TL;DR—let's meet up in fun places around the world, you tell me I'm pretty, I'll listen to your life story, and when we separate I occasionally send you memes, songs, or articles that remind me of you.
I've always been a lover girl. When MySpace was a popular way to spend time, I'd decorate my profile with sparkling GIF quotes, black and white stock-images of a couple's intimate embrace, and self-proclamations of being a "hopeless romantic" 🥴. Now looking back I wonder, what did I really know about love at twelve? I cringe fondly at this cheesy young version throwing herself into that digital space; a little virtual window where I shared my most intimate emotions and explored expressing who I was openly (and in some ways, for the first time). Despite how public it was, there wasn't an algorithm that surfaced my content to "people who you might know" automatically. Somehow it felt less vulnerable if someone might see me by chance. The format wasn't set up for direct engagement. There isn't a fear of rejection if you're just shouting into the internet void with no built in reaction tools. I was able to straddle the line of anonymity and being witnessed. Amusingly, I'm realizing as I write this, the whole expression of myself within social media then (and probably even now) was a bid for love.
Exploring love and loneliness through life, I'm finding that love isn't the same as commitment, and loneliness doesn't necessarily come from solitude or the absence of physical companionship. This plays out in every story of an unhappy marriage, or the heavy stillness of loneliness in a crowded room. Feeling fulfilled in love is feeling seen and understood. So the little romantic in me went after that fulfillment for years. There were ups and downs like in anyone's romantic journey, but after several years of serial monogamy, in 2023 I paused the search for romance and sought fulfillment in single-dom. This has led to conversations like:
I've learned that casual to me is not always casual for other people. At parties, I'm found either shoveling food into my face, or asking about the memories you have with your parents. A friend laughed at me recently when a girl quickly left our circle after introductions, because she made the mistake of reciprocating my question: "What's on your mind?" (it was the military-industrial complex).
I've had moments of casual encounters in between the periods of long term relationships. None were very fulfilling, or we'd immediately jump into a relationship (and thus, the monogamy cycle continues). I didn't understand what I was missing in these moments because 1) I'm not in a space where I want to be committed to someone, and 2) I've become less insecure and possessive with age. However, I'd observe close friends enjoying the freedom and fun of dating multiple people casually—so I knew it was possible! To unwrap why I couldn't enjoy it, I had to define what being casual is and what love is.
The way I was approaching casual, was by withholding my full engagement. I didn't want to be inappropriately invested in something casual. To do so would be embarrassing (or so it seemed from social expectations). I didn't want to share pieces of myself with someone uninterested in receiving me or sharing themselves. I thought giving attention and care (read: love) freely in casual was wrong. Withholding meant restricting enthusiasm. This is what was unfulfilling. I was conflating casual with indifference; intimacy with expectation or commitment. What I'm realizing is that even if I know there isn't a romantic future with someone, I still love learning the ins-and-outs of who they are and what makes them human. I love making people feel seen and cared about, and this doesn't have to be thrown out for the sake of casual, so long as I don't have an expectation of monogamy or anything in return. There can still be playfulness, intimacy, and respect within the container of casual.
At the time of writing, I've just past the one year mark of being single by a few days. Over the last year I've spent more time giving myself the energy that I put into my relationships. I think I was so pressed to receive care and attention from another person, I overlooked that I could fill my own cup. Turns out there's an abundance of that energy to fill my own cup and more. Now, I see offering love less like an exchange and more like a regenerative gift. I don't need to withhold in order to feel safe or avoid embarrassment from rejection. I'm not embarrassed to care anymore. It's my prerogative to decide if I have the space to offer it (or not). Not everyone has to receive it just because I offer it, and that's also totally okay.
There's a projection in cis-het relationships that women need to get married to feel fulfilled, and that men are obligated to provide financially. I suspect that this creates an environment where offering or receiving attention might feel like a trap into monogamy. On the flipside, it would be unsurprising if people felt exposing their full selves or investing time in being present was deserving of some longterm commitment. It's scary to be vulnerable, even with those that we know are committed to us, let alone those who don't have the designation.
I try to operate with a mindset that no one is entitled to anything from anyone else other than a foundation of transparency to make choices for themselves. What attracts me is authenticity and vulnerability. Given my comfort in ~laying it all out there~, it's been a learning curve to find patience for those who aren't able to do the same. It was frustrating to drive conversations that went straight into the brick wall I was talking to. But I'm working on it! Releasing the attachment to making every dynamic "work" has offered a lot of relief and saved a lot of time. These days catch and release of the proverbial romantic fish comes a lot easier because I know I can fill my own tank. Either way, I'll always choose to love freely.