Putting Boys in Boxes: a heterosexual look at modern love as it exists between a girl and a box

Disclaimer: I know I’m being atrociously hetero-normative here, but I’m not sure how else to explain my box theory without using the term “boys in boxes” because it entirely encapsulates the experience shared here.  

Okay so, having said that, have you noticed the hypocrisy in my latest posts!? First, I claim to have always strived to be a “strong, independent woman” (before realizing the redundancy of such a term), then I turn around a call myself nothing more than a mere bystander in my love life. So, hypocrite much?

Well, yes… and no. Ultimately, my goal to be my own dynamic, courageous, free person cannot be achieved until I stop allowing myself to call victim every time a dude walks into the room. But at the same time, I feel very good about my efforts trying to become the teacher/friend/family member/student/alpaca rider (see below) I want to be, without allowing victimization to poison these other identities I claim and love.

How, do you ask? Easy. Just put those boys and all those issues in a box! And not just a normal square box, but a box with various categories to further separate, compartmentalize, and isolate those boys so that they absolutely cannot inhibit all those other boxes of my life.

“Putting boys in boxes” was officially initiated into my vocabulary in the fall of 2010. On that fateful evening almost three years ago, my friend and I were attempting to spend a Friday night in our dorm catching up on some work. Though we were sincerely trying to hard to focus on our work, those boys and their texts just kept popping up! They were all over the place, jarring the carefully laid plans we had made for them (unbeknownst to them of course). So, instead of writing essays that evening, we instead poured ourselves into the well-known art of crafting proper text message responses. As we drafted and revised, we had to be careful so that we could get those boys “back in their boxes” so that they could together comprise the best version of a love life we could conjure at the time (with consideration to the fact we had a zillion other projects to simultaneously work on). 

You see, once out of a box, a boy could cause a lot of trouble. If, for instance, the boy is meant to be nothing more than an innocent flirt, but then all of a sudden morphs into a sexual aggressor, well, problems arise! Or if a boy in the “boyfriend potential” box all of a sudden becomes a jerk, then well, you either have to find a way to get him back in that box, or find someone else to replace him. It’s all very tiresome. And moreover, managing boys takes a great deal of energy and attention that could otherwise be spent on academics or jobs or the zillion other projects I mentioned before!) So, it’s just easier if boys stay in their boxes, to be removed at the proper time.

 ImageEssentially, “putting boys in boxes” (or to put it more bluntly, compartmentalizing my life) has become a primary survival strategy for me. What began as a managerial technique for separating the different boys that composed my love life in a hook-up culture quickly morphed into a larger symbol for how I can live my live if I’m not careful: in boxes.

For me, love (or something like it) has become just one division of a towering pile of cardboard separated pieces of myself. If my boxes of family and friends and teaching can all burst with love and success, then the problem-ridden box labeled boys doesn’t look so bad. And if I try really hard, I can knock it back into the corner and nearly forget about it as I delightfully open and close the many other, bigger, shiner boxes that I’ve nurtured with all the hours and energy of my day.

When the night arrives, if conditions permit, the boy box can be taken out and cautiously opened. And if things go poorly, then I can just shove the box right back to its corner the next morning and quickly open a more joyful box, like tutoring! (It is no coincidence that my favorite time to tutor during college was on Saturday and Sunday mornings when I could work off  hangover induced frustration about the night before through playing, reading, and laughing with a wonderful girl who inspired me to focus on the happy, rewarding box of teaching and learning.)

What I mean to say is that, as we become successful in our adult lives, we can be superwoman at work, kindred spirit in friendship, and late night text messager in our love life. We can compartmentalize our lives so that we can fit every last thing in. It works, and it works well.

But what does it tell us about our lives today?

What it tells me is that our families and homes exist in very different spheres than our work lives, which are distinct from our friend circles, which are often separate from our love lives. It is difficult to live in an integrated circle of friends, family, and lovers when our educational and career tracks lead us on a constant march of change and growth (and in my case a series of countries). And this constant state of change is of course supported by phones and the internet and a zillion means of communication so that we can in fact live such different versions of ourselves all at once.

The many opportunities available to us today can propel us to build and build upon our pile of boxes. And that love box, it can stay just that, a box.

Is it a good thing, these boxes? Sometimes I argue yes. Better to keep a boy in a box rather than let him (and the issues that arise) consume my life. But if I allow myself to continue to live in boxes, then how will I ever get past my own self-created barriers? If I let the boy box stay in the dark corner, then of course it will never get better. 

 And just as I start to question how exactly to move beyond the confines I’ve made for the boys who may enter my life, I stumble upon this article. So maybe, it’s about finding the “change” box and opening it up to see how I can integrate my life and myself so that boys become a thread woven into a lovely life tapestry, rather than an ugly box I try to avoid when things aren’t going well.  Maybe its about nothing about boxes at all.


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