I went out for dinner and drinks with colleagues last week, and found myself on the receiving end of an interview about non-monogamy from one of them. And it was not fun.
Let me preface this by saying that the chap in question is a perfectly nice person and that none of this was aggressive or confrontational in the least, it’s just that we are people who seem to be approaching the world from opposite directions.
The interview – and it was an interview rather than a conversation – was littered with so many misconceptions and assumptions that I honestly didn’t know how far back in the association chain to go with my responses. What, he wanted to know, would I do if my ‘permanent partner’ wanted to become monogamous? The fuck is a permanent partner?! Well, the one that you live with. I don’t live with a partner (Although I have in the past, which does rather illustrate that a shared mortgage is not an indicator of eternity. And hang on, do you think that anyone you don’t live with is, what, some sort of temporary passing fancy? A little harsh, these people are in my life because I *want* them to be and they seem to want to stick around – there’s no built-in expiry date that I’m aware of!). Oh, so you don’t want to live with anyone? When did I say that?!
Look, let’s go back to basics. That is not how I approach relationships, and it wasn’t when my relationships were monogamous. I have never seen marriage and/or shared space as a goal. They are, rather, something to which I am open if a connection with someone develops in that direction. I do not *aim* for them, but I don’t *not* want them either. They are a possible aspect of the important thing, which is the development of fulfilling connections.
In the absence of being able to escape, I had a stab at explaining further, which probably didn’t work because he wasn’t really receptive and I was weirded out and wondering how the hell long we were going to be in the restaurant (and then hit the cocktails rather too hard in over-compensation once we did escape – oops), but broadly speaking I tried to get across that…
For me, every relationship – whether between friends or between lovers – flourishes to whatever extent the connection between those involved, in conjunction with the space, time and attention given to it, allows (and yes, of course, sometimes there’s enough going on in your life already that you simply don’t have as much time or emotional resource as you would like). There has to be something there initially, of course, but my heart is generally in it for the long haul and it takes time and trust for connections to deepen and strengthen. My closest friends are those from school, and we’ve weathered all sorts of storms and had all sorts of wonderful times, will have been doing that for 27 years this September, and I would trust them with my life, heart, and yarn collection (as long as Cate and Laura promise to learn how to do something with the latter before our 40ths).
I have never met anyone and immediately imagined them as a nesting partner, and yet I was happily in just such a partnership for a decade. Most folks don’t make the moving-in call within a couple of months of the first date, after all, do they? When I meet people who make my heart flutter or in whom I can see a potential buddy, that is exactly what I sense: the excitement of a new connection, the potential, the opening up of a field of possibilities. Why constrain future growth by espaliering the sapling before it’s even started to grow? Let’s explore!
He didn’t get it, of course.
And I got quieter and quieter and more and more unresponsive, until the conversation thankfully turned to meat and barbecues and I could allow my brain to quietly ooze out onto my shoulders during the benign dullness of a conversation in which I couldn’t take part (brief diversion on the glories of halloumi aside), hot on the heels of one in which I actively didn’t *want* to take part.
I do, genuinely, understand that people who say they are Just Interested frequently are indeed just stumbling across something new to them and want to know a little more about it. But it’s a question of tone and of degree. The odd question, from someone who genuinely listens to the answer, is normal enough as part of an actual *conversation*. But an impromptu interview, wherein you pelt your dinner companion with a series of questions and fail to either properly take in their responses or note their attempts to end the conversation? Not fine. I am happy to chat a little, assuming it is a genuinely back-and-forth chat, but it is *your* job to educate you, not mine.
And I have had variations on the theme of this interview – whether prompted by ordering the vegetarian option, the fact that I do not have children, the information that I have never been married, that I am bisexual, by my relationship structures, or various other things – for twenty plus years. It is difficult at this point to experience it as anything other than yet another incredibly tediously executed reminder that I am not One Of Us in whatever company I happen to be in at the time, because let’s face it, they wouldn’t be poking the different if there was no different to poke.
Thing is, all of those things might be of passing interest to you, but they are intrinsic and deeply personal parts of me. Finding myself delivering a catechism in response to your Just Interested at best and defending myself against misconception and insult at worst is tiresome, boring and fundamentally alienating.