Relationship Theory

Every time I search the “relationship theory” tag on this blog I’m surprised I haven’t published this yet. It’s literally been years since I first wrote most of this. So, finally, as Amanda and I sit around watching Studio 60 again for the [embarrassingly high number] time and mostly written three-ish years ago, is my Relationship Theory. Get ready for a lot of convoluted Taylor Swift and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip references:

I love about pop culture –  watching tv, picking apart plots and dialogue and finding out that some actors are just as hilarious (if not more so) off screen than on. But every once in a while, I realize that pop culture is slowly killing me. Somehow, this vicious media frenzy is making me too idealistic.

I’m rarely idealistic. I’m more the pragmatic sort who wishes she had more of a devil-may-care snark-tastic attitude. Anyway, I tend to be a realist, if not an outright pessimist. Which is why becoming fixated on heart-wrenching moments during scripted television shows kind of kills me. But, at the exact same time, it gives me hope than I can write great stories, great plots that can make other people hopeful, too. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom. I’ll never be bright and shiny, but I’m not dark and twisty, either.

The one line that get’s me – every goddamn time – is courtesy of Logan Echolls towards the second season finale of the unjustifiably short-lived Veronica Mars. Logan, a little tipsy and a lot heartbroken, pours his soul out to his ex, Veronica. He tells her, “I thought our story was epic, you know? Spanning years and continents. Lives ruined, bloodshed. Epic.”

Be still, my heart. I wish that I could put him on my Amazon wish list. I just… I want epic. I don’t need romance, I don’t even want it. All I ask for is something pure, real, scary, and bigger than myself. Well, okay, maybe that’s a pretty big wish, but a girl’s gotta dream.

It all goes back to the Relationship Theory, based off of Taylor Swift (stay with me). My friends and I usually apply it to Studio 60, though it works for many other fictional stories.

My freshman year of college, Taylor Swift was kind of a big deal. [Hahaha, she’s only gotten so much more popular. This is weird. Then again, that was 2009.] Her music, though juvenile, was catchy, poppy, and fun to sing along to. Anyway, one of the bigger hits at the time was “The Way I Loved You.” It’s a fairly simple song, but it ignited a major schism to form between my roommates and myself: which boy each of us would prefer?

I thought it was obvious – you choose the ex-boyfriend. You know that you’ll (probably) get hurt, and it won’t be easy, but you’ll be consumed by passion, completely in love. Love wouldn’t be very spectacular, let alone epic, if you didn’t have to fight for it.

Amanda, however, reasoned that she wanted the current boyfriend for exactly those reasons. She wanted to be sure of her relationship and be comforted by the warm feeling it instills in you. She wanted something she could trust.

But, for those unfamiliar with the song, let me give you examples of the two different options.

Ex-boyfriend: [Taylor was constantly] screaming and fighting and kissing in the rain, it would be 2am and she’d be cursing his name, so in love that she acted insane… Breaking down and coming undone it was a roller coaster kind of rush and she never knew she could feel that much, but that’s the way she loved him. He was wild and crazy, just so frustrating, intoxicating, complicated, and got away by some mistake.

Current boyfriend: Is sensible and so incredible and makes all of T-Swift’s single friends jealous. He says everything that she need to hear and it’s like she couldn’t ask for anything better.  He opens up her door and she get into his car and he says, “you look beautiful tonight,” and she feels perfectly fine. He can’t see the smile she’s faking and her heart’s not breaking ‘cause she’s not feeling anything at all.  He respects her space and never makes her wait and he calls exactly when he says he will. He’s close to her mother, talks business with her father, he’s charming and endearing and she’s comfortable.

So there you have it. Two boys, exactly the opposite of one another. Amanda championed the line where the new bf, “talks business with my father.” She thought that was, quite possibly, the most endearing thing a guy could do. She wants someone who will call when he says, pick her up, make every other girl wonder how you got so lucky.

Okay, so I understand where that is the ideal, you know? Practical and dependable. I get it. But come on. Wouldn’t you prefer wild and crazy, frustrating, intoxicating, and, most importantly, kissing in the rain? Listen, I relish in a good fight. I like being challenged. It’s fun for me. (To a point, obviously. I can handle yelling, I can be wrong, but there’s obviously that line in fighting where emotional well-being comes into question and then you have to take a step back. So, healthy fighting, I guess.)

To me, being challenged is a necessary part of a relationship; I don’t want to sit stagnant, I’d be bored out of my skull. I don’t understand how anyone could be happy with someone who always respects your space; the biggest thrills occur when someone invades your personal space and drags you out of your doldrums, kicking and screaming. (Not all the time. Obviously. Sometimes I just want to sit around in my jammies and watch Netflix and have you just accept it.)

Back to TSwift: the thing that kills me, every time, is that her ex got away by some mistake. And, even worse, her new boyfriend clearly doesn’t know her very well at all. Even if you disregard the fact that the replacement can’t tell when she plasters on a fake smile, he fails to make her feel. When she’s with him, she never get’s past “fine” and “comfortable”. He’s reliable. And yet, he doesn’t make her feel “anything at all.”

All of my favorite (fictional) relationships rest on this theory. That the guy you should be with, 9 times out of 10, is the one who makes you come alive, even if that means you want to crawl out of your skin because you’re so angry you can’t see straight. Which is where the whole Matt / Harriet thing comes into play.

If  you’ve ever sen Studio 60, you will know that there are two primary relationships. The on-again off-again Matt & Harriet and the “slow” burn Danny & Jordan. While Danny and Jordan have a turbulent love story of their own, I will always strive for the Matt/Harriet relationship. They, like literary idols Elizabeth and Darcy, are epic. Their relationship spanned millennia (technically)! I guess this will require a little bit of an explanation.

Studio 60 is one of my favorite shows of all time (haters to the left). It was one of those things that really brought Amanda and I together as friends, but once again we found ourselves divided when it came down to the relationships. There are two couples to follow throughout the course of the one-season series. On the one hand, you have Danny and Jordan who perfectly exemplify the relationship of Taylor Swift and the new boyfriend. Comfortable, reliable, endearingly sweet. And then there are Matt and Harriet who can’t get over each other. They’ve gotten together and broken up more than any of the other characters can count. They’re constantly fighting, but they also have unwavering support in the other. That is what I find enviable; they never lose faith in each other.

I’m fairly certain that Jane Austen would have known exactly what I’m talking about. She, too, understood that the best relationships are not the simple ones, but the ones filled with conflict, strife, and challenges. Deeply passionate love makes you examine every fiber of your being. There’s a reason that Elizabeth and Darcy are the heroes of Pride and Prejudice and not Jane and Bingley. It’s the same reason that Emma and Mr. Knightley are the couple of interest and not Harriet Smith and that poor farm boy. (Consequently, it’s why Sense and Sensibility is my least favorite Austen book, though I know it cover to cover.)

I constantly struggle with this little theory of mine. Because, although my heart wants epic, my mind tells me I want comfortable – that I will eventually just settle down with a best-friend type.

Now obviously the relationships we choose to idealize and covet in fiction are not always well-suited for reality. How many of the epic bonds and love stories from the page and screen are contingent on war or crazy murderers or whatever? In reality, Logan Echolls would probably not make a great boyfriend. Very few of my fictional boyfriends would probably make good real world boyfriends (here’s to you, Seth Cohen and Stiles Stilinski!). But these ‘bad boy’ characters, I like them (and the shows, to an extent) because they are escapist, they let me live vicariously through the characters.

I think it’s important to realize that there is some overlap. I’m interested in the fictional relationships that I am because I find at least some part of them interesting and appealing. The heroes, protagonists, and antagonists that I fall for, again and again, might not be great people. But they’re great characters. And I guess, as long as you or I understand the distinction, everything is copacetic. This Relationship Theory is obviously an extreme reaction to tropes and archetypes perpetuated by fiction, but there’s some truth to it. Rory chose Jess over Dean, she chose Logan over Marty, she chose action and adventure and passion over comfort and familiarity and movie nights with Lorelai. She used those relationships to help her figure out who she was and what she wanted out of life. And maybe that’s their most important function, after all.

On Visiting Home

A few weeks ago I went home for the first time as an adult – you know, a real person who has graduated from college, signed a lease on an apartment, and holds down a full-time job to which one must commute.  It was the first time I traveled back to the Cleveland area that wasn’t just a school break or for a short visit while I spent the summer in DC. It was the first time I took an honest to God vacation from a job. And it was different. Here’s how:

When your dad pulls into the driveway of the house that you’ve spent the last 12 years of your life calling home – the house you went through puberty in, the house in which you introduced your parents to your first boyfriend, the bedroom that, for the first time, you got to decorate as completely your own, with your closet full of Beanie Babies and Molly, your American Girl Doll, and your high school cap and gown – you realize that you don’t necessarily think of it that way anymore, as home. The people you love, your family, still reside there, but somehow it’s not quite the same.

The inside is different, too. Everything feels like it’s been moved three inches to the left. You know that episode of Full House where DJ and Stephanie accidentally put a hole in the wall of Danny’s room and they move the furniture to cover it? I feel like Danny when he gets home and tries to toss his coat on the chair but it falls on the floor instead. That niggling feeling that something’s just not quite right. It’s the handles of the shower and how they turn in the opposite direction of the ones in your new apartment. It’s that all the doorknobs feel smaller; the toilet feels a little lower. The painting you did in 4th grade art that used to hang in the downstairs bathroom has been replaced by a concert poster from a show your dad and brother went to when you were away at school. It’s the free food and the well-stocked fridge with the balanced meals that you’re actually happy are balanced.

It’s the struggle between being so overwhelmingly happy to see your parents again, to know that they’re alive and there – ready to hug you at any time – to needing your space. You suddenly seem to realize – even though, let’s be honest, you’ve seen it coming for years – that your parents’ ideologies aren’t the exact same as yours; you hear comments you don’t remember your parents making before. You grew up thinking your parents were so liberal and super progressive and you’re starting to realize that they aren’t, necessarily. It’s not as though they’re suddenly ultra-conservative, it’s just that the hyper-liberal college you went to has maybe shaped your ideology more than your parents have. There’s the moment in the middle of the golf course where your brother almost makes you cry out of frustration because he doesn’t understand that rape culture is a thing you actually think and care about so he makes dumb comments and insulting jokes and says it’s okay because it’s ‘art’ and ‘comedy’. Slowly but surely, you start to recognize the excuses you’ve been making for him all these years, and somehow you still don’t abruptly stop. You do stop talking about politics with him.

And outside of your house you realize that you don’t really belong to these people anymore. At least, not in the way you used to. Your life isn’t ruled by the 6×1 mile patch of ground that make up your hometown. You’ve grown. You’ve lived in a big city, you’ve spent a few months abroad, your experiences and perspective aren’t nearly as limited as they were when you lived here full-time.

There aren’t really any contacts in your phone from your hometown that you feel comfortable calling up to hang out. (Because for some reason being back in your hometown makes you act like you’re in high school all over again, when you would call all of your friends to plan to see each other.) Or, if there are one or two you wouldn’t mind seeing again – they’re no longer spending time in your town. You try to process the crippling feeling that the next time you see them might be their wedding or your high school reunion. So instead of calling or texting everyone you used to be friends with, a long time ago (and not wanting to deal with the boy you used to be friends with and had a crush on but know will ignore you), you agree to hang out with your older brother and his friends. You let him goad you into it even though you could be staying home, watching Silver Linings Playbook with your parents. So you get in the car. You climb the stairs to the apartment complex you didn’t know existed until last summer, and play with the friendly dog, and beat your brother’s friend at Injustice and wonder where his wife is while you’re sipping on Diet Pepsi, getting contact high from the bowl they’re passing back and forth, and wondering, ‘when did this become my life?’. And when you’re brother wants to leave and says, ‘come to this party, my friends want to see you’ you shrug and say okay, because you kind of want to see them, too. But when you finally get there it’s nothing like you imagined – it’s not like the parties you’re used to. There’s a girl stumbling drunk between the six other people present. A guy you vaguely know industriously made a bong out of an apple. You abjectly realize you’re not having fun. You take the keys and go home alone, fervently hoping you remember which streets to take because you never did know this are quite as well as you could have.

By the time your dad has finished packing up the car to drive you the seven hours down to the place you’ve started to call home – the place where you surround yourself with friends that you think one day, maybe, you might consider family, to your own space that exists hundreds of miles away from your parent’s house – you realize you didn’t even accomplish anything on your ‘vacation’. A few days of shopping without having to pay for anything; a carload of furniture your parents weren’t using; some home-cooked meals; a lot of hugs and ‘I love you’s said between yourself and your parents. But does it really mean anything? In the four days you were home you never once went somewhere new, aside from that hole-in-the-wall Mexican place. You didn’t do anything special for your mom’s birthday or belated for Father’s Day. In the end, it was a chance to hug your parents, to answer the question of what your brother and his friends do when they hang out, but not much more than not having to get up early and go into the office for a few days.

As the car pulls away from the house, you realize you don’t miss it as much as you thought you might. The talk of turning your bedroom into a guest room stings a little, but you know you’ll always have somewhere to sleep; a place to return to. You feel bad for the clutter you left strewn over your bedroom floor even though you’ve done so nearly every time you’ve visited home. You feel a little worse than usual, though, because you don’t know when the next time you’ll return to might be.

When you arrive at your apartment, everything you felt at home is still there, flopping around inside you. But it’s fuzzier, more distant. You still miss your family, the house, the friends you left behind and grew apart from. Every once in a while you’ll idly think about what you could have done differently when you were growing up in that perfectly suburban town and decide it’s really not worth the energy, because you like where you are now. You’re trying to learn  to like who you are and find comfort in friends more often than you turn to your family. It’s a process. It’s strange and sometimes unsettling but at the end of the day when you’re tired and trying not to think anymore, the thought creeps in that maybe the feeling you can’t always identify is pride – you’re proud of yourself for doing what you always swore you’d do: you left. You’re not ‘stuck’, anyway. You have options. Maybe just remind yourself to take a breath and try to remember that every once in a while. You’ll appreciate it.

Just Keep Writing

Sometimes paradoxes are fun. But frequently they’re no fun at all. Case in point: There’s plenty to write about and nothing to say. Classes have started and I’ve launched into senior year. I love all of my classes. I’m excited about the amount of writing I’ll be doing this semester – and have already done. My professors seem great. But there’s still so much up in the air.

This year I’m in the officer corps for my university band. I’ve had all summer to get familiar with the position, but I’m off to a rocky start nonetheless. Not much time goes by without me questioning what it is I need to be doing, should be doing, and whether or not I’m contributing enough. But I love the organization and the position, so I’m sure I’ll get the hang of it in no time.

I’m also struggling to lock down my internship. I got a positive response from an organization in DC, but I haven’t had much luck with the logistics. I have yet to meet my potential “employer” and hammer out a schedule. Is it a go-into-the-office type position, or will I predominantly be working from home? There are a lot of time constraints and other considerations that I’m afraid haven’t been taken into account. And honestly? I wouldn’t be that upset about not having an internship and having free time / homework time built into my week.

And there’s plenty of homework to be done, believe me. I’m taking 5 classes, and 4 of them are writing classes. There’s Language & Politics, Presidential Communication, Speechwriting, and Screenwriting. And listen, I love them. But they’re not simple. They take a lot of forethought and planning. But I love it. They stretch my creative muscles, let my imagination run rampant, and force me to be a better writer. But for me to actually BE a better writer, I need to write. A lot.

So that’s the theme of this semester: Am Writing. And the best part about this whole “Am Writing” experience is that I’m getting familiar with a bunch of different genres. I’m experimenting with screenplay format for the first time (and loving it. Though the limit on exposition is a surprising struggle). I’m learning how to craft political language into speeches, which has been a dream of mine for half a decade. And, of course, I’m still writing my recaps at Off Color TV. There’s no way I could give up my insane devotion to Parks & Rec and I’m going to try my hand at recapping The Mindy Project as well.

On top of all of that, the thousands of words I will be required to craft for school and volunteered to string together for recaps, I will keep on with my personal writing projects. I have four novels that are nowhere near complete and each of them have a place in my heart. They showcase how much I’ve grown as a writer. One was my first foray into the novel (junior year of high school). One was an attempt to stretch my legs (freshman year of college). The third, and possibly my favorite, was my best example of characterization yet (junior year of college). And the fourth, my newest baby, has shown me what I can do when I figure out the plot ahead of time (summer before senior year of college).

I’m equal parts excited and terrified of all of the writing I’ll have to do. I’m worried that I won’t improve as much as I’d like. Or that maybe I’m no good at this writing gig at all. But it’s exhilarating – putting myself out there in the name of doing what I love.

And to balance all of this writing, I get to research my future. I’m to the point in my life that I need to figure out what I want to do next. I want to try and work for a year or two before going to grad school, but what, exactly, is it that I want to do? Do I want to stay in the sphere of Political Communication? Do I want to move toward the realm of television? They beautiful thing is that I’m young and I have plenty of time to follow my heart. I may be on the cusp of adulthood, but I’m not actually a real person yet.