For as long as I can remember, I’ve been exposed to images and media whose message has been resounding and clear: in order to be normal in this world, I have to meet someone and do the whole falling in love thing. Everyone does it, or so I thought, and all of the shows and stories I watched and read as a kid pushed this idea that, if you weren’t in a relationship, you needed to be on the lookout for one.
And so, starting in middle school, I was on the lookout for someone to spend the rest of my life with. It sounds funny now that, at thirteen, I thought I knew what I wanted out of a mate, but I was dead serious about it. It’s not that I particularly wanted to be in a relationship; it’s just that I thought it was something I was supposed to do.
I’ve never exactly been someone who does what they’re supposed to do. In my late teens, I came out of the closet and now identify as bisexual. More recently, I’ve come to terms with having a non-binary gender. I’m an able-bodied white person who’s involved in anti-racist and anti-ableist work as well, so I’m no stranger to bucking what I feel like society wants me to do.
Yet I’ve always had a nagging feeling that something was wrong with me because I’m not terribly good at relationships.
If I’m honest, I’ve only been in a handful of what I would consider today to be true relationships. Only one, with a girl when I was in middle school, lasted more than a month. I’ve told more than a few people that one of my greatest regrets in life so far has been that I’ve never found someone to be with.
It’s even worse in the queer world. Loving, nuclear family relationships among same-sex couples is often touted as one reason people should be tolerant of queer people: look, they’re just like “us,” with the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. The legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States before the banning of discrimination in housing and hiring of queer and trans folks could be read as an ultimatum: we’ll accept you as long as you get into a monogamous relationship just like straight people.
Indeed, this was part of the reason some left leaning queer groups such as Against Equality were so critical of the push for same-sex marriage over other protections: it actually does very little to help the vast majority of queer and trans people, many of whom still face active discrimination, prejudice, and even violence, nor does it do anything for those in non-traditional and polyamorous relationships, or those who, either through circumstance or choice, are single. (I plan on addressing the marriage question in a future post; for now, I’ll just say I think there is merit to the argument.)
In addition, being single is scary in our society, and adding in a queer identity just places so many additional assumptions on a person. There are so many stereotypes about queer people that, outside of marriage, we’re either promiscuous, wild, and disease spreaders or celibate. If you are single in today’s society, there must be something wrong with you.
So, many queer people, myself included, have absorbed and internalized these prejudices. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a dating profile where someone proudly proclaims they have “old-fashioned values” or that hook-ups are dirty. I know because I was once one of them. Yet many of them, like me, are either perpetually single or else serial monogamists.
Being queer and single is a taboo subject, one not often discussed in polite queer society. There’s plenty of literature for straight women on being happy and single, but, outside that demographic, you will find very little. Even Brad Gooch’s now-classic Finding the Boyfriend Within, a book that claims to be “a remarkably practical and helpful guide in the quest for self-discovery for the thousands of gay men who despair of ever being in a committed relationship,” has the ultimate goal of helping you love yourself so others will, in turn, love you back.
Yet nowhere in there is the option of being intentionally single.
I started entertaining a radical thought at the end of last year: maybe there’s nothing wrong with me at all. After all, I have plenty of people who love me, I’m a well-respected leader in my community, and, at the age of 36, I’ve already fulfilled so many dreams I’ve had for my life. If no one thus far has recognized this or if they’re so shallow that I don’t fulfill their checklist of requirements, is that really my fault? Yet, because I’ve absorbed this idea that I’m supposed to be coupled, I often feel very alone, and I wonder where this has come from.
With that wonderment in mind, I decided to embark on a radical experiment in 2017: I am going to be intentionally single. In other words, I’m going to choose not to be in or search for a relationship. I will be posting the results to this blog at least weekly on Monday.
In some ways, this will not tremendously impact my life. I am, after all, already single. It does mean that I will not be expanding my mental and physical energy in pursuit of fleeting notions of coupling. I’ll also be doing a lot of internal self-evaluation this year as well as reading books, articles, and blogs about being single, and reporting back on what I’ve learned.
I have no idea what’s going to happen with this experiment. I hope, by the end, to have learned at least some about both myself and the way singles function in our western society. Whatever comes, it will be a different way of functioning in the world, and that, to me, is an adventure.
So, come, and join me on this experiment.