Under the Influence

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

For those of you who got really excited, this column will not be about drugs.

First, though, I just want to start out with two points unrelated to the main body of this column.

The first is that whoever is sending me good vibes should strongly think about whether to use their powers for good or evil, because I have been asked out more times in the past week than in my entire previous time at Swarthmore. I even went on a date, and all I’m going to say is that it was nice and I’m seeing him again. And I will figure out how to tell him about the column if/when we get to that bridge.

The second is an article that I want to share with you because I think that it’s pretty brilliant: Schrödinger’s Rapist.

Yes, it has a more limited audience because it is addressing (probably straight) men who approach women (of whatever sexual orientation) who they don’t know, for whatever reason. But at least based on my experience, it elucidates pretty well what it is like to be a woman in that situation, and why you should respect her/me/them/us if we don’t respond favorably, whatever your intentions were.

Also, if you are wearing a shirt with a rape joke on it, no matter your gender or sexual orientation or species, don’t even bother approaching me because I can 100% guarantee that makes you someone I will never want to know in any context ever.

But on to the body of the article: I wanted to talk about the influences those around us have on our relationships. No romance/hookup/fill in the blank exists in a vacuum, and more often than not we get feedback from those around us. The way this effects our relationships is endlessly complicated. This was the case for Romeo and Juliet. Andie and Blane had some pretty serious problems with feedback. So did Tracy Flick and Dave Novotny (that was totally legit though). Heck, it’s the basis for half the teen comedies and romance novels ever written. Probably because they’re all based on Romeo and Juliet.

Here’s the thing: everyone reading this column, and everyone you will ever know is judgmental. Some will be more so than others, but we all are. It’s human nature, and in life it’s kinda useful. It’s how we choose what to eat for dinner, what classes to take, and who to be friends with. But judgments are opinions. Just because I don’t like bacon doesn’t mean that bacon is inherently evil.

I have opinions about pretty much everything, and yes, that does include the relationships of my friends and siblings. Most of these opinions are positive, and it’s my general policy not to share negative opinions of other people’s relationships. Not with the members of that relationship and not around with the general public (not much anyway. I am human.), because what happens in another person’s relationship isn’t really any of my damn business to intrude upon if it is fulfilling for them.

This changes if they seem miserable or if their partner is treating them terribly. If they’re miserable, I would probably only bring it up if asked, unless they were continuously unhappy for an extended period of time (read: more than a few weeks). If their partner is treating them terribly, how quickly I reacted would depend highly on what happened. Putting him down in public? I’d probably wait to see if it happened a second time. Hitting her, or evidence thereof? I’d say something the second her partner’s out of earshot and take her away quickly.

Obviously, there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to approach these sensitive topics. “I hate your girlfriend” is absolutely never going to go over well. Not if your subject has any self-respect. Remember when you were told that you should approach conflict situations using “I” statements? In talking about other people’s relationships, I tend to employ a variation of this called “I’m worried” statements. “I’m worried that you don’t seem happy lately. Are you and Alphonse doing okay?” Much better response. It will probably actually start a conversation, rather than a defense.

You also have to accept the fact that just because you have raised your opinion, doesn’t mean that your friend/sibling/classmate/barber has to follow your advice. She may stay with her partner; he may never stand up for himself. But after you have made your case once, unless they are in real physical danger, you have to leave it alone for a while. This does not mean that if people are together for six months after your conversation, you can never broach the topic again, but if you bring up negative opinions about someone’s relationship regularly, even if you do so politely, they will very quickly stop listening to you, and that helps no one.

If I had broken up with my significant others every time someone I was close to not liking them, all of my relationships would have been half as long, tops. My parents didn’t like Spencer, everyone thought the second guy I dated here (Rooney) was a totally bizarre match, and my best friend from high school detested Moose, although I always suspected that had more to do with his disapproval of my boyfriend being a drug kingpin than it had to do with any facet of our relationship. If I had listened to these dissenters, I would have learned less and missed some pretty great experiences.

In each of these cases, it was really one person with a serious grudge, or a bunch of people with vague reservations. Obviously, if you are the person being talked to, you can do whatever you want in regards to your own relationship, no matter how many people are crying foul, but I suggest that you should at least listen to every complaint.

My parents didn’t like Spencer because we had broken up and gotten back together right before they met him, so they were concerned that he might not be treating me well. That was totally unfounded, but they’re parents – they get worried. Most of my friends realized that Rooney was really awkward, and weren’t sure that we would have enough in common to last. They were ultimately right. We didn’t go out for very long. Most of them eventually subtly said, “I told you so.”

And that’s okay. It was my choice to make and I made it. But I will urge you, if a lot of people are coming to you with the same concern, seriously think about it. It’s true that observers will never know what it is like inside a relationship, but sometimes people outside the pool can see sharks and submarines that the swimmers can’t.

Additionally, if your defense is “he/she/ze is different when we’re alone,” seriously think about what you are saying. Your argument is that your partner treats you well in a single part of your relationship. Don’t you want someone who treats you well all the time, not just when no one can see them do so?

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