Solo v. single: On my terms5
September 26, 2012 by aggiesez
At this point I’m both “solo” and “single” — but mostly solo. What the hell does that mean?…
NOTE: This is one of a series of posts where I define how I’m using some key relationship terms in this blog. Other people may use these terms in other ways, but I’m trying to be clear and consistent in this context.
I’m polyamorous, which means I prefer to be in intimate (romantic/sexual) relationships that are both nonexclusive and fully honest. That is, I prefer for my partners, and their partners, to all know about each other and consent to this arrangement of overlapping relationships. (Don’t-ask-don’t-tell arrangements don’t suit me.)
As it happens, at this particular time I don’t have any intimate partners — that is, I’m not dating or in any relationships right now. (Update: that changed not long after I originally published this post; now I do have some lovers) By the benchmark of mainstream monogamous society, this lack of current relationships would drop me into the “single” bucket. And I guess, for now, I can accept that label.
But for a period of three-plus years, which ended at the beginning of this summer, I was in a committed intimate relationship with a steady boyfriend. He was married and living with his spouse (they had an open relationship and both dated other people separately). I had my own apartment, and I usually saw my boyfriend once a week for an overnight date. Plus we’d often get together at other times during the week, and we were a regular daily loving presence in each others’ lives via chat, e-mail, texting, social media or phone.
It was a pretty serious, emotionally invested connection. We loved each other. He called himself my boyfriend. I called myself his girlfriend. While we were together I considered him my partner, and I didn’t consider myself “single” in the conventional sense.
However, while he was a significant partner of mine, he was never my primary life partner — nor did I ever want him to be. We were never on that “relationship escalator,” by mutual agreement.
The fact is: I am my own primary partner. I’m good at it, and I’m good with it.
I don’t need or want a spouse to live with me and share my life in that “primary” sense. I already spent a large chunk of my adult life in a traditionally structured live-in relationship (which included a dozen years of legal marriage). While I don’t regret that experience, I’ve learned it’s not the best way for me to live my life or run my relationships. And it’s just not what I really want.
To me, the autonomy and independence associated with being my own primary partner is what makes me “solo.” So: even while I was still with my most recent boyfriend, I was also solo.
I’m solo because I’m a free agent. That is, I haven’t entwined my life so deeply with a partner that I’m not free to make all of my own decisions about the kinds of relationships I choose to embark upon. I don’t share finances or living space with a partner. I don’t have kids and I’m not co-parenting.
Of course, being solo (and a free agent) doesn’t mean I don’t take others into consideration where my relationships are concerned.
Were I dating someone, and it was progressing into a deeper emotional involvement and regular pattern of time spent together, and if I then became interested in dating someone new, I’d keep my existing partner informed and check in with him to make sure I was taking his needs and feelings into account in my decisions. We’d probably negotiate an accommodation, or I might decide not to pursue the new relationship, or we might part ways if we couldn’t agree and adapt.
The distinction is: all decisions about which relationships I engage in, and how I manage them, are my decisions. That’s pretty central to how I do relationships as a solo person.
I don’t need anyone’s permission or approval to engage in intimate relationships. I set my own standards and make my own rules. And I accept the consequences of my choices, good and bad. I’ve granted no one the right to curtail or veto my relationship choices — nor would I do that.
Fortunately, I have deliberately arranged my life so that exercising such autonomy doesn’t run the risk of uprooting me from my home, breaking up my family, or impacting my finances.
Again: Your mileage may vary in terms of what “solo” or “single” might mean to you. I’m speaking only for myself here.
…So people from mono-land probably look at me and see a “single” woman. I won’t correct them. But for me, “solo” more accurately describes my status; and that label applies whether or not I’m seeing anyone.
In contrast, my being “single” (in the sense of not having any current relationships) is a temporary and not terribly important circumstance — although admittedly it’s rather unfamiliar and not yet entirely comfortable territory to me. But my comfort zone is steadily expanding to include “single.” Being good at being single is a good life skill to have.
Like any descriptor of a human condition, “solo” has large gray areas around its edges.
For instance, if I had a housemate, I’d probably have less autonomy regarding which rooms in my dwelling I could have sex in, and when, and how loud we could be — as a matter of courtesy. And if I ended up as a caretaker for an aging or sick relative or friend, that substantial commitment would probably affect my decisions about whether and how to have intimate relationships.
And if the zombie apocalypse happens, I’d probably be too preoccupied with scavenging food and practicing headshots to put much effort into any intimate relationship. Especially if I have to double-tap my infected boyfriend.
This is actually a really incredible articulation of how I feel about most things with respect to my poly approach to life. I’m not sure I’m in the “I’m my own primary/don’t want a primary” boat, but I do very strongly identify with an autonomous style of poly and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone talk about it like this so clearly. Awesome! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, I’m glad this resonated with you.
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I really like that you said you are your own primary partner.
I wear a wedding ring because I consider me married to myself, and I felt worse for the year or I took it off and tried to be ‘normal’. I never had such words to accompany what it means to me, not in the poly dialogue for sure. I really only know of solo poly because of your blog. Thank you.