What’s wonderful about being solo, polyamorous, and single, part 16
December 17, 2012 by aggiesez
Taking stock at the end of 2012, I’ve realized there are many things wonderful about being solo, and polyamorous, and currently single (unpartnered).
There’s so much good stuff to cover here, in fact, that I’m splitting this into two parts. First are the benefits of being solo and single (keep reading below).
Then, Part 2 covers the benefits of being polyamorous, especially the solo poly life.
For me, the single biggest benefit of the solo life is that I get to focus on myself, and thus connect more authentically with others, with much less fear, doubt and regret.
I was raised Catholic. (Obviously, it didn’t take.) A big part of that culture is to subordinate your personal wants, needs, and priorities to those of your family, partner/spouse, community, and church. Those are fine choices for personal priorities — as long as they are a conscious choice.
But in my experience, when people feel obliged to always put others first, or when they believe no other choice is valid, they tend to end up pretty miserable — and making others pretty miserable. And often they live a lie. I’ve seen this happen; it’s heartbreaking.
On a deeper level, when you believe that your feelings, needs, and priorities don’t matter, you tend to suppress them. Eventually you can’t even see them anymore; you lose conscious awareness of them. It becomes almost impossible to distinguish your own feelings, beliefs, etc. from those of the people around you to whom you feel obligated. I know: I did this for too much of my life.
That doesn’t make your own feelings disappear; it just means that you’ll be perpetually unhappy or dissatisfied and you won’t even know why. That adds a layer of frustration and guilt on top of everything, which just makes it worse. And you’ll probably also end up treating others badly, because you’ll be unable to communicate honestly with them about what’s really going on with you.
In this context, focusing significant ongoing attention and energy on myself, putting myself first in many ways, may sound completely selfish. Hey, selfish isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But also, this kind of focus is only somewhat selfish; it’s also very good for the other people in my world. It helps me do more good and less damage.
What I’ve learned is that when I can focus on my own feelings, needs, and priorities and not feel guilty (or guilt-tripped by others) for doing so, I can be a better person. That makes me a better friend, lover, family member, colleague, volunteer, community member, and mentor. I know more fully what I really have to offer. I’m less likely to extend what I feel I should offer, rather than what I actually can offer. (I’m not 100% perfect on that part yet, I still sometimes overextend myself and disappoint others. But I’ve gotten a lot better about it.)
Becoming more aware of my own genuine feelings, needs and priorities means that I’ve learned it’s important to ask people about theirs — and to honor their answers.
For instance, I’m learning to resist the temptation to second-guess others when they say they really do want to devote all their time and energy to their family.
Similarly, I recently had to tell a man I’d begun dating that although I like him very much and enjoy his company, I feel no physical attraction for him. That was difficult for me. I was sad to have to tell him — but since he seemed pretty into me I really needed to be honest. He responded graciously and said that he still wants to spend time with me even without physical intimacy. Since then, my challenge has been to trust that he meant what he said — that’s he’s not secretly angling to manipulate me into sex or romance, or that I’m not hurting him. I have to trust that since he’s a grownup, he’s responsible for his own feelings. So I choose to assume that he meant what he said. Because if I expect other people to honor my stated feelings and priorities, I need to honor theirs. Fortunately he seems to be becoming a pretty good friend.
If I’d continued spending all my life living with other people and/or perpetually involved in intimate relationships (or actively chasing new relationships), I probably wouldn’t have the space in my head and my heart to get to know myself as well as I have in the last few years, and especially in the last few months living solo and single. I’m glad for this opportunity. I relish it, and I recommend it.
This is a good phase of my life. In fact, currently my life is better than it ever has been, partly because I’m solo and single. I may always continue the solo life, since it suits me so very well. The single phase of my life won’t be permanent, since I love being in relationships and am good at them, but it also has immense value. Even though I didn’t intentionally end up single (it happened when I was suddenly dumped by my last significant long-term boyfriend early this summer) I’ve found much joy and freedom being single. And that’s not just “making the best of a bad situation.” It’s unexpectedly discovering a very good situation.
Like anyone, I have good and bad days. But on a daily basis I’m able to put toward myself the energy and attention I used to primarily put toward others. I’m more aware than ever of how I’m feeling, what I want, and what works for me. This is especially important in dating and sex.
Dating and sex as a solo/single straight woman
Right now, as it happens, I have no sex partners. Also, right now I miss having partnered sex more than committed or emotionally invested intimate relationships. I’m exploring various options for sexual and erotic connection, including play parties — although it’s challenging to find such events that aren’t specifically focused on kink or the swinger culture, neither of which appeal to me.
As I look for sex partners, my priority is: I will not get sexually intimate with men* to whom I’m not strongly attracted, or who seem ambivalent about their attraction to me, or who demonstrate that they’re unlikely to treat me with respect and consideration. (Yes, even in a friend-with-benefits, play party, or casual sex situation: respect and consideration do count!)
*NOTE: I refer “men” in this post because I am straight. But I’ve found I’m attracted to masculinity more than genitalia. So my preference is to to be physically and emotionally intimate with people who are male-identified, or at least strongly on the male side of genderqueer, rather than strictly cisgendered men. Yes, Buck Angel is totally hot! And so are bi guys!
I’m willing to experiment with some minor physical intimacy (kissing, cuddling, massage) when I think I might be attracted to someone new, but I don’t proceed beyond that until I’ve figured out how I feel — and I’m quite willing and able to say “that’s enough, thanks.”
Why am I unwilling to settle for sex partners to whom I’m not strongly attracted, or about whom I have concerns? Because I probably wouldn’t enjoy the sex! And then, what’s the point? I know myself well enough to know what turns me on — and when I try to make out or have sex when I’m not really aroused, or when I have nagging concerns, I don’t enjoy it much (though in the past I’ve pretended to, to protect the guy’s feelings, which is messed up too). Worse, I usually regret it afterward. Been there, done that. I’d much rather thoroughly enjoy solo sex (and I do, often!) than sex hindered by the man’s ambivalence, or my own.
Solo sex is another major perk of the solo life. Living solo, I enjoy the time and privacy to engage in this joyful, comforting, exciting, stress-relieving activity with abandon. It doesn’t take up a lot of my time, but it is a regular (and treasured) part of my erotic life. I get to freely experiment with the toys, fantasies, techniques and erotica of my choice — without feeling any pressure to share it with, explain or justify this process of discover to anyone. This is a huge part of how I’ve learned a lot about what turns me on and how my body responds, on its own terms.
Masturbation gets an undeserved bad rap as second-class sex. Being able to indulge in it fully, without interference, guilt, shame, pressure or unwanted observation has led me to really love sex (with or without a partner) the way I do. It’s made me a much better lover, and more able and willing to explore new things with new partners. It’s helped me to communicate well about sex, and sexual health.
Loving solo sex — and being able to pursue it on my own terms, in my own space — is a key reason why I have such very high standards for any sex that I do choose to have with other people. Admittedly, sex might not be stellar right off the bat with every new partner, even when there’s great chemistry, but I’m patient — to a point. Partners who prove unwilling or unable to communicate and learn about sex end up turning me off, no matter how attractive I think they are.
Letting go of fear
Perhaps the biggest benefit of having experience living solo, and single, is that I don’t fear being alone, or not having a partner.
In fact, I just don’t feel as much fear in general as I did for most of my life, especially when I was married. Then, because I’d reached the top of society’s relationship escalator and had accrued the many privileges that offers, I was mostly focused on what I had to lose if I went solo. But the truth is, having experienced living the solo life, and doing so well, is a huge gain. That benefits me, as well as any partners I have.
I don’t wish to imply that people who choose to share a household and build a family with one or more primary partners are living in fear. Many people do this for very good reasons, including to raise children (something I never wanted to do, so that’s no tradeoff for me). I’m just saying: cohabitating life partnership — monogamous or not — is not the right, best, or most valid lifestyle choice for everyone. The solo life offers as many potential benefits, and perhaps even more choices and options.
As an experienced solo person, I am confident that I can take care of myself — because I expect that I have to. I’ve known too many people who cling to destructive relationships (especially marriages that are ostensibly monogamous) because they’re terrified that they can’t really take care of themselves, or their children. Sadly, sometimes they can’t precisely because they’ve sacrificed their self-care options and skills to preserve their primary relationship. Still despite such efforts, very often onetime spouses often do end up alone, through death or breakups.
This is why I put a fair amount of effort into maintaining a strong, adaptable career as well as good ties with my friends, family, and community, and (where possible) former partners. It’s also why I put significant effort into planning my future with the default expectation that I will remain without a primary partner, and probably living alone. I accept that there is always risk in life; and the risks of solo life I feel are more within my willingness to manage.
Also, since I’m good at living solo, I’m less afraid to make hard choices, ask awkward questions, or have difficult conversations that might end a relationship or make me seem less “attractive” to an existing or potential partner. (Some experience in my most recent significant relationship hammered that point home, hopefully for good.) Ultimately, this means I’m more likely to feel good about the relationships I do have; and those relationships are likely to be better for my partners and metamours as well.
Don’t I get lonely sometimes?
Sure. Everyone does. In truth, I was lonelier more often when I was married than I am now — not by my former spouse’s fault, but just because I allowed myself to become more isolated. That’s very, very easy for coupled (and especially married) people to do in our culture. When I was married, until we became poly, I took far less responsibility for my own happiness. As a result, I often wasn’t very happy.
Fortunately I’ve always cultivated a very strong, diverse, high-quality network of friends, colleagues and family of choice, near and far. Plus, I’m lucky enough to have a large and loving family of origin. Since I went solo, I’ve put more effort and emphasis than ever toward connecting with all of these people regularly, and being there for them when they need me. Social media is a huge help for that; don’t underestimate it.
I find that recognizing the value these relationships offer, and treating them accordingly, offers me more reliable and mutual emotional connection and support than any intimate relationship ever could. Also, having this network makes it easier for me to approach any potential intimate partner without wondering whether that person could be “everything” to me, or pressuring him with such expectations.
I simply don’t believe in the “everything” benchmark of relationships. In fact, as far as I’m concerned social myth of “The One” is highly destructive. I think it keeps people apart from love and connection, and blind to possibilities.
For me, embracing my polyamorous nature, and getting to know lots of poly and open people, has been the clearest path to this valuable insight and many others — although it’s definitely not the only way to learn this lesson.
Which leads me to Part 2: The perks being poly…
Whether you’re poly or not, what do you love about being solo or single? Please comment below or e-mail me.
I especially like you part about how it can be more lonely in a committed relationship. I left the solo/single poly life and entered into a committed relationship this summer. I realized how much I was isolating in coupledom and have started making an effort to connect with friends. When I was single I had only my own self and schedule to think about.
Thanks, Snow Flower. Yes, its important to be aware when you’re isolating yourself, even within a relationship, to a point that makes you feel unhappy or more vulnerable.
Also, poly relationships can be “committed” too, commitment foes not need to entail sexual/romantic exclusivity. 🙂
Thanks so much for this post. I made a conscious decision to be single for a year when I noticed I was hopping from relationship to relationship. That year turned in to 6 and it was an awesome time of getting to know myself and growing.
And amen about the masturbation. Having a home to myself where I don’t have to worry about privacy or interruption has allowed me to learn a lot about myself and therefore made me a better partner.
Thanks Melanie. Yes, often (though not always) good solo sex for women takes more time, space, and toys than people with penises often seem to require. On that front, living alone is a definite bonus, and I was happy to discover that. 🙂
As a matter of fact, I’m leaving soon to visit family for Xmas. When I get back, I’ll have a houseguest for a week. I’m expecting the lack of privacy will grate on me in, um, several ways…
I love this. I’m married and cohabiting now, but the whole of my life previously was living solo, whether I was single or not. It really resonates with me and I miss many aspects of solo life now. I’ve allowed myself to become very isolated and am putting a lot of effort now in to rebuilding that independent aspect of my life again while remaining cohabiting to raise my child.
It’s not either/or. As you noted, it’s possible (and I’d say even beneficial for everyone) to retain solo skills & mindset even when living with a primary partner.