Relationship styles at Occupy Wall Street
Monogamy, polyamory and preoccupations with the future of modern love.
Fri Nov 18 2011
Protesting can be romantic. There is passion in chanting and, clearly, an intimacy in living in a park. Wandering through the tents, I spoke with couples who boasted stories of getting arrested together—which is like the Occupy Wall Street equivalent of moving in together.
According to 2010 Pew research, 50 percent of young people think that marriage is becoming obsolete. As the Occupy Wall Street movement represents the change people want to see in our society, what kind of change do protesters want to see in relationships? What is the future of dating, or even marriage, according to the protesters? Here is a glance at sex, dating and modern relationships at Occupy Wall Street.
Part One: Poly at Zuccotti
Caitlin, Robert, Yelle, Leandra, Alex and Kyle slept together in the same tent at Zuccotti Park. "Everyone is romantically, intimately and sexually involved," says Robert. They are a polyamorous family (a relationship style meaning, literally, "many loves"). The group share food, finances and plans post-protest: one pair are traveling to Portugal, others will be tree-sitting in Oregon.
On the second day of the protest, Caitlin was talking to someone about hitchhiking. Robert, who was walking by, turned around and said, "Do you want to hitchhike with me back to California after this is over?" Caitlin and Robert, who share a similar washed-out punk-rock aesthetic—band tees, hoodies, tight jeans—also began sharing a tent. This would be the seed for the poly family.
Cuddled up in the tent, Robert and Caitlin reminisce. "You totally initiated the first orgy," says Robert. "No," Caitlin argues, "wine initiated it!" Regardless, more people were slowly invited into their sleeping space. "When you engage in something you care about with someone, that builds a deeper connection," says Robert. "And sometimes that blossoms into other ways of connection."
Although the sixsome, all aged 18 to 24, found that while their poly relationship happened naturally, relations at Zuccotti were not easy. Before it got cold and the police finally allowed tents, the group slept together on an air mattress, covering themselves with a tarp. "Finally we went to Leandra's house, and we all got in a gigantic, California king-size bed with banisters and soft sheets. There was an epic orgy," says Robert.
After that, the group members started saying "I love you" to each other. There was more of a bond. "There are tender moments," says Caitlin. "Like taking care of someone who's sick." And no two relationships in the group are the same, "I relate differently to the 18-year-old who is new to protest culture than to members who are older and more experienced than me," she says. "You need the one-on-one, or that sense of family gets lost."
While polyamory might not be the norm, the group says relationships are changing for their generation. "Traditional courtship rituals are not financially possible—for people here and for our generation as a whole," says Robert. "I've had more girlfriends in the past who I moved in with early on because it was the only thing that was economically feasible."
He also points to gay marriage as progress. "Now we're seeing that marriage is for two people who are in love, dedicated," he says. "Maybe we could see that understanding become more than two people can be in love and dedicated."
And for them, it works. "We can go days without talking to many other people, because we have so much of what we need right here!"
Part Two: Monogamy, Uncommonly, at Zuccotti
Sebastian and Catherine met in L.A. Sebastian, a music producer with long hair and a beard, was immediately taken with Catherine, a brunette musician with and blunt bangs. When Sebastian lost a record deal and needed a fresh start, he invited her to England to make music together. A romance ensued and led to marriage.
The couple describe the moment they decided to camp out at Occupy as amorous. "How many people can turn to their partners and say, 'You know, I think we should go live in a park for the good of humanity, for months on end'? The entire thing is a wholly romantic exercise," says Sebastian.
They have a fairly traditional marriage: Catherine and Sebastian are monogamous; they want children. But their model for that is different than their parents'. Catherine says unlike previous generations, she and Sebastian don't believe that dining sets and mortgages make them more of a married couple. They think the model of "one dog, one TV, one house per family" needs to be revisited on the whole.
Catherine quotes Kurt Vonnegut: "When you fight with your spouse, what each of you is actually saying is, 'You're not enough people!'" She hopes that the future of relationships includes a more communal style of living. "Nuclear families can be so isolating," she says. Sebastian points out that even if you believe in nuclear families, that model isn't looking sustainable.
According to marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, couples demand too much from their spouse. "We expect more of our partner than ever before," she says. "Deeper love, deeper friendship, more emotional and practical support. But we expect less of other people, friends or family who could help support our relationship."
Living with other couples can provide the nonsexual benefits of polyamory—you can have a support system while remaining monogamous, and passionately so.
"Monogamy and nonmonogamy are about sex, and marriage is about much more than sex," says Sebastian. "Monogamy is a desire in your heart. It is not a law. Laws don't work in relationships. Relationships are living things that evolve." Sebastian says marriage changed his heart, and living in Zuccotti provided another epiphany. "We should fight against a society that makes it impossible for you to live financially, unless both partners are working six days a week," he says. "We don't want to disappear into communes so this can keep going on. This is the time to fight back."
The couple are approaching their fourth wedding anniversary, which they plan to celebrate with the movement. It might not be dinners and candlelight, but Occupy has been romantic in a way, says Sebastian: "A stronger, harder romance."