Why Social Distancing is So Hard for Us

“Be kind, be calm and be safe” – Dr. Bonnie Henry

By now we have all realized that COVID-19 is in our lives to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. We aren’t looking at just a couple of weeks or months until things can go back to ‘normal’, but more likely another year or more until the world health authorities can develop and distribute a vaccine. Even then it may not be possible to go back to the ‘normal’ we had before we were forced to realize just how easily a disease can spread in our current society. The awareness of the danger, and at least some of the measures we have had to enact to manage it, are here to stay. So we’d better get used to them.

Some of these measures are easier than others. Washing or sanitizing our hands, reducing travel, and staying home when you or a family member are sick. They are simple to do, are only mildly restrictive, or are short term inconveniences that are easy to put up with for the comfort of feeling safe. Others are more difficult, and have long term impacts on our lives. One of those is social distancing.

The dictionary definition of social distancing is “the practice of maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from other people or avoiding direct contact with people in public places during the outbreak of a contagious disease”. It’s actual definition during this pandemic has become quite different. At this time in many areas of the world social distancing means staying home, only seeing the people in your household, and not going out for any reason. For some it includes going to work or the grocery store or for a walk, but wearing a mask and/or maintaining a 6-foot physical distance at all times while doing so. Even in areas where restrictions are slowly being loosened it means grad ceremonies, weddings, funerals, parties, concerts, and other events involving large gatherings of people are cancelled; some businesses like entertainment, community, or physical fitness based facilities are still shut down; and events with 50 or less people need to ensure physical distancing is enforced in order to be allowed. We are no longer able to spend time with the people we know in the ways we are used to, and our avenues for meeting new people have been severely limited.

Human beings are social creatures. Belonging is important to all of us, and we define ourselves based on the relationships we have with others. Have you ever tried to introduce yourself to a new person without including a common connection to someone else? Whether it is a family member, a friend, a partner, a coworker, a professional, or even a casual acquaintance, in most cases we build connections with new people in our lives based on connections we have with existing ones. We use who we know like references on a resume whenever we are trying to start a new relationship or join a new community. Our existing connections need to be maintained in order to stay relevant, and to help us get to new connections in the future. Even the most introverted among us want to belong to something or someone, and no one wants to lose what we already have.

The people in our lives help make us who we are. They bring us new input in the form of thoughts, feelings, or events, and we need that new input in order to grow as people. The conversations, emotions, and experiences we share with them provoke responses in each of us, and with each response we either confirm or learn something about ourselves. So what do we do when those webs of connection are gone, when we are limited to just the few people we live or work with, when the only way to maintain those other relationships is at a distance or through technology? When we can’t see or touch most people in person, when sharing thoughts and feelings becomes more work than we are accustomed to, and when we can’t rely on new experiences to bring us closer together? How do we hold onto the people we care about and continue to grow as people, when we really don’t know how long this new world we live in is going to last?

There are no simple answers to these questions, it is something we will all need to figure out for ourselves. For some of us limiting our bubbles has been beneficial; it has allowed us to value the people already in our lives even more, to explore aspects of ourselves we hadn’t gotten to yet, and to learn ways to get the new experiences we crave within our own homes. For others of us it has brought unexpected feelings of isolation, loss, and fear that we are struggling to find ways to deal with. Regardless of where you are on this spectrum remember that there is no ‘wrong way’ to feel about this change, and that it won’t last forever. Things may not be exactly like they were before, but just like you the world will learn, adapt, and grow because of this new experience, and we will come out on the other side of it together.

Relationship Blogging and COVID-19

I haven’t written in a while because I have been questioning whether I have anything to say that can help anyone right now. How do you write a dating and relationships blog when the world has changed so much that meeting new people and building new relationships seems impossible? How do you give advice based on experiences you had before the world changed? How do you tell people what is and isn’t a good idea when words like ‘safe’ and ‘important’ have drastically different meanings now than they did 8 weeks ago? How do you support people through this difficult time when none of us have any experience with anything like it? Is finding or maintaining new relationships even important anymore when we are living in a world where people are losing loved ones, incomes, and businesses at an ever increasing rate? Do I have any right to give advice when I can’t fully understand what anyone else is going through, when I’m not even sure if I fully understand what I am going through?

I am one of the lucky ones. At the time I am writing this all of the people I love and care about are healthy, and no one has been hit by Covid-19. I live in a country with a healthcare system that is prepared for this pandemic, so in the event that anyone does get sick they have the best possible chance of survival. I work in a field that is currently considered essential but has a relatively low exposure risk, so my income has not been affected and I am not in danger of losing my home. I live with my son and my primary partner, so I am not experiencing the same level of isolation as many others are. There are many people that I am not seeing and that I miss, and some relationships I was building have been put on hold, but I do not feel alone during this pandemic. I am better off than most people.

I am still afraid, and I am still mourning the loss of some things. I am not particularly afraid of getting sick, I believe it will happen eventually and that after my weeks of illness, however severe they might get, I will be fine. I am afraid of how those around me will be affected when I get sick, and of spreading this illness to people who won’t survive it. I am worried that some of the people I care about are not dealing well with the emotional and financial strain this is putting them under, and that there will be long term consequences because of it.  I am concerned about the economic impact this pandemic is going to have on this country that I love living in, and about how long people will continue to be willing to operate under what many of them see as a loss of ‘freedoms’. And I am mourning experiences, events, and celebrations that I have missed over the last several weeks, and all of the ones that would have come in the next several months that will now have to be canceled.

To some people my fears, worries, concerns, and losses might seem trivial under the weight of their own. I am not going to argue with them, we all deal with things in our own way, and for some that means feeling that their concerns are more important than the concerns of others. Whether that is true or not, they are entitled to how they feel, just as we all are. What I will tell people is to acknowledge your fears, worries, concerns, and losses. Say them out loud, write them down, talk to a partner or friend, whatever works for you. Acknowledge them and let yourself feel the feelings, whatever they are. It won’t make them go away, but it will make them seem more manageable, and sharing yours may encourage others to share their own. Many of us are very good at holding things inside, but there is a kind of healing that can come from sharing your fears with others, even if all they can do about them is listen.

So where does dating fall in all of this? For me, developing new relationships has always been about hope, and I think that hope is a very valuable commodity right now. Yes, meeting people and dating, and deciding when and how to grow a relationship, will need to change a little, but it is still possible, and it is still something to strive for and work towards. So I will continue to blog about it, and I hope you will continue to read. 

Embrace the Change

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw

When I acknowledged and finally started exploring my poly side I was single, and I embarked on the journey of finding out what poly meant to me with the intent of staying that way. I would have partners of course, partners that I loved, but my primary focus would be me. For the first time in my life I put as much value on getting to know myself as I had always put on getting to know others.This was my time, time to learn about who I was as a person, what I wanted out of life, and what I needed to be truly happy. I decided that however long it took I needed to learn to make my life about me, instead of continuing to let it only be about the people that were in it. 

It did not take as long as I expected. It turns out that who I am, what I want, and what I need really aren’t that complicated, and that I was a lot closer to being happy with myself than I thought. All I needed was to turn the full power of my focus onto myself for just a little bit to find out that I really do like who I am, and that it really doesn’t take a lot to make me happy. Good friends, new experiences, open conversation, stimulating work, creative outlets, opportunities to explore, a social life, a healthy and happy family, and love. Lot’s and lots of love. That’s it, personal journey complete. But what did that mean for my poly journey?

Almost a year ago I met a man with whom I shared an instant connection. Over the course of several months we developed a deep friendship, the kind that lets you talk about anything, from current affairs to pop culture to the most traumatic moments of your life. Although there was interest on both sides the friendship didn’t turn physical for quite a while. When it did he was one of three partners I had at the time, and it was with the intent that I would be splitting my time and my attention equally between them. 

I could not have anticipated the depth of feeling that would develop between us. I already loved him as a friend long before our dynamic changed, but I had no way of knowing how much that love would grow once we removed all the barriers and opened ourselves fully to one another. The amount of love and support and warmth I feel in this relationship is more than I have ever felt before, and rather than being overwhelming or smothering or all encompassing it is uplifting and inspiring. I feel even more like myself and more free to continue to change and grow and explore now than I did before ‘me’ became ‘we’. I wasn’t looking for a primary partner, but I couldn’t be happier that I have found one. 

Over the last few months my other relationships have come to an end. Not because they were influenced in any way by my new outlook, but because they each came to their own natural conclusion. They have either run their course or changed their course, and I have never been a believer that all romantic relationships are meant to last forever. I took a break from meeting new people to give time to my new relationship, but I still identify as poly. I still want deep connections with multiple people, and I fully expect that I will add new partners in the future. This time my approach will be different, and what I want will be different, but the desire to connect and love as much as possible will still be there. The focus will no longer just be on what I need, but on what works for us. And that most definitely works for me. 

Finding a New You

One of the things I enjoy the most about online dating is the opportunity it gives you to meet different people than you would in your everyday life, to try new things you may not have otherwise, and to pick up new hobbies or interest that will far outlast the people who introduced you to them. I thrive on new experiences. Sure, I could go out and find them myself without the ‘benefit’ of sitting through countless dull coffee dates waiting for the next person who actually wants to do something different, but I am honest enough with myself to admit that that would not happen. I’m either too lazy, too busy, or too content with my current life to actually make the effort to seek out new experiences on my own. Besides, everything is more fun when you do it with someone, even someone who is a complete stranger.

I used to love taking pictures. Even before every smartphone was a camera I would carry around a small point and shoot in my purse, just in case there was a chance to capture a moment. I purchased my first DSLR over a decade ago, and used it religiously. No sunset, landscape, or random animal was safe. For a while. Then life got busy and I put the camera down. I forgot that it was a thing I loved to do, or it got lost in the things I had to do, I’m not sure. Then about 10 months ago I met a photographer through Plenty of Fish, and he reminded me how much I absolutely love to take pictures. Not just the regular day to day family or event pics, but those pictures you take just for the beauty of the shot, or to capture an emotion. We would spend hours in his truck just driving around, stopping randomly on roadsides because one of us saw something in a landscape, cloud formation, or shadow. When it was ugly outside we would find things to take pictures of indoors, or we would discuss or plan shots we wanted to take, or ideas we wanted to try. The relationship didn’t work out, but I will be forever grateful to him for returning my love of photography to me. 

Writing is something I have always been interested in, something I’ve always wanted to try, but beyond journaling I could never find a reason to do it. I didn’t have a grand story to tell, I wasn’t an expert in any field, and I’ve never really felt like anyone was going to care what I had to say. I had nothing motivating me to get started. Then I started online dating, started talking to other people about my dating experiences, and I realized a few things. First, people get really, really tired of hearing your dating stories. Really tired. Second, if I was going to run myself through the dating gauntlet I needed an outlet for all the things I would see and feel. And third, maybe, just maybe, there were other people out there who needed a sympathetic voice. And there it was. I had found my reason to write. This blog has grown and will continue to grow beyond what I originally imagined, but it and my reason to write only exist because of online dating. 

Both of those examples are interests I already had that dating brought back to me, or that dating gave me the opportunity to grow. I have also found new interests, things I had never considered before, or things that I had only heard about but never seen. One of those is Shibari, the Art of Japanese Rope Bondage. When you google it you will find thousands of examples and dozens of definitions, ranging from very sexual to very artistic, but what it comes down to is using rope to create geometric designs that bind and accentuate the body. It is a method of applying art to the human body, of conveying emotion through an image, and of learning to love all parts of ourselves, even those we consider imperfect. I was introduced to it by someone I met online, and it has brought me a new passion, a new community, and a new way to learn to love myself. 

Dating can be frustrating, heartbreaking, and exhausting, but it can also be something that helps you rediscover parts of yourself, or find new things inside of you that you didn’t know were there. Try to remember that even when you are having a bad streak of relationship luck there is always something new around the corner, and that you may find things through dating that will make you happier than any one person ever could. 

You Are Enough

Do you have that friend who just seems to blossom whenever they are in a relationship? Maybe they were quiet, or shy, or socially awkward in some way, but then they met someone and that all just seemed to melt away? They became this confident, outgoing, charming person that you could always see in them, but they never seemed able to see it in themselves. Is it possible that maybe you are that person, and just haven’t realized it yet?

That description used to fit me to a T. When I was single I was too shy to go out on my own, too introverted to speak to a complete stranger, and too uncertain to see the things I had to offer. When I didn’t have someone to believe in me I had a very hard time believing in myself. The longer I was single the worse it would get, until eventually it became difficult to even remember a time before I was the girl who was home alone every night. Whenever I found someone who saw something in me it filled me with a feeling of worth, like maybe because they saw something in me I really had something to offer, and I would actually start putting those parts of myself out there for other people to see.

Being in a healthy relationship can be a wonderful thing when you have self-esteem issues. You have someone to go out and do new things with, someone to cuddle up with when you are tired and want to stay in, and someone to help you out when you need support. Someone who likes you for who you are, someone who wants what you have to give, and perhaps most importantly, someone who chose you. Not because there weren’t any other options, or because they couldn’t think of a better thing to do today, but because of who you are, and what they see in you. 

There are a few things I have learned that I had a habit of doing when I was in a relationship that I’ve realized are not healthy, and they stemmed from my own self-esteem issues. It had nothing to do with my partners, and the relationships themselves were healthy, but the way I allowed myself to change because of them was not. Yes, we all change when we bring a new major player into our inner circles, and a certain amount of adapting and adjusting is normal, but what I’m talking about goes beyond that, and often resulted in the relationship coming to an end. The changes I’m talking about are the ones we make to become more of what we think our partners want, not the ones that would be considered normal personal growth.

In my previous relationships I have felt like I am ‘less than’ or ‘not enough for’ my partners. I loved that they had chosen me, and I didn’t want to change their minds, but I also didn’t understand what they saw in me, or how they could want me. I didn’t feel worthy, and I worried that eventually they would realize that I wasn’t. In order to stop this from happening I would do everything in my power to become indispensable to them. My life became about supporting them, being there for them, and giving them everything and anything they needed. I would lose myself in trying to make or keep them happy, and my needs and interests would take a backseat to whatever they wanted or needed. None of my partners had ever asked me to do that, and most hadn’t even really noticed it happening, but in many cases it became the thing that ended the relationship. Everything I was and did became about them, and the person they fell for and wanted wasn’t there anymore. In trying to keep them happy I buried the person that peaked their interest in the first place.

Another bad habit I developed was letting my partners know I felt that they were better than me. It was the kind of thing that sounded sweet when I said it, usually with a ‘you are so great, I’m glad you decided I was enough for you’, or the even more blunt ‘thank you for settling for me’. The idea of the message came from a good place; I was trying to let them know how grateful I was that they wanted me. Unfortunately having that outlook and sharing it created a lot of problems. In some cases it put a lot of pressure on my partners and left them feeling like they had to carry the weight of my self-esteem. In others it created an unhealthy feedback loop where they needed to constantly reassure me that I was enough. And a few times it opened the door for them to really believe that they were better than me, and then they would start to treat me accordingly.

It took me a long time to learn to love myself, flaws and all, and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve been able to see how much my self-esteem issues have affected the people who have chosen to love me. Watching the person you fell for bury all the things that made them special, or having to constantly reassure them that they are still what you want, is a lot for anyone to deal with. It’s a huge strain that not many relationships can survive.

There is nothing wrong with feeling better about yourself when you are with someone, or having a partner who helps you see what a wonderful person you are. Just make sure that what you learn from them is something that you will continue to believe about yourself even if for some reason the relationship ends. Remember that your amazing, loving, perfect partners are choosing you because of who you were before you were a couple, and because of the things in you that were there before their influence on you became a factor. Remember that you are worth their love; otherwise they wouldn’t have given it to you. And make sure you aren’t asking them to be the one who makes you feel worthy; find your own worth, with their help if you need it, believe it, and hold onto it no matter who comes in or out of your life. 

Letting Go

I am the first to admit, I have a hard time letting go. To be clear, I don’t mean I have a hard time ending something that isn’t working; I have no problem analyzing a situation and deciding it isn’t going to work, and I don’t have an issue communicating that. What I’m talking about is emotionally letting go once something is over. Whether it’s a romantic partner that didn’t work out or a friendship that became distant, I have a lot of difficulty allowing people to move out of my life on an emotional level. I continue to worry about them, wonder what they are up to, think of things I would like to say to them, and generally just keep them in my mind longer than I feel is healthy. And when I’m the one to make that decision, to make the call that something is over, it’s even harder, because then there is the guilt that comes from hurting them along with the rest. Losing someone, even if its someone I haven’t really known that long, is an almost physical pain for me. I feel the space they used to fill like an empty seat beside me for some time afterwards.

My last long term romantic relationship could have ended long before it did. We were both holding on for the wrong reasons, and things went on longer than they should have. As a result the ending hurt more than it needed to, and I held onto the pain from that for a very long time. I couldn’t let go of thinking about how he was doing, what could have been, and all the little things that had happened that had hurt me. It was my way of continuing to hold onto the relationship. If I was still being hurt by it, and still thinking about him all the time, then it wasn’t really over. At least not in my mind. 

I don’t only have this problem with romantic relationships. I’ve had friendships I have lost that have been just as important to me. I love my friends as much as I love my partners. They are the family that I choose. When friendships end it is harder on me in a lot of ways, because I can never understand why they need to end. Friendships don’t have the expectations on them that romantic relationships can have; friendships don’t need to meet perceived goals or timelines, they don’t require you to merge lives or to commit fully to each other in order to continue. Most of the pressures that end romantic relationships aren’t there in a friendship, and yet somehow they end anyway, either abruptly or by fading away. It is a type of rejection that I have a lot of trouble letting go of, because I have a hard time seeing as anything but a personal one. I continuously wonder what I did to push them away, or what I was lacking in keeping them interested. 

So how do I deal with it? I’ve learned over the years that it is important to mourn the end of a relationship without obsessing over it, whatever type of relationship it was. Let the feelings of sadness, loss, and even guilt run their course; don’t tell yourself you shouldn’t feel that way. You are allowed to feel the way you do, wonder what they are doing, and replay any moments that you want to. Accept the feelings, acknowledge them, really feel them, and then let them go. Take as much time as you need. The important thing is that you don’t act on them, and that you don’t let them consume you. Don’t become angry or bitter, don’t obsessively stalk anyone in person or online, don’t blame yourself for everything that goes wrong in their lives, and don’t wallow in your memories. Don’t try to keep someone in your life that isn’t there anymore. Take the time to clean out that empty seat, so that someone else can sit there. 

Sex

“Let’s talk about sex, baby” – Salt-N-Pepa

I’m just going to come out and say it; I love sex. I love the intimacy, the connection, and yes, the physical release of it. I love the way it feels when my partner and I look into each others eyes and see the passion we have for one another shining through. I love exploring each others bodies, finding all those special places that result in shivers or giggles, learning how to touch to tease and where to stroke for results. I love discovering all the different ways to move together to get the desired results, and I love trying new ideas to see if we can get different or more intense ones. I love the moments after sex, cuddling up together, talking or laughing about what happened, or discussing things we might try next time. I love sex, and everything that goes along with it. 

I know sex isn’t like this for everyone. Not all sexual experiences are positive ones, and a history of negative ones can make enjoying sex very challenging. Sometimes self esteem issues make being naked and exposed around another person a terrifying experience that might result in nothing but rejection and embarrassment. Some people have difficulty enjoying the physical aspects of sex, and find orgasming or even enjoying intimate touch without an orgasm challenging. And some people simply don’t have much of a drive, and find the idea of having to physically please a partner all the time an exhausting or trying experience.

So how important is sex to a relationship? Is romantic success linked to the number of orgasms you and your partner give one another? Should partnerships be ranked like sporting events, where the teams who score the most often are considered the winners?

It’s important to remember that in most cases sex isn’t actually about sex; it’s about the affection and emotional connection that comes out of trying to make one another feel good. Yes, there are some proven physiological benefits of having a healthy sex life, but those same benefits can be found in other places. Going to the gym or eating a quality chocolate bar for example. Physical connection is important, but that connection doesn’t have to come from sex. Hugging, cuddling, and sleeping together can bring the same level of intimacy, and have their own health benefits. 

Despite what you may read online there is no set number of times per day, week, or month that you should be having sex. Do you know why? Because sex isn’t meant to be about what you should do, and intimacy won’t come out of something that feels like an obligation. Sex should always be a choice, even in a relationship, and couples need to come up with their own rhythm, one that will meet their needs. Don’t get caught up in what’s ‘normal’, and don’t look for outside validation. 

If you or your partner are unhappy with your sexual relationship don’t look to the internet for answers; look to each other. Yes, it is ‘normal’ for desire to diminish over time, but don’t use that as an excuse not to look under the surface. Maybe there is an imbalance because one partner feels like they are always giving, and the other is always taking. Maybe someone isn’t being completely honest about their inner desires, insecurities, or fears, and that is affecting their ability to get intimate. Maybe there’s a physical issue, and you need to consider alternate forms of intercourse or intimate touch. Maybe you have forgotten to cherish your sexual energy, and need to spend some time focusing on your partner as an object of physical desire. Whatever the answer is, the only way to find it is by talking with each other. 

Is Love a Drug?

“Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.” – Robert Palmer

New love is an amazing thing. It’s warm, fuzzy, comforting, and makes you smile at the most random times during the day. You will find yourself humming miscellaneous Sarah McLachlan songs, replaying romantic comedy scenes in your mind with yourself as the lead, and endlessly googling to find just the right pet names to describe your person. Colors are brighter, food smells better, and regardless of how shitty your mattress was last week now all you want is to be in bed with your partner. You feel wanted, cared for, desirable, and happy, all the time. It becomes hard to remember a time before you felt this way, and difficult to relate to people who don’t. And all you want all the time is more of that feeling. 

This kind of obsession and preoccupation with anything else would be considered an addiction, and something to be avoided, treated, or cured. Physically ‘falling in love’ triggers exactly the same feel good hormones as many drugs; dopamine, oxytocin, opioids, and serotonin. Relationships follow a similar path as addiction. In the beginning everything feels great, like your first dose of something wonderful. As relationships develop we build up a resistance to those hormones, and it becomes harder and harder to feel the same hit that we did at the beginning. When the relationship ends and the break up happens we suffer withdrawal symptoms, which combined with stress hormones make us feel sick and leave us looking for our next fix. We do everything we can to find that ‘feel good’ feeling again. 

Despite all of this evidence we as a society are in love with being in love. Countless books have been published on how to find it, endless songs have been written trying to describe it, and there are always new movies coming out telling us stories about it. We spend our lives chasing it when we don’t have it, and wallowing in it when we do. So does this mean love is a drug that we misuse and abuse, or are we smart enough to know a good thing when we see it and hang on?

We have all seen the people out there who react to falling in love like an addict does to their drug. Take a look at the short term serial monogamist. They meet someone, fall in love, are deliriously happy, and yet a short time later the relationship ends, and they are on to the next ‘love of their life’. They are addicted to that initial dose of love, but lose interest when the hormonal reaction starts to drop off, and they go out looking for something similar but just different enough to count as new. Or look at those couples that are so wrapped up in each other that they forget about everything else in their life. They become completely dependent on each other for their happiness and have difficulty finding it anywhere else, much like an addict becomes dependent on their elixir of choice. Their only positive emotion comes from their partner, and it becomes an unhealthy obsession and attachment that can be extremely difficult to break.

Does this mean we should all start avoiding love, out of fear of developing our own addictions? Of course not. Love doesn’t only feel good; it can also be very good for you. It can help you build a more positive self-image, introduce you to new ways of thinking and living, and give you a feeling of security and support that you may not be able to find anywhere else. These are all good things. So how do you know if this love is a good one, or an addictive one? Keep in mind a few key points. A healthy relationship isn’t possessive and is based on mutual respect; encourages growth and serious interests outside of the relationship; leaves you feeling improved by the relationship and not stifled by it; and is a part of your life, rather than separate from it. There are millions of healthy, loving relationships out there, and like anything else we cannot let a few negative examples destroy our image of them.  

Flying Solo

I started my journey into ethical non-monogamy alone. I don’t mean without support, information, or mentoring, I have all of those, in spades. I am very lucky in the people I have around me who are there when I have questions or need reassurance; discovering this community has been one of the most positive influences in my adult life.

Most people I have encountered who identify as ethical non-monogamists are on their journey with a primary partner, or at least started their journey while they were with someone who fit that title. Because of this a lot of non-monogamy I have seen is hierarchical in nature; there is a core couple that ‘comes first’, and other partners are secondary or tertiary. That’s not to say that other partners can’t be as cared for or loved, or that those relationships are less fulfilling or important because of it, but the distinction is there, and it is something that needs to be respected for things to work.

I identify as polyamorous, but I do not have a primary partner. Emotionally I want multiple, loving, long term, committed relationships, where all partners feel that they are valued, cared for, and wanted at all times. No part of that requires me to elevate one above any other. From a practical ‘real life’ standpoint I am not looking to merge homes or finances with anyone, get married, or have more children. I am quite happy in my independence and am able to support myself. 

I have occasionally been told that I’m “doing poly wrong” or that I’m “not really polyamorous” because I don’t have a primary partner. Whenever I hear this it sounds like an echo to me of something I’ve been hearing my entire life in mainstream culture; that something is wrong with people that are “single”. It seems sometimes like the expectation of “coupling up” is still alive and well, even within the non-monogamous community.

I recently came across a term that I feel describes my situation perfectly; solo polyamorous. Like any other label it means different things to different people, but most agree that it is the decision to be your own primary partner. This is not a decision made out of lack of other options, but because you have made a conscious choice to have your primary allegiance be to yourself. It doesn’t mean you are being selfish or that you don’t care about others wants or needs, but is because you are strongly motivated by your autonomy, you value your freedom, and you are most comfortable identifying as an individual.

Solo polyamory opens a lot of doors that may not be there for couple based relationships. First, it allows you to put the emotional energy of maintaining a primary relationship into yourself, to come into each new relationship strong and whole, the best version of yourself that you can be. It gives each new relationship a chance to be what it will be, with no potential to be vetoed and without rules that can be hard to understand or fit into. It can make it easier to date people who do not identify as polyamorous, as they do not need to feel that they are coming second to anyone else, and because there is no need for them to build relationships with or get permission from your other partners.  Any or all of your partners can be identified as a girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever term you prefer, depending on the relationship itself and not on how it relates to your other partnerships. You can commit to doing what is best for everyone, even if that means splitting up with someone for a time so you can grow separately.

Defining myself as solo polyamorous allows me the option to care about each of my partners as if they were a primary partner, if that is the way each relationship goes, and if those partners do not have other relationships with rules that need to be followed. It allows me to love them as deeply as I want, if love is there, or to enjoy the journey together for as long as it is enjoyable if it is not. I can develop relationships without feeling like I am suffocating, giving up too much of myself, or endangering something I have with someone else. It lets me develop the skills necessary to advocate for what I want, and it gives me a chance to find out what that is. It gives me the ability to discuss options with others, get their input and consider how it will affect them, but ultimately make my major life decisions on my own. It allows me to have deep, intimate, long term relationships, but still maintain my independence.

I’m not saying that solo polyamory is easier or better than any other type of ethical non-monogamy; it isn’t, it’s just different, and it comes with its own set of pros and cons. There are still moments of loneliness, times when you wish you had more support, and the occasional bouts of wondering why you don’t fit into something more traditional or accepted. Sometimes it means standing up for yourself or doing something alone, and disappointing others who might want to take on something for or with you. And just like any other relationship, sometimes it means missing out on something because the other person doesn’t want what you want. I don’t know if I will always identify as solo polyamorous; I am very happy in all of my current relationships, but I am as prone to what I want changing as anyone else is, and sometimes people already in our lives or new people who come into our lives can make us want to change with or for them. All I can tell you is that right now is that this is how I identify, it is what I want, and it is making me very happy.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The longer you date, the more you will notice that you keep getting asked the same questions over and over and over again. It doesn’t matter if it’s online during the messaging stage or in person when you meet. The same ones always seem to come up, and you can feel like a broken record on an endless loop, repeating yourself forever. It’s exhausting. At one point I was seriously considering starting up a document on my phone with the paragraphs all pre-written, so I could just copy and paste the answers in every time I was asked a question that felt like a rerun. I still might; sometimes I can be pretty lazy.

There’s a few important things to remember when you start to feel this way. First, if they are sending you questions then at least they are actually trying to get to know you. You could have just gotten a list of demands or a dick pick or an invitation to a hotel room or something. Second, you may have heard this question a hundred times, but they haven’t heard your answer at all. It’s old hat to you, but you are still new to them. Third, and possibly most important, consider this; if they ask you a question and you answer it, you get to ask it back with the reasonable expectation of a response. It might start an actual conversation. If you have been online dating for long you know how hard that can be.

If you are also considering setting up a few prepared answers, want a little preview into what you will inevitably be asked eventually, or need ideas for starting a conversation, here are the most asked questions I’ve received while online dating.

“How are you?” Generic. Boring. Uninspired. But at the same time, it is how most conversations with people you already know start, so it’s not entirely unfair. It even has the potential to show genuine care or concern. It most likely doesn’t, but the possibility is there at least. The biggest issue with this question is that in most cases you are going to get too short of an answer or too long of one. It’s not technically a closed question, but it is very easy to answer with just one word. Good. Fine. OK. Or if it goes the other way you might wind up with a 3-page diatribe about how they are feeling about something that happened at work or with an ex. Valuable information maybe, but not something you need right now.

“What’s up?” Or it’s backwoods cousin “Sup?” Similar to “How are you?”, this is a very common message, and a very lazy one. Let’s face it; if you were currently up to anything really interesting you wouldn’t be online answering your messages. Yet somehow something that used to be an actual exploratory question about why someone was contacting you has turned into an introduction designed to force the recipient to say something that entertains the sender.  

“What do you do for fun?” Depending on your dating platform this question is either good or lazy. If you are on something like Tinder that doesn’t allow you much space to write a profile then it is good, the person messaging you is trying to find out what you like, if you have any compatible interests, what kind of free time you have, etc. However, if you are on a site like Plenty of Fish and have completed your profile then this information should already be out there for them to see. By messaging you and asking you something they could see with just one mouse click they are telling you that they aren’t interested enough to do even that.

“What are you looking for?” This is a great question, if you know the answer. If you don’t, well, you are probably going to fumble a few times trying to give one. In general, it’s a good idea to know what you want before you go looking for it, but when it comes to dating, most people don’t. Answering this a few dozen times might actually help you figure that out.  

“Why are you single?” In my opinion this question is a little mean, even when asked in the most flattering way. First, it is very difficult to answer with any kind of positive spin. ‘I’m picky’, ‘I haven’t found what I’m looking for’, and ‘I am only recently single’ all have negative connotations that go along with them. And those are the easy answers. Second, a person who has been online dating for a while is probably already asking themselves that question. The realization that finding someone online isn’t fast or easy hits us all differently, but having someone else point out to you that you haven’t found someone yet and that they can’t see why is hard for anyone to hear. Particularly if they wind up being yet another person that isn’t for you.