October 30th, 2023
What happens when you don’t believe in—or want—one person who can fulfill all your needs?
In an individualistic society, there can be a lot of pressure to find one person to fulfill your needs. Anna Fitzpatrick is looking for a different option.
My parents have a story they love to tell, of me being five or six years old and waking up crying in the middle of the night. When they rushed into my room to ask me what was wrong, I said through tears, near hysterical, “I don’t know how to buy a house, or get a job, or do any of those grownup things.” They comforted me, amused, promising me that I would learn to do those things when the time came. Still, I was an anxious child, terrified of the day I would be on my own and expected to figure everything out.
I’m in my early thirties now (figured out how to get a job, still unsure of how to buy a house). The imagined fear that I would need to find a way to navigate life on my own has been replaced by a seemingly softer but no less insurmountable task. In order to properly function in our individualistic society, it seemed I required a partner with whom to share the load. I needed to find another compatible human who could function as a sex partner, best friend, roommate, co-parent. We would share bank accounts and living expenses and insurance plans, vacation together and befriend other pairs. We would seek legal recognition of our partnership through an expensive ceremony with all our loved ones bearing witness and, should one or both of us decide to call it quits, it would be a legal and logistical nightmare, upending our lives. Some people have partners like this; they make it work, and they are happy, and I am happy for them. But it seemed like too much pressure for me to put on another person. More than that, it seemed like too much pressure to put on myself to be all that for someone else.
Relationship educator Poly Philia, on the subject of compersion, writes about the ways in which having multiple partners can relieve a person of the expectation to be all things at once in a relationship. “You can fulfill the desires you wish to fulfill and be your most authentic self,” she offers, “rather than try to mold or change for your partner’s happiness.”
Even before I knew of concepts like compersion or polyamory, I refused to accept that my only options were to go at things alone, or to somehow luck out into finding “the one.” It was certainly the antithesis of my political leanings. I was a baby radical who believed in expanding social safety nets, that change could come through collective action, that we as a society had a responsibility to take care of each other. Why, then, did it feel like I was being bombarded with cultural messages from across the political spectrum, that care would come to me in the form of another individual?
I don’t have a partner, but I do have partners, plural. I have my boyfriend, a kind and sexy man who lives a short subway ride away, loves me with relish, and greets me every time I come over with a mug of tea and a perfectly rolled joint. I have a roommate, a gentle woman I’ve lived with for nearly a decade who makes granola from scratch, causing our apartment to smell like toasted coconut and vanilla, and will marathon Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes with me in what sometimes feels like an extended slumber party. I have my platonic friends who will host me for home cooked feasts, offering short term bursts of domesticity in exchange for me watching Bluey with their kids. I have an ex-girlfriend who lives in a different country, but to whom I read novels out loud over Skype every Tuesday night, a ritual that started early in the pandemic when she had a concussion and couldn’t read herself. I have my lovers, a term which I’ve opted for because “fuck buddy” sounded too crude, friends I have casual sex with, one nights stands I meet on Feeld, queers I’ll hook up with in the bathroom at drag shows. I have comrades I met through organizing on political causes. I have siblings I communicate with exclusively in inside jokes. I have a coffee shop where I’m a regular. I have three more taco shops where I’m also a regular. I have group chats. I have a knitting circle. I have a lot of love in my life.
It has taken a lot of trial and error to get to this place. My twenties were a series of blunders as I tried to figure out first what I wanted, and then how to get it. Yes, the nature of many of my relationships requires certain levels of communication, coordination, and sensitivities to feelings that might not arise as often in other relationship structures. My lifestyle is also not a judgment call on those who have found meaning and happiness in marriage and monogamy, and I especially respect the activists who have fought tirelessly to open the institute of marriage to LGBTQ+ people and found stability in having their partnerships legally recognized. I don’t think there is one right way to be in a relationship. I only know what’s right for me.
This is how I approach all my relationships, platonic and romantic. I know my boyfriend doesn’t have the same interest in three-hour art films that I do. I’ll go with a cinephile friend to the theater while he is with one of his other partners. I might bail on my friends while they do a pub crawl (I don’t drink), but I’ll meet up with them for karaoke after, bringing a date who is maybe a little too eager to try their hand at belting some Mariah. My many partners have aided me in shouldering the burdens of adulthood, taught me about all the different shapes that relationships can take, and helped me learn that I don’t need to opt into a traditional partnership in order to find love and security. I haven’t found one person to share my life with, but I have found community.