Photo by abee_t via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by abee_t via Flickr Creative Commons

As it’s gotten closer to Valentine’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships and love and labels.

My partner and I are polyamorous. But not in the sense of the traditional poly narrative. Polyamory seems to have become more prominent in the cultural consciousness of late, but a lot of our discussions about it still focus on the heterosexual, monogamous couple who decide to open up their relationship.

My experience, however, has been that of a single queer woman falling in love with an already polyamorous person (twice in a row but not simultaneously), and coming to accept my own poly tendencies as a result.

My style of poly is also different from that of my current partner. He has a sexual openness which I admire, but cannot replicate. And that’s okay. He enjoys having multiple casual sexual partners in addition to more serious emotional and romantic entanglements. I, on the other hand, think I would find it difficult to balance more than two erotic relationships, or perhaps three if one of them was a platonic BDSM play partner.

I’ve never had a one night stand, and am not sure that I ever will. Not out of any ethical qualms. I just find it difficult-if-not-impossible to know whether I would want to have sex with someone I’ve just met. There have been times someone was flirting with me, and I was flattered, but I felt I would need to get to know them better before I could figure out what feelings I had towards them, if any.

In addition to being sapiosexual, I’m at least somewhat demisexual. My current partner and I talked online almost every day for months before we ever made out for the first time or had sex. And I have a history of developing crushes on my closest friends.

I’m definitely not asexual, because once I decide I want to have sex with someone I usually want to have a lot of it. But it can take me a while to make that decision, and sometimes I can’t know for sure until I’m kissing them (which has made for some awkward moments).

In fact, one of the reasons I think things with my current partner have worked out as well as they have is that very sexual openness he possesses. We flirted back and forth for a while, and he knew I hadn’t been with a man before, so there weren’t any expectations. It honestly didn’t matter to him which way I ended up feeling after we kissed. He was just as happy to have me as a friend as he would have been happy to have me as a sexual partner. I didn’t have to worry about losing the emotional connection we had developed if I didn’t end up wanting a sexual one.

Which gave me the freedom to experiment, and to discover that we actually have fabulous sexual chemistry in addition to an intense intellectual and emotional connection. My partner’s comfort with ambiguous or fluid sexual relationships allowed me the freedom to take the time to figure out what I wanted from him.

Thinking about my sexual history also gets me to thinking about labels. I’ve never been a huge fan of labels. I tend to operate on an all-or-nothing philosophy related to them. The trouble with labels is that people think they know what you mean by them, but everyone has a slightly different definition in reality. Take, for example, bisexuality awareness week. Everyone was talking about what bisexuality means to them, but everyone was saying something different! Which is great in one sense. But in another sense, that means someone could hear me say I’m bisexual and take away a meaning completely different from what I intended for them to understand about me from that label.

But labels can also be useful. There are words I’ve discovered over the years which made a light bulb go off in my brain and which also made me feel not so alone in the world. And that’s valuable. To me, labels are the beginning of a conversation – not the end. So, either I’m queer, or I’m a queer-bisexual-sapiosexual-demisexual-polyamorous-masochist-switch-genderqueer–babygirl-femme-girlfag.

Another term I more recently discovered which has helped me understand myself better is queerplatonic. I first read that word in an article a friend shared on Facebook about relationship types, and which I realized described our friendship perfectly.

Right now, I have one sexual/romantic partner with whom I have a D/s dynamic and one queerplatonic partner who is also an occasional BDSM play partner.

In the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize that I’ve had more queerplatonic relationships in my life than sexual ones. I’ve always been an emotional person, and I feel most happy when I have an intense emotional/romantic connection to someone, even if that connection isn’t sexual. A lot of people thought my best friend in college and I were dating. Now, I realize it’s because we were also queerplatonic, but I didn’t have a name for it then.

Some people want to make distinctions between queerplatonic relationships, passionate friendships, and romantic friendships. That’s fine, too, but I think they can all safely go in the category of friendship+. To me, queerplatonic is friendship+romance in the way that friends-with-benefits is friendship+sex.

I think my favorite part of a romantic/sexual relationship starts 6-9 months in. NRE is enjoyable in its own way, but there’s also a lot of insecurity attached to it. Does this person like me as much as I like them? How will our lives fit together? Will they still want me once they know X, Y, or Z? Will they get bored of me? Do we have enough in common to make it work?

Once NRE starts to fade, there’s a security and stability I find very comforting. Knowing someone loves me – ME, and not just their idea of me – allows me to breathe easier and avoid falling into codependent tendencies. I blossom when provided opportunities to engage in deep emotional intimacy and vulnerability, but that level of trust takes time to build. Queerplatonic relationships are another way for me to engage in that level of emotional intimacy with someone, but without there having to be sexual chemistry (or NRE) involved.

Thinking about it now, it makes sense that, given my difficulty in determining sexual compatibility with or interest toward others, I would gravitate toward queerplatonic relationships to get my romantic/emotional needs met, as well as meeting my needs for physical intimacy through platonic cuddling.

In fact, I think my last sexual relationship would have been better served by being a queerplatonic relationship. It’s more difficult to re-negotiate that once sexual intimacy has been breached, however, and she decided to end things altogether instead.

I would like to find another sexual partner. I would like to have a girlfriend again. But I think what I’m discovering about myself is that I’m wired to need emotional/romantic intimacy more than sexual intimacy. I can do without one better than I can do without the other. Some people are the opposite, and some people need both equally.

Poly is about remaining open to possibilities. There may be someone you have a great sexual connection with, but who you don’t have a desire to date. There may be someone who you have an intense emotional or intellectual connection with, but who you don’t want to fuck. Poly is about communicating openly, and discovering where (and how much) the circles in your Venn diagram overlap.

Instead of wanting multiple casual sex partners and a few deeper, more emotional entanglements, I seem to be wired to want multiple deep, emotional connections and one or two sexual ones.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I’m grateful for my current queerplatonic partner and all the ones who came before, who I didn’t know how to name. You are my mentors, my confidantes, my best friends, and my soulmates. Even if our love can be confusing to those on the outside looking in, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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