I hope I’m not belabouring the point when I say I’ve suffered a lonely existence. For much of my life, I’ve kept those closest to me at arms-length, out of a subconscious fear that they’d hurt me. I could never turn to my parents for any kind of support, cause they were more concerned about how I made them appear than how I felt; I had no siblings with which to form an alliance when they became my greatest enemy. The best friend I carried into adulthood was a person who never truly understood me, and my best friend after that abandoned me at the first sign of difficulty.
Managing my relationship needs has been a lifelong struggle. Much of the growing I’ve done (or been forced to do) is intertwined with the solitude I’ve faced; being able to change myself gives me a small sense of control in what would otherwise be a messy and chaotic existence. An added difficulty is that I keep evolving, and my social needs evolve in turn. It takes years to develop the kinds of relationships that nurture me. I’m in the middle of a transition, and my support network is the smallest it’s ever been.
Living with a partner has helped, but at some point my attachment to Heather grew unhealthy. It’s not fair for me to put so much pressure on her to be my lover, friend, therapist, caretaker, gaming buddy…everything. When I start to resent her for my needs going unmet, I know I’m in a bad place and need to check myself.
I didn’t know anyone else faced this particular kind of struggle, until Tiana shared this article with me. It was validating to discover how much I related to the author’s attempts to form relationships, whether platonic or romantic; in her, I finally found someone who understood the complexities of loneliness. She never simply believes “I’m lonely cause I’m fat”, and takes as much responsibility as she can for her social isolation. I began to understand that there’s only so much anyone can do, and a lot that’s out of my control when it comes to connecting with people. With that understanding, I was finally able to start forgiving instead of blaming myself.
It was also comforting to know that someone else was tired of the unwritten rule in our culture where people outside the immediate family aren’t considered as worthy of emotional resources; something that was extremely difficult for me to deal with when single. I had many friendships fall apart in my mid-20s as marriages became the new priority. The problem was that I was never interested in that for myself. I never wanted my entire life based around a single relationship; it made more sense to me that a marriage be part of a support network, not the entire network itself. And yet the attitude is so prevailing that when I once turned to a therapist about this, he thought it would be easiest to cope by participating in my own oppression and focusing on the pursuit of a romantic partner.
As I collect more guitars — each one with their own distinct sound and feel, each one unique and special in their own way — I’ve come to realize that I’m not particularly attached to monogamy. I like the idea cause it makes my relationship with Heather more special, but removing that aspect doesn’t invalidate the amazing things we share. In fact, I trust her more after knowing she’s willing to put my happiness above her own, and we get to grow together as we explore something new and exciting.
Moving towards ethical non-monogamy feels like a natural progression, as the line between friend and lover have become blurred. At the same time, I’ve suffered through so many dead-end relationships and unrequited romances that I prefer to be the only romantic partner in Heather’s life. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem for us, cause I’m enough for her (at the moment); between her family, friends, and co-workers, her social needs are being met, and we’ll deal with that if it ever changes.
So we’ve agreed that having semi-polyamorous relationship makes sense, not because I’m unhappy in my romantic life, but because being romantically involved with someone is the most practical way of connecting with people1. I can’t say our relationship will always have an element of polyamory, but it feels like the right step, and I’m trying to enjoy dating once again.
- When I tried to explain my therapist about having a partially open relationship, he first suggested it might be a red flag for self-sabotage until I explained it to him in these terms. [↩]