Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I recently ended my relationship with the person I referred to as The Artist. As with the ending of any long-term relationship, the reasons were complex and I won’t be going into them here. Please respect my/our privacy and don’t ask me to spill details, because I won’t. Please don’t make assumptions or demonise them, even under the guise of being supportive.
When you end a relationship, especially a long-term relationship, it inevitably leaves empty spaces behind. People think that us polyamorous folks can just brush off a breakup. “You have other partners, right? So what’s the big deal?” they ask. To that, I want to say this: if you lose a dear friend, do you just shrug it off because you still have other friends? Of course you don’t.
Yes, I’m in the fortunate position of not being alone. Yes, Mr CK has been an absolute fucking rockstar in all this, supporting me through making an incredibly difficult decision and caring for me through my heartbreak. But you know what? I broke up with someone I loved. It still hurt like absolute fuck.
When you love an artist, you inevitably accumulate a collection of their work over the years. The choker-definitely-not-a-collar they made for me is still hanging on the back of my office door as I write this, wondering what the hell to do with it now. There are empty picture hooks on my wall where the paintings they did for me used to hang. I took them down and packed them away because looking at them was a visceral reminder of the loss and grief in the immediate aftermath. Memories shoved into a closed drawer, maybe to be revisited someday when the pain is less immediate. Empty spaces, a fitting metaphor for the total obliteration of everything we had.
After I finished taking the paintings down, I automatically picked up my phone and scrolled through messages, my fingers tingling with unsaid words. That little green bubble by their name showing they’re online, and the do-it-don’t-do-it battle not to send the message. I still love you. I’m sorry. I wish I’d had any other choice. Typing and untyping, writing and deleting, imagining them seeing the little dot-dot-dot next to my name, all the things we both said and didn’t say and probably should have said and definitely shouldn’t.
I have had a tendency, in the past, to jump from one serious relationship directly into another. Though this hasn’t always gone badly (Mr CK and I hooked up very soon after I left my abuser, after all,), I don’t think it is a healthy pattern overall. The result is that I end up basing my worth and my sense of self on my romantic relationships.
That’s why, in the wake of this most recent breakup, I decided to take a long break from dating new people. I don’t know yet quite how long this break will last or what it will look like. At the moment, I’m tentatively considering getting back on the dating apps after the new year. But right now, even thinking about it is exhausting. The idea of sitting across the table from a stranger and trying to figure out if there is any chance of us fitting together, the idea of having to disclose that I’m a survivor and have a history of mental illness and oh by the way I have a sex blog, fills me with dread.
So I’m hitting the pause button.
As a polyamorous ethical slut, there’s sometimes an internalised sense that I should always be dating new people or at least open to dating new people. Isn’t closing myself off to new connections just a holdover from monogamous culture? Well, no.
I need to get to know these empty spaces inside me that I have filled or attempted to fill with one relationship after another after another since I was fourteen.
I’m still a polyamorous person. Just having the one serious partner (as well as a couple of casual or not-sure-yet-it’s-early-days connections) doesn’t negate that part of my identity. Just like being bi isn’t dependent on the gender of my partners, being polyam isn’t dependent on the number of them there are.
I’m just doing things differently this time. Instead of trying to fill the empty spaces with another new relationship that is probably not a great fit in the long run, I’m filling them with other things that nourish me. With hobbies and friends, with self-work and self-compassion, with therapy and writing and fitness and literally anything else.
I’m lucky to be able to do this from the position of having a secure, stable nesting relationship as a base, and I am immeasurably grateful to Mr CK for providing that base. But the ending of any relationship still leaves empty spaces behind, and I am both excited and terrified to explore those spaces and see what I want to fill them with next.
I’ll think about dating again when doing so fills me with excitement.
This post was written as part of Smutathon 2021! You can check out all our work and learn more about the challenge on the Smutathon website. Please consider donating to this year’s charities, Gendered Intelligence and Trans Lifeline.