I hate the term single. Despite the fact that most of us come in to this world by ourselves and leave that way there’s an expectation of partnering in the interim. And while you are granted a bit more of a reprieve from single shade* in queerdom, there’s still a palpable partner privilege that operates. Couples only hang outs, automatic invites to your partner’s friends’ functions, less unwanted amorous attention because you’re read as off limits, more respect for your time as it’s obviously being impacted by another person, etc. I’ve had the unfortunate but not uncommon experience of losing friends to relationships, only to be heard from again in the equally unfortunate but not uncommon instance of the break up. As a non-partnered person I also feel some pressure when hanging out with half of a coupled couple. I sometimes sense suspicion of my intentions. It seems non-partnered people are read as a roving threat to relationships. There’s always some pop culture plot point where a generally good person, usually man or masculine, is tempted by an evil single seductress who doesn’t give a damn about the existing relationship. Y’all saw Obsessed right?
As I age, I am curious about that moment when singlehood switches in peoples’ minds from the willfulness of youthful independence to tragic pathological existence. I think that timeline is too short maybe even non-existent for straight women and while there’s a bit more leeway in queer community, there comes a point when casual dating isn’t cute anymore or perhaps even possible because folks are booed up. It has me wondering if there’s room to maintain a single life as an older person, like still dating in your 50’s and 60’s? And how do you find folks to date if all your peers at that age are married or partnered? I mean the Golden Girls had it rough but they’d all been married before. I really struggle with this as someone who is ambivalent about romantic relationships, particularly as constructed in this society.
Co-dependent love is constantly represented as the ideal. “I can’t sleep/think/ live/function without you, romantic partner” leads to the inevitable crash of despair when things don’t work out because you’ve set up someone else to meet the impossible expectation of completing you. “Forsaking all others” doesn’t just imply sexual partners but in a nuclear model of family, seems to also speak to friendships and extended family. Why do mother-in-laws stay getting a bad rap?
And yet, there’s something really real about co-dependence in a culture that doesn’t value interdependence. A romantic partner is expected to be there, in “sickness and in health” in ways that we don’t demand of friendship. Subsequently, a spouse or partner has legal and social rights that a friend does not. For queer folks this is particularly important when unsupportive biological family can legally trump chosen family. Our legal system actively limits who we can call on which reflects and exacerbates social beliefs about relationships.
I have a more playful, flirtatious way of thinking about intimate relationships which usually rubs up against (and not in a good way) a social expectation for monogamy. I have romantic friendships that are not quite platonic, sexy time friends that aren’t quite lovers, close kindred spirits that should really be on my insurance before a romantic partner. And while pop culture flirts with poly possibilities, it never quite goes all the way. There are an endless number of songs that reference men cheating or women cheating on their boyfriends b/c of the supposed sexual prowess of whomever is singing/rapping the hit. So while there’s a tacit tolerance of cheating, intentional polyamory remains off the table. And even with an occasional “my girl’s got a girlfriend” and “ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none,” women are tools for male fantasies, heterofying homosocial sexual behavior. Folks are more into the illicitness of affairs and the freakiness of multiple sex partners than building articulated intimacy with more than one person. I digress…
I want to live in a world where there isn’t a hierarchy of relationships, where romantic love isn’t assumed to be more important than other kinds, where folks can center any relationships they want whether it be their relationship to their spiritual practice, kids, lovers, friends, etc. and not have some notion that it’s more or less important because of who or what’s in focus. I want to feel like I can develop intimacy with people whether we are sleeping together or not that I will be cared for whether I am romantically involved with someone or not. I want a community that takes interdependency seriously that doesn’t assume that it’s only a familial or romantic relationship responsibility to be there for each other.
I didn’t just dream this way of relating to each other up. Other cultures and communities throughout time have had more options in terms of how they construct connection. And we are doing it now. Folks are creating interdependent relationships and community that disrupt popular perceptions of appropriate partnering. I just wonder what it will take to get more of us to honestly evaluate the realities of our love and determine whether we are actually getting what we want. Love is abundant, not scarce. Why would we ever want to limit or narrow its flow?
Hat tip to Zachari C. for bringing her brilliance to the piece.
*Single shade – the general social derision of single people and singleness