Why do I have romantic relationships? What do I get out of them?
I have romantic relationships because I am a big schmoopy romantic. But, more seriously, I have romantic relationships because I fall in love easily and romance has always been something that I’ve been drawn do. I am drawn to both romantic gestures (big and small – gifts are a big part of how I express my love) and also the closeness and connection of a sustained romantic relationship. I get a sense of joy and stability and mutual support out of good romantic relationships. However, in the last few years I have really expanded my view of what counts as an enduring relationship, and now I would say that I have loving and enduring relationships that are romantic, sexual and platonic (and relationships that combine multiple types), and I value them distinctly but equally.
For me, sex and romance are often (though not always) linked. Sex is important to me (very important), and when I feel a romantic connection with someone I often want it to also be sexual. The reverse is also true most of the time, although I do have some sexual friendships that do not include romance, and some folks that I would happily hook up with at a party without forming any kind of deep relationship (romantic or otherwise). Those are the exception, though. And I think it’s important to acknowledge this, because although I am normative in this, the fact that romance=sex is the default ends up being harmful to a lot of asexual folks – it shouldn’t be assumed that being interested in romance reflects an interest in sex, and I appreciate that the book differentiates between sex and romance. I also don’t think that it’s beyond the realm of imagination to think that I could have a romantic relationship with an asexual individual, and that it could include closeness and mutual support and connection, without including sex. That’s why poly is awesome!
What do I consider essential, indispensable elements of a relationship?
Transparency, honesty, trust, support, fun, consent, autonomy, agency, compassion, connection. When any of these are missing, the relationship starts to feel really wobbly and unsafe for me.
Are there specific kinds of relationships that I know I am looking for? Kinds that I know I don’t want?
Yes. (This is a hard question to answer because the answer is “yes” and there are some specific answers that I want to acknowledge but not publicly. But there are situations where I would really like a specific kind of relationship with a specific person but… vulnerability! Plus broadcasting that on the interwebs seems like, perhaps, not the most subtle, wise, or respectful choice.)
Mostly I want relationships that fit. I want to feel like I am seen and accepted and I am trusted with my partners’ truths. I am willing to do a lot of work for a relationship, but I need that work to feel mutual and somewhat equal (not the same, but an equitable investment of time and energy into the relationship – and I prefer “equitable” to include an awareness of different levels of available resources. Young children, chronic illness, work schedules, health, family situations – lots of things can impact the availability of resources and I think a good relationship accommodates that. But even when resources are scarce, knowing that my partner is still willing to invest time and energy as available is really important to me).
I know that I do not want relationships where I feel like I am chasing after my partner for information relevant to my ability to make informed choices about my risks (sexual, emotional, etc.). I do not want to feel like I am a burden in my relationships (and this is tricky because sometimes my insecurity makes me feel like a burden, so a lot of the heavy lifting on this one has to come from me). I do not want relationships that feel codependent (where we feel like we couldn’t survive without each other) or relationships that feel coercive. I also don’t want hidden relationships, which is sometimes unfair because it means that being with someone who is fully in the closet would be a big challenge for me. I want partners and metamours who are willing to acknowledge me as a partner or metamour in at least some circumstances.
What do I bring to the table for others?
I bring a LOT of enthusiasm to the table. I think I also bring a lot of compassion, empathy, and respect to my relationships, and a sincere desire to see everyone in my pod (paramours, metamours, maybe-mores, loving friendships, family) safe and fulfilled. I am good at making space for difficult conversations, and at accepting the parts of people that are sometimes difficult to share. I am good at self-care, and I’m pretty self-aware. Also, pie. Chocolate. Tea. Cards. Emails. And often more texts than anybody wants.
What makes me feel cherished, loved and secure?
Physical contact makes me feel loved, especially good hugs. Physical contact that doesn’t assume sex makes me feel safe, because I often struggle with my sexuality and there is so often a lot of shame and fear attached to this. Holding hands, hugging, snuggling, kissing, back rubs, etc. All super important to me. Also, in sexual relationships, make outs and sex make me feel loved, cherished, AND secure. They are really hugely important to me, even though they’re not easy or smooth. (But I’m doing a Year of Sexual Recovery and working on that. High fives, me!)
Hearing that I’m loved also makes me feel really good. My heart pumps words more readily than blood, and when someone tells me (in a text, card, email, facebook message, or in person) how they feel about me, it feels great. When I moved into my current space, my housewarming party included being kicked out of the house so that all the guests could write and hide little notes throughout my space. I still find stray notes every so often, and they make me feel so loved.
Little gifts or personal gifts also make me feel loved, even though I sometimes feel weird and greedy because of this. Knowing that someone put thought into a gift for me makes me feel like I’m present in my people’s lives even when we aren’t physically together. (Scott keeps a collection of nerdy t-shirts hidden in the house and gives me one when I’ve had a bad day or accomplished something big. Jon’s birthday gift to me this year was a series of gifts that each tied to a significant event in our relationship – both of those things fill my love tank pretty amazingly. One of my most beloved people regularly gets me any smut related comic books they see. Another gave me a gift related to my creativity, even though they aren’t really “gifty”, and for my birthday people wrote me amazing cards. This last birthday was pretty amazing, actually. I am very lucky. Aww, man. Now I feel like my heart might explode. Also, one of my best friends once sent me a whole package of various dark chocolates and an encouraging letter and it was just… straight to my heart.)
Openly volunteering information makes me feel secure. Talking about what’s going on, and feeling like if something comes up I will hear about it before it explodes makes me feel secure.
What makes me afraid in relationships? Why?
Not knowing where I stand. Feeling like I’m an overly enthusiastic freakshow who is about to be told to shut up. Uncertainty. Change. Dishonesty. Sudden lack of contact. My depression and anxiety also makes me feel afraid in relationships, because I always worry that I’m just one panic attack or depressive episode away from wearing out the good will of the people I’m in relationship with.
In what ways do I protect myself from being hurt? Do these strategies help or hinder my search for connection?
I am not always good at protecting myself. However, in the past I have tended to get *really* controlling if I feel like things are spinning out of control. I want to lock everything down. This is extremely counterproductive and I’m way better than I used to be about not doing this. Now I tend to disengage rather than trying to control everything. This is also not good for connection, especially ongoing connection.
My preferred method (though not the one I succeed at all the time) is to just communicate when I start to feel afraid and give my partner the ability to respond, rather than keeping it to myself until I blow up. This is hard, though.