Social Media-Era Romance in 5 Vignettes

My unrequited love has changed his Twitter avatar, and just like that, I feel less in love with him. Poof. Pow. Wow.

The old picture was heavy with associations for me, months of misery tempered by sparse endorphin rushes when he would slide into my DMs. It was never the love confession for which I kept hoping and grasping; you’d think I’d learn by now not to expect anything from him but dawdling, awkward friendship. But no; I still want more. More than I’m ever going to get.

The new picture is an instant shake-up in my psyche. It takes a few moments, each time he messages me, for my brain to register that it’s him. Those moments aren’t much but they’re enough to distance me from my knee-jerk love reaction, a pause that is a prism, refracting my crush into questions to be pondered: How much do you actually like him and how much of it is just habit?

Maybe love is always a habit. Always just an addiction you have to kick. Maybe there are tricks that make it easier, like nicotine patches and impotent cloves. Maybe a Twitter avatar is no small thing after all but actually the big thing that kicks off a seismic shift, blessed and unexpected.

The bartender is fumbling with coins, pitchers, and a misfiring computer system. Unhappy customers crowd around the bar, waiting for their drinks, waiting to even be acknowledged. Welcome to Friday night at the Cavern.

“I wonder if we’ll ever get our drinks,” a British accent bemoans beside me. This stranger turns his good-natured smile on me like highbeams, and now I have a face to connect with the warm tweed that’s been rustling against my arm for the past five minutes. He looks like Prince Harry and Fred Weasley’s charming lovechild. Oh, hello.

We strike up an easy, tipsy rapport, and he pulls out his phone to show me a song on Spotify that he can’t get out of his head. My eyes sweep over his playlists, taking in the names. There is something so intimate about peering into someone’s music organization system, digital or physical. You’re seeing the soundtrack of their brain in the way they’ve chosen to arrange it, the way that makes most sense to them. It’s like resting a palm against the slickness of their coiled brain, feeling it pulse with private electricity.

Later, he comes to find me again, weaving through bar crowds to tap me on the shoulder. “I’m getting on a flight back to Britain in the morning and figured I’d seize the day and ask: want to go smoke a joint?” he proposes, and I do. “Great! I’ll be right back. I’m just going to change my outfit.” I nod, and he goes, but he’s gone about an hour before I decide he must’ve fallen asleep in his hostel room, and decide to leave.

I find him the next day by searching some of those Spotify playlist titles. I didn’t even have his name, but I had those. As I scroll through his tightly curated music selections, I feel the echoes of awkward hostel sex that could have been. Swing and a miss. Maybe I’ll meet another Weasley another day.

My habit of fantasizing too far forward about online dating suitors is exacerbated when they’re polyamorous. The way some folks compose their OkCupid profiles, I can creep not only my potential partner, but also my potential metamour.

On late nights with nothing better to do, I comb through these women’s compatibility questions, seeking the places where we touch and the places where we differ. I try to parse what it means that a man is into both me and her, what it says about him, what it says about me. I stack myself up against her obscure favorite bands, the outline of her lipstick, the cool candor with which she speaks of sex and food and Arrested Development.

The sore spots that ruffle my feathers are the spots tainted with internalized misogyny. When I’m burningly jealous she’s prettier than me and think, At least I’m smarter than her; when I hate her pink hair because it renders me a boring brunette; when I snort derisively at the pretentious Wes Anderson movie she’s chosen to quote, I know the patriarchy is whispering bitterly in the back of my brain. I rarely really hate another woman. I just hate the opportunities for which I’ve been told she’s my cruellest competition.

When I’m feeling happier and lighter, sometimes these metamour-creeping sessions turn into fantasies of their own. If I was dating her partner, we could go shopping together, get manicures. We could gossip over burgers and fries about his secret fantasies, his favorite blowjob tricks. We could be best friends who shared everything, and I do mean everything. It would be so cute, so sweet.

But I never quite follow through, both because online dating is exhausting and because I am too awkward and insecure to pursue friendships with metamours without reservations. I hope one day I work through this, because I still dream of that girl beside me at the nail salon, sharing the weight of my heart.

The new boy I’m flirting with asks-without-asking: “I had a crush on you, but I didn’t think I was being that obvious about it. Apparently I was wrong.”

He was wrong. But he probably doesn’t know the exact moment I realized he like-liked me. It was when he left a comment on an Instagram photo of me in lingerie: “I unhearted this, just so I could heart it again.”

He must have written this so that I would know. And I did know. Because people don’t write Instagram comments like that unless they like you. They just don’t.

When my last serious boyfriend first introduced himself to me via Twitter DM, he provided a list of links to his other social media. An Instagram profile, an alternate Twitter handle, a full name so I could Google him. “I don’t use Facebook, though,” he wrote, “because Facebook is the devil.”

He meant this in an anti-capitalist, anti-surveillance-state, anti-terrifying-algorithms sort of way, but Facebook is the devil in a different way, too. Facebook lets people linger in your life who haven’t earned the right, simply because unfriending them feels too aggressive, too unwarranted. What he did was bad, but it wasn’t UNFRIENDING-bad, you know?

What he did actually was unfriending-bad, though, in that he ended our relationship suddenly and unceremoniously, after reassuring me for four months that he had no intention of doing this. But as he didn’t have Facebook, I never had the chance to unfriend him. I had to settle for deleting the messaging app I’d used to communicate with him and unfollowing him on Twitter. (What he did was unfollowing-bad, but it wasn’t blocking-bad, you know?)

What’s nice about his Facebooklessness is that there wasn’t much damage to undo when things went sour. No unfriending to attend to, no photos to untag myself from, no relationship status boxes to uncheck, no mutual friends to bicker over. He never got entrenched in my digital life, so when he left my physical life, he dissolved from the digital, too, like a ghost. Poof. Pow. Wow. And that was all.

5 Monogamously-Minded Mistakes to Stop Making

I’m no expert on non-monogamy. Nope. Not by a longshot. Sometimes people try to interview me about polyamory and I’m just like, “LOL, don’t ask me, I’m a baby. Go talk to Samantha or Kevin or Tristan or somebody. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”

That said, I have learned a few things – mostly from doing shit wrong, and getting hurt by other people who were doing shit wrong. I’ve noticed that a lot of polyamory slip-ups happen as a result of clinging (consciously or not) to a monogamous mindset. We can’t quite inhabit a healthily polyamorous paradigm if we’re still living at least part-time in monogamy-brain, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Here are 5 of the most common manifestations I’ve seen of this problem. If any of these remind you of something you’ve done, maybe it’s time to examine that and think about whether you’d like to change this behavior or thought pattern. I’m definitely not saying my way of doing poly is the only way or the best way, but I do think eliminating these behaviors would help most non-monogamous relationships work more smoothly!

Implying you’re in competition with your metamours. (Just so we’re clear, a metamour is a partner’s partner. So if I’m dating Ben and he’s also dating Sally, then Sally is my metamour.)

I once asked a partner how he felt about another guy I was seeing, because there had been some jealousy afoot. He responded – ostensibly jokingly – “It’s okay; I think I can take him.” Pro tip: do not threaten to beat up your metamour, even as a joke!! Not only did I not find this even remotely funny, it was also hurtful to me; I care about all my partners and don’t like to hear them disparaged. I set a boundary with that person that he was not allowed to talk shit about my other partners unless he believed one of them was being genuinely toxic/harmful to me. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable boundary to set.

This problem can manifest in other ways too: self-pityingly joking that your partner probably likes your metamour better than you; trying to get your partner to admit your blowjobs are better than their other partners’; pouting when a partner opts to spend time with a metamour instead of you… It’s okay to feel your feelings, but you should process them yourself as much as possible, rather than looping your partner into a competition that probably only exists inside your own head. Their relationships with other people are not a threat to you – that’s the whole point of polyamory – and when you imply otherwise, you put your partner in a super uncomfortable position. Don’t do it!

Comparing your partners to each other. This is sort of the inverse of the previous point. If you don’t want your partners to feel like they’re in competition with each other, DON’T FUCKING COMPARE THEM TO EACH OTHER. EVER.

Sometimes there might be occasion to usefully elucidate the differences between your different dynamics, e.g. if you need to designate one partner as a primary and one as a secondary (hierarchial polyamory isn’t my fave, but it works great for some people). But putting any kind of value judgment on one partner over another – whether sexual, emotional, or in any other category – is not cool.

If you find yourself wanting to make an observation like “Partner A is more fun to have sex with” or “Partner B stresses me out less,” that might be a red flag about the overall well-being of the relationship. Or it might just be a signal that there’s an issue you need to address. Can you give Partner B some more explicit sexual instruction, or sit down with a Yes/No/Maybe list together to pep things up? Can you set some useful boundaries with Partner A so they aren’t, say, relying on you for all their emotional needs while you’re trying to spend quality time with another partner? Making unflattering comparisons is a sign that something needs rebalancing, somewhere. And it’s rude to communicate those comparisons to your partner unless absolutely necessary, because you will fill them with insecurity and doubt.

Only telling partners what you think they want to hear. Two weeks into my last relationship, my boyfriend started seeing someone else, but he told me he didn’t think it would get serious and that I would continue to be the “girlfriend” while this other person would just be his “lover.” I breathed a sigh of relief, which was, in itself, a bad sign; I was definitely still stuck in the paradigm that said anyone else entering his romantic life was a direct threat to me and our relationship. (I still feel this way sometimes, admittedly. It’s a process.)

Unsurprising spoiler alert: things did get serious with that other partner of his, and when I found out just how serious they were getting, it crushed me. I had believed I was “safe” from that kind of “intrusion” into our relationship, so I didn’t start processing that shift in our dynamic until it was already way too late. I’m not blaming my partner – I genuinely don’t think he knew things would unfold how they did – but if he had felt relationship-level feelings toward this other person right off the bat, I wish he would’ve told me that upfront, so I could have adjusted to it at my own pace and processed it in my own way.

Similarly, you shouldn’t tell your partner only bad things about their metamour (in an effort to make them feel better about themselves or more secure) or only good things (in an effort to be like, “See?! They’re not that bad!!”). Humanize your partners to each other. That means sharing the good and the bad, when relevant. (This process definitely benefits from metamours meeting each other in person, if they’re comfortable doing so!) Shielding someone from your true feelings in an effort to avoid hurting them usually just ends up hurting them more.

Using superlatives. Ohhh, this is a tough one for me! I didn’t realize this was a problem until there was a discussion about it in a poly group I’m in, and I went: Oh. Fuck.

Superlatives are words like “cutest,” “favorite,” “hottest,” “sweetest,” etc. I tend to use these a lot, in an affectionate way; I’ll call both my best friend and my brother “my favorite boy” (which is true, they are tied for the position of my favorite existing boy) or I’ll sometimes call someone “the handsomest” or “the cutest” when I’m flirting with them. I’ve been trying to be more mindful about this because it doesn’t really work once you’re in a poly situation.

A lot of language we recognize as “romantic” is rooted in a monogamous paradigm, and that includes referring to a person you’re dating as your “favorite [x]” or “the [x]-est” or whatever. This comes back to what I was saying earlier about comparing partners to each other: it’s a shitty thing to do, and also kind of misses the whole point of polyamory. My mom once asked me which of my two beaux I “liked better,” and I honestly didn’t even know how to answer that: I liked them both a lot, for different reasons, and also for some of the same reasons (their intelligence, humor, kindness, etc.) – so how the fuck could I pick a “favorite”? In poly, there should be no such thing. (Unless maybe you’re hierarchical and everyone involved knows that and is cool with that.)

Relying on your romantic partner(s) for all your social and emotional needs. Dean Spade says that polyamorists should treat our friends more like our lovers, and our lovers more like our friends. This has been an incredibly important insight for me – so much so, that I should probably write a full blog post about it sometime. It’s essentially the idea that you shouldn’t put all your emotional eggs in one basket – both because that’s hard on you, and because it’s hard on the “basket” (your partner[s]).

A monogamy paradigm teaches us that your partner is your “other half,” that they should be there for you through thick and thin, and that whatever you need, you can get it from them. This is fine for the people for whom it works, I guess (although I don’t know who those people are; even deadset monogamists often run into trouble when they over-invest in and over-rely on their partner). However, I think it’s safer and more respectful for everyone involved if you view each partner as just one piece of your support network, rather than the entire network in and of themselves.

That’s the “treat your lovers more like your friends” piece, but I’ve found the “treat your friends more like your lovers” piece to be equally important. This is not about sexualizing your friends or making them uncomfortable! It’s about valuing your friendships as much as you value your romantic relationships, putting effort into keeping those friendships healthy and mutually fulfilling, and asking for support from your friends when you need it. My close friendship with Bex, for example, is a foundation that allows my other relationships to thrive. If I didn’t have that intense, reliable, baseline intimacy with them, I would desperately seek that type of intimacy with other, potentially less trustworthy people, which might get me into unwise romantic/sexual situations.

It’s important to note here that people don’t exist to fulfill your needs. They can, but that doesn’t mean they’re obligated to. View people as people, always, and not just in terms of what they can offer you. That goes for friends as well as dates.

What monogamous-minded trope/pattern/belief have you had to unlearn?

12 Days of Girly Juice 2017: 2 Fears Defeated

In theory, I think we should all face our fears head-on constantly. Every day, we should pick something that makes us nervous and tackle it with full-hearted fury. This would make us better and stronger, day by day by day.

The reality, though, is harder than that. Every fear I confront takes something out of me for a while. It saps me of bravery points. I have to take a beat and let them recharge before I can dive back into the juicy, meaty boldness I ache to embody.

Here are two big fears I conquered this year. There were others, but these were the biggest. They took the most out of me and also gave the most back to me – as conquering your fears is wont to do.

Polyamory. Okay, I’ve been non-monogamous off-and-on for a few years, but this was the first year when it was actually difficult for me. My mid-2016 boyfriend didn’t give me jealousy feelz because I just wasn’t that invested in him; by contrast, I had Primary Partner-level feelings about the dude I dated in mid-2017, and that was not reciprocated. That’s cool – not everybody does the hierarchical poly thing, and I’m not even sure it’s what I want anyway – but it made non-monogamy acutely uncomfortable for me. What had previously felt like a breezy cotton T-shirt now rankled me like an itchy sweater.

I thought, for a long time after the end of that relationship, that maybe its dissolution meant poly wasn’t for me. If I was “meant to be poly,” I reasoned, it wouldn’t have hurt me so badly when my partner pursued another person with the passion of NRE. But in thinking about it more, I’ve come to the conclusion that his way of doing poly wasn’t necessarily the only way or the best way. He started dating someone else two weeks after we met, without even running it by me first, which crushed me and destabilized me before I’d even found my footing in that relationship. I learned from this experience that there are some things I need from my poly relationships, and some things I cannot handle, and those are important things to know.

My current situation is something like what’s known as “solo poly“: maintaining my autonomy, dating several people but not viewing any of them as a “primary partner,” and valuing my own self-care highly. This mental shift has helped me nix most of the jealousy and instability I was feeling earlier this year, because I find that when I don’t view anyone as my main squeeze, I don’t start expecting things from them that they’re unable to give me. The result: a much happier and more balanced dating life, for me and hopefully for my partners as well. Hooray! Here’s to more poly adventures and explorations in 2018.

Polite rejection. Though I’ve been romantically or sexually rejected countless times in my life and it makes me into a teary-eyed mess, I’d rather be the rejectee than the rejector, any day of the week. When someone else did the rejecting, you can blame them, get angry, cry over them, journal about them, rationalize what happened, feel sorry for yourself… but when you’re the one rejecting someone, you only have yourself to blame. It’s not your fault you don’t want to be with them, of course, but it can feel like a deep personal failing sometimes. “Why can’t I just like them?!” you ask yourself in the hollow-hearted dead of night. “Everything would be so much easier if I did!”

The trickiest thing, for me, is turning someone down when they’re completely lovely but I just don’t feel that magical, ineffable chemistry. It feels like punishing a perfectly good person for being perfectly good. it feels like discouraging them from something they should never stop seeking. It feels like the inverse of cruelty I’ve had inflicted on me, and it can be devastating.

This year, however, there were a couple of times I had to put on my Rejector Hat and do the thing. I ultimately came to the conclusion that being upfront and clear is kinder than being wishy-washy and dragging things out. Devising a simple script can help you do what you gotta do; for example: “I’ve really enjoyed our time together, but I’m not really feeling a romantic connection here. I’d still be down to stay friends, though!” If anyone flips out at you for communicating your truth kindly and clearly, that’s on them, not you.

What fears did you face this year, my loves?

Links & Hijinks: Frumps, Friendship, & Fidget Spinner Porn

• There’s nothing wrong with being frumpy! I feel like I am constantly unlearning the idea that, as a woman, I have to be sexually desirable at all times or I am valueless.

• And on that note: there is nothing wrong with being ugly, like Medusa. Sometimes ugliness can even be a superpower.

• Some people really, really like giving massages. “I think part of the reason why is that you’re doing stuff, but it’s not sexual except for the fact that you have your hands inside someone else’s shirt and they’re making pleasure sounds.” Oooof. This article also contains the phrase “intense butt massage,” which you gotta love.

• On internet-connected sex toys, cybersecurity, and the future of teledildonics.

• It’s okay if you don’t always feel like reciprocating oral sex. Related: I love Tristan Taormino’s concept of distinguishing between sexual equality and sexual symmetry. You don’t have to receive exactly the same sexual favors you give to your partner; both of you just have to get roughly equal amounts of what you want.

• I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch “2 Girls, 1 Cup” but I found this history of that video interesting nonetheless. It’s certainly an artifact of the internet age!

• Why do I love the shrug emoticon so much?! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

• Bex gives good sexting advice. “A thumbs-up emoji is not an appropriate response to my ass. Seriously. I have an exceptional ass.”

• Sarah wrote a beginner’s guide to sexting, and it’s full of A+ tips.

• “These feelings will be over soon” is a great anti-anxiety mantra. (Or, as I’ve seen it alternatively phrased before: “No moment is unendurable.“)

• The one-night stand is so passé; we are in the era of the several-night stand. These have sometimes been exactly the type of “relationship” I needed, at times when I wasn’t willing or able to commit to anyone and neither were my paramours – but gosh, it’s frustrating when you keep ending up in casual arrangements while desperately craving something more.

• Helena Fitzgerald, one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever encountered, explains why socializing on the internet isn’t distancing us from each other but actually making intimacy easier to achieve.

• What if you like someone, but you’re pretty sure you only want to be friends?

• I’d rather make good art than answer emails in a timely manner. Sorry-not-sorry.

• Useful to me as a person whose best friend lives hundreds of miles away: how to keep a long-distance friendship alive. “Treat it like a long-distance romance. (Because, in a way, it is.)”

• Sooo, fidget spinner porn is a thing now. Good god, what a world we live in.

Be your best self with the people you love, because “relationships are stronger and more satisfying when they make you feel like the best, most aspirational version of who you can be.”

• More people are exploring consensual non-monogamy, and more research is finding it has many benefits (“lower jealousy, higher trust, and higher sexual satisfaction,” to list a few). But stigma still exists, and we have a long way to go before these relationships will be considered normal, valid options anyone can choose.

• Here’s a pep talk for picky daters. Sometimes you just gotta round that 0.67 up to “the one,” as Dan Savage would say.

Queers can totally have long nails. Sometimes even in queer porn!

• Here’s several couples explaining why they opened up their relationship. I love so many quotes in this piece! Like: “We never place limits on emotions other than love, like we don’t say you can only be sad or happy about this one thing, but with monogamy it’s like only one person is allowed to feel your love. And love is such a crazy emotion, so why not experience it with a bunch of people?” And: “I no longer have the desire to control my partner. Control is just an illusion anyway.”

How to Disclose Your Non-Monogamy on a Dating App

While I’ve been “non-monogamous in theory” for years, I have limited experience being non-monogamous in practice. I recently started dating someone who has been polyamorous for a while, and has two steady partners other than me – and while it’s been difficult, I’m viewing it as an invitation to step up to the plate and take on the challenge I’ve claimed to want for ages. I am finally going to learn some real-life poly skills and see if I can hack it.

One of the first challenges I’ve come up against – other than my old friends, jealousy, greed, and anxiety – is figuring out how to pursue other dates ethically and honestly. I don’t want to downplay or lie about the existence of my boyfriend, but I also don’t want to make new potential beaux feel like there’s no room for them in my life. I don’t want to spend too much time and energy explaining polyamory to diehard monogamists, nor do I want to exclude people who’ve been monogamous thus far but are curious about their other options.

So many considerations! So let’s start with something small: how to communicate on your dating profile that you are, indeed, polyamorous. Here are some suggestions…

Choose your venue wisely. OkCupid and Tinder are full of young and/or socially liberal people, so you may have better luck with those than you would with services geared toward older folks seeking a marriage-track relationship, like Match and eHarmony. If you want to skip the hassle of disclosing your non-monogamy altogether, you could join a dating site designed specifically for non-monogamous people, like SwingTowns.

Consider what level of privacy you need. Whether because of your career, your family, or some other factor, you might not feel comfortable telling the entire internet that you’re non-monogamous. If that’s the case, it might be best for you to use dating sites where your profile isn’t publicly visible, or that have that option (on OkCupid, for example, you can check “Only allow other members to see my profile” in the settings panel). You could also try mentioning your relationship status within your first few messages instead of disclosing it publicly on your profile, though this is likely to be a lot of extra work on your part when monogamous folks decide to respectfully (or not-so-respectfully) ghost you afterward.

Use the app’s built-in relationship status feature, if it has one. Some dating sites allow you to set your relationship status alongside other relevant info like your gender and sexual orientation. Indicating your non-monogamous status makes it easier for monogamous people to filter you out of their search results, and communicates your “deal” to any profile-lurkers at a glance. However, some people don’t read this info (and some dating apps, like Tinder, don’t even have a structured way for you to provide it), so you may still need to do the legwork of explaining yourself in messages after all.

List your important identities upfront. Lots of people I asked on Twitter said this is their main strategy in online-dating while poly: they roll out their most vital identity words in the opening paragraph(s) of their profile. This might look a lot like my current Twitter bio: “Cis bi kinky non-monogamous femme feminist.” I think these are all important things for people to know, especially if they’re considering dating me. Front-loading this info makes it likelier that your potential paramours will actually read it, and will hopefully spare you some grief and lots of time and energy.

Define your terms. Some people don’t have a precise idea of what “polyamorous” means (let alone other non-monogamy terms like “swinger,” “polyfidelity,” “solo poly” or “primary partner”), so it’s helpful to explain exactly what you mean. For example, my Tinder bio currently includes this: “I’m poly: dating someone rad, and looking for dates/adventures/potential relationships with other cuties.” This hopefully reduces some of the stigma, anxiety, and confusion that might fill someone’s head when they read the word “poly” and aren’t sure what it means. It’s a succinct summary of how I am currently doing poly, and what that might mean for my partners.

Be prepared to explain yourself. Even if you think you’ve been clear in your profile text, folks still might have additional questions. Of course, you don’t have to answer missives you find rude, invasive, or exhausting – but it is part of ethical non-monogamy to ensure people know what they’re getting into before they get into it. (Informed, enthusiastic consent, and all that!) These convos might happen in your first few messages, or on your first few dates, but they should happen at some point. Set boundaries, establish expectations, talk about feelings. It’s all part of the process!

Unmatch ruthlessly as needed. Some people will be jerks about you being non-monogamous. That’s just a fact of life as any kind of “sexual deviant,” unfortunately. But you don’t have to put up with it. Hit “unmatch” or “block” or “report” or whatever the site-specific equivalent is, and move on with your day. Fuck the haterz.

Non-monogamous folks: what are your best tips for disclosing and discussing your non-monogamy on a dating site/app? Got any horror stories or success stories to share?

Heads up: this post was sponsored, and as always, all writing and opinions are my own.