Before I start today’s blogginess, it bears mentioning that Gala Darling, whom I mentioned in yesterday’s blog about the suckiness of judging other people, blogged her own retort today. It’s very honest and well-written, so, kudos on how she handled that situation.
Lately, it seems a lot of my conversations with friends have revolved around dating and relationships. Not necessarily mine, or their own, mind you, but the psychology of the subject in general. In some cases, it’s friends wanting to know where they’ve gone wrong in the past or where they should be looking in the future. In others, it’s less simple questions about marriage, monogamy, emotional infidelity, and other big life issues.
I’m not sure why people come to me for advice on relationships, because if there’s a dysfunctional type of relationship, I’ve probably been in it. The result is that I have some rather unconventional views on relationships that are far more complex, and yet at the same time, much simpler than how most others see things. I don’t look at relationships in a way that a person fits neatly into one category in my life, and stays there. I don’t impose limitations that seem destructive or counterintuitive to positive relationships. I believe you can—and should—love more than one person at the same time, in different ways. (whether you choose to have multiple romantic relationships is a matter of personal choice, but there are all different types of love out there.) I believe we each have many soulmates in a lifetime, and because we’ve been blessed to find one doesn’t mean discarding the possibility of others. I think the dreaded “friend zone” is the best place to be if you want a relationship with someone, rather than just an entertaining hook-up. I think relationships should support and empower and help a person grow, not be a constant source of conflict, insecurity, and limitation. That being said, I think being with someone who challenges as well as accepts you is necessary for a long-term relationship, and that may involve the occasional conflict. I believe that relationships are complicated, as one person can fill a multitude of spaces in your life, yet still not “complete” you…mostly because that’s not what relationships are for.
I tell people these things, and they stare at me blankly, or I watch their mouths drop open. My viewpoint on dating and relationships isn’t “Find someone right for you, get married (if the laws of your state allow it), have some kids or cats or dogs, and swear to never see anyone else naked or form a more meaningful bond with another person than you share with your partner, for the rest of your life. ” Yet, consistently, people ask me for relationship advice. People I don’t even KNOW ask me for advice, whether it’s regarding transforming an image that isn’t working or the benefits of an open relationship.
My initial response is usually, “Why the hell are you asking me? I’m single, open to everything and convinced of nothing, in my early 30′s, have no kids, and collect engagement rings without ever getting married. I don’t even like the idea of signing year-long leases, in case I change my mind.” I think, however, there’s something in my viewpoint that inspires people to think about themselves and what they’re really looking for, in the world and in other people. Many of the people doing the asking aren’t finding what they want because it’s not really what they want, or they’re simply not ready for the thing they want. I’ve been there, done that, so I can see how I may be helpful on some level. Here’s the thing: dating and relationships and love are more about yourself than about finding another person. Meeting other people is the easy part. There are 6 billion of us. Making real, honest, lasting connections…well, that’s hard. It requires work, authenticity, and self-awareness.
I always start off my stories with “I haven’t dated since I was about 25.”. Most people find this laughable, especially if they’ve been in my life since that point in time, because you need multiple hands to account for the number of relationships I’ve been in since that point in time. But, that was the age at which I swore off EHarmony, Match.Com, internet dating, matchmaking services, blind dates, and abandoned the illusion that I was going to meet my soulmate at a bar or a club. Except for a few wild nights here and there, I also stopped making myself feel crappy by mistaking one night stands with people I’d never want to see or talk to again as companionship, or even entertainment. I learned that not everyone is necessarily a monogamous, marriage-and-babies-oriented person, and that the reason I got into situations that involved collecting engagement rings had nothing to do with being “flighty”, “committmentphobic”, or “needing to sow wild oats”. It turned out that what society told me I was supposed to want, how I was supposed to feel about relationships, wasn’t at all my reality. I wasn’t damaged. I was just looking for things I didn’t really want, and then disappointed when I didn’t find what I did want.
Once I stopped dating, (which I think is a largely artificial construct in which people are encouraged to be either not quite who they are or an exaggerated version of who they’d like to be , in order to impress someone in whom they have little to no emotional investment), I also cut the number of jerks, players, and other undesirable companions I’d been meeting out of my life. I started meeting people I not only found myself attracted to, but looked forward to spending time with, even before the situation turned romantic. I firmly believe that a romantic relationship is just a strong friendship with common interests,physical attraction, and emotional compatibility thrown in there. Once you realise there’s a level of sexual compatibility on top of all those other things, you have a whole new set of relationship options. If you’re looking for a long-term partnership, add “similar outlook on life” and “shares future goals and ideals” to the mix, and you have exactly what you’re looking for. Few people discover that while dancing to the dubstep version of the latest hit pop song at a really trendy club. Sadly, too few people discover that while dating, at all. It takes too much time, too much emotional investment, and that scares the hell out of most people.
It takes no talent to flirt or pick up strangers, and if you lament that you’re missing this talent, stop it. You’re better off. Empty sex is like bad pizza. It doesn’t end with you feeling like you had what you were looking for. It’s,of course, inevitable that you’re going to start looking again, and it’s pretty easy to get caught in a repetitive cycle. At the end of it, you wake up one day realising you’re totally over pizza until further notice.
It does take talent to form meaningful connections with other human beings. It also takes patience, and the realisation that you actually like someone enough to invest a certain amount of work, energy, and emotion into getting to know someone. From the time I was 25 onward, except for the occasional crazy, forgettable night here and there, I adopted the attitude that unless someone was willing to put in the time, emotional investment, interest, and energy required to become my close friend, I wasn’t going to be willing to put much out in return (in every sense of the word.) In order to date me, people had to find their way into the “friend zone”.
I understand that most people aren’t like this. They reserve the “friend zone” for people with whom there’s no chemistry, people they’ve pre-judged as “the wrong type”, people they like but think “That person isn’t right for me because…”. They then go out and cry on their sympathetic friend’s shoulder after they hit the dating scene and continually meet all the wrong people. I get frustrated with guys who resent compliments like “I think you’re a nice guy”, because they’ve somehow confused that as code for “I’d never be attracted to you.” In my world, it’s a genuine compliment. I mean, why would I aspire to end up with someone who isn’t nice to me?
I’m also a little different in that, for me, “chemistry” is about 30% emotional, 25% intellectual, and 20% about being with someone you just enjoy. Physical attractiveness is the least important thing, though some attraction is necessary, because for me, “chemistry” is likely to develop via other channels. The presence of that weird, inexplicable “chemistry” can transform someone I initially dismissed as “totally not my type” into someone with whom I’m oddly infatuated. Most of it happens on an intuitive level for me. A really gorgeous person I find shallow and superficial becomes less good-looking to me over time. Whether through flattery, lack of self-esteem, or what have you, I’ve had more than a handful of people in my life express that I was “out of their league” socially, physically, whatever. That always makes me a little sad, because attraction has so little to do with that for me. Even if it were true in the eyes of superficial outsiders, it wouldn’t occur to me to notice. That’s just kind of how I’m wired. (Don’t worry, my ego is under control. I’ve also had the guys not interested in dating me because I wasn’t pretty enough or ambitious enough. *laughs*)
So, there you have it. My secret to relationships is not dating, believing in soulmates, having respect for yourself and others, embracing your own individuality, allowing yourself to be as liberated and unconventional as you want to be, trusting you deserve someone in your life that makes you feel better about life and yourself, and generally believing that people have multiple people who are “right for them”…although not always in the same way, or to the same end. If you know me or read my blog, you know I’m not totally sold on the idea of monogamy…at least, not for me, and this is why. I’m also not sold on the idea that marriage or having children is the necessary goal or outcome of the “perfect relationship”—but, again, that’s just me. If any of those things are important for you, and your partner doesn’t feel the same way after a significant amount of time, it’s time to address the problem.
Yet, in the time I’ve spent not dating, I’ve met some wonderful people and had great relationships I wouldn’t trade for the world. Many of them didn’t work out, or turned out to be simply passing infatuations or the complicated-when-it-doesn’t-need-to-be “friends with benefits” scenario. Most of these people are still good friends to this day. Some of them are people with whom I still maintain a deep emotional connection, and had things worked out slightly differently, I’d wonder if that person were truly the right person for me. (see: there is no such thing as that one “right person”.)
I should feel honoured, because I’ve had friends come and visit me and spend time where I live, and vice versa, numerous times. Most of the time, there was a connection worthy of the subtext “This long-distance shit never works out, but I wonder if there’s a greater connection here that’s worth exploring.” I don’t believe in long-distance relationships…eventually, a relationship requires two people willing to be in the same place at the same time…but I’ve always considered it a testament to my open-mindedness that I’ve had quite a few experiences meeting folks not within my geographical boundaries. Most of these have involved some element of confusion or drama, but none have been negative, and every single person is still in my life. (Two of the people who affected me the most profoundly in my life were long-distance relationships; one turned into a two-year relationship that is still “the one I never quite got over”, with someone who will certainly never speak to me again. The other never got further than the long-distance aspect of things, but the emotional connection remained for a long time, and I genuinely miss that person’s friendship.)
Meanwhile, almost everyone I met during my years of actively dating, being on the dating websites, hitting the clubs, etc., is someone I wouldn’t even bother friending on Facebook.
People tell me they just can’t meet the right person for them, and my response is always “You probably already know the person you’re looking for, you’re just not at the point in your life where you’re ready to know it yet.” For instance, I have two friends who, when I was single and looking—or at least considering options—I paid little to no attention. They didn’t seem like my type. I found them boring, introverted, and lacking in the sense of excitement and enthusiasm about the world that appeals to me. Years later, I find them both extremely charming, nice guys, the kind that makes me think “Why didn’t I know you when I was looking to meet someone?”
The answer is simple: I did. I just didn’t notice, because I had a preconceived notion of who and what I was looking for, and it wasn’t that sort of person. But times change, people change, and both of those friends are happily in committed relationships, as am I. If I found myself single, do I know now that’s the type of person I’d be interested in chasing after? Absolutely.
My second fiance was a boy I met when I was 14. We magically reconnected 6 years later, in a huge city where it’s impossible to find someone, even if you’re looking for them. Whether you admit it or not, fate and timing has a lot to do with it.
My point is, before you say “I really want to meet someone”, look around your life. Look at the people you never really talked to at social events, the friend you talk to for hours because you’re “just friends”, the old high school crush that got in touch with you on Facebook. Look at the friends of your friends; one of your future soulmates may just be someone your best friend knows, but you’ve never spoken with. Don’t be quick to discard people, or file them away in drawers like “good friend”, “hook-up buddy”, “person I’d invite to my dinner party”, “totally not my type”. You’re far more likely to meet someone…or multiple someones…simply living your life, having a strong circle of friends, and staying open to possibilities than you are getting drunk and going to a bar, getting set up on an awkward blind date with your mom’s pharmacist’s kid, or meeting the perfect already-married person on EHarmony.
You already know someone. You know lots of them. Start exploring. In my experience, relationships that develop out of friendships, casual hook-ups with friends you find attractive, and people you encounter in your social circle is far less likely to add to your “Somebody That I Used To Know” tally. Whether you’re looking for fun and companionship, a monogamous relationship that will last a lifetime, or you’re in an open relationship and considering meeting a new partner, the idea that there is one perfect soulmate out there and everyone you currently know, are friends with, or have ever met is just “not it” is kind of impractical.
Figure out what you want, stop judging, and start living. Just get out there. Do the things you’d do if you weren’t actively single and looking. Don’t be that sad, desperate person who thinks being single is the worst thing in the world, because until you’re comfortable with the idea of who you are alone, you won’t meet anyone who’s right for you together. You’ll be amazed how many people you meet…and how many of those awesome people were people you knew all along, but never invested the time and energy in truly knowing.
If I ever find myself in my 40′s and thoroughly single again (as a recent dream of mine predicted), it’ll be interesting to see if I rescind my policy on dating or change my world view on relationships.
And, I’m sorry to disappoint all the people who end up on this page looking for information about the TV show “Polyamory: Married And Dating” on Showtime. I don’t watch it, and no, I don’t know the name of the blonde woman on the show. I’ve put it on the list of things I judge without actually finding out for myself, like “Fifty Shades Of Grey”“, and any movie based on a comic book, based on the reactions of others. I really shouldn’t do that, because it’s kind of narrow-minded. Then again, why subject myself to something that is just going to evoke hours of eye-rolling and snarky commentary? That’s only going to be necessary when I get my own TV show.
An openly poly friend of mine remarked about that show, “It irks me in the same way that “The Real L Word” probably irks a lot of lesbians. It reinforces the idea that “alternative” relationships are mostly about sex, because that’s what people want to see, weird kinky sex stuff”
I can understand that perspective. There’s probably a whole bunch of smart, well-educated people living on the Jersey Shore who are pissed that a group of orange teenagers with drinking problems and no STD awareness are representing their demographic.