Most of us fall somewhere between ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and suburban tranquility.
For a long time, many of us believed in the human sexuality spectrum. First proposed by Alfred Kinsey, the idea was that we aren’t 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual?—?most of us exist somewhere between those two boundaries.
Though the spectrum idea has been debunked recently (people are mostly either heterosexual or homosexual, the new theory goes, but there are important variations within those groups) it was an important way for society to begin to think about human sexuality. Before Kinsey, it was considered “wrong” to be gay; his work gave us the important thought contribution that humans aren’t meant to be placed into neat little boxes.
The deviance that was once assumed of LGBTQ members of society is happily changing. That said, that deviance is now being transferred to anyone that might want something outside the “normal” relationship or sexuality structure. Although non-monogamy and polyamory are becoming more common, most “out” non-monogamous or polyamorous folks are met with comments of confusion and disgust. Why would you ever want to have sex with more than one person for the rest of your life? people will say. What’s wrong with you that you aren’t happy settling down with one person?
And it’s not just sexuality?—?it’s any way of living that’s outside the norm. How often do 20- and 30-somethings hear about the “lazy” or “entitled” nature of our generation?—?just because we don’t want to live the exact same lives as our parents did? How often do childless women hear about how “selfish” they are? Is it lazy and entitled to not want a stable life with a 9-to-5 job and a big mortgage (that we’ll be paying down for several decades)? Is it selfish to choose to not bring a life into this world?—?when you know you aren’t meant to be a parent?
Maybe some of us just value novelty and experience more than stability and comfort. Maybe it’s time to ditch the idea that there’s something deviant about seeking new experiences, both in our bedrooms and in our lives.
I’ve always been a novelty-seeker, but I wasn’t able to identify myself that way until recently. In my early 20s, the idea of coming home to the same person in the same house, after working at the same job year after year began to feel constricting. So I ditched it?—?I ditched the idea that I should try to find happiness that way. I quit my traditional firm job as an attorney 8 months ago to travel the world. In the process, I decided that I hated monogamy, too.
I now believe that our natural inclination to seek novelty or stability exists on a spectrum?—?just like the spectrum we once believed existed for human sexuality. And science confirms it: When neuroscientist and author Jaak Panskepp studied what’s called “seeking” behavior in animals, he found that the need to “seek” new things is inherent. Panksepp examined rats that appeared to continually electrocute themselves through a lever. According to Panskepp, though, the rats don’t actually like electrocuting themselves?—?but they appear to be excited when working for the stimulation of electrocution. Instead, because the “seeking” system of all mammals produces dopamine, the rats achieved a biological “reward” for the “seeking” behavior itself, rather than the actual electrocution.
It’s the same reason people fail to understand that winning the lottery won’t make them happy forever: it’s not the money, it’s the excitement?—?the newness. After a while, the newness wears off, so we’re perplexed as to why we’re not happier with just the money. It’s because we’ve acclimated to it and we’re no longer “seeking” that big win. Again, it’s the act of “seeking” itself that makes us happy.
There’s nothing wrong with that?—?even though thus far, our culture has led us to believe stability is the most worthy goal a person can have. Seeking new experiences doesn’t necessarily mean craving intense adrenaline-releasing adventures?—?though sometimes these things go hand in hand. It just means valuing new experiences rather than the same old, same old.
Some of us are on an extreme of novelty-seeking: I consider myself to be in this category. I crave and chase novelty in every aspect of my life from sex to work to play. Others of us are on the stability-seeking extreme: those who couldn’t imagine traveling at all or those who crave the comfort and stability of one home, or one partner, or one job.
Most people, however, probably land somewhere in the middle. And we may crave different versions of novelty and stability in different areas of our lives. Maybe you’re a single woman that wants see the world, but ultimately wants to settle down with a husband and a family. Maybe you’re a woman with a partner that you love, but couldn’t ever imagine settling down in one physical location.
Regardless, it’s time we throw out the idea that one, stable, constant life is right for everyone.
Single people who are single by choice are often treated like interesting, outlying societal artifacts that belong in a museum. Who on earth would choose to be single? Why be single when you could be happily coupled up? Women who chase this life must have a screw loose. Why can’t they just be “normal”?
But there is no normal. Some of us are meant to live stable, relatively constant lives, finding comfort in routine. Others of us are meant to live ever-evolving, wildly variable lives, seeking novelty at every turn.
Butmost of us are likely somewhere in between.