way he’s ever going to read this) said that he knew not one married man who had actually managed to remain faithful to his wife. Not a one. Okay.
Now, of course, you could be saying to yourself – as my friend John (hi, John;)) said to me after I told him of this encounter - that Rafael was only saying these things to get my attention, to make me feel okay on some level about flirting back with him, to make me empathize with his shady behavior. Well, I did empathize, because despite the fact that I didn’t particularly respect his actions as a man who has made the decision to ask a woman to marry him, I have realized that committed, exclusive relationships are not for everyone. Unfortunately, our societal rules and norms don’t seem to agree, and they often push people to make decisions that in the end make them terribly unhappy. Society, of course, has happily evolved from the cookie-cutter, oppressed-suburban-wife-putting-dinner-on-the-table-and-looking-damn-good-while-doing-it model of the ‘50s; don't get me wrong there. But society still has a long way to go. It doesn’t offer us a particularly appealing alternative to the classic happily-ever-after marriage we are all supposed to have – we want connection, we want commitment, but we also want freedom and excitement. However, open relationships seem grimy and a little too hippie-ish for the average citizen. So we resort to cheating, because nobody has to find out. Until the very person we want least to find out inevitably does.
Anyway, I’m on a beautiful island in Europe with my best friend. This island is a romantic hub for straight couples, gay couples, cat couples, apparently (there are a lot of stray cats here), and even single people looking for DFMs (maybe more than DFMs? By the way, mom, that stands for “dance floor makeout”). The windy streets to get lost on, the late nights, the breathtaking sunsets, and the music that fills the streets all call for giggles, champagne, and meaningful hand-holding. So maybe that’s where Rafael got stuck. Maybe he’s just missing his fiance (I say somewhat hopefully).
So, I wish I could turn this into a brilliant, researched piece full of statistics about who cheats and why, whether people who actually stay true to their commitments are happier than those who don’t, and how many people, single and married, actually wholeheartedly believe in marriage as an institution. I wish I could turn this into a how-to for the perfect relationship and then put it in practice myself. But a lot of those statistics are out there if you google them, and they all could be skewed (since adultery happens to be a pretty secretive matter). Even if they were right, I’m not sure I could analyze them in a way that would give any kind of answer to this big question of whether humans are supposed to spend their entire lives with just one person or whether the decision to get hitched is a decision that will ruin that person’s life.
My personal opinion is that marriage makes sense IF you decide that you want to start a family with someone. Even then, it doesn’t necessarily make sense; if you think that you might be done with your potential spouse after the good, long run of eighteen or so years that it takes to get your kids out of the house, perhaps you should save yourself the headache of having to divide up all of your money and belongings when that time comes. And maybe you just don’t see yourself raising a family at all; so maybe don’t. Of course, these are difficult questions to consider level-headedly when in love. Anyway, this isn’t an advice column and I’m only twenty-two – I still have a lot to learn and experience, as I said. My ideal relationship - an ideal that most certainly will change as I get older - would probably be one where I got the chance to be boring and cuddle and have weird conversations about everything and sometimes not talk at all and not have that feel weird with someone; and then also be free, no-guilt, to go out and have fun and maybe engage in some DFMs of my own every once in a while. Because flirting and chasing and dancing is fun, let’s face it. No one wants to give that up entirely, or to have to do it all with just one person forever and ever and ever. And it's easy sometimes not to feel guilty about something you know has no emotional meaning. But then again, I'm sure, in this ideal open-ish relationship, that jealousy would set in at some point, as human nature goes. And that's when things get more serious. And more serious is fun in its own way; it feels good to work for something and someone, even when temptation astray is strong. As the old saying goes, nothing worth doing is easy. I'll give a little anecdote here that many people probably won't understand - the Sims was WAY more fun and satisfying when you didn't use cheat codes (and ESPECIALLY when you had your own garden, which has nothing to do with anything).
So many questions. This is the problem with romantic comedies, my friends (though I do love them very, very dearly) – they offer us no help. They end after the flirting/DFM/falling in love over happenstance or drunken deep conversations. It’s what comes after that that’s hard to figure out. I’m personally terrified of that relationship phase because, to be quite honest, I get sick of people pretty easily (shh, don’t tell my friends).
I guess this is, put simply, a suggestion that it might be beneficial to open our minds and hearts to new possibilities for the way relationships should work. I think our generation is innovative enough to figure out ways of making the love game (and what comes after the game) work a little better. I’ve seen too many failed or just plain sad marriages over my own short lifetime, both in my extended family and outside of it, to know that a successful and happy one is rare and takes an immense amount of work (and that immense amount of work still might not prove quite enough to hold it all together). No one should feel forced into a type of relationship they can’t, in the end, see themselves in. The terms should be up for negotiation with one’s partner without the risk of irreparably hurting their feelings. In other words, Rafael, you’re fucking up, though I wish you the very best.
So, that is my spiel for the day. The first spiel in a long time, actually – my writing drive got burnt out by the nonfiction writing class I took this past spring (some of the pieces I wrote for that are posted here). Hoping to post an actual travel piece about Mykonos and all of our adventures here soon. Until next time ;)