I think we should start questioning our common “all or nothing” attitude towards relationships, sex, and love. Allowing fluidity in our relationships lets us keep what’s important while teaching us to let go of what isn’t.
Late last week, I went on a short trip with S. to a cabin about 4 hours away from our town. We’d been talking about this trip for a few weeks, and I was looking forward to the quiet and the rugged wildness of our destination.
Except, something had changed in the meantime. I no longer found myself sexually attracted to S.
It’s not like it happened suddenly. This part of our relationship just… fizzled away. What with his child taking one week out of two and my own busy life, we hadn’t found much time or energy for intimacy.
And honestly, I feel a bit sad about that. S. is a good guy, a wonderfully attentive lover, and really fun to be around. I really appreciate his presence in my life, but the sex part just wasn’t working anymore.
And having to tell him that after a 5-hour drive to a cabin in the middle of nowhere was a little heartbreaking… but it had to be done. But since then, I’ve been thinking more about how we tend to put our relationships in boxes—boyfriend, lover, friend, partner, etc.—and how sometimes, when situations change, we throw out the relationship baby with the changing bathwater.
Polyamory and relationship fluidity
One thing that studying and practicing polyamory has shown me is that people connect on a variety of different levels, and that trying to force or box up relationships is basically a recipe for disaster.
I have come to accept that relationships can come and go, and that when situations change I don’t have to throw the entire thing away just because one thing isn’t working anymore. Let me give you an example.
When I broke up with M., I gave him a choice: we could go on maintaining our life partnership, which was working pretty well if you removed the sex factor, but that we would be allowed to seek sex elsewhere. Or, we could simply end it all and separate.
Given how he felt about this and about me, I don’t blame him for choosing to separate. Personally, I was willing and ready to continue the relationship on different terms: roommates and friends, but not lovers. We had a routine, we knew each other well, we saved money living together, and we enjoyed some of the same things. Removing sex from the equation would have freed me from years of passive-aggressive feelings, and it would have enabled me to live with him with much more happiness. But for him, it was all or nothing.
When E. had to break up with me in November, he said he understood if I didn’t want to speak with him or see him. But our relationship was based on much more than his weekly sleepover at my place: it was a deep, soul-connecting friendship that we had been developing for close to a year, and I wasn’t ready to give that up. His meaning in my life had become—had always been—so much more than sex. Whether my pie has a dollop of whipped cream on top or not doesn’t matter much, as long as I have the pie I came for.
And yes, of course, this situation has been difficult at times. I long for the deeper connection and closer intimacy that we had when we had sexual intimacy as well as emotional intimacy.
But I am unwilling to give up this wonderful relationship just because he can’t put his penis in my vagina. That would be stupid.
All or nothing
So, it’s not like I broke up with S. I broke up the sexual part of our relationship. The rest, the banter and the friendship and the listening and the enjoying Archer and Game of Thrones together, all that is still there, and still valuable and important in my life.
Maybe some of you will find it cruel. Maybe some of you will think: “But aren’t you worried that he still wants to have sex with you?” But that’s his thing to deal with, not mine. I set new boundaries for our relationship, and he will either accept and follow them, or he’ll decide that it’s too much and stop being friends with me altogether.
But that’s his decision, not mine.
As for me, I’m fine with living in a state of relationship fluidity, where as long as the pillar of the relationship remains (connection, friendship, enjoying each other’s presence), I don’t mind adding or removing minor things like sex.
Of course, if your entire relationship is based on sex, then that’s another issue altogether. Then yeah, when the sex dries up, I would break up. But thankfully, I tend not to do that—and maybe the reasons are becoming clear now. Because sex is fluid—more so for me than friendship. Sex can come and go, my desire can move from one person to the next. But friendship, true connection and love and care for each other? That doesn’t fluctuate. That remains.
So, I try to see relationships beyond all or nothing. People and our connections to them rarely happen on a single level… so why should we live as if friends couldn’t one day be lovers, as if lovers couldn’t be just friends?
I don’t want all or nothing. I just want the best of you.