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Relationship anarchy, polyamory, aromantic or single at heart? Exploring my romantic attraction

Relationship anarchy. 

I loathe the way it sounds.

It sounds like a term some ~*feminist~* bro came up with as an excuse to fuck women around under the guise of it "being casual" (even if you're casual, you still have to communicate and treat people with respect).

But as much as I hate the connotations of the term, discovering it was one of those moments where my feelings made sense. I finally had a way to describe how I had always felt about relationships, but couldn't verbalise.

Because here's the thing: I've always known that the way I view romantic relationships and experience romantic attraction wasn't the way everyone else did or the way I was told I should.

In fact, my confusion over my romantic attraction has resulted in more soul searching than my sexual orientation ever did. I grew up in a time when LGBTQ+ rights were gaining ground and I always had a word to describe how I felt. I may not have openly called myself bisexual until my mid-20s but I knew when I was 14. And I knew because I had a word to describe it.

But I couldn't package the way I felt about romantic attraction in one succinct term.

Questioning my romantic attraction

Over the years I came across terms that got close to the heart of it but didn't quite hit the spot.

There was aromantic. If you created an axis with aromantic at one end and, uh, very-romantic(?) at the other I'd probably still fall closer towards aromantic. But it didn't feel right as I do experience romantic attraction, albeit rarely. I've been in love, and I know it is an incredible feeling.

(Edit: the day after writing this I stumbled upon the term grey-romantic which, uh, also explains how I feel. But that's another blog post in itself). 

Then there was Single at Heart. A term that was coined by the fabulous Bella DePaulo, which applies to people who prefer to remain single. As much as I don't hate being single I wouldn't say I'm opposed to the idea of a serious romantic partner who I Do The Big Life Thing with.

Then I tried polyamory on for size. I was in a casual relationship a year ago where we both actively dated other people. And I've been a casual/secondary partner to people who have a serious partner already. But later in 2018, I would develop a big crush on someone (see, I'm not aromatic) that would stand to remind me that when I do develop romantic feelings for someone I get swept up in that person. Romantically I am monogamous, even if I can be sexually promiscuous. And because I experience romantic attraction so rarely it's difficult to find one person to date, never mind two.

And then I found the term I was searching for, and that term was relationship anarchy.

Relationship anarchy questions the idea that love is a limited resource that can only be real if restricted to a couple. You have capacity to love more than one person, and one relationship and the love felt for that person does not diminish love felt for another. Don’t rank and compare people and relationships — cherish the individual and your connection to them. One person in your life does not need to be named primary for the relationship to be real. Each relationship is independent, and a relationship between autonomous individuals.

-  Andie Nordgren, 2012 (you can read the whole thing here)

My romantic history

For my whole life (we're talking childhood here) I've always questioned the way society packages up romantic relationships and how we prioritise them over platonic relationships. The same goes for "blood is thicker than water". I prioritise the people who prioritise me, whether that is family, friends, or a lover. I don't believe that someone is entitled to more of me because we are romantically involved or share similar DNA.

Society generally tells us that if we want to be romantically involved with someone we need to follow a blueprint: become Facebook official, agree to monogamy, meet the parents, live together, become financially intertwined, get engaged, then married, and have children. While we're becoming more open to the idea of people living as partners (instead of married) and not having children - if you tell someone that you're not planning to live with someone you're romantically involved with they'll probably question how real your relationship is.

It's worth saying: the only people who need to be happy with a romantic or sexual set-up are the people involved. As long as people are communicating their needs and listening to everyone else's feelings, then let people live their lives. That means respecting polyamorous relationships, romantic partners who choose not to live together, longterm long-distance relationships, and couples who choose not get married.

Some of you might remember my blog on casual relationships from last year. I've had two casual relationships (and two serious relationships, if anyone is caring) and, even though I regret not one thing about either of those relationships and would do it all again, people roll their eyes or outright assume I was taken advantage of or was "wasting my time".

Because the thing is: being single has never bothered me. I only ever crave a relationship when I'm actively crushing on someone. When I'm not craving a specific person I don't crave a relationship. And I develop crushes very rarely. At the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019 I did have a big crush on someone, but that ship has now sailed. Prior to that crush, it had been four years since I actively liked someone. I went four years without being romantically interested in someone. If you've ever wondered why I'm long term single, it's pretty much because I rarely get butterflies.

I'm told a lot that I'm fussy, and if I don't relax my standards I'll end up never meeting anyone. While these comments are well-intentioned, what the asker doesn't get is: I would rather be single than settle.

When it comes to pop culture, I love seeing queer characters on tv (but only when they are well represented because let's be honest many shows have gotten it shockingly wrong). But more so than queer characters, I love seeing single characters. Especially happy single characters. But we rarely see them.

Think about it.

Samantha Jones is an obvious one (true fact: my Tinder once said "I like to think I'm a Samantha, but I'm probably a Miranda aka moody ginger") and she's fabulous. I fist pumped when she stayed single.

Eh....Joey Tribbiani?

Elsa from Frozen?

Then when I am in a relationship, I'm an independent partner who has hobbies, a career, and close friends outside the relationship. Whenever I've been in a relationship (or even just dated) someone who prefers to create an emphasis on the relationship I get frustrated. For me, if my romantic partner wants to be at the top of the pyramid then they better earn it because they won't get there automatically. I'm lucky enough to have several very close friends who I share incredible platonic and emotional intimacy with, and can't imagine myself losing that because I've met a romantic partner.

And that goes for being in a position where I can "easily" leave. I'm not opposed to living with someone, but I'm one of those types who would have a shared pot for joint expenses (with the higher earner putting more in) but would still have my own separate bank account. And friends. And hobbies. Yes, this makes it easier to leave. Because I believe that people should be free to leave a relationship at any time. No one should stay in a relationship that doesn't suit them. And while this can sound like a commitment phobia, I think it proves my commitment. We all know people who have stayed in a relationship because it is easy, or they are used to it. Maybe they are the lower earner and would have to downgrade their lifestyle. Or they are scared to take a leap of faith. Being a partner who has independence and autonomy proves that I (and them) am staying because I want to stay.

If you want your partner to "prove" their commitment to you through an action that would make it difficult for them to leave, then you might want to have a word with yourself.

And I've always been funny about the idea that we expect our romantic partner to fulfil every need we have. Or couples who all of a sudden develop a passionate interest in the other's hobbies? I've never really had a "best" friend because I find the whole idea of expecting one person to be my only source of emotional support and social entertainment a bit weird. And I'd get drained pretty quickly if someone expected that from me.

I'm very introverted, y'all.

As a result, I've always been funny about marriage. I would never be opposed to it if I was nesting with a romantic partner who really wanted it, but my ideal relationship wouldn't involve it. I firmly believe that people should be allowed to leave a romantic relationship that doesn't fit them anymore. This goes against the whole point of marriage since it is promising to never grow or change as a person to the point where you outgrow the relationship. Sometimes you outgrow people, and that shouldn't be vilified.

Oh, and marriage places familial and romantic love on a pedestal. Fuck that. I'm starting the campaign for legalising marriage to platonic life partners.

But ultimately, for me, relationship anarchy means really thinking about what you want from your relationships (of any kind) and trusting your gut. Even if that is the cookie-cutter life that society tells us we should want. There's nothing wrong with wanting that. But what is important is sitting with yourself and really thinking about it.

Romantic vs Familial vs Platonic

But it's not just the way we package romantic relationships that has always confused me. It's also the way we automatically place romantic (and familial) relationships higher than that of platonic friendships. I don't know about you, but I have platonic partners that I love to the point where I could burst. They might not give me butterflies or make my heart beat faster, but I look at them and cannot wait to see what our future holds.

I know it's a bit of generational thing, as my parents definitely see family and romantic relationships as "more than" friendships. About two months ago my mum hurt my feelings when she proclaimed that she's always imagined me getting married in an intimate, family-only wedding. Now, don't get me wrong. I have a good relationship with my cousins, but I wouldn't consider myself close to them. So to have my mum think that they should be at one of the biggest days of my life, but some of the most important people in my life who show up for me every day shouldn't be, really kicked me where it hurts.

I also don't get why I'm not allowed to have a plus one at a wedding because I lack a partner. I'm attending a wedding reception very soon where I don't know many people and I'm not allowed to bring anyone, but I know I would be if I was romantically partnered.

And then there's the lack of alignment between my romantic and sexual attraction. I know a lot of people who really can't separate sex from love. Without getting TMI on you, I'm very capable of separating the two and can have emotionless sex. Some people are shocked at my ability to do so, even people who also have casual sex (some friends have said they have casual sex out of physical desire but emotionally they need to be careful - I don't have to be careful, it's second nature to me).

As a society, we're talking a lot more about sexual attraction and gender identity - which is incredible! But we still don't talk much about romantic attraction and how that differs from person to person. Someone who is queer is still assumed to want marriage. And we even acknowledge that asexuals might still crave emotional intimacy and a romantic connection. But only queer, polyam, and radical circles seem to acknowledge (in my experience) that romantic attraction can be a fluid concept as well.

Different kinds of attraction

When people ask me what gender I'm more attracted to I don't really know how to answer. It depends on what form of attraction you're referring to. For a while, I thought I might be a heteroromantic bisexual, but now I realise I am biromantic (but with crushes being few and far between).

The different forms of attraction, that I know of:

  • Aesthetic
  • Platonic
  • Sexual
  • Romantic
  • Emotional
  • Physical/Sensual Attraction

For example, I tend to only be platonically attracted to women. I rarely look at a guy and think "is this my new best friend?". If you're a straight person who has ever looked at someone of the same sex and thought "wow they are beautiful" but have no desire to fuck someone of the same sex then that is probably aesthetic attraction. If you have a sexual partner who you are also romantic with, then you probably also have a sensual attraction to them that you demonstrate through post-sex cuddling. But if you have a fuck-buddy, you probably have a sexual attraction but if you get up and leave then there's no sensual attraction. And if you've got someone in your life who you talk about deep shit with, then that's an emotional attraction.

If I was to whip out the Kinsey Scale for each form of attraction the scales would look different from each other. I don't really have an overarching preference.

Learning about the different kinds of attraction has also helped me navigate the world of dating. For example, I now know that my casual relationships were probably a mix of sexual, emotional, and sensual attraction - but no romantic attraction. And when I meet someone that I feel drawn to I know that it's not always romantic. I can read my own emotions better now that I know how attraction works.

The future of relationships

Society is changing, including its attitude towards relationships. There are new terms to describe sexual attraction (and old terms now entering the mainstream consciousness) and we're beginning to embrace the idea of gender as more fluid than originally assumed. We're also beginning to agree that it's okay to walk away from a toxic family member, and that family members have to earn their place in your life just like a platonic and romantic partner. Polyamory is also gaining coverage in mainstream publications.

And the way we structure relationships is going to keep changing.

I'm an only child and I've always believed that I place so much importance on non-familial relationships because, well, I don't really have a big family to latch onto. Only children are increasing in numbers so there will be more of us who have to prioritise platonic and romantic relationships.

And the same goes for people who don't want children. I'm one of them. Hey, I come from a small family (only 5 cousins!) so rampant reproduction clearly isn't in my genetics. As child-free people get older we have to prioritise platonic relationships, including becoming auties (or uncles) to our platonic partner's kids.

Then marriage. I don't need to tell you that people are getting married later in life and that divorce rates are going up. Marriage was once upon a time (not that long ago tbh) a necessity. Nursing homes didn't exist and women couldn't work. If a woman wanted financial security, she needed to marry. People marrying for love is actually a modern concept. And we're living longer: no longer is marriage a promise for the next twenty years, it's a promise for fifty!

Because we're beginning to embrace diversity and individuality, it is becoming harder to find a life partner. You have to find someone who is a gender you are attracted to, and they are attracted to your gender. Then ask if they want kids. Is marriage important to them? Do they want monogamy or polyamory? Do they want an open relationship? Are your sex drives compatible? Plus you have to be emotionally and sensually compatible. And have hobbies in common?

There's a lot more to think about now than there was just 10 years ago.

And while it is frustrating, I don't think it's a bad thing. If you're heterosexual, monogamous, want marriage and kids, prioritise a romantic partner, have an average sex drive, and want a romantic relationship where you are financially intertwined, then you maybe have never thought about these preferences. While the ideas I've talked about are beginning to slip into the mainstream (there's a really good article on the GQ website about relationship anarchy) it's still assumed that everyone wants the same thing (lol, we don't). Despite being very open about my sexual orientation, I get mistaken for being heterosexual all the time. And it's assumed I want a relationship and must be actively looking.

As far as I'm concerned, true liberation comes when we not only accept that not everyone wants the same thing from their romantic and sexual relationships, but we stop assuming it too. That means that when you date you don't assume you're on the same page as everyone on Tinder (the mainstream types are really bad for doing this). It's 2019, people shouldn't have to 'come out' anymore.

Part of me was scared to write this as I might come off as 'just haven't met the right person' or that the whole post might be a muddled mind dump. I was also concerned it might put potential suitors off as they might assume I'm a bit wacky or incapable of love (even if there is a 90% chance I won't feel the same way, at least romantically). Even though I don't have a romantic crush right now, I know one might emerge again at one point (you know, in another four years).

But what's the saying? The right person will love you because you are you.

Whether that love is platonic, romantic or familial.

Now go forth and love people in a way that feels right for you.
morag | mo adore
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