I’ve been mostly single for a little over three years now. Sitting down to write this, I was a little shocked that I pitched this. Then again, I’m not. I’ve been terrorizing my friends with my thoughts and turning them over and over in my mind. Being single and dating are experiences that so many people share, but are so difficult to talk about. It totally makes sense; speaking openly about wanting to love and be loved is such a vulnerable position to be in!
So many of the things that have been on my mind about dating are interconnected with my experience of coming into my queerness and finding community. As cliché as it sounds, I have learned so much about myself from being single. I’m much happier and have a much better understanding of who I am now and what I want than I did before I accepted my queerness. I’ve felt free to question everything that I previously accepted as the “right” way to do life. For me, this led to questioning what kind of relationship structure would be best.
I think a big reason why I’ve been unpartnered over the last few years is how vocal I’ve been about seeking an open or polyamorous dynamic in my next relationship. I understand that the idea of partnering with someone who is upfront about their desire to have sexual and or romantic attachments outside their primary* relationship might be off-putting. Others [wrongly] assume that I’m looking for a sexual relationship or outlet. My going theory is that this is because many people I meet have a wildly different understanding of the word polyamory than I intend. The definition of what polyamory I use is very much informed by the media I’ve taken in in the process of educating myself.
Whenever I was interested in trying something out (vegetarianism, for example) my librarian mother would make me read about it and do my research before I could make any major changes. Even now, that’s how I approach new information. I began toying with the idea of open relationships after getting out of a toxic and abusive monogamous relationship. I found myself in Charis poring over the sex and relationship section. On one special Saturday, I happened to pick up The Ethical Slut. A book I’d passed over for reasons I can’t even remember several times before.
The only “real” [read: monogamous, long-term] relationship I’ve been in was with a cishet dude that was interested in upholding and even aroused by the two of us acting out prescriptive gender roles. While none of that really sat well with me, I didn’t have the language to ask for what I wanted. Frankly, I didn’t even have a framework through which to explore another relationship style that might work better for me. Since finding The Ethical Slut, I’ve devoured any book, podcast, or blog post about polyamory – I want to know how people are making their own way.
In real life, there is a significant degree of dissonance between what people say their relationship styles are and what’s happening in practice. Lots of queer folx didn’t (or still don’t) have models for how to treat each other well, because we learned how to date in relationships that followed a heteronormative script. Shit - some of us didn’t date at all until we were grown because the environments we live in are often inhospitable. While I have had some really wonderful experiences, I’ve been hurt and seen the people I care about hurt by lovers that claim to be poly, but behave badly. It honestly pisses me off to see how easy it is for people to forget how tiny this community really is. I want us to value each other more.
This list is an attempt to boil all that I’ve learned/experienced down into a few digestible morsels:
Choose yourself first, just like Grace Jones told you. Love yourself first. IMPORTANT NOTE: “love yourself first” does not mean “no one can love you until you love yourself” - that is ableist bullshit. Loving yourself takes practice and all efforts in the positive serve your highest good.
Be good to each other. Should go without saying, but I am telling you it does not.
C-O-M-M-U-N-I-C-A-T-E. If you just want to be friends or you’re not looking for a relationship, you need to tell the person you’re sleeping with. If you’ve got a partner, and your new boo doesn’t know that – fix that shit as soon an possible. Don’t be chicken and get your partner to break up with someone for you. This happened to me. It was fucking awful.
Be honest. Get real about what you want. For a long time, I would tell new people that “I didn’t really know what I was looking for” and I want “to meet people and have fun”. To be clear I do wanna have fun. Fun is great. I’m also ready for partner to navigate and share with. It’s difficult get what you want if you don’t ask or tell people the truth.
Sex is only a part of the equation. Non-monogamy can be practiced in many ways. For some folx, non-monogamy or open relationships are kept strictly sexual – totally valid. For others, there are multiple loving relationships that are not sexual but deeply intimate – also totally valid. Speaking of, safer sex is sexy. ;-)
Queer dating and singlehood is and has been such a blessing for me. People that have been my lovers have become people that I consider to be a part of my chosen family. I don’t think I truly appreciated the fluid nature of relationships or the ability of queer folks to grow and support each other prior to having that dating experience. Even though being single does sometimes get lonely, I would never give this time back for anything❣
The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, & Other Adventures by Dossie Easton & Janet Hardy
Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships by Wendy O-Matik
Undoing Monogamy by Angela Willey
The Short Instructional Manifesto for Relationship Anarchy by Andie Nordgren: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/andie-nordgren-the-short-instructional-manifesto-for-relationship-anarchy
* for lack of a better term
Ify Akiti is an artist living and loving in Atlanta.