Sometimes I am terribly concerned about where I’m at in my life and where exactly I’m supposed to be. Most recently, I’ve become quite aware of what my love life as a twenty-six year old “should” look like. From when I was a child, as I am sure is true with many of us who grew up in suburban towns in America, I was taught that for every woman there is an equal counterpart in a man. A partner with no expiration date, a man to bring to Thanksgiving was always the goal.
I saw this idea completely fall apart with my parents and the resentment build between them through the divorce and throughout the rest of my life. I saw custody battles, police being called, abuse etc. But instead of recognizing this as a breaking of the almighty societal system of love and marriage, I saw it as a minor flaw in the grand scheme of things. Somewhere along the line, my parents had gotten it wrong.
My grandparents on both sides of my family seemed to be doing great, my friends’ parents were still together. I spent a good amount of my childhood convinced that one day I would find the man I was meant to be with and we would never make the mistakes my parents did.
Heteronormativity is what it is called. The belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders with natural roles in life. Heterosexuality is the normal or preferred sexual orientation. I knew this to be true because I never knew anything else. I didn’t know anyone that wasn’t intentionally hurdling forward on the same streamlined monogamous trajectory. From popular tv shows to movies to my high school sex ed class, everything was pointing me in the very clear direction of girl meets boy, girl marries boy and has lots of babies. I wanted three.
This was the reason for my complete and utter despair when I finally recognized that something was different about me. I had crushes but was never interested in sex. I racked up boys like checkmarks but nothing ever went further than kissing and even that I did not seem to enjoy as much as my peers. I loved the time I spent with my best friend much more than the time I spent with my boyfriend but it was too painful to think I was any different from anyone else.
It wasn’t until college that I became quite aware of how fluid my sexuality could be. A person, a woman at the time that has since transitioned to the male pronouns, was, with all his flaws, my saving grace. He not only assisted me right out of that closet, he showed me the flexibility of gender identity. He introduced me to the thought that everything I ever thought about myself was quite possibly a social construct. I got these ideas about how I should present myself from my friends, my family, media, and pretty much everything else I’d ever encountered as a teenager.
Although I questioned everything about my sexuality and gender for the next few years, one thing that never came up was this idea of a monogamous life partner.
I still held onto the idea that I was meant to be with one person forever. The pronoun of the lover in question had changed but nothing else.
I didn’t date much, deeming it unnecessary if I really was looking for my one and only. At the end of college, I got into a serious relationship with someone who would take nothing less than my all. She wanted my time, my mind, my heart. We lived every moment as if we were already married. We jumped into a commitment that was meant to last my whole life within a couple of weeks.
It was when I was shopping for rings that I realized it wouldn’t. We broke up after the better part of three years and I went through the societally dictated modes of depression that are supposed to follow a breakup. I slept around, ate a lot of chocolate, drank a bottle of wine by myself on Valentine’s Day. And then I started dating, beginning the inevitable and sometimes misleading search for Ms. Right. I saw some people and eventually found someone I liked. She didn’t live near me so we started out seeing each other on weekends, sleeping together and generally enjoying each other’s company. I immediately started to panic. Wasn’t this exactly what was wrong with my last long distance relationship? How was I supposed to be building a partnership to last my whole life with someone who wasn’t here? Because of this we agreed to be non-exclusive.
About three or four months in, she told me she would not be sleeping with anyone else while she was still sleeping with me. I made no such promise. Something in me said loud and clear I was in no place to be making any agreements to be with and sleep with only one person, especially a person that didn’t live within a few hours of me. For about three months we had that agreement, she didn’t slept with anyone else and I had the freedom to do what I pleased. It wasn’t until after a few more months that she made it quite clear what she wanted. She said she wanted to date me, answering my unspoken question of what that meant with a desire for exclusivity.
Society tells me that this is what I should long to hear from a prospective partner. Friends told me that the only reason I would push away is because I’m still hurting over my ex. My own mind told me that I’d come around. I didn’t. At least not in the beginning. And what I became conscious of was the fact that I wasn’t scared of getting hurt, or of commitment. So what was the problem? Why couldn’t I take advantage of a good thing? What was wrong with me? And in that moment of confusion, I paused and thought about what I knew. I knew that I enjoyed spending time with this girl, and sleeping with her. She was more to me than a friend, and we acted like girlfriends when we were together. I didn’t feel guilty when I went out with other people or if I slept with them when she wasn’t around. I was honest about my feelings, my wants, and my sexual activities with other people. What I also knew was that, at least at that time, she was not in the same place as me.
About eight months into us sleeping together, she broke it off. She broke it off when I told her I had slept with someone else, even though our original agreement allowed for that. She knew she wouldn’t be able to be the same way with me and decided it was best for both of us that she not be any way with me at all. That lasted for a few months. I saw other people, I dated and slept with someone else.
And then I went back to her. Slowly, texts, hanging out. I spent awhile being afraid of my feelings. I was totally confused by my own thoughts, what society was telling me, what my friends were telling me. How could I want to be with her when I wasn’t ready just a few months before? Was I going to hurt her? Was I going to get hurt? And once again I paused to think about what I knew. I knew that I still enjoyed spending time with her. I knew I missed having her in my life more and I knew I wanted her as more than a friend. But I also knew I had hurt her, not on purpose, but my unwillingness to budge or compromise my own feelings when they were not the same as hers had unintentionally hurt her. She never made me feel like I’d done anything wrong but I knew if I were to start something up again, it would have to have some weight. I couldn’t date her again for fun, we’d gone past that point.
So eventually I did the only thing I could do, I told her what I knew. I said I wanted to date her. After a few weeks, I told her something else I’d realized: I wanted to be monogamous. And a few weeks after that I told her I love her, because I know that to be true. I don’t know if we’ll be together forever or if I even believe that it is possible for two people anymore, but that’s not the point.
The point is that for once in my love life I didn’t let anyone or anything dictate what I was ready for. I didn’t let my fear of being alone or being abandoned blind me to what I really wanted. I stood up for myself, said what I needed and I was met with respect and patience. I realize this is not everyone’s story. Some people will never be monogamous and that is not always the goal. Some people try to ask for what they need from their partners and are met with confusion and frustration. Some people never have the courage to try. And I recognize that at any moment I myself might tire of the girlfriend-girlfriend life and want to go back to dating or not dating. But in the midst of the tumultuousness, I think about what I know. I know making decisions is a hell of a lot easier when you listen and really hear yourself.
Loving someone is easier when you know they respect your decisions and they have patience for the confusion that is loving someone. And going all in, diving head first into what you’re afraid of, is never as easy as when you trust yourself. What I’m saying is, give yourself permission. Redefine the social constructs that constrict you. Have patience and faith in yourself to know what is true in your world. Love who you want, ask for what you need, and never ever think you don’t deserve it. And trust that only you know where you should be.