“I thought by the time I was doing this I’d be with someone.”
I cried when I told her—another one of the myriad griefs threading through this kintsugi year: that not being in a romantic partnership somehow rendered me incapable of facing my father’s decline.
But when I was writing the FAQ about my move, I kept drafting and deleting a passage about how becoming single had actually given me the freedom to leave Portland.
Because it’s not true.
I mean, it is, but not the part about being single.
It’s Valentine’s Day as I’m writing this and I feel so far from being “single.”
“Most other people have a switch that gets flipped between friendship and relationship,” he used to say. “But you love people on a spectrum.”
I felt seen by that (he was good at making me feel seen), but there’s no decent shorthand for that kind of life. Or if there is, it’s couched in the culture of labels, and they’ve never done much good for me.
“Housemate,” for example, feels wholly inadequate for my relationship with Zina. We’ve lived together in one form or another for ten years; just the two of us for the last seven. The term we settled on at some point was Boston Wives, but that often involved giving an impromptu 19th century history lesson on female cohabitation to whoever was doing the asking. When we entered a Registered Domestic Partnership two years ago, I breathed a sigh of relief because I could just call her my wife and let everyone else muddle it out for themselves.
But what does that mean, really?
I’ve told people “Well, we’re not in a romantic relationship—” but then I stop. We take baths together and buy each other flowers and read epistolary science fiction love stories aloud in bed and fuck me if that isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is.
We turn to each other, in amongst all these activities, and say “We’re so rich.”
The older I get the more wobbly my definition of being “in a relationship” becomes. It sounds so singular.
I used to think I wasn’t very good at making friends. Being liked, sure, but not being vulnerable in the way truly reciprocal, intimate friendships demand. Never to ask, never to need. Far easier to unilaterally support other people to shore up my own sense of being worth something. Far better to fling all my devotion and intimacy into one heteronormative partnership and pin my hopes of making it through any major life challenges on that.
It’s a decent plan until it’s not.
Because I’m still going through this reckoning—relationship or no—and it’s forcing me to recognize that somewhere along the way I started figuring out how to be truly vulnerable. I picked up a community of (for lack of a better word) friends.
There are friends who bring me pie when my Kickstarter funds and soup when I’m down with the flu.
Friends I have flown across the country to support through unspeakable loss, who I know would do the same for me in a heartbeat.
Friends who are also lovers. Whose parents I have met. Whose kids I get to help look after when I visit.
Friends who will yell on the phone with me about books and websites at all hours of the day and night, pacing the block, gesticulating.
Friends who send nudes but also commiserating texts about caring for loved ones with dementia (a potent combo).
Friends who know how to reassure me of my intrinsic value when I think all I’m good for is being productive.
And these are the people in my immediate circle. Never mind the far-flung folks online, around the country—around the globe—with whom I have shared hotel rooms and letters and meals and Zoom calls. And then the circle beyond that: the strangers who have read my work and feel some degree of connection through that avenue. People I have never spoken to who might, given the invitation, share something heartfelt or helpful out of the blue.
I don’t know what to call all that, but when I stop to think about it I get dizzy and start to cry.
And beyond it lies the thing I hesitate to name because it feels trite: my relationship with myself. This person who delights me the more I get the measure of her, who has words of wisdom when I feel lost, who makes me laugh and brings me intellectual baubles and dazzles me with her tenacity and vision. I love my friendship with her most of all.
So here I am: not single, but communal. A dragon curled atop her glistening hoard.