I don’t know if I want romance. And I don’t know what the hell it is. Aside racism and gender violence, romance is probably the most stubborn concept I’ve encountered in my young adult life so far.
Last month, I fucked a friend, a predictable affair whenever we link up. We smoke, eat, explore Atlanta, and eventually end up in one or the other’s bed (or couch). The first two times, I didn’t yet have a boyfriend. Of course, the third event resulted in said boyfriend giving me damn-near the silent treatment for two weeks.
What felt like a sad and awkward eternity ended on a Sunday. I exited my suite twenty minutes after he’d arrived (typical, but this time on purpose), plopped into the passenger seat, and released a half-chipper “hey”. I didn’t kiss him, or he didn’t kiss me. The ride to and from the Chase bank downtown was spent exchanging awkward “how are you”s and “how is your family”s. But at his apartment, I couldn’t help but thaw a bit and help prepare dinner, microwaving corn tamales as he cooked eggs, cheese, and Mexican barbecue and blended peach juice.
We spent the rest of that evening showing off moves in Dance Central, The Black Eyed Peas Experience, and Michael Jackson. With each game, I grew calmer (albeit more competitive), dancing together for the first time. Our sex, still straddling somewhere between making love and fucking, seemed more ambivalent than before, his kisses eager and his bites tugging at our tension. He acknowledged his weight atop my frail body afterward but lay still for a little longer before shifting to spoon me and promptly falling asleep. I dozed off around 3am reading Joan Didion essays on self-respect and WebMD articles on helping your partner to stop snoring.
A week later, I said we needed to talk (again). Understandably, he didn’t like that I told him about my friend only after the fact, as we had agreed to inform one another about potential sex with another partner beforehand (a rule, I might add, that he broke first). Equally understandable, I didn’t like anyone questioning my every move. I was upfront with him about my sexual politics and desires, as he was with his own, so, theoretically, we should be on mutually assumed terms. I’m realizing that being in a polyamorous relationship, especially in one with a monogamous partner, is much more complicated than that.
Many of us guessed we were with her because we could not comprehend or conceptualize the possibility of a tri- or poly-party government system or didn’t see the point in exploring or advocating for more radical ways of cooperating in our communities. We are used to sacrificing our beliefs for the comfort and “greater good” of others.
The same is the case for my one-sided polyamorous relationship. My partner seeks security in several ways: sexual security (confidence in his abilities to perform), romantic security (ensuring that our mutual love is not threatened by another potential love), and emotional security (guarantee that he will not be/feel neglected), among other ways.
I want some of these things, too, and I enjoy having a partner who is so interested in me but not to the extent that my purpose is to make him confident in his libido and sense of masculinity. I do not exist to make anyone feel like they’re enough; I have a hard enough time being enough for myself. And who says my love can’t stretch beyond myself and one other, and I can demonstrate and share love in more ways than only sexual, romantic, and emotional? Do others cease to be attractive once we have one partner? Surely, people have more than one friend to fulfill unique capacities.
I know, it just sounds like I want a lot of shit and my partner’s securities are legitimate needs. But why can’t my securities be needs, too? Oh, because I have everything I need and I’m just being greedy at this point, right? Well, not quite.
A “primary”, in the polyamorous community’s general terms, is someone with whom you share the most time, space, and/or responsibilities and tend to play roles that more closely align with heteronormative/nuclear family roles. “Secondaries” are additional partners who play less central roles and tend to engage in more unique capacities. Notice I say unique because a primary generally plays more typical roles that align with the heteronormative nuclear family.
Having a “boyfriend” doesn’t necessarily satisfy all my needs as a whole person. Boyfriends and girlfriends are generally understood in Western society as a training ground for marriage, testing someone’s potential as a fiancé and future spouse after a certain length of time. Labels, no matter which way you spin them, carry the same meaning. I’m not interested in assigning these labels to any partners now, and that is (or should be) OK.
Whenever I explain this to my partner, it feels like I’m bludgeoning a brick wall in the softest voice possible. No matter the new ways I explain the same concept, I get the same stale response: “But wouldn’t you feel jealous if…”
A friend says that your current partner doesn’t have to be your last: “You can leave!” Non-married partners hold virtually no political rights together; we don’t own any joint property and I am still leaving Atlanta indefinitely (except for the occasional visit) three-and-a-half months from now. This doesn’t mean I’m breaking up with him (as I half-expected to last week), nor does it mean I’m going to continue pursuing a traditional boyfriend-ship. I’ve been reminding myself that my non-binary identity is useful for more than just fucking up gender norms. Being non-binary has opened me to spaces and circles of friends that genuinely seek and practice radical ways of living.
How does a relationship that doesn’t strive for totality look? What kinds of relationships are good for me right now? Is there a name to the space(s) between want and need, or polyamory and monogamy? And what’s born among the three forces? Is it romance (and still, I beg the question, what is romance)?
I did exactly what I told my partner not to do: rush actions and emotions and slap a label on us for the sake of ensuring security. I knew exactly what I was doing, sitting on that goddamn tarmac in Miami, asking him to be my boyfriend via text right before takeoff. And I did it anyway. My partner doesn’t have to be my “boyfriend” for me to love him and spend time with him. But I’m enjoying the love and space we’ve created together so far, and I want to live in the moment — but free from fear of insecurity.
So, what the fuck do I do now?