The things that we desire can be really complicated sometimes. Many of the things that we desire we know are complicated—it’s not like we are blind about the complexity of many of our longings. Have you ever wanted to hook up with someone and later discovered that the person is really not what you thought? Have you ever longed to be in a relationship with someone, but later found out that there’s no way that you could ever make it in a relationship with the person? Have you ever had a deep sexual desire for someone and then, as time goes by, end up feeling like why in the world did I ever sexually desire this person? Have you ever had sex with someone and experienced just okay sex with the person, but you still want to have sex with the person so bad—even though you know you’re not going to be completely fulfilled after you have worked so hard to get with the person and the sex is again just okay? No, I have not been listening to Brandy’s “Have You Ever” lately, but I have been seriously contemplating how complicated our relationships and sexual desires can be sometimes.
Although desire emerges from natural human emotions, Karl Marx has evinced that desire becomes much more complicated when it comes into contact with capitalism. The economic and social influences of capitalism can cause our desires to become unstable and difficult to comprehend. Your desire to constantly have sex with someone who you know is not going to give you the sexual experience you long for can be a product of you attempting to find a way to satisfy your economic shortcomings that result from capitalism. The societal expectations to be sexually involved with someone can lead you to constantly pursue someone you know is not going to fulfill you sexually, and to make matters even worse, this person can be someone who it’s challenging to get him or her to have sex with you—even though you have had sex together before.
Although I have had the opportunity to read some very good (and a few great) blogs that concentrate on relationships, there is little to no discussion and analysis about the impact of the economic system, namely capitalism, on relationships. Relationships of all types are heavily affected by capitalism. By thinking about the impact that capitalism has on relationships, we can move more toward offering advice, critiques, and discussions about relationships that are informed by something greater than one’s personal experience and background; we can all begin to think about how capitalism is at play in what goes on in relationships and how we conceive relationships.
Envisage how much better Steve Harvey’s relationship advice would be if he solemnly contemplated capitalism’s impact on the relationships in which he analyzes, and imagine how much better constructed his relationship advice would be if he firmly situated it within a theoretical or conceptual framework that offers him the ability to critique capitalism’s effects on relationships. I don’t think this is asking too much of him, but his largely naïve and/or desperate audience may begin to run away from this more substantive and focused relationship advice.
Some people will say that they do include capitalism into how they think about and analyze relationships, but I would just like to see you be more explicit in your critiques of capitalism’s effects on relationships in your discussions and analyses.
When you no longer desire to be with a person who you thought you were interested in, I want you to think about that you may have learned something meaningful about yourself and what you want, as opposed to there being anything substantively wrong and/or disappointing about the person.
When you no longer want to hook up with a person for a one-night stand (or jump off), I want you to think about the possible economic and social factors at play that could be contributing to your discontinued desire to be with the person. You can learn much about yourself by engaging in this critical self-evaluation of your thoughts about relationships and your words and actions within your relationships.
When you continue to have sex with someone you really are not being fulfilled by, I want you to consider the possibility that you really don’t want to be with this person, and that you are only having sex with him or her to mollify larger economic and/or social problems and challenges that plague you.
It is my hope that relationship discourses, advice, and analyses will begin to include thoughts about capitalism’s impact on relationships. I’m not trying to discourage people from using their own personal experiences with relationships in their advice, discussions, and analyses about relationships, but I would certainly like to see a greater effort employed to contextualize and conceptualize your personal experiences within larger factors that will offer wider applicability and relevancy. Your personal relationship experiences can be useful to people, of course. However, don’t ever present your relationship experiences as the standards for all relationships. Just because you have been involved in some or many relationships does not make you a relationship expert, especially when you have not really internalized anything you have learned from your relationships.
Give more thought to your relationship and sexual desires—they can be highly complicated. Make stronger efforts to ameliorate the level of sophistication of your relationship advice, critiques, and discussions.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison