Sunday, October 11, 2009

Community Intelligence: How well do you understand your community?

Still busy with grad school, but I'm coming up with tangentially relevant stuff from time to time:

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Relational Economics

I'm on vacation, which means I get to spend some quality time nerding out with my brother. We just used a big chunk of beach as a chalkboard to explore this question:

Can relationships be meaningfully described as a series of rational decisions?

My mom's immediate answer, when she walked by to see what we were up to, was "don't be silly." First off, looking at the decisions that get made in a relationship doesn't really tell you about the heart and soul of that relationship, the emotion and subtlety that make that relationship work. Second, anyone who has experience with these things will tell you that relationships can be anything but rational. There's no rhyme or reason to love, and we had all better get used to it.

Despite the fact that she's my mother, and therefore always right, my brother and I persisted. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that relationships can be described that way. That means that a relationship can be thought of as a series of decisions that people make, and each of those decisions can be broken down to a sort of cost/benefit analysis that has one logical conclusion. This kind of a theory isn't meant to be practical, like most real world examples of physics most real world relationships are far too complicated to be predicted with any precision. (Physics can't, in any practical way, tell you how a teapot is going to shatter.) It could be interesting in thinking about overall trends in the ways that people connect with one another and communities come together.

Because, irrational as relationships seem, the decisions that we make in them almost always ARE rational (or at least as "rational" as our decisions to purchase things, and that hasn't hurt the field of economics.) To test this my brother and I decided to explore the following scenario:

Bob has called Alice and invited her to play golf on Saturday. Will Alice say yes?

As I've mentioned before in this blog, decisions about time are particularly important to understanding what makes relationships tick. A quick poll of the beach seemed to hint that this was, in fact, a problem with a rational answer. When presented with the scenario, people immediately sought to define factors which would define a rational decision.

"I think she would," said a passing six year old "because girls like golf."

Her friend, eager to contribute to the problem, added another condition "She might stay home if she was sick though."

The response of these two girls was telling. If the decisions that we make in relationship were completely irrational then they would have simply shrugged their shoulders, as they would if I asked them whether it would rain in a month. Their guts and life experience told them that the situation with Bob and Alice COULD be understood if the right initial conditions were known. That is, if we know enough about how Alice feels about golf, enough about how she feels about Bob, enough about her other options for that Saturday and a few other tidbits of information then we can predict her decision with at least the theoretical certainty that economists predict real-world economic behavior. My brother and I had fun for the better part of an hour mapping these criteria on the sand, but I won't bore you with them here.

Instead, I'd like to talk about the possible implications of this rationality. Let's pretend for a moment that the statement at the beginning of this post is true. If it is, then the process by which relationships form and thrive can be mapped in a new sort of theoretical detail. Rather than bitching about dating, we could tease the process of dating apart and ask ourselves whether a better system could be designed for producing intimate human relationships. Rather than trying to build professional communities by throwing 500 people with business cards in a room together we could begin to build a real set of knowledge about what makes relationships happen and what doesn't. The art of community building seems stuck at the developmental stage of medieval medicine; a conglomeration of pet theories, wives tales and one-off solutions. It seems like we can do better.

I'll leave it here for now, and solicit people's responses to the questions above. Can relationships be described as a series of rational decisions? When (if ever) can't they? And if you had to map the criteria influencing Alice's decision to play golf with Bob then how would you do it?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Asexy Pride Video

I made an incredibly cheesy video about this year's AVEN Pride contingent. Check it out:

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Power of Smalltalk

I'm playing with video again!

If you like it, please digg it. Thanks!!

Thursday, June 25, 2009


There's nothing sexy about starting a band.

Talking about starting a band is sexy. Playing in a band, once everything is said and done, gets you laid like the Mattress Giant off I-270, but the process of starting one is anything but. It's just you in a room with a bunch of other dudes fumbling around to try to find a sound. Things are not quite clicking yet, your styles and personalities haven't quite figured out how to fit together. But there's something thrilling in that, the possibility that it all COULD come together, and that possibility is what keeps you at it, keeps your failing and trying again and growing closer as a group. Starting a band is asexy.

If sexy is about being alluring and desirable, asexy is about being unapologetically true to oneself and one's passions. According to the urban dictionary:

An adjective used to describe an asexual person showing intelligence, confidence, style, physical attractiveness, charming personality, baking skills, or any other combination of sufficiently positive and unique characteristics.
DJ is one asexy amoeba. I hear he can bake a three-layer cake in thirty minutes flat.

While defines sexy as:

–adjective, sex⋅i⋅er, sex⋅i⋅est.
1.concerned predominantly or excessively with sex; risqué: a sexy novel.
2.sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality: the sexiest professor on campus.
3.excitingly appealing; glamorous: a sexy new car.

Something about the interplay between these two terms is fascinating to me. In the eyes of many of my friends, the two are one and the same. Being true to oneself and one's passions make you desirable, hands down. In my geeky queer hometown of San Francisco doing your thing, whatever that thing happens to be, is incredibly hot. Typeface nerds are hot. Drag queens are hot. Line-dancing biophysicists are hot. In open and accepting environments focusing on being asexy almost always leads to being sexy. The opposite is not necessarily true. Going out of ones way to be sexy means following the crowd, grasping for things that seem to make other people glamorous and appealing at the expense of genuine self-expression. Being asexy makes you sexy, but being sexy does not necessarily make you asexy.

This has not always been true. When the term "sexy" was in its cultural infancy it meant anything but a two-stepping, thrift-store clad graduate student. Some googling reveals that the term "sexy" first cropped up in publications like the LA times around the early 1920s. World War I had just ended, and the most advanced propoganda machine known to man, headed by Frued's nephew Edward Bernaise, was retasked to sell consumer products in what became the birth of american consumerism. People were realizing that people brought products not just becuase of their functionality, but because of much subtler social drives.

In Hollywood, where the barriers between the mainstream film industry and the porn industry were still paper-thin, people needed a way to describe the fact that stuff with "sex appeal" had a way of flying off the shelves and selling out at the box office. "Sexy" emerged because sex sells. Sex appeal became so ingrained in consumerism, and consumerism so engrained in our culture that what started (possibly) as a tagline for soft-core porn has become intertwined with the way that we think about all sorts of desire. Heirloom tomatoes are sexy. Green jobs are sexy. iTunes apps are sexy.

If "sexy" came to us from consumerism, "asexy" comes from a reaction against it. In the 1960s and 70s, a massive backlash against consumer culture led to a nationwide epidemic of unsexy behavior. Feminists gave sexy Hollywood starlets the finger, shaving their heads and rebelling against a society which defined them in terms of a sexual role in which they were fundamentally uninterested. Gay liberation followed suit, laying the groundwork for a politics of sexual identity founded on self-determination, self expression and unapologetic celebration of any and everything (so long as no one got hurt.) It was with these ideals that the asexual community first began to hobble together, much like the band in the first paragraph, around 2002 and 2003.

This early asexual community was full of people looking for a place to just be ourselves. We didn't want to be alluring or desirable, we just wanted to be validated and celebrated for who we were and to escape from a culture where the mandate to be sexy was often overwhelming. So we got busy celebrating. We busted out the cake and started partying about all of the nonsexual desires that made our lives hum. "Asexy" was our way of giving one anothers' passions an unjudgemental nod. Fly fishing is asexy. Fuck You Penguin is asexy. Your 76-page paper on the composition of medieval brick is asexy.

All of this makes me wonder if it might be time to bring asexy back. Todays hot trends aren't like the Hollywood producers and starlets of the 1920s. They look like steampunk, DIY, the viral YouTube remix and fighting climate change. What's sexy today is sexy precisely because it had the guts not to be. What's appealing isn't showing some skin or flashing some glamour, it's having the chutzpah to have fun keeping it real. More and more people are realizing that living life chasing what's sexy makes you anything but. With any luck, the juggernaught of sexy may finally be grinding to a halt and people may start looking, quietly, for a word to take its place.

Caveats & footnotes:
  • I fully acknolwedge that the majority of bands out there are not just a bunch of dudes, and that in many circumstances a bunch of dudes together in a room is totally sexy. For the purposes of this exercise we're assuming a straight, all-male band totally in it for the chicks.
  • Oh god. If you look up "asexy" in the dictionary is my name really there? That's terrifying.
  • As my friends will attest it takes me, like, forever to cook anything.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Make Love Not (Necessarily) Sex

I've been nerding out on the history and philosophy of nonviolence.

Sparked (kinda) by Mahatma Ghandi and brought to the US by Dr. King, nonviolence has had a profound impact on the way that we think about social change. The biggest misconception about nonviolence is that it is a form of absolution, swearing off the use of force because hitting people isn't nice. Nonviolence is a tactic. It's a set of principles and strategies for groups to create social change which are, in almost all circumstances, MORE EFFECTIVE than hitting people.

This seems kinda counter intuitive. After all, isn't power ultimately about who has the ability to hit who? Isn't refusing to literally fight for what we believe in a cop-out? Aren't we just yielding power to those willing to use violence to achieve their ends?

Non-violent activists would give a calm, resounding "no" to all of the above. Power isn't about who can hit who, it's about who can stand together. When given the option between a powerful violent group and an equally powerful nonviolent one people will almost always choose the latter. Sure, it takes guts to fight for what you believe in, but it takes even more guts to stand up to anger and violence with compassion instead of retaliation. Standing up to anger and violence this way doesn't yield power to it, quite the opposite. If someone wants to hit you and you show them compassion, they stop wanting to hit you. Effective nonviolence dismantles violence, and in doing so it demonstrates that violence is a lot less powerful than everyone thinks.

I bring this up here because increasingly when I think about what it means to be "nonsexual" the idea of nonviolence comes up. To be clear- unlike violence, sex is NOT a Bad Thing. But like violence, sex is a massive source of fear, power and control in our society. And like nonviolence, nonsexuality can be an extremely effective tactic to dismantle that power. Replace "violence" with "sexuality", "nonviolence" with "nonsexuality" and "social change" with "intimacy" (or vice versa.) When used correctly, nonsexuality can be a more effective tactic to create intimacy than sexuality. This is counter intuitive. We live in a society which largely equates intimacy with sex, which loudly celebrates sex as a THE way to create intimacy in popular media. Sex is a blunt instrument, a way to monitor and control the intimacy that people create without really delving into the reality of what makes that intimacy happen. But the power that sex has is also fundamentally fragile. As someone experienced in the practice of nonsexuality, I have learned that if I respond to sexuality with open, nonsexual compassion the sexuality miraculously dissolves and the other person winds up thanking me for it.

There are some powerful implications here. In our society, both sex and violence are tightly controlled as a way to control the ability of people to create social change and form close connections (two pasttimes which are more than a little connected.) What if nonsexuality works like nonviolence? What if we can go around creating whatever kind of intimacy suits our fancy without regard for society's tight constraints? I'm not suggesting that sexual people start lining up to take vows of celibacy, just that we asexuals should think of the nonsexual stuff that we're doing as more than a form of absolution. Nonsexuality is a tactic. It's a set of principles and strategies for individuals to create intimacy which are, in almost all circumstances, more effective than sex.
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Monday, February 23, 2009

What is a Relationship Model?

Relationships are everywhere. We have relationships with our friends and our family. When we go to the store we rely on a relationship with the person at the checkout counter. The onion that we buy got to the store through a (probably complex) relationship between the store and a farm. When it grew, it grew through complex relationships between the plant, the soil around it, and the sunlight and water which rained down on it. And the crazy thing is, none of these relationships ever stay the same. How we buy food from stores is not the same today as it was 100 years ago, and it will probably be different 100 years from now. How the onion relates to the soil around it changes drastically as the onion matures, and has changed in a larger sense as onions have evolved and been selectively bred. 

We're used to thinking of these things as things: stores, onions, sunlight and people, but sometimes it is useful to think of them differently. You can think of the entire chain- from the sunlight hitting the soil to the onion soup you eat at your pot luck- as an interacting series of relationships. Understanding how all of those relationships evolve and change can be just as useful as understanding the things and people involved. 

This is useful because when it comes to relationships, especially relationships between people, we tend to be very very smart. If I ask you to explain the impact of the federal funds rate on housing prices you could probably read 5 articles on the topic and still be scratching your head. But if I ask you how bringing your new girlfriend to Thanksgiving will impact the conversation between your grandma and your uncle, you'd probably be able to tell me. A computer could never do that. People are incredibly complicated, much more so than obscure financial data, but because we have a deep intuitive understanding of the way that relationships work we are able to operate in them remarkably well. Thinking in terms of relationship models allows us to tap into that intelligence and use it to enhance our understanding of just about anything.

A relationship model is a set of expectations about what will happen in a relationship. If I call my friend Sam we will probably make plans to hang out next week. If I go on a date with Lori's sister things may get weird between Lori and I. If I work hard and kiss up to my boss, I may get promoted. If I buy this onion, I can cook with it. Relationship models allow us to confidently take actions in a largely unpredictable world, they consciously or intuitively tell us how relationships work. 

The relationship models that are easy to describe tend to be static. In these relationships expectations are written down in laws, scientific studies, or cultural customs. The relationship between a customer and a teller at the grocery store is one example, in most grocery stores around the world that relationship works in essentially the same way. Science tells us what to expect from the relationship between baking soda and vinegar, legal documents tell us what to expect from the relationship between a corporation and its shareholders. Even these fairly static relationships are constantly being redefined and disputed, which makes laws, science and cultural custom riddled with controversy. 

What's harder, but generally more fun, is thinking about dynamic relationship models. These models describe relationships where what we expect changes radically over time. We generally can't say where the relationship will wind up, but we can develop an understanding of the forces that will get us there. Falling in love is an example of a dynamic relationship model, so is scientific innovation or the development of an ecosystem or market strategy. Dynamic relationship models can't tell us exactly what will happen, often they can't even come close. They tell us what to pay attention to (ie the look in his eye, your gut instinct), and give us guidelines for how to act (keep an open mind, communicate clearly and openly) while we hold on to the changing situation for dear life.

The interesting thing about dynamic relationship models is how much they are similar. Did you notice how "keep an open mind" and "communicate clearly and openly" apply equally well to falling in love, making a scientific discovery and selling a product? It is not uncommon for dynamic relationships in widely differing circumstances to behave very similarly. A dating scene is a little like the trading floor on wall street which is a little like the woods regrowing after a forest fire. Relationship modelling is about finding a common, flexible language to describe those relationships, so that our understanding of one kind of dynamic relationship (building a lifelong friendship) can inform our understanding of another (building a stable company.) 

What are some concepts that you use to think about dynamic relationships?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Love and Leadership

How is being a leader like falling in love?

Something seems profane about that question. Leadership is about a sacred form of responsibility, while falling in love is about an equally sacred form of release. The idea of falling in love seems too mysterious, too emotional and too deeply personal to have a place in close proximity to the selfless work of leadership. But in other ways the two are perplexingly similar. As personal as it is to fall in love, it is also a selfless acceptance of another person. Though leadership is a deep responsibility, good leaders can motivate others to collaborate, overcome the barriers in their lives and feel an extatic sense of release. Love and leadership are both about empowerment, they are both about connection, they both involve work and they both create power. 

In this article I would like to cross-polinate some of the ideas that we use to think about romantic love with other ideas that we use to think about leadership. I will argue that love and leadership are not as disconnected as they might first appear. I believe that the skills we develop to find and keep love in our lives are deeply applicable to leading positive change in the world, and that the process of leading that positive change can be emotionally nourishing in many of the same ways as romance. 

Let's start by talking about energy. Think back to a time when you cared for someone who did not reciprocate, or to a time when you had an exciting idea that other people were uninterested in rallying around. Whether you're looking for love or looking to be a leader you're faced with the challenge of getting other people to invest energy in a relationship.

Energy means effort, it means focus, and relationships thrive on it. If you are in love with someone you may see them for only an hour, but you will spend an entire week putting energy into that hour. Similarly you can work with a team for forty hours a week, but it takes good relationships for that team to really invest energy in their work. We tend to invest energy in the things that bring us fulfillment, whether it's the simple sense of fulfillment that comes from eating food or the overhelming fullfillment that comes from overcoming oppression. The relationships that we find personally fulfilling are the ones that we tend to prioritize.

So how do you make a relationship fulfilling enough to be a high priority? It's not as simple as mapping out a plan for a fulfilling relationship on paper, giving a great sales pitch and then letting everything fall into place. Fullfillment is messy stuff. No one really understands what makes them fulfilled, and what we do understand we can't clearly communicate. As our lives change and our environment changes what we find fulfilling can change drastically, and our relationships need to be able to change with it.

The key to developing powerful, energy-rich relationships is iteration. Relationships need to constantly change and evolve in order to become powerful and stay powerful, and that change happens in three stages:

1. Investing Energy- This is what happens when couples support one another or campaign volunteers hand out yard signs. At the core of any relationship people invest energy in some process that makes them feel fulfilled. 

2. Communicating Emotion- This is what happens when couples say that they love one for one another or when a basketball team celebrates after a game. Now that everyone has invested energy in the relationship they need to take time to experience whatever the relationship created and express how they feel about that experience. 

3. Evolving Expectations- This is what happens when couples discuss where their relationship is going and teams sit down to strategize. Now that you know how everyone feels you can make a plan about how to invest more energy in the future. 

In powerful relationships these three steps happen constantly. You go on a date (energy) and at the end you say "that was fun (emotion) we should do it again sometime" (expectation). A group of friends builds an art project together (energy), then goes out afterward to celebrate (emotion) and starts planning the next project (expectation). 

In this way, love and leadership are not as different as they may first appear. Both are a way to use your time and energy creating powerful fulfillment in your life and the lives of others. Both provide deep feelings of love grounded in a process which improves the lives of everyone involved. Whether it happens across a nation or is confined to two individuals, the power to transform the world is inextricably linked to the feelings of love that come from that transformation.

I will end with an asexual story. One of the perks of being AVEN's founder is that I get to fly around the country giving talks at various universities. I'm usually invited to campus by the LGBT group, and I've noticed an interesting trend. Not surprisingly, the LGBT groups that invite me tend to be ones that have active asexual members. Of the 14 schools where I have spoken over the past two years, 7 have had out n' proud asexuals waiting in the audience.

Here's what is surprising: 6 of those 7 asexuals were club presidents. Think for a second about what that means. An asexual becoming president of an LGBT club is a little like a youtube video getting an oscar. When these people were freshman, their clubs probably weren't aware that asexuality existed, and probably had to struggle just to accept an asexual into their ranks. Yet whenever one of those asexuals is waiting to greet my plane I can be almost certain that she is running the show.

I can't help but wonder if this is, in part, because love and leadership are so fundamentally connected. Most of the people in an LGBT club split their energy between pursuing a primary partnership and building up their network of friends, but few asexuals on college campuses have that luxury. The best way for an asexual to fulfill her emotional needs is to build close-knit friendships, and the best way to do that is to work with her friends on something that all of them find personally empowering.

My point is not that asexual people are innately better leaders, merely that circumstances may have forced asexual people to tap into the link between love and leadership more deeply than most. See our need for love and fullfillment as deeply connected with our ability to positively impact the world around us can have an incredible effect on both. When we are desperate for love we make it by reshaping our world for ourselves and those around us. When we are desperate to reshape the world our skill in loving others guides us to a place of power, abundance and justice. 

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Asexuals on the TV Screen

Allright all you aspiring hollywood writers out there. Ily's recent post on queer cupids has propmted me to brainstorm some ideas for asexual archetypes I hope to see popping up. Many of these are already out there, but not dropping any identity yet. Doing so could make things spicy and oh so interesting...  

The Cupid- Asexual character uses her uncanny familiarity with nonsexual intimacy to set up sexual characters. Character is out, proud and wisecracking ("you look fantastic, now run off and have some of that sex you like so much.")  

The Closet Case- character with conflicted feelings about being asexual finds community, wears t-shirts, gets an asexual love interest.  

The Asexual Slut- affectionate, flirty, this character gets nonsexually intimate with everybody. This character is out, proud and empowered, she/he has an uncanny ability to turn sexual tension into, a she puts it "something interesting." People who think they are going to bed with her wind up staying all night doing something that they find more interesting and personally relevant than sex, much to their surprise.  

The Homewrecker- boy meets girl, girl meets asexual. Boy and girl struggle to understand what constitutes "cheating" when an asexual is involved. At moment of confrentation asexual befriends boy, they figure it out and live happily ever after.  

The Clueless- otherwise intelligent character simply does not get sex. Accidentally makes comments with sexual innuendo. Asks for sexuality to be broken down in nonsexual terms ("So what's the deal with butts? Someone break it down for me, I'm lost here.")
The Vis King/Queen- Whenever character mentions asexuality, people around her overreact with confusion. Character is annoyed by this, and has a glib line that she uses to explain asexuality and dismiss disbelief. ("Some people like sex a lot and some only like sex a little, right? Some people don't like it at all.")

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

All About Asexual Relationships: A Recap

Over the past several months I've had a running series of posts on issues facing the asexual community in general and on asexual relationships in particular. I'm going to take a hint from Pretzelboy and have a post summing up the series so that it's easily readable. It all started out with:

What Asexual People Want- A quick overview of the issues facing the asexual community, which I break down into Support, Visibility, Institutionalization (I know, unfortunate word) and Relationships. I posit that asexual people have a relationship problem, and go into more depth in...

The Asexual Problem Part 1: Numbers- A discussion of the (temporarily) shitty outlook for asexual people that want to form romantic relationships with one another. Until we can get a good system in place to hook up asexy singles, a lot of people are going to have a problem finding the kind of intimacy that they want. But it ain't all that bleak, because...

The Asexual Problem Part 2: Language- Asexual people don't necessarily have a problem finding relationships, we just have a problem talking about them. Most of us have very, very poor language for talking about nonsexual intimacy. If we improve that language we can pretty much do it however we want whenever we want with whoever we want. (Yeehaw!)

The Magic Words Part 1: Focus on Relationships
- To jumpstart the whole language discussion, I start talking about the language that I use personally. First rule: stop thinking in terms of "friends" and "partners," the binary sucks. Instead, just think in terms of "relationships" and explore the reasons why each relationship is unique. This has the added benefit of conceptually separating a relationship from the person with which you have that relationship (since relationships can often take on a mind of their own.)

The Magic Words Part 2: The Three T's
- So if there are no friends or lovers, just "relationships" then how do you distinguish them? I talk about my personal system, which looks at Time, Touch, and Trust (which I used to call "Talk", but whatevs.)

The Magic Words Part 3: Using the Three T's
- I flesh out the Three T's some more. They're not only a way to describe where a relationship is at, they're a way to think about growing it. I argue that spending time with someone leads to emotion (touch), expressing emotion leads to discussions about expectations which build trust, and trust makes people spend more time together. I think this cycle is the coolest shit ever.

The Magic Words Part 4: The Big Picture
- Ok I lied, I actually think community is the coolest shit ever. After all, I'm not in just one relationship, I'm in a whole community of them. I talk about what it's like to actively build that community, what it feels like to depend on a community for my emotional needs, and how that community provides the kind of deep trust normally found in partnered relationships.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Anti-Love Drug in the New York Times


Ok, quick rant about the above-linked article in the New York Times, which is titled "Anti-Love Drug May Be Ticket to Bliss" and which chronicles a study of prairie voles to try to understand human pair bonding. In it researchers and the reporter both equate love and sexual neurochemistry:

"reducing love to its component parts helps us to understand human sexuality, and may lead to drugs that enhance or diminish our love for another, says Larry J. Young."

Why prairie voles? 'Cuz:

"These mouselike creatures are among the small minority of mammals — less than 5 percent — who share humans’ propensity for monogamy."

I'd love to see the studies classifying humans as a monogamous species. "Love", for the purposes of this study, apparently means "monogamy," and is hence a squarely sexual phenomenon. Love is just the emotional/neurochemical rollercoaster which enforces (ha!) monogamy in humans:

"'Some of our sexuality has evolved to stimulate that same oxytocin system to create female-male bonds,' Dr. Young said, noting that sexual foreplay and intercourse stimulate the same parts of a woman’s body that are involved in giving birth and nursing. This hormonal hypothesis, which is by no means proven fact, would help explain a couple of differences between humans and less monogamous mammals: females’ desire to have sex even when they are not fertile, and males’ erotic fascination with breasts. More frequent sex and more attention to breasts, Dr. Young said, could help build long-term bonds through a 'cocktail of ancient neuropeptides,” like the oxytocin released during foreplay or orgasm.'"

"Unproven" is the key here, but this speculation is still the crux of of the NYT's article. 

There's something in here that should disturb even you die-hard romantics out there, namely the subtle implication that love is outdated. According to this article (and, apparently, the assumptions of mainstream science), the intense emotions that we feel are just instinctual leftovers from a less civilized age. The article goes on to talk about the inappropriateness of cupid's oxytocin arrow hitting during a business meeting, and speculates about how useful it would be to have a "vaccine" that got rid of the emotional mess alltogether

All too often I see love discussed in terms of loose neurochemistry and even looser evolutionary psychology. The idea seems to be that the complicated emotions that we feel for one another only make sense in contexts outside of our understanding- the complicated mathematics of hormone interaction and Bedrock, respectively. I'm not willing to give up so easily. Love isn't just a chemical burden passed down to us from homo erectus, it's something that is profoundly shaped and reshaped by cultures across geography and time. 

Love is around because it makes our lives better and because it makes our society tick. Understanding the neurochemistry of love might help big pharma's bottom line, but ultimately it won't help us understand how the things that we feel and the relationships that we have can genuinely improve our lives. To do that, we have to think about love in the context that where we feel it. Neurochemistry won't help us unless we want to start interacting with romance through drugs. Evolutionary psychology won't help us unless we want to hit on australopithecus. But if we can begin to seriously talk about, study, and understand the structure of relationships then we may just get somewhere.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

My Second Breakup

The first time I broke up with someone was in high school. Her name was Rachel, and in proper highschool style I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. I hardly had a word for asexuality at that point, let alone words for asexual relationships, so we became pretty heavily emotionally involved using only the shabby language of friendship. Her boyfriend became obsessively jealous of our relationship, which eventually forced both relationships to fall apart. I got the full hollywood experience: crazy phone calls, sitting in my room listening to mopey music and deep emotional scars. When I ran into her years later I still got a chill.

Though my relationships have certainly gotten close since then, there haven't been any more breakups until about two hours ago. It's a conceit, but I like to think of this as a good thing. Since I've gotten my shit together a little more relationship-wise my relationships tend to evolve rather than end suddenly, they have the quiet emotions of ebb and flow rather than the drama of a big explosion. My meticulously balanced community kept everything relatively stable, and that made this breakup remarkably different from the last.

In this blog I've referred a few times to "Primaries," a core of close relationships at the center of my community. Treating someone as a primary is Kind of A Big Deal, and generally involves some acknowledgment that our relationship is getting serious. I created this box because I wanted a special way to think about the people who I mattered most in my life, because I wanted to begin to seriously commit to people and have them commit to me back. When I started using the word I applied it to three relationships, two of which fizzled within a month. The remaining relationships was joined by three others that have been relatively stable and growing for about two years.

Two years is a long time. It's time enough for relationships to grow intimate and it's time enough for people to change. Over the past six months one of these four people became increasingly busy with a combination of a demanding job, extensive volunteer work and a business that she is starting. Our time together remained as emotionally powerful as ever but became less and less frequent, until for weeks at a time I saw her only in events packed with other members of her community that she didn't have time for. We made up ways to spend time together but none of them worked. About two weeks ago I decided to seriously reconsider the relationship's role in my life. I spent the holidays slowly untying all of the emotions and expectations that I had entangled in the relationship, and earlier tonight we finally got a chance to talk about it.

Things still feel shitty, but I'm in a whole different world from last time this happened. I've still got three other core relationships and a strong community to depend on, so while there's certainly a whole in my life I don't feel like I'm alone in the world. I have no ill will towards her- she hasn't done anything wrong, just shifted priorities- and while I've got a lot of emotion flying around about the relationship I'm keenly aware that she is no longer a place where that emotion should be directed. We had a short, melancholy conversation where we acknowledged where we were and agreed to remain friends, and then we went our separate ways.

I can't help but walk away with the eerie feeling that this is all unhealthily mature.