I like dating. I’ve been on enough first dates to not get jitters beforehand. I online dated before it was cool, or at least the norm. I didn’t have many alternatives. My friends all went off to college and I was stuck at home alone. I was still recovering from my first flare ups of fibromyalgia and pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms.
Happily Non-Coupled When All You Hear is 'Partner Up'
Almost a year of being bedridden and finishing high school from home had left its mark on my social life. Desktop-only accessible sites at the time, like OkCupid, gave me a new opportunity—a chance to practice the social connections that other young people were engaging with naturally.
Those beginnings were, to say the least, awkward, but what isn’t when first starting? I figured out what red flags to notice. I found what coffee shops had the softest chairs for my tender body. I learned how to relax and have fun even when sparks didn’t appear.
I’ve had a few long-term committed relationships. Even one long-distance relationship that spanned thousands of miles and 7 months. I’ve exchanged keys, but never lived with partners. Never considered any kind of commitment ceremony.
Things just didn’t get there.
Interpersonal reasons. Ambitions, and privileged opportunities that saw three international moves in under five years. My flare ups. Body and mind needing healing and rest. I’ve always desired and sought out close relationships. Intense friendships that generate non-sexual intimacy find me. People’s individuality and energy exchanges fascinate me. I claim the label of pansexual because of this. There isn’t much in common between the people I’ve dated, connection has found its own way. Giving space to what I needed, my identity as a non-hierarchical polyamorous person emerged.
Polyamory (or polyam for short) is the consensual engagement with multiple, intimate relationships simultaneously. Some folks organize their relationships in levels. A primary partner who gets the most attention, shared resources and power in the dynamic. Then there is a secondary, and so on, as long as all parties agree.
Non-hierarchical polyam means that no priority goes to a particular romantic relationship. Antoinette and Kevin Patterson are rad polyam role models if you’re looking to learn more.For me, polyamory provides spaces to meet my different love needs and stay present. Love in all relationships is fluid. We can move through feelings of love in any variation at any point in a relationship.
There's the well-known infatuation and romantic love. Companionate—it's not passionate, but those comfortatable long-term commitment vibes. And, consummate, the works: heart-shaped pancakes, naughty whipped cream, all the feels. I now had the ability to be honest with partners about my feelings and needs in a collaborative way.
But something was missing.
I was committed to prioritizing two different romantic relationships, but I was forgetting to grow love for myself. Simply to exist on my own.I realized that I held romantic relationships on a pedestal. I had these prescribed notions of what they should look like, even though I was deconstructing traditional dating through polyamory.
what kind of relationships I should be having. Then I started noticing how people treated me when I was with (or assumed to be with) romantic partners.
I was single, intentionally, sometimes joyously, sometimes uncomfortably. For two years, I soaked in my own space as a primary relationship. Seems simple but when you’re femme, queer, fat, and disabled society tells you to take up as little space as possible. That you need a relationship to fit in, to be valid.
“You just haven’t met the right person.”
“What about your friend, so and so, you two have good energy together.”
“But you’re poylam, right? Isn’t seeing people your whole thing?”
And of course, “Don’t you want kids?”
A friend came to visit me and stayed for a few weeks. We’re close, never been romantic. Something like family in my mind, we even look similar though his features are lighter than mine.
I showed him everywhere in Philly: eats, drinks, arts, and the city’s culture. Almost everywhere we went I noticed people were friendlier than when I was alone in the same old haunts. People at bars invited us to join them. Servers gave us free appetizers on more than one occasion. A museum guard let us into an exhibit without tickets. These are small, and maybe coincidental, but I felt it again and again once I noticed. No matter the presentation of the person I was with, people assumed we were a couple and were kinder.
“Self-care” is sold to us as a bubble bath, but our validity as individuals is questioned if we focus on the depth required for genuine self-romance. In the many shadows of COVID-times, relief from the pressures of dating is a lightness I’m grateful for. Of course I miss spontaneity and crave relationships.
Our existence and joy is legitimate no matter what state of attachment we are in. Finding different molds to build our relationships with others, and ourselves, is a life-long process. It’s worthy of care, adaptability, and honesty.
Jaxson Benjamin is a queer, disabled, social justice educator and sexologist raised on the land of the Lenni Lenape People in re-named Philadelphia. Jax’s work is rooted in the empathic and story-telling approaches of Community Development that aim to disrupt Eurocentric teachings.