Cultural Templates

I’ve begun the research into what will become the world for my next novel. I think it will be a story of the Fae, so will involve immortal beings thousands of years old, their technology and culture. So, of course, I watched a handful of Dawson’s Creek episodes.

There are assumptions made by all of us as to what form our relationships will take. We also make assumptions about our friends and family and their relationships, all based on our culture, what we know of their culture, etc. Watching Dawson’s Creek, I got to see how the writer(s) of those episodes portrayed the young people, their group of friends, their relationships, sexual or otherwise. Particularly how the dynamics of the group strained and were changed when two of the people began a sexual relationship.I found it fascinating to discover what the depiction of the reactions told me about the assumptions — shared between the writer and the audience — of how this newly sexual couple should/would react and exist amongst their friends.

I also read this article on the Moral Case for Sex Before Marriage and thought that it did a great job of arguing the case for moving beyond the religiously inspired cultural assumption that the “best” way of forming a relationship is a chaste one until marriage (which, while dominant, is still only one of many templates for how relationships will proceed). It also laid bare the distance between how people act and how they say they should act, as well as the shift in cultural mores and assumptions that are made over time. Technology, exposure to other cultures, and actively working to progress toward a more egalitarian society work changes on our cultural assumptions regarding relationships. There wouldn’t have to be such strident insistence on the Only Right Way to have a relationship if it was assumed by all to actually be THE only right way.

I’m in a relationship that one could call “non traditional.” That means that together my GF and I had to create what she called a “deliberate” relationship. We sat down and discussed/are discussing, the terms of our relationship. We delineate both boundaries and expectations. We make mistakes and misunderstandings, of course, but that means we go back and clarify. There are far fewer assumptions, and the ones that we run into we root out, pull up into the light of day, and examine to see if there’s anything worth keeping.

This is hard work.

But if I may continue my metaphor a bit, it’s work like gardening is work. There is something very beautiful and nourishing as a result of all that work. But what is there is unique in my experience because it is based on what the individuals involved want from the relationship, not what is assumed based on cultural expectations.

One of the ideas that I’m considering as part of the world building for my next story/novel is creating a culture for which that kind of lack of assumptions regarding relationships is the norm. Or rather, that the assumption of the culture is that each relationship is consciously created based on the needs and wants of the people involved. There are no assumptions about genders of those involved or numbers of those involved. The duration of the relationship is not assumed: it is assumed neither to be fleeting nor forever. (the only time the culture insists on  something different is when children are concerned, which makes sense given the rest of the culture which I haven’t written about here).

What would such relationships look like? I feel like they’d be better for the people involved. I could be missing something. Perhaps there are several “templates” or relationships so that people can at least be in the same hymnal if not singing the same song.Another challenge is that I’m not setting up a utopia. What are the problems associated with every relationship being built from scratch every time?

Where is all this going? Not sure. These are just some of the several threads that I notice dangling because I’m in the stage of novel writing where I go looking for threads. But it could be pretty interesting, if I can find the story that weaves the threads together.

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