Sooo… I never got around to writing about the rest of the shibari party J____ and I went to. Or anything about work over the past few weeks. Even following the decision to wait a year to apply to grad school, there’s still been a lot to keep me busy between working three nights a week, filling design orders, starting a corsetry business, writing paid pieces, and divining the mysteries of my mid-twenties. I know — melodramatic whining, all of it. What I have been contemplating very seriously these days, though, is the nature of relationships, the spectrums of intimacy that they lie on, and the paradigms we tend to operate them within in an attempt to keep them coexisting peacefully.
In a sense, I’m not talking about the single partner/small group of close friends/larger group of acquaintances standard that most people’s social circles ascribe to, but in another sense that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Why is that the generally accepted structure of our relationships? How is that fulfilling enough to the majority of people for it to have become the norm?!
I’ve pondered this as I’ve examined my own relationships and the Venn diagram they superimpose on my life. I’m immeasurably happy within this moment, but concerned as ever for the sustainability of it. “We don’t ever have to break up!” J____ giggled as the three of us lay in bed the other morning. “I mean,” she explained, “This is good. It can keep working forever.” I hope she’s right, but it’s hard for my mind to be at peace with the possibility when so much of our culture says otherwise. Even if it is possible, it’s a delicate dance dependent on the right partners for true coexistence; But if it is possible, it’s worth all the fancy footwork in the world.
I haven’t talked to NQB about J____. He has been out of town for as long as it’s been going on, save for one afternoon when I picked him up from the airport before he jetted off for a New Year’s vacation, and that wasn’t the time for serious talks. The last time we had a serious talk it took a series of conversations over a period of weeks to determine that our relationship held little reasonable potential future. We broke up. Months later, we started seeing each other again, and we haven’t revisited the subject since the summer. Little has changed about our objective positions in life. He’s still older, settled, and reticent to the possibility of failure. I’m still younger, undecided, and wary of wasting his time. “I never want to break up again,” he said last time we talked about relationships. At first I thought he was being hyperbolic, but he stood by the statement. “Last time I went through a break up,” he explained, “I realized I never wanted to go through that again. Enough so that I’d rather not have a relationship than experience that again at my age. I thought I was going to marry her. I won’t go through that kind of heartache again.” And I don’t want him to have to, so the hamster in my skull spins my brain wheel furiously looking for a way for us to be together without end without losing the other parts of ourselves that are best nourished by other relationships.
We’ve sustained our relationship thus far by not defining it, but the longer we hover in this cryogenic freeze the more I worry about what will happen when we do define it. What if I can’t give him enough security? What if I’m still too much of a risk to bet on?
My relationship with J____ is much easier. She has two boyfriends, who are friends with each other, and a reality that seems to exist exempt from the influence of petty concerns like jealousy and practicality. During the day we work out of the tiny shop she and one of her boyfriends run, sewing and talking about sustainable business practices, selling the llama yarn her mother spins and the organic vegan balms and butters she makes. When we’re at work together we tell our stories salaciously, relishing the ability to make a good living by doing things we already like with people we genuinely care for. Her body is small, soft, and almost delicate. Sleeping curled around her, calling her roommate in from the kitchen for a lazy hour of giggling in bed before brunching and sewing falls somewhere so differently on the spectrum than being with either NQB or my best friend do. None of them replace each other, encroach on the importance or respect of one another, so they should have no problem coexisting, right?
Usually once a week I see Mark, who has gone from non-essential lover to so-essential friend over the past two years. He calls more often to hang out at night since he and his girlfriend broke up, but I don’t bring it up. I never invite NQB to places he will be, and he doesn’t bring that up. Our relationship is not physical, but I worry more about jealousy around him that I do with most friends. Our emotional investment in each other is much higher than I’ve had with most male friends. He’s a rock in my landscape, an anchor, always thoughtful, always reliable. I try to be the best person I can for him, reliable, honest, a wingman, and never flirtatious or coyly misleading in that way that ruins so many friendships with even an ounce of romantic potential. I am more honest with him than maybe anyone else in my life, even my best friend. In many ways, he holds more space in my life than J____ does, and I wonder about the implications of open relationships so much more in the ways that they pertain to emotional availability than sex because of friendships like this.
NQB once described my relationship with my best friend as daunting to potential partners. These days, she’s in a committed relationship — her first in the six years I’ve known her. Early on, she felt torn between the two of us, struggling to meet both of our expectations and invariably failing both of us in some ways. On New Year’s Eve, her boyfriend made a point to talk to me about it, to tell me how much he loves her and appreciates my support of their relationship. “It doesn’t matter who I’m with!” my best friend has often said, “You come first. You’ve been here six years.” I’ve generally been on board with this idea, but for the first time found myself telling him that their time together had clearly impacted each of them in such a way that he is now just as important a part of her life as I am, and that by being respectful of all of her needs, including the time she wants to spend with each of us, there’s no reason that our love as friends and roommates should get in the way of their love and their relationship.
But while I’m optimistic about the coexistence of all these varying relationships, with their unique measures of social, sexual, and psychological importance, I wonder what prevents all of our relationships from becoming more or less indistinguishable. Will the unique peaks and valleys of their compositions blend to become one giant muddle of bastardized free love and intention-less interaction? Luckily, I think there’s something about being human and having these worries that keeps them from coming true.
“I wish you had taken me home before I got friend-zoned!” R___ told J____ after hearing about us. R___ had told me the same thing on multiple occasions when I told her how attracted I was to J____.
“I didn’t know that was an option!” J____ retorted. We sat in the winter cold sun lit shop sewing busks into their channels, making corsets from fabric scraps. In the window, handmade underwear hung from a clothesline in discordant prints. Behind the counter, J____’s roommate gave friends a virtual tour of the shop on skype.
“See there in the window?” he beamed, “I made those budgie smugglers!” he aimed the laptop’s camera at the boxer briefs I had helped him pattern the week before. Periodically, passers by wandered in and asked about the shop. Mostly friends stopped by to pick up trinkets and organic dry goods. When the sun went down I rode home and got ready for work.