In this episode of YR's Adult ISH podcast, host Nyge Turner finds common ground with a listener lamenting the confusion of romance, and gets into the question of where good chemistry comes from. First Nyge turns to author and YR Media alum Rachel Krantz to expand our definition of what love can look like. Krantz’ upcoming memoir is called “Open.” Then, Nyge taps some friends for a peer storytelling roundtable, where we learn from others’ dating mistakes.
Adult ISH (@yrAdultISH) is produced by YR Media and brought to you by PRX’s Radiotopia.
Nyge: Welcome everyone. I’m Nyge Turner and you are listening to Adult ISH produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX.
This season, we’re accepting listener letters that ask for advice on navigating the ups and downs of adult life.
And we have a really relatable letter today sent in from someone we’re going to call your recovering hopeless romantic in Los Angeles. I’m gonna read it on their behalf. So let’s get into it.
Dear Adult ISH,
I recently realized I may have a problem when it comes to love. I have such a hard time opening up to people that when I find someone I think I can connect with on a deeper level, and be safe with, I latch onto them and want to do everything I can to further that relationship. It’s gotten to a point where I’ll ignore red flags in compatibility like the other person’s mental health or whether that person is actually a good partner rather than just a good person. And it actually causes me to try to make things work even beyond a healthy level. In hindsight, I usually realize how silly it was to hold onto someone, or an idea of someone for so long. But in the moment, it’s always so hard to let go of the hope that we can work it out. How do I move forward and find better compatibility with new partners? What are the key components I should be looking for in a potential romantic partner outside of the fact they are good people whose values I align with and I enjoy spending time with?
Nyge: Love is one of those topics that you can approach from about a billion different angles, but our team really wanted to focus on identifying romantic compatibility.
I think that compatibility is something everyone has struggled with at some point. Before I start trying to give some advice myself, we’re going to talk to someone who has written a lot more about love, chemistry and different types of relationships - Rachel Krantz.
Nyge: Rachel is an author and an award-winning journalist who actually got her start here at YR Media. Now she’s the author of the forthcoming book “Open,” an uncensored memoir of love, liberation and non-monogamy. We jumped right in with a question about how Rachel figures out when she’s emotionally compatible with someone.
Rachel: I mean I think that in many ways I’m still working on that. Figuring that out and I think it will always be a work in progress. So that’s been one main thing to realize. There’s no point you reach where you are like, “Oh now I know for sure, without a doubt that I’m emotionally compatible with this person and they’re my soulmate. Like, everything is perfect now.” It’s always going to be a work in progress, but one thing I say in the book that’s a lesson that I’ve learned that I think is really important is you can really love someone and they can really love you. But if you were to make a list of the symptoms and conditions said love is creating, what would that look like? So for example, in the book, I was deeply in love with someone and he was deeply in love with me. But the symptoms and conditions of that relationship were that I was smoking way too much weed, I was exercising compulsively because I was so anxious. I was self-isolating. All these signs that this was an unhealthy situation. Whereas the relationship I’ve been in for the last almost three years, I think in many ways you could say has more emotional compatibility because the “symptoms” of the relationship or the conditions it’s creating are, you know, I sleep well, I eat healthy, I wrote a book which was my lifetime goal. Right? So like, I’m thriving on an individual level within the relationship. So that’s what I really look to now as a clue. What are my symptoms and what are the conditions that are resulting from this relationship? And are they healthy?
Nyge: I really like that because I feel like most people when they talk about love and relationships or anything like that, if you are in a situation that doesn’t necessarily serve you the best, people will be like “Oh, that’s not love.” But it is nice to hear somebody to say that — that is love. And to validate those feelings. It is real. But is it the best for you? Probably not.
Rachel: Exactly. And I think we’ve been conditioned to believe that a lot of ups and downs are kinda synonymous with passion, right? And that true love should be filled with obstacles. So a lot of times when we get into those more dramatic relationships, it feels like “Well, true love is not supposed to be easy.” And there’s supposed to be some sort of quest for the hero to overcome. And that’s kinda the narrative we’ve seen and we’re all sort of protagonists of our own lives, so I think… if you are in a more mellow, less dramatic relationship, it can sometimes feel, you know, almost wrong. Because you are so unfamiliar with love feeling like a steady constant, kind of equanimous thing. Instead, you are used to it feeling like a lot of ups and downs — and, you know, are you loved today and not tomorrow? So we have to be aware of these patterns I think from our childhood too.
Nyge: Your upcoming book from Penguin Random House, it’s titled, “Open: An uncensored memoir of love, liberation and non-monogamy.” What can we all learn from non-monogamous relationships?
Rachel: Well, the main thing I learned is just that it’s allowed to be a conversation and there’s a lot of things in between the spectrum of like total monogamy and, you know, total most liberal polyamory where it’s like you have many different partners and they are all on the same level and there’s kinda no promises or whatever you want to say. There’s a lot of options in between. So I think for me being in my first non-monogamous relationship and sort of exploring a lot of these different options in the book — delving into, like, the swinger world and threesomes and then dating on my own and just kind of seeing how different couples and different individuals were doing it. Once I came out as being in an open relationship, all these people, especially women, would start pulling me aside and confessing how they were so bored sexually. Like how they felt so trapped, but they didn’t want to break up with their partner. They just craved something different and didn’t know how to talk about it or bring it up.
Nyge: Many people including the writer of this week’s letter find themself repeating the pattern of choosing incompatible people. What advice would you give someone who is looking to just break that cycle?
Rachel: I think you know one thing is to not just jump right away from relationship to relationship which I’ve had a tendency to do, but to really take the time to mourn the last one, think about the things that worked for you, and the things that didn’t. And to also think about what your own boundaries are. The way you might go about figuring out your boundaries is like “How do I want to feel in a relationship? What kind of behavior is not acceptable to me?” I think sometimes we are with — well, I mean there are so many reasons we pick incompatible people, but you know, one of them might just be inertia of just like “Alright, well, this person was interested in me and I’m attracted to them, so they’re here and here we go.” Or they’re very persuasive and they’ve very sure. So I think just paying attention to: Do you have a clear sense of what you want? And if not, you know, that’s natural too, especially when you’re younger. Like you’re figuring all these things out about how you want to be in relationships. There’s going to be trial and error. But maybe trying to get clear on, “What are your boundaries? What kind of behavior is okay and not okay? What are you looking for?” And don’t make some impossible list necessarily that’s going to cause you more stress but really keep checking in with yourself about that.
So I think yeah, paying attention to that is part of recognizing compatibility. Does this person help bring out the best in you?
Nyge: With that being said, what are the best tips for moving on or letting go?
Rachel: For me, what made the biggest difference was going on a meditation retreat for the first time and I did that right after I broke up with my partner and it was just — I was just so heartbroken and that taught me how to really sit with those feelings and not be afraid of them. And just let them move through me and see how it was really sad and there were all these feelings, but they would kinda pass by like clouds and you sorta see how fluid they are. And the more you can sit with that reality, the less afraid of your own grief you are and you won’t run away from it as much. And if you can learn to nurture yourself, you can be so much more fearless. So I think when I was heartbroken, I started doing that and I would kinda just like put my hand on my heart and my belly and I would cry a lot of the times and I would try to learn to talk to myself and say all the things that he used to say to me that made me feel so protected. So that I could realize I could give those feelings to myself. So saying things like “I’ll always take care of you, Rachel. You know? I’ll be there for you. You are really smart. You are a resilient person, you know. You are capable.” Those are things he didn’t say to me that I really needed to hear. And that I kept trying to prove in the relationship. So kinda, the more you can learn to affirm yourself in that way, then you won’t be looking to other people to fill that hole that you think is lacking in you.
Nyge: While researching “Open,” you talked to scientists and psychologists to get at the heart of a new model of relationships. Were there any lessons that you learned from them that surprised you?
Rachel: Yeah. Lots. Lots. I think one is just that there’s nothing abnormal about having trouble with long-term monogamy. Monogamy is a social system, not an innate state. And also, that we are kinda taught this relationship escalator mentality which is kinda what a lot of polyamorous people call it of like “Okay, so you date, and then you move in, and then you get married, and then you have kids, and it’s just like... then you die!” Just keep going up and that’s how you know you’ve arrived at your adult life. And I think it’s worth questioning whether all those things are right for you and your relationship. There are people who might do better not living together and could still be very committed. There’s people who would do better, you know, not being totally monogamous. And still be very committed. Or never being married or never having kids. I think it doesn’t again mean that any of those things are wrong when you choose them, it’s just that it’s a problem when it becomes the default thing that people feel like they have to do and then they’re living their life in this box that ends up feeling like a cage.
Nyge: Yeah. I uh, I think something I keep thinking about too when it just comes to love and relationships or anything like is just like: what if it is something that you want but it’s just not working out, it’s just not happening?
Rachel: I think couples therapy is a really great tool honestly if people can make it work with their insurance of course. If you have some sort of community counselor or at your church or somewhere else that you trust that you don’t feel is going to give you, like, too dogmatic advice, I think just always getting in that other perspective. Because any relationship dynamic is like a dance and you know sometimes people get really locked in their dynamic and there’s one tango they know all the moves to and it’s like they don’t know how to do anything else and they’re kinda stuck in these patterns, so I think you sometimes just need someone else to help you — either learn some new moves or tell you that you’re not really dancing that well together.
Nyge: Right. Do you have any advice for people who are having trouble finding anyone at all?
Rachel: Yeah, I mean I think that whole working on yourself first thing is really important. Again, I think meditation if you are able to start a meditation practice, and that’s a lot of different things - that just helps in dating and relationships so much because you are able to kinda separate the chitter chatter in your head from being like an absolute reality. We get so attached to our narratives which are all impermanent and kinda self-designed a lot of the time. And I don’t think we always realize the extent to which we are telling ourselves stories all the time, and then sometimes creating self-fulfilling prophecies. I do think it’s worth taking a look at: what is the narrative you are telling yourself? What is on loop in your mind? How are you identifying? How are you saying things are absolutely true that maybe don’t need to be? Could you write a different script for yourself in terms of what you can control?
Nyge: Rachel’s book “Open,” an uncensored memoir of love, liberation and non-monogamy is coming out January 25th wherever you get your books. You can preorder “Open” now at penguinrandomhouse.com and follow Rachel on twitter @rachelkrantz.
Nyge: Now that we got some great professional advice, our team figured that we should share some personal experiences that we have with love.
This week’s letter was so brave and open, that we thought it was only fair that we give a piece of our own stories in return. Because we’ve all been there at some point.
So I decided to ask a few people to weigh in — our producer Georgia Wright, and Adult ISH correspondent Zach St. Clair, host of the podcast “Rad or Sad.” They’re each in relationships now, but things haven’t always been so rosy.
I asked Zach if he's been in a relationship in the past that seemed good on paper, but ultimately didn't work out. He said yeah, absolutely.
Zach: When I was a sophomore in college, I was in a relationship for four or five months. From a birds eye view, you would be like “Yes, these are two people with a lot of similar interests and theoretically should be good in their relationship.” But then as it progressed on, I think mostly by virtue of just my own paranoia and probably internal issues, I ended it and kinda backed out of the relationship. Because I was really afraid that we weren’t compatible and I think just like the inherent fears that I had — but it’s just kinda scary to be in a relationship where you’re like “This has to be right. What if it isn’t right?” And so, I kinda blew it.
Georgia: That’s so funny you say that Zach because I have such a similar anecdote that it could basically be word for word what you just said. It was sophomore year of college. It was about three to four months, and similarly, I think just the idea of it being a relationship and the idea of the compatibility being a problem was enough for me to get in my own head. And pretty much tank it.
Zach: What was the driving force behind the breakup?
Georgia: It was a combination of me having fluctuating attraction — or like fluctuating feelings — and not knowing, not understanding that as something that can happen. And instead taking everyday that was a downswing as an indicator that things weren’t working. But I also think ... yeah I also think it was — there was sort of certain incompatibilities and I also was interested in dating women for the first time around this time. And I think, like, was kind of like coming into my own with regards to thinking about queerness. And I think I all of a sudden kinda looked around and I was like, “Wait! I’m in this space where I am trying to discover these things about myself, and yet I have just like signed myself up for a relationship with this man who I feel kinda like ambivalent about sometimes.”
Nyge: It seemed like y’all were looking at the idea of a relationship and compatibility as this like, it kinda had to be — not perfect — but close in a sense. But do you still feel like you look at love and compatibility in the same way today?
Georgia: No way!
Zach: I definitely don’t. And that was a big thing - like a big learning process for me. Because post that relationship that I, to use Georgia’s words, “tanked” — because I think it’s a very, it’s an apt description. Post that relationship, I was not in a relationship for like a year and a half or so until I started the relationship that I’m in now. I still had some of those problems I’ll say. Like fears of commitment and things that I just had rested in the back of my brain. So when I started the relationship I am in now, a couple months in, I got into my head again and actually tried to break up with my partner. But then we talked things through and made it work. So that was the beginning of realizing that like the compatibility that I need in a relationship isn’t 100% across the board everything needs to be the same between us. It’s just we have to have a few core things that we can agree on, like how we communicate with each other.
Nyge: I can’t particularly like identify with your anecdotes in relationships because I mean at least y’all were kinda like trying. I -
Zach: Was I though?
Georgia: I don’t know.
Nyge: But it was going well for a moment and then y’all tanked it because you over analyzed it. For me personally, I have just always been a career bad partner. I would meet someone, it would be amazing, like you know sparks, all the ... the whole nine. And then, probably a month or two later, I would just be on to something else. Like “Oh yeah, I’m trying to become a rapper now, like my bad. I’ve been, you know, in the studio all day and all night.”
Zach: “I want to create a podcast you guys!
Nyge: Yeah! “I want to create a podcast.”
Georgia: We’re all guilty of that.
Nyge: “I want to start a career in podcasting.” Like… And then I would come back like a month later and be like “Hey, I know I was gone for like a month but like ‘What’s up?’ Like, what we had was cool.” And they would be like “That hurt.” And I would always be like kinda confused because I’m like “This is just me. This is how I am. I’m just all over the place.” But it’s not okay to be all over the place with people’s feelings and emotions and things like that and I don’t think I really learned that until I got into what I would consider a real relationship. But it just wasn’t really sustainable. But in my head, I’m like. “Oh, it’s cool. Like I can just go a couple days without talking to you and then we can, you know, when we see each other, it’s love!”
Nyge: Wasn’t cool. I had always been like the person who had ended relationships, and then that was the relationship where I had been the dump-ee for the first time. And was like, “Man this doesn’t feel good.” And then had to like find myself for a year and then got into another relationship after that.
Zach: Do you think you having been on the receiving end of that now was what kinda started the shift to “Oh, I gotta actually invest and be present for this?”
Nyge: Most definitely. I think I had to discover so much about myself when I got dumped that I had never really had to confront before. That was a huge wakeup call for me where I feel like I changed a lot as a person overall. And it helped me a lot too. Because I had some serious confidence issues. Not confidence issues in the traditional sense. But way too cocky.
Georgia: You were overconfident.
Nyge: I was way too cocky. I like look back at like stuff I used to say or do in the past and I’m like “Silly Nygel.” But um —
Zach: That’s kinda hilarious that you were too powerful at the time.
Georgia: You didn’t know your own strength.
Nyge: And then got dumped and realized I don’t have any strength.
Georgia: Well, that’s — It’s so funny how being either like a chronic dumper or chronic dumpee can shape your perception. Like I think our letter-writer has a narrative of themselves having less success in relationships and I definitely relate. I felt out of control of my lovelife for the vast majority of it. When you are young and immature and you are finding other young and immature people, people make really big mistakes. Like, a really good example of that I think is my ex girlfriend who was self-professed gold star lesbian aka somebody who — this is a very problematic term and I don’t support it — but somebody who has never slept with a man. And so she was already like very confident in this way. And then went on to cheat with a man. And for the first time in her life. Just a few months in. Just a few months in. And uh, so that was, again, sort of tanked before it started — on her part this time. But I think part of it is that having her engage in what was so clearly a self-destructive move gave me insight into the other side of the story. Actually, when I look back at those times when I’ve tanked a relationship from my own anxiety, it’s had so much more to do with me and what’s going on in my head than it has had to do with the other person. We all have stories that we tell ourselves about who is in control and who is the one who is succeeding or failing in a relationship. But the reality is that we’re all succeeding and all failing in different ways.
Much of the success of my current relationship is because we kinda threw it all out the window from the beginning because this relationship was brought about in part by the pandemic. We didn’t have anything to base it on. We were long distance for like eight months. We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know if we would ever be together in person. We were just sort of taking it one day at a time. And we still take it one day at a time.
So much of my love advice is please discard what other people tell you. And think about what’s right for you. But that’s so hard. If you don’t know yourself yet.
Zach: The most significant shift for me has by leagues and bounds been me actually wanting to talk to my partner and hearing my partner’s input so I can understand the full picture of it. That made all the difference.
Nyge: How have both of you coped with times where you were having a hard time moving on?
Georgia: That’s a really loaded topic for me. Because I have OCD, and so I have this additional obsessive tendency where I get intrusive thoughts that just loop forever and will loop for years at a time. So sometimes when those tendencies cross over with romantic situations, that can become really sticky for me. And that’s a big thing that therapy has helped me with — is understanding that when those intrusive thoughts — of exes or ex friends or whatever it is — come up, usually it’s because there’s something else bothering me. You know? Do I have some big work project coming up? Or am I experiencing, you know, difficulties in my current relationship? Or am I stressed about a family thing? Those stressors are what triggers the obsessions. And so it’s kinda like on the surface, it looks like I’m having a hard time moving on from a relationship. But underneath, if you peel back the layers, it actually has more to do with my current state of mind and my current surroundings.
What drove me crazy when I was single and people would say stuff like this to me was I would be like “I don’t want to wait. I don’t want to take time. I’m lonely now. I want somebody now.” And it is really hard because certain things cannot be rushed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and have romance in your life. I spent like three years in NY just dating and not really being with anybody really seriously for more than a month or two at a time.
And like, just meeting a lot of people, getting to know a lot of different types of relationships. I honestly — I liken it to when I was working freelance. I was working a bunch of these different jobs and I was like — none of them were really the right job long-term, but they were all teaching me things that I didn’t know about myself.
Zach: When you talk about the cultivation of your relationships over the course of your whole life, the little parts are a key component of it too. Like, you talk about cultivating a long-term relationship, but I feel like you get better at a long term relationship when you have those short-term ones mixed into it.
Georgia: I think that approaching relationships and honestly most life relationships with a learning and growth mentality is really the single best thing you can be doing. Because take what you can from an experience and learn from somebody whether or not you are going to be together for a long time. That’s the most important thing. Also want to know, Nyge, what are your thoughts on this?
Nyge: My takeaways from all my past relationships are really similar. I had kinda like a model for who I wanted to be with and what they needed to do and what they needed to like and not like and their thoughts and views. I realized all of that stuff was completely wrong. I don’t think you should have any model besides they are a good person. And you know there are a few key things that they should probably...
Zach: Some minor stuff!
Nyge: Exactly. If they are a good person and they are kind and they are thoughtful and they are empathetic, and stuff like that — core emotions that make up who you want to surround yourself with. I think beyond that, there is really nothing else to really base it off of. Because some of the things where I found so much joy in my relationship currently is from just all these things I didn’t really like before — I hated Disney corney stuff like that. And then, we go to Disneyland all the time and I get so excited to wear my ears and walk around Disney. And get all the different snacks. And I’m on Disneyland foodie trying to look at what — what the best stuff is. I got the app. I’m interacting with the stuff on the wall. It’s, it’s — As you learn, as you grow...
Georgia: That’s real. I went to a Red Sox game this year. That was not —
Georgia: I would have never. Watching sports? Frankie made me — I watched hockey the other day. What the f—? Who the fuck am I?
Nyge: I mean, nah. It’s like it’s all things I didn’t think that I could ever see myself doing in a relationship. I think altogether, it’s just like, you don’t really know anything about yourself. You think you do. But I promise you don’t. And I think you just have to get into, like, all of these — I think you just have to get into these relationships with no real rhyme or reason to how it’s going to go and the things that you’re going to be into. And all of that or whatever. And just be open to learn and grow and just appreciate, like, who you are with. Your view of success needs to change too. Because marriage is — that’s not the end. It’s very much just another starting line as well. If you choose to go down that road.
And your view of success in a relationship I think is just to feel like you are seen, you are cared about and to feel excited to be with that person.
Nyge: My takeaways are: shared values are important, but you shouldn’t limit yourself romantically by having a set image of your potential partner. People can open you up to so much more. And romantic success should just mean that you feel safe, cared for, and excited to be with whoever you are with, and that they feel the same way.
Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation. Our show is produced by Georgia Wright, Dominique French, and by me, ya boy Nyge Turner.
Our executive producer is Rebecca Martin. Our intern is Tamara Sanchez.
And thank you to the young people at Y-R who contributed art and music for this episode.
Thank you also to Zach St. Clair, who in addition to participating in the roundtable, contributed invaluable research, ideas and planning to help this episode come to life. Thank you so much Zach. You can find his work at www.zachstclair.com. Or follow him on twitter @zarcasticness. Thats sarcasticness with a “z.”
We are also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX, an independent listener-supported collective of some of the most amazing shows in all of podcasting. Find them at Radiotopia.fm. And if you haven’t reviewed our show on Apple podcasts, please be sure to do so. Five stars would be much appreciated.
You can follow us on all the socials @yradultish and on that note, we will see you later.