By Lola Leuterio
From my journal, 4/17/21
“…But I also feel like this badly wrapped bundle of all of the most beautiful things in the universe… and it’s all out there and it’s all in here and I’m so excited to like, let the bundle unwrap? You know? Talking to Dakota felt like unwrapping it and so did looking at Casey and listening to Bertha with Max and laughing with Matt and Asha about Woobs and… I don’t know. I’m addicted to unwrapping it. I like being loved because it feels like proof that my guess was right — about all of the good stuff inside of me…”
I am 20 years old and I have spent approximately one quarter of my life — almost 5 years total — in two separate monogamous relationships with two different white, cis men. That’s a lot of time to spend in absolute devotion to another human being — loving, intelligent, and understanding as they might be, there are certain limitations that come with an abundance of privilege. Namely, I have noticed that white cis men tend to view romantic love in strangely narrow, hyper-specific terms. There’s a strictly linear nature to the kind of relationship that mainstream society teaches us to seek (one’s romantic partner should be the most important person in their life; one’s body, flirtations, and deepest displays of love must be reserved for the one partner alone). While all of us fall victim to the hype, it is certainly easier for the people that protocol was written for to subscribe to it. If you don’t feel like following the slew of rules that come with monogamy? No problem: then you can be “single” and have meaningless sex with as many people as you like.
Recently, it has occurred to me that I have been existing within the single/taken binary — which was not created by me, but undoubtedly created for me — for as long as I can remember. The thing is, I don’t like it very much. I want to be deeply in love and care for someone, or many people, profoundly, romantically; and yet I don’t want to belong to anyone. I don’t want to close my eyes to obvious manifestations of love in the world around me, yet being single so that I can have detached sex with people to whom I owe no emotional responsibility sounds equally unappealing.
There’s a certain level of trauma attached to this, but I’d rather start with the good part — the reason it matters to me at all.
It matters to me because a couple of Saturdays ago, I was in the back-back seat of my little sister’s old Toyota Van, driving fast down Topanga Canyon. The whole valley below was bathed in a deceivingly-warm light, but in the van it was hot from the overworked engine and the combined body heat of the seven people inside of it. I sat on his left and when I looked out the window to my right, he caught my eye and held it. And his eyes were dark dark dark with eyelashes long long long and he smelled like the Japanese ginger candies he kept unwrapping. And it had never happened to me before — not quite like that — but I fell in love instantaneously.
It matters to me because around a year ago, my roommate and I were waiting outside of BevMo while our friend bought up for a party we were having later that night. I was wearing one of her tank tops — blue and ruffly — and had smeared glitter all over my face. And I was complaining about the midterms I had been putting off and she got this look on her face, and considered me for a moment, and then said, “sometimes I think I am in love with you.” I laughed, quickly grabbed and released her hand. And she picked up the conversation where we had left it and we never talked about it again.
It matters to me because of the dog walker on my street who I’ve hardly spoken two words to in my life, but who I think about often.
It matters to me because of a red-haired girl in my “Grassroots Organizing” class who is brilliant and beautiful and always wears a different bright green sweater to lecture.
It matters to me because of the boy I drove with all the way to Arkansas and back; listening to country music, eating fast food, pretending that we were characters in Smokey and the Bandit. The same boy who made sure I didn’t fail Calculus AB when things were hard my senior year of high school and who takes care of my cat when I am out of town.
From my journal, 4/20/21
“Love must be so much more complicated than we give it credit for. I feel many layers of love in this moment. That is allowed. If no one else will tell me that it is, I’ll tell it to myself.”
The anonymously authored anarchist essay “Kill the Couple in Your Head” argues that today’s standard “relationship” is nothing more than a container, where hot, unrefined, and free-flowing emotions cool to a freezing point. In this container — or maybe, it’s a cave — we box ourselves in as a means of protection from the fear of our own irrelevancy that we inevitably feel in a capitalist society. The “couple” is the state’s infiltration of our desire for intimacy — the place where “our desire for companionship and commitment is sucked into the institution of the couple and the family [and] our erotic energies are captured by the institution of sex.” Instead of storing our extensive need to love and to be loved into the static container of coupledom, “Kill the Couple in Your Head” argues that we should attempt to see each other beyond “the economy of exchange value in which the couple and the family are productive units.” To do this, we must instead conceptualize romantic (and non-romantic, why do we always create such a distinction between the two?) love as a spider web of relations. This is not to say that we should all embrace polyamory, which comes with its own set of problematic hierarchies and regulations, but rather that loving another person never warrants separation from the whole — that creation of a distinct, atomized pod, impenetrable by the outside world. In essence, if we want to banish the couple, we must nurture the network.
If I’m being honest, though? I’ve been texting my boyfriend consistently throughout my writing of this essay, covering a range of topics from “good morning baby <3” to “I’m having SO many revelations about monogamy RN!!”
The love between us isn’t illegitimate just because it is practiced within an illegitimate framework. It wouldn’t necessarily make anything better if I called him up right now and asked to make our relationship “open.” The couple, similar to the police, is far more pervasive than the forms we see walking hand-in-hand on the sidewalk, or the black-and-blue clad officers patrolling the streets. Both act also as institutions, as ideologies, as methods of social control powerful precisely due to their ability to reside within us, no matter how radical we presume ourselves to be. So, even if I were to practice polyamory, and even if I were to break up with my boyfriend entirely, the couple — that urge to belong to someone, and to be controlled by them — would live inside of me. It’s not all that different from the urge to be a citizen within this society, to work and save money and own property and pay taxes. The urge to be productive.
Forget angels and devils — there’s this good girl living on my shoulder, and while some part of me knows she was methodically placed there by those institutions that control us — gender, race, capital, Euro-rationalism — sometimes, still, I mistake her for myself.
So: I don’t have a solution in terms of getting out of this strict, rule-bound existence. For now, all I plan on doing is ceasing to blame myself for my frequent inability to produce the way I am told to produce, to love the way I am told to love. I am no longer feeling guilt for my ubiquitous, deep infatuation with the world around me and the people inside of it. In high school, my ex-boyfriend would threaten to break up with me for wearing a low-cut tank top to school, or skinny dipping with my best friends at a fourth of July pool party. I began to associate his intense jealousy with his love for me and ultimately blamed myself when he realized he couldn’t own me. My current boyfriend has helped me to unlearn some of that toxicity — but I have to admit, while the execution is different, the structure of the relationship is generally the same. And I see it all around me, too — with both of my sisters and their boyfriends, three of my best friends and their boyfriends, and undoubtedly countless other women and queer people who are in love, and who are happy, but who, nonetheless, in some small corner of their minds and to various degrees, know that they sometimes must flatten their spirit to become more digestible to the men in their lives.
Aren’t we a little bigger than that? Isn’t the world a little bigger than that?
Words spoken by the anonymous friend of an anonymous anarchist:
“…Intimacy is a bandit. I know I need reciprocal forms of care to keep fighting. These days I’ll take it wherever I can find it. Clutching at these fugitive intimacies even as they slip through my fingers, learning to live in these spaces of imperfection…You don’t need to heal yourself to heal the world. You just need to keep yourself going enough to keep burning things down. Who knows what kind of strange and wonderful relationship forms might emerge from this mess?”
The patriarchal structures of productive coupledom, of the nuclear family unit, and of working for the sake of capital growth are necessarily narrow: if they weren’t, this complicated love I am speaking of — what Audre Lorde has called “the erotic” — would drown them out entirely. In Lorde’s words, “There is, for me, no difference between writing a good poem and moving into sunlight against the body of a woman I love.” The erotic power of women and queer people has been confined to The Bedroom (not just any bedroom, but the bedroom of The One) due to the fear it garners.
And so we live in a state of regulation, slip-sliding between boundaries, tirelessly searching for an outlet for the love we can not stop ourselves from exuding.
Maybe it’s just me, with my self-diagnosed Oppositional Defiant Disorder, but the idea of spending the rest of my life listening to anyone’s random set of rules — even if that person happens to be one of the loves of my life — makes me feel squirmy, claustrophobic. In this life, we have already been subjected to job interviews and oil changes and rent payments and plenty of things much worse — global warming, cancer, heartbreak. Why, then, would we decide to dismiss life when it gives us the best, the most beautiful that it’s got to offer? Falling in love can be the moment that your high school sweetheart proposes with 100 dozen roses, but it can also be a split second of eye contact with a stranger on the bus, a new friend handing you a cold beer with an all-knowing smile, Parliament-kitchen-dance-parties with your sisters, or a serendipitous coffee date with your next-door neighbor. It can be all of those things happening in the same week.
Falling in love is just code for the moments when you remember you are alive. Sometimes, you can only get there with a little bit of flirtation, or alcohol, or attention. Other times you simply need to take in a deep breath of fresh morning air and look at the pale moon floating next to the Isla Vista oil rig. It doesn’t matter how you fall in love; it matters that you don’t — under any circumstances — let anyone make you believe that it is wrong.
From my journal, 11/6/21
“Life is about big yummy breaths and fat perfect suns and feeling good. It’s about really hilarious jokes and really deep feelings and helping your friends when their car keys are lost and they are too hungover to try to find them. It’s not about those crazy rules they always told us it was about. So if I think I want to be in love with you on a particular foggy Friday night in Isla Vista, and if we lock eyes on the roof of 6867, and if that’s not hurting anybody, I think that that’s okay. Actually, I think it’s kind of perfect.”