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Love, Lust & Legal : Analyzing the Climate of Modern Relationships

Love, Lust & Legal : Analyzing the Climate of Modern Relationships

Photographed by Elizabeth Robinson
of Amanda Whitaker and Taylor Martin
Styled by Jack Turpen and Haedyn Moore
Directed by Cheveney Koski
Hair and Makeup by Sahari Flores
Director Assist: Jazmin Anderson
Hair and Makeup Assist: Abbie Goodman
Photography Assist: Jessie Heilig

By Jack Turpen

We age to find our one true person and marry off our daughters. The institution that is marriage has long been idealized, when in reality many find themselves falling into it’s trap. As morality continues to reinforce traditional standards regarding marriage, the idea of casual sex continues to raise blood pressures across the elderly community. But as we reside in a society where individuality and an emphasis on mental health as a number one priority is celebrated, less and less people from the Millennial and Gen Z generations are getting married. If they are, they are doing so at an older age. Instead, the focus has shifted to popularize what has been coined hookup culture. The problem lies within the fact that a happy medium is hard to find and often undesired. I want a solidified relationship in which I feel valued but I hope to continue to liberate myself sexually across a large pond. An open relationship sounds most ideal, but it is not warranted as a legitimate practice within any “serious” relationship. The solution remains in a gray area, unappealing to those who have been around long enough to see what marriage “should” look like. But of course those ideals no longer match the world we live in.

Hookup culture encompasses the acts of purely physical, and typically one-time, sexual encounters that are void of any emotional attachment or serious commitment. The widespread acceptance of this movement highlights a drastic shift in popular culture, moving away from the traditional model of a relationship that has been the societal norm historically. As casual hookups and low-pressure, non-committed relationships have become the new norm, marriage has consequently seen people getting married at older ages, or not at all. Hookup culture is especially prevalent in Gen Z, most prominently on college campuses where the typical college student stereotype is to go out, hookup with many people, and make the majority of our sexual mistakes while we’re young. In consideration to the effects that college can already have on mental health, hookups can also deeply impact the way we feel about ourselves. The inevitable disappointments can evolve to issues with self-esteem, increased anxiety, and depression.

While there is always a risk involved in participating in hookup culture, the concept of this cultural revolution is well intentioned. As society continues to shift personal focus to individuality, professional success, and strong mental health, hookup culture allows for less romantic pressure as young people establish a solid foundation for their future as a main priority. Though the idea of this movement is to take pressure off of finding serious relationships, defy standard societal norms, and have fun, it is impossible to remove all emotions from a physical encounter.

On one hand, people may feel pressured into participating in hookup culture when, really, they do not want to, and subsequently may feel regret in doing so. Sexual interactions can also lead to involuntary emotional bonds forming, which when they inevitably end, can lead to disappointment. The idea of a physical relationship without any emotional tie to the person is very much achievable, but it does not speak to everyone. The problem arises when those who may not want to participate in hookups interject in the lives of others, applying their opinions to the actions of others. Then the shame kicks in, it can be a pretty vicious cycle. But the alternative being a lone partnership with one person after having no chance to explore other options is not ideal either. Thus, the gray area that is the concept of love, but what does that word even mean?

Love is a word that does not taste good to me. Some words are so fun to say and you can’t help but use them all the time, as they just roll off the tongue. My personal favorites as of late have been “moron” and the adverb “moronic”, they’re just so satisfactory to say. Love is not one of those words for me. It used to be, before I reflected upon its usage. In high school, the love I felt for the friendships around me seemed mutual. It was a casual way of saying goodbye to each other, it was a way to affirm the value you hold for someone else. I’m all about providing affirmation, no matter how gross I may feel providing it, but in my college age I struggle to love everyone who crosses my path. I wish to hold the word love to a higher standard, what does that word mean to me in the way I value those around me? Do I love everyone? Do I even love all of my friends? These questions circulate, but they raise valid points. As I am slowly able to answer through age, I find I still do not have an answer for the meaning of love. I’ve thought I felt it before, but as it drifts I’m quick to dismiss it as infatuation. I guess saying “I’m infatuated with you” does not sound the same, I get it. But I don’t think I have felt true love yet, at least not for a partner. I think I’d only truly trace the roots of my love for a guy when I’m in my grayer ages. I want a love analyst of some sort, if they exist, to outline the eps and flows within my feelings for men and trace the peaks in which I truly felt what love is meant to be. But the kicker there, the idea of love is built for us. I want it to mean something specific to my feelings, and I hope to define it for myself.

As many would be quick to protest the idea of a hookup, marriage in ideology is inherently flawed. Though reaping tax benefits sounds like a good idea to anyone, the mental tax applied to a marriage can be far more draining. Firstly, the idea of signing something to legally adhere myself to someone scares me deeply. I find it hard to sit in a room with myself without finding flaws or getting annoyed by my own behaviors, not to mention the idea of sharing a space with another guy. Marriage also outlines this specific infatuation you are supposed to have for the other person, as exploring anything romantically outside of that relationship is deemed as one of the worst sins out there. I have never seen it as reasonable in any way to expect someone to lose all attraction for other people once they’ve signed a deal with the devil and binded themselves to another person. Just the idea of one’s partner looking at someone down the street would send some into a frenzy of preaching. This isn’t to imply that I am a supporter of cheating in any way, I think people should be adults and deal with their cards properly. But I am not surprised at how rampant cheating truly is. Especially when it comes to the male's ability to jump to the newer, shinier object at the drop of a dime. What I am surprised at is anybody’s ability to go through with a marriage when they know how inevitable cheating can be. I think that kind of fear and paranoia would shift the way in which I start everyday, the way I go outside, even the way I lay in bed. But perhaps there lay some trust issues deeper within my psyche. What happens to this relationship when cheating occurs? Let alone any other marital problems like money, children, even grief can interfere in some very scary ways.

Divorce is the big word that no one wants to utilize as the answer. It can be an easy fix in a mutual decision between a married couple, but it can also go south. Getting divorced is a lot to worry about financially, usually leaving one of the former partners in great financial distress. Sometimes the process can last longer than anticipated, further sinking the whole it will leave in your bank account. Bethenny Frankel famously had a divorce that lasted eight years with the marriage only lasting less than two years. Frankel’s apartment that was purchased while married during the peak of her career was basically being held legally captive by her ex, Jason Hoppy. Not to mention the custody battle that ensued, only allowing Frankel to have a limited and strictly regulated time to actually see or speak to her daughter. Watching the aftermath on her return to the Real Housewives of New York rearranged my marital views very quickly.

My parents got divorced when I was two-years-old. I choose not to know the determining factor of their divorce, but to my knowledge it went smoothly. Both sides of my family remain very close. Because it happened when I was so young, it never had a very straining impact on the way I view my own love life. They have served as an example to me that divorce is possible in a civil manner, but it’s still not ideal. I hope to avoid it, as does everyone. I think the most relieving aftermath of a divorce would be the feeling of freedom. Marriage can hold people hostage, in escaping a bad one we free ourselves, which holds a lot of emotional baggage. This is not to imply that all marriage would result in disaster, there are many examples out there of healthy and long-lasting marriages. I just tend to think that those are far in between and not as common anymore. In this day and age, societally, I feel we are less willing to agree to a shitty arrangement. People are more aware of their self-worth, attributing to the willingness to just marry anyone. We are much more calculated in terms of shaping our futures. We set such high expectations that it can blind us in our decision making, but we only seek the best for ourselves.

Moral of the story remains; marriage is not all it's cracked up to be but hookups don’t amount to anything, nor fulfill the right expectations we set in place. I don’t foresee myself ever getting married, I don’t require the title in ways that other people do. But hookups don’t seem to be the answer for me either, particularly in the gay community. Marriage is being redefined all the time, though many wish to keep it set in stone. Queer marriages are finally legal in many areas but progress is still required. But we have to as a society avoid the judgements we are so quick to apply. Same goes for the judgements I place on those who marry young. I think people go with what they feel will get them the closest to happiness, as we all continue to hunt for the truest form of love. There will never be one answer. I hope to ease my anxiety and be more at peace with the fact that I will always change. My feelings will always shift and the relationships I have will always be new and challenging. The fear I hold surrounding finding the meaning of love will not be resolved by marriage or hookups. Love is something I have to define for myself, I have a feeling it won’t apply to any romantic relationships I hold. Instead, I look to the love I hold for the friendships around me. I guess I could marry my best friend, but I think she would divorce pretty damn fast.

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