This whole thing started because I was having a conversation with a…friend?- we play at events, and I have a love affair with their city, so we hang out when I come to town, have really good conversations, chill out, make out, whatever. We met a little over a year ago, and started talking outside of events about 8 months ago. When I was in town last, we had some version of the, “So…what are we doing, exactly?” conversation, the culmination of which included both of us shrugging at various points and saying something to the effect of, “I dunno… I want to continue to get to know you better and see what forms from there.” At some point that same night, he asked me if I was dating a particular person. I struggled to find a response, and squeaked out something along the lines of, “Wellllllllll…we hang out and…I mean, sort of, I guess… but it’s…well…I mean, kinda? It’s one of those ill-defined, grey area kind of things,” to which he laughed and motioned back and forth in the space between us. “Yup,” he said. “I’m familiar with that.”
I’ve been thinking about grey-area relationships a lot lately and (relatedly) realizing that I have no idea what “dating” means anymore. In straight, monogamous, non-kinky land, the common narrative for dating went something like this: guy and girl meet; have drinks, coffee, or dinner; at some point (and I’ve always been a little fuzzy about how this works, exactly) they go from “going on dates” to “dating” where there is an assumption of monogamy (and things like “cheating” become a possible reason why they might stop dating). There is a trajectory, an expectation that there is a linear path to relationships where the goal is to transition out of “dating” into “committed relationship” (and then on to engagement, marriage, and the whole shebang).
In queer world (but still within the framework of monogamy), before the legalization of gay marriage, the narrative was a little different. For those who still wanted that linear relationship path, the transition from “dating” to “partner” happened much more quickly because there weren’t the legal entanglements of marriage. So in some ways, I feel like dating is even less defined in queer culture because if the “end goal” was commitment, that often looked similar to two people who are dating and live together in straight-land (I don’t say this to delegitimize queer partnerships; I mean that in the sense of discussing the language transitions and applications of certain language within different contexts). With the legalization of gay marriage, the narrative is rapidly changing and the concept of “partner” tends to be reserved for (and heavily defended as) a term for people who are married (I’ll rant another day about how gay marriage is ruining the queer family). There is a splintering off, where more mainstream LGB folks are gravitating toward the standard heterosexual narrative, whereas radical queer folks continue to define language as it is appropriate to their relationships, which I’m a fan of- but it doesn’t really give a good framework to talk about the concept of what it means to “date” someone.
Navigating poly dynamics, obviously, makes the whole “dating” idea a lot more complicated. At what point do you decide that you are dating someone outside of your primary relationship? It’s not something you just fall into in the same ways because there are other partners, other dynamics, other people to consider, and poly without communication is just a hot mess fail. I want to believe that it’s easier to define dating within the context of poly dynamics, but the truth is, I actually find it harder. If I meet someone out for coffee and there is a recognized mutual attraction, is that a date? If we do this with some frequency, are we then dating? Is dating defined by the “getting to know you” process? Is that different if you have to take into account long distance? And so on.
To add one final dynamic into all of this overanalysis, where on earth do we put kink dynamics into this mess? There are D/s dynamics. Play partners. People we fuck (and/or play with) at events, but aren’t a part of our day-to-day lives. How do we talk about some of these dynamics and relationships in a way that makes sense, especially if we are creating definitions for words that are specific to each of us and each relationship with which we engage?
I’m rambling a bit, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I have found myself in a position where I have several ill-defined, grey-area dynamics and relationships in my life. Depending on context and relevancy of any given day or conversation, I use different language to describe those relationships. The reality is- I live in the grey area in almost every facet of my life. My gender is ambiguous, my sexuality is fluid, I’m a fairly versatile switch, etc. Why should I be surprised to find myself drawn to relationships that dance around in the grey area between definitions?
The point is this: I don’t actually care about the language. I mean, yes, there is a part of my brain that likes the idea of creating these nice little relationship boxes: partner, sweetheart, platonic friend, platonic play partner, sexual play partner, date, etc. but they aren’t particularly useful because they vary greatly from one relationship to the next. What might be dating with one person is play partners with another. What might be fuck buddies with one person is intimacy with another. The reality is, I care less about what I am calling my relationships and more about understanding the expectations of the relationships. How much time are we putting aside to spend together? How do we want to interact in public (vanilla) spaces? How about play spaces? What are the poly dynamics that are happening, and how do we interact around other partners, sweethearts, etc.? Is it ok to text if I’m thinking about you? Can those texts include sexy messages?
In short: what interactions are given some form of blanket consent (e.g. texting, touching, kissing, etc.) and what interactions do we need to check in about each time (e.g. coming over, planning playdates at events, etc.)
And in my funky, grey-area, ill-defined dynamics, I know the answers to most of these questions, and as situations arise that require some navigating, we talk about it. In that spirit, I use whatever language is most relevant and/or appropriate in the moment because I love grey-area, ill-defined things.
My relationships don’t fit into the prearranged templates and boxes that exist in some objective dating structure model. I have a sneaking suspicion that is probably true for a lot of folks, especially as we deviate further and further from a mainstream, heteronormative model and narrative. We make it up as we go along. We define each relationship with as much (or little) as we need to feel safe and comfortable navigating those dynamics. Most of the time, the relationships themselves aren’t necessarily ill-defined, simply the language to talk about it. And I can live with that.
[Cross-posted from FetLife]