So I had a lovely evening at a friend’s birthday party yesterday. Around about 7pm (iirc) the usual shift-change happened, as the folks with young kids headed home and the folks with no kids (or with no kids with them) hung out a little longer in an all-grown-ups space, and I got to chatting with a few people about kink and polyamoury, and navigating that stuff.
Strictly speaking, I’m not new to polyamoury. I’ve been identifying as non-monogamous for about eight years. But for seven of those years (and once again, alas) I’ve been “the most monogamous poly person I know” (and possibly shooting myself in the foot as a result of saying as much… woops). Dating one person at a time, even if said people have been dating lots of others in addition to me.
I recently came up with the metaphore of Floating Docks to describe how I understand “relationship status”:
So, in my head, there’s a stable, floating dock called “casual pals” and a stable, floating dock called “close friends” and a stable, floating dock called “long term romantic partners” and… there isn’t really anything else. All of these docks are connected. They’re all landing points on a continuum of (a) available/expected time, energy and attention AND (b) emotional & physical/sexual intimacy. But these floating docks are connected by long, semi-submerged and very precarious-feeling chains. Not walk-ways, not linked-together chains of floating docks, just chains.
So if I’m in some sort of relationship with someone – which, if I’ve hung out with you more than once? We have some kind of relationship – I feel very unstable and anxious if that relationship isn’t one that (based on how we name each other, but also – very much so – on how we interact together) lands squarely and securely on one of my (very few) floating dock options.
I mean, it’s great to finally have words and metaphors to put around how I conceptualize relationshps. But it blows because I have so few options. Like: It would be really great if I could build myself a metaphorical floating dock between “casual pal” and “super besty” so that folks who wanted to hang out with me at an emotional-intimacy level that was somewhere between “We hang out in big groups a few times a year” and “I am where you stay if you suddenly get divorced” weren’t stuck either out in the cold, so to speak, or being overwhelmed with more intimacy than they wanted. When I look at the (long, loooooooooong) space between “close friends” and “long-term romantic partners”, though, it gets even worse.
I would really, really like it if I had a few alternatives to “We’re in this For Ever” when it came to romantic and/or sexual relationships. I’d love a “friends with benefits / play-partners” dock and a “long-term lovers-as-opposed-to-partners” dock, both of-which would allow for long-term relationships that didn’t require huge outputs of time, energy and attention in order to be sustained or maintained. I might also (maybe) enjoy “summer fling” or “quick-and-dirty hook-up” docks that would allow for deeply emotionally-and-sexually intimate connections that were heavily bound/bordered by time limits.
And currently? Currently, I have none of those docks.
It’s a problem. It’s a problem that leads me to avoid asking for play-dates or scenes or even coffee “too often” for fear of getting more attached than I, or they, might want to be, and it’s a problem that leads me to pushing for relationships that are more emotionally-invested than they, or I, can reasonably sustain under a given set of circumstances.
It’s messed up, is what I’m saying.
I once asked my wife how she (having numerous sweethearts + being Ace + having lots of friends whom she loves) differentiates between “primary” sweetheartships, close/loving friendships, and “secondary” sweetheartships, and what she said was that it all depends on where the energy is going at any given time. She doesn’t try to force it, effectively, but just lets relationships be what they’re going to be.
I have no idea how that even works.
I mean, it’s possible that this is just because I’m (a) lazy, (b) needy, and (c) kind of an introvert/home-body who has to Make myself get out of the house on the regular, but I feel like (or fret that), if I were to just let the energy go where it’s going to go… I would basically be a shut-in with no social life of any kind what-so-ever. Audra Williams writes about how friendships (and other types of relationships, honestly) require (mutual) effort and maintenance to grow and thrive. Which is a no-brainer. But I find myself, these days, wondering “Okay. How much effort and maintenance, in which areas, will result in the growth and thriving of (a) a romantic relationship, (b) a casual lover-ship, (c) a one-on-one buddy-ship, (d) a cherishing friendship… vs how much (or how little, for that matter), in which areas, will result in an intentional casual, small-doses/big-groups friendship or occasional/one-off intimate encounter that doesn’t accidentally(?) end up on a relationship escalator.
A long (loooooooooong) time ago, I made the mistake (“mistake”) of going on my first-ever Real Date with someone I had zero interest in. Because I didn’t want to be “rude” or “mean” and because I thought “Whatever. It’s just a date. He’ll get it out of his system and leave me alone”. Which, duh, didn’t happen. So, being in my late teens and having no concept of even unhealthy boundaries, I made the decision then and there that I would never again date anyone I couldn’t see myself marrying.
Well, that was a bad idea.
And also: I’m currently (happily – woot!) married, and trying to find ways to navigate polyamoury without automatically aiming for some kind of Future wherein My Date quickly (or slowly) becomes part of my Poly Family and we eventually all live together in some sort of urban-farming eco-village-like compound that everyone returns to (sort of like the Mother Ship, except intimately tied to the cycles of our bioregion because also: I’m a huge Pagan), no matter how many months they spend traveling the world in any given year.
…Not that I’ve planned this all out or anything. >.>
So, yeah. I would like to know how to build myself some more Floating Docks so that I can feel comfortable and stable and safe having relationships with people that are “more than friends” but aren’t (and may never be) “permanent ‘blending finances and living arrangements’ relationships” either.
Any suggestions on how to go about doing this? Because presently I’m just overthinking everyting and not getting very far.