Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Don't Fence Me In: A Look at Love, Relationships, and the American Dream

Don't Fence Me In: A Look at Love, Relationships, and the American Dream
By Alexis Stember

On the corner of Banker and Wythe Streets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a neighborhood that has historically been comprised of working-class families, stands a four-floor townhouse with a small iron fence and a plain gray stoop made of concrete. On the stoop sits a lawn chair and an ashtray, most often used by the number of 20-something-year-olds who have increasingly begun to move into the neighborhood.

Through the front door of the townhouse is a short hall that leads you to a stairway that creaks as you ascend it to any of the four apartments the townhouse has been divided into. This is where 26-year-old actress June Young and her 31-year-old boyfriend, director Matt Sullivan, live along with their roommates and fellow couple, Kelly Anderson and James Dyerson.

June has lived in the apartment since 2004, moving from Manhattan's East Village when she found it to no longer be affordable. Remarkably spacious and filled with touches (jewel-toned walls, an over-sized leather chair, an English antique wooden dining table) that convey comfort and sophistication, her three-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint leaves Mahattanites like me wondering, "How did she get so lucky?" Luck, however, had very little to do with it.

"I did not want to move into [this] apartment," June tells me, seated in her 500 square foot living room. "The place was big but it was ugly. There was all this wood paneling and bad linoleum and terrible fixtures mixed with crap renovations and peeling wallpaper. The bathtub was black, it looked like an ashtray, but it was in our price range, it was in an amazing location, it was on the second floor, and there was no deposit, so [the] idea was, 'We'll just strip this place and do it ourselves...' So we did. We made this apartment nice."

For June, this ability to recognize potential and invest herself extends to the three long-term relationships she's had over the past 8 years, relationships that required the same sanding and polishing as the floors of her apartment once did, particularly on issues of autonomy. "It's a very fine line," June says. "It's something that you have to find a balance with: how that works in each relationship and what level works for you. Some couples only see each other a certain amount of time and they really have a lot of things that pull them away from each other and they're fine with that. I mean, it seems like that's rather difficult but maybe it works best for those people. And then there are people that really like to let their lives be led together and spend a lot of their time together. For me, I have to have the balance, but it's still hard."

Balance is still a fresh concept for June, but one she's openly embraced since leaving her first boyfriend, Jason Leary in Los Angeles. She was 19 when Leary, an actor 10 years her senior, and she met through a mutual friend whose ranch in Wyoming she and Leary, along with a number of other people, were staying for a summer. "It [the relationship] was probably a stupid decision but I was 19 and it was a totally idyllic situation: riding horses, everybody drinking Budweiser up in the mountains…. I wanted to fall in love." And she did. The verbal abuse and mood swings Leary eventually exhibited ultimately took a toll on June, though, and she left the relationship after two years, but not without having learned something first. "It completely clarified every boundary and every front," she says, adding that that relationship helped her realize "what was okay and what wasn't."

When asked how and why she managed to stay in the relationship as long as she did, June blamed her youthful naivety but continued, "Some people love to be in love like that. Some people want that all consuming, go out of their mind passion. That's what they want and they tend to try and find that again and again, or they stick with the same person because they're addicted to the drama." A basic Google search appears to verify June's assertion, the terms "addiction to drama" + "relationships" turning up no less than 1,180,000 responses on the subject. "We are all familiar with chemical addictions to intoxicating substances such as alcohol or cocaine," states a website called The Relationship Institute. "The least recognized addiction in our society, however, may be the addiction to drama which manifests in so many relationships…. If you come from drama in your family, your brain is preset to resonate with feelings of chemistry and infatuation with someone from a similar background."

That is where June feels she has an advantage over the more than 40% of her peers who grew up in single parent households in America. "My parents were married and together the entire time that I was growing up…. They're still together." Watching them, she says, taught her to be comfortable with the inevitable conflict that emerges in relationships, conflict she feels many people who come from single parent households run away from. "Seeing two people not get along all the time but still stay together, knowing that you can be in a relationship and it doesn't mean you're going to break up just because you're having a fight..." these are the things she came away from childhood with. There is, on the other hand, a limit to how much fighting June finds acceptable in a relationship, as she discovered with Leary.

After leaving Leary, June hopped a plane for New York City to attend the two year acting program at the Neighborhood Playhouse. Within her first few months at the school, June was introduced to Fred Stanton, another actor. "I knew he liked me the first time I met him and I really just, he was really nice. I kind of resisted going out with him but there was something about him that was just very nice and sweet, so that was very slow. In a way, it was a reaction to the relationship I had with Jason [Leary] because I knew that Fred was incapable of being mean to me or putting me through that kind of hell and I also knew that I was incapable of being as obsessed with him as I was with Jason. And we both gave something that the other person needed: he didn't demand more of me than I was willing to give and I was a really good girlfriend to him for a very long time."

While in retrospect she describes her relationship with Stanton as simply one of comfort - a stabilizing force at an unstable time in her life - she also points out that it was a good relationship while it lasted, and that good relationships, like good apartments, take work. "I think most people give up too easily in relationships," she says. "I think a lot of people have a notion of what being in a relationship means in terms of what you can and can't do then for the rest of your time and life. I mean, I still want to run away half the time, but that's something that you just realize is a natural instinct. Like, I want to pack my bags, jump on a plane to Timbuktu and go backpacking half the time, but that's just me wanting to escape everything, him included, you know? And that's just my personal crap. That has nothing to do with whether or not I love him or whether he's a good boyfriend."

Her relationship with Stanton ended much the way it began: quietly. "There was nothing weird or vicious about it. I knew I wasn't in love with him anymore and the minute I was sure of that, I broke it off with him." She adds that there was no specific incident that caused her to end things but that she realized one day that she felt she was single, even though she wasn 't. "I was afraid that [staying] would be like, 'Okay, I'm not in love with him [but] we're still kind of going out,' and then I'd just cheat on him or do something really bad, and I didn't want to do that. I don't want to be that person."

That sentiment fits in neatly with her overall attitude about sex. She has never had, nor been interested in having, casual sex or one-night-stands, and though she is unapologetic for that facet of her character, she confesses to sometimes feeling the pressure of being in what she perceives as the minority for her generation. "You feel like you're supposed to have all these escapades and really know what's out there and have all these notches on your bedpost- an imaginary, arbitrary number of people and relationships. It's almost like we're allotted X number of one-night stands that are acceptable and then we're expected to have X number of somewhat serious relationships before we then find that right person and settle down. And it can't be too many and it can't be too little, otherwise we haven't done it right."

Asked if she thinks her generation prefers hook-ups over relationships, she says, "I do, but I think it has to do with a deeper problem. I don't think it's about sex and relationships. I think it has more to do with defining who you are and not wanting to feel pressure or responsibility in life because I think more than anything, this generation has a very tenuous relationship with responsibility in general, and to me a big part of relationships is how your responsibilities are defined to a person."

A Public Agenda study conducted in 1999, titled Kids These Days, found that "substantial majorities of Americans describe teens and children with words like 'lazy' and 'irresponsible'". If indeed they are, June believes part of the blame rests in the popularity of things such as the Self-Help and New Age movements that place such a premium on personal responsibility.

"You're a lot more conscious these day of which responsibilities you're taking on every time you take them on, and a lot of it is [the feeling that] 'I need to be responsible for myself and figure this out first.'" Most people, she says, are not there yet. "It goes into a whole thing of 30 [years old] being the new 20 [years old], and 40 being the new 30. Maybe that's just the general trend that's happening; maybe a lot of people are just not done finding themselves yet."

While people may still be searching for themselves, they still seem to be searching for romantic counterparts as well. With the rising popularity of the Internet, text messages, instant messages, and the never-ending stream of new dating and social networking websites like Myspace, Facebook and Match.com, people seem more eager than ever to get involved with with other people, but are these things - texts and sites where people share personal details and photos of themselves - just another symptom of narcissism? Is the inter-connectivity of technology and the Web actually bringing us any closer together?

"Technology, the Internet, communication-" June says, "the speed at which it all takes place dictates the speed at which these things can start and end, and it's undeniable that the world is a much faster place everyday." So is that a bad thing? "Yes and no. It seems odd but at the same time I think about, Well, what did people used to do? People wrote letters. What is writing a letter except slow texting with better grammar and longer sentences?" June laughs, conveying a welcome attitude toward this shift in the dating paradigm. Still, she has never herself been on an Internet date, nor has she ever participated in a relationship that relied on text messages as a primary or even secondary form of communication.

June met Matt Sullivan, her current boyfriend, in 2005 when he cast her in his first feature film as the indifferent ingenue his male lead tries to win romantically. "That was pretty much [Sullivan's] college experience," Juniper says. "He never thought girls he liked would be into him." June, however, fell in love with Sullivan long before the film they were shooting wrapped. "We'd spend hours and hours on the phone every day talking about anything and everything. Then we started saying things like, 'I miss you,' which was our way of saying 'I love you.' It was weird." Weird because Sullivan was married at the time. "It's not something I talk about very often. Nobody wants to be the one who broke up a marriage."

Sullivan's marriage was 8 months old when June stepped into the picture, though Sullivan and his then wife had been dating for six years when they walked down the aisle. "He was unhappy," June says, adding that the marriage was already headed toward divorce before she arrived. "[His wife] wanted to live in Westchester and be a Westchester mom and do that whole thing and he's obviously not into that…. He likes living in Brooklyn and going to concerts…. I think neither of them realized just how much they were on different paths and they made concessions for each other but didn't realize that when it came down to it, they just wanted different things." Sullivan and his wife were legally separated a month after he and June finished shooting.

When asked how her relationship with Sullivan differs from her other two significant relationships, June says, "I don't have that - and I think this is a good thing - I don't have that blind, all consuming, ridiculous, obsessive love for him. I don't think that's healthy. The way that I love Matt is more secure.... And I know that Matt loves me and will be there for me and that's a really good feeling to have. And, it sounds so cheesy and corny but it's true, I get to share things with him. At the end of the day, I get into bed and I have somebody to kiss goodnight, and I love waking up and he's there. Of course there are days that I'm pissed off that he's snoring and I wish he would shut up so I could go to sleep," she laughs, "I mean there's the converse side to all of this but when I think about the good things... I think that's part of the reason that I want to be with him as much as I do. I trust that we're always going find that it's not worth placing our personal petty crap above the relationship."

No comments:

About Me

My photo
“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Blog Archive


Search This Blog