The “Real” Thing in Relationships and Lifefeatured

There seems to be three kinds of environmental advocate. One kind wants to get renewable energy and choose better materials for our products and then have things go on pretty much the same. Another wants those things, but also wants a more just and fair economic system and then have things go on pretty much the same.

But the kind of environmentalist I feel most sympathetic to is the type who wants those things, but also feels that the standard life approaches that go with the consumption-based economy no longer bring happiness. That kind of environmentalist advocates for biking and community living and local food and other paradigmatic lifestyle changes as well as reforms to the production of energy and stuff and economic justice.

That kind of environmentalist, the kind I aspire to be like, believes the culture is on a quest not just for a new way to produce energy but a new way to live life. Times have changed and what can make us happy and safe has changed, too.

Anyway, it turns out that when you experiment and think about paradigmatic lifestyle change in one area of life, you end up thinking about it in all. When you pull on a ball of string, the whole thing unravels.

So lots of people who also think about non-consumption based lifestyles–minimalists, simple living folks, DIYers, fixers, pickers–also think about breaking the forms romantic and sexual relationships are “supposed” to take. They can’t help looking for new relationship forms that work better in the current age–whatever that may look like.

This is why there seems to be an interesting intersection between the queer community and the environmental-living community. The two groups are both just trying to figure out an authentic way of living in the current times and can’t help but overlap. They are both trying to figure out ways of living based on our humanity instead of the societal norms that seem to be leading us off a cliff.

Anyway. That’s a long introduction to what I wanted to say about how we think of the “real thing” when it comes to pretty much all the ways we are “supposed” to live life but particularly romantic relationships. A while back, my friend and sometimes mentor and hero and heartthrob Julia Hill posted on Facebook that she wasn’t sure that longterm relationships worked for her but she sure would love a great fling.

Someone very innocently commented on her Facebook post that Julia deserved a great fling but also the “real thing.” Here is the problem with that language: Just as we kind of sanction and pressure each other to have “real cars” and buy “real houses” and and have “real careers” and make each other feel bad for choosing non-materialistic lifestyles, we seem to do the same thing with relationship forms.

I mean, certainly, in the past, people have imagined that gay relationships were not “real.” But we do the same thing across the sexuality spectrum. It is “real” if it is long-lived and not primarly based on sex (just by the by, is sex not real?).

Then, when we don’t have “real” relationships, either because we choose not to or the opportunity is not there right now, we feel shamed. (I’m not going to speak for you women but I will say I sure am glad I am not the target of the media and societal norms that you are).

But isn’t the great consolation of trying to live an authentic, non-materialistic lifestyle that we get to decide for ourselves what is “real”?

In my own case, attaching different value to the fling/real thing/choose to be single/asexual/friendship is confusing.

I have had flings that were passionate and fun and connecting and incredible. But because they didn’t last for a year, were they not real? Were they somehow less important, meaningful and life changing? I have had longterm amazing relationships that were not fully defined and boundaried.

Also, I have had love affairs where there was never any sexual consummation at all. But the people have stayed in my heart for years and years. I have also had friendships that were as important as any romantic connection. Were they not “real” and valuable?

Am I less if I have a romantic relationship that doesn’t include sex? Or a sexual relationship that does not include romance?

There have been one night stands with people who ended up changing me–or I changing them–irrevocably in the best of ways. (There was this time in Rome… ).

And of course, I was with the fabulous mother of my daughter for nearly ten years.

The thing is, they all were “real.” I’m wondering if we should maybe drop the idea of real and not real when it comes to relationship choices. Maybe our standard should simply be life affirming.

Long-term relationships are not always available to all of us or what we want. And when we talk about real or not real, I wonder if we are devaluing some of what other people have found or choose or have available.

Love and service come in so many forms and every one is glorious, no? If we are that third kind of environmentalist–the ones that explore authentic, paradigm-shifting lifestyles–shouldn’t we allow ourselves some freedom from normative standards here too? Shouldn’t we allow ourselves to believe we are the “real thing,” regardless of relationship type and status?

It is amazing and exciting that we can relate with love and passion and lust and compassion in such an amazing and complex combination of ways. Let’s let go of the idea that one kind of relationship or another is real or successful. Let’s let go of the idea that our value is somehow related to whether we have found a “real” relationship or a “real” job or a “real” career or not. Instead, let’s let our standard simply be whether our ways make the lives of ourselves and others better.

PS If you like this post, you will probably like Choose The Romantic Partner Who Will Make The Best Ex.

(photo via kinseyconfidential.org)

Join the Good Life Conversation