What Are You Looking For?

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith ’16

It would seem that our generation has brought with it the culmination of a cultural romance narrative that is utterly exclusionary and totally tragic. This manifests itself in apps like Grindr, Tinder, and OkCupid.

I won’t say I don’t use these apps. In fact I wont swear off this narrative totally, as after personal evaluation I see it as something that might perhaps work for me. Apps like these have allowed me to form relationships for which I am grateful.

But while the side effects of these apps can be pleasant and beneficial the purpose of them is to perpetuate the urgency of our desperation and to provide a false-cure for omnipresent loneliness.

This editorial functions under the assumption that when we hookup up or pursue hookups we are not exclusively seeking sex but more profoundly we are seeking a moment of closeness or intimacy that comes from holding someone close through a night on singular orb of life in a vast and quiet universe. Currently we are looking to fill one-another’s voids.

“This is worth earning my empathy. I’m saying I love you.” -NGE

A few days ago someone casually came out to me as asexual and my world was totally rocked.

Even as a gay man (a socially acceptable term I use to inaccurately describe the whole of my identity) I have privilege in this culture over someone who identifies as asexual. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation. Asexual people have the same emotional needs as everybody else and are just as capable of forming intimate relationships. [1]

Being gay can be hard, but I can only imagine the unique challenge of being asexual. More than the battle against heterosexism, the experience of the asexual individual is thoroughly misunderstood by those of us who are more conventionally sexually oriented. Our culture provides a framework of widely acceptable opportunities for our self-actualization through romantic relationships, and by over-emphasizing marriage as a means of ordering our valued relationships we end up excluding folks. Our culture’s most celebrated method for individual fulfillment is not one that gives everyone a chance.

I have spent a great deal of time in dialogue with queer folks who don’t support marriage equality for this reason.

Someone whom I hold in utmost esteem is nearly 60 years old and has never been married. She is not opposed to marriage. She has had romantic relationships. But she not lonely, because she knows the value of being alone and has relationships of varying forms which she treasures and invests in heavily.

We tend to look at people like person this as folks who failed. They didn’t find someone to love them and isn’t that a shame? But maybe they’re better off than folks who are chronic daters who move from romance to romance in order to create their own identities.

But even beyond the reality of marriage and long-term romantic companionship’s cultural exclusivity, we are failing with the concept of marriage for an even bigger reason. We make marital relationships the most import relationship a person can achieve in their life and in doing so discredit all other relationships. Marriage isn’t the right choice for many of the people who choose it, but folks feel obligated by our culture to fulfill their “duty” to get hitched (and for women, to produce children). Further, because we are directed towards this end and function under the assumption that marriage is our destiny we declare that the state of not being in a relationship is inherently a state of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with seeking romance and companionship, but when this becomes the primary motivation for seeking out a relationship it reveals in the seeker emptiness and perhaps even a lack of identity. Because our culture is on board with this approach to relationships we reveal in our culture a broad emptiness. We propagated our own loneliness. And now we use the extraordinary means of romance applications to remedy it.

What can you do?

Well, our culture needs to ask itself the question that we are asked on Grindr, Tinder and OkCupid at the beginning of almost every interaction:

“What are you looking for?”

As well as these subsequent, telling questions:

Do you think of yourself as lonely or as alone? Do you know why you want what you want? Do you know how to be alone?

This all may sound disparagingly pessimistic, but it isn’t. Loneliness is the state of not knowing how to be alone, and it is not corrected by filling the void with another person. We stop being lonely when we can be alone with ourselves. The second step is deciding to value relationships other than those romantic – for instance our relationship with God, our parents, our close friends. In this we do our part to increase the health of our species by promoting a diversity of relationships. We invite all people to feel authentically connected. When folks we loved leave this life, we know how to continue living because we know our relationships were valid in and of themselves. We would do well not to wait for a romance to affirm us, but to affirm and be affirmed by our friends.

“I am me. I want to be myself. I want to continue existing in this world. My life is worth living here.” -NGE

If you determine that the current cultural narrative is the one for you, know that it only works when you have become comfortable being alone. Don’t fill a void: find a companion. But even if it is the narrative that was written for you, allow for others to write their own relationship narratives. For when our culture, (and yes you, Friartown) can value diverse relationships and decide to be alone instead of being lonely, the communion of our human race will there be there to say “Congratulations.” After all this, too, is love


[1] The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network

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2 thoughts on “What Are You Looking For?

  1. I enjoyed this Friarside Chat very much Matt. I think that it is important to understand how marriage is perceived in our society today, how many people get married because it is the next “step” to solidify a relationship and enter the roles gender-conformed roles that society has made for us. While marriage shouldn’t be everyone’s prime achievement within a relationship, even for the LGBT community who is just recently receiving more recognition due to marriage equality, defining who you are and what you are looking for is certainly questions that should be answered before anything else. Sometimes, this process takes weeks, and even years to fulfill, yet people see the need to marry around their late 20’s because society pressures people around this age. I also liked how you talked about someone who identifies as asexual, a sexual orientation many people fail to recognize. Good read.

  2. Pingback: What Are You Looking For? | TinderNews

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