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Relationships, Flings and the “Real Thing”

fling_2267728118_901d32306f_oThere 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 am is the type that wants those things, but also feels that the standard life approaches that go with the consumption-based economy no longer bring happiness. Environmentalists like me advocate 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.

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.

This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, there may be an interesting intersection between the queer community and the environmental-living community. We are all just trying to figure out an authentic way of living. A way 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 romantic relationships. Yesterday, my friend and sometimes mentor and hero and heartthrob Julia Hill posted on Facebook that she wasn’t sure about longterm relationships but she sure would love a great fling.

Someone very innocently commented 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).

For me, attaching different value to the fling/real thing/choosing-to-be-single/asexual dichotomies 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 boundaries.


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. 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.

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.

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 not.

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?

photo credit: Ariel Kovic via Flickr, cc

Beavan-Colin300x224COLIN BEAVAN is the executive director of the No Impact Project, and author of the No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process and documentary by the same name.

Colin’s writing, speaking, consulting and activism have encouraged people to examine their lives to discover what’s really important to them. The resulting “transformative adjustments” that people make allow them to live more in line with their true values and aspirations, both for their own lives and the world. It is Colin’s mission to wake people up, on both individual and collective levels, to ways of life and doing business that are healthier and happier for individuals, for our society, and for our world.

Keep up with Colin’s writing on his site, Colin Beavan aka no impact man.  You can also follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

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