Friday, March 21, 2008

The Complexity of Intimacy and the Labels We Choose

I can be single, polyamorous, monogamous and something in-between all at the same time.  I’m tempted to call it the polyamory – monogamy continuum or the monogamy – polyamory continuum.  Yet, the concept of a continuum seems way too linear to me. 

If I look at all the ways that one can be intimate: sexual, physical, spiritual, emotional, recreational, and playful (to name just a few), I can see how intimacy and sexuality can be so incredibly complex.  Each of these categories or forms of intimacy can be broken down much much more and potentially have their own continuums, degrees and complexities associated with each of them.   Take sex or sexual intimacy for example.  Sex could be physical or non-physical, genital or non-genital.  It could include emotional intimacy or not, or include different types of emotional caring.  What I am describing cannot be easily defined in one word or with one label.  Yet, many of us describe and categorize ourselves based on all of these intimacy components and more.

A major tenet in all of my work is that we all have the right to self-identify.   In addition, we all have the right to define what our self-identity means.  What is most interesting to me is that in most cases, I believe, none of us fit other people’s assumptions about any label we choose.  The beauty of what happens in relationships, love and intimacy is what happens beyond the words, the intellect and, certainly, beyond the category or identity.  How can we describe the emotional, caring, heartfelt, erotic, aroused, sensual, sexual connection we can have with a particular person?  How can we describe what it means to feel many of these things in many different combinations for many people?  The possibilities are endless.  Even basic concepts aren’t easily definable.  What is sex?  Can I have sex not even touching someone?  Can I be in a sexual relationship with someone I have not had sex with?  Would that relationship help define me as monogamous or polyamorous?

Often, I see people shifting their polyamorous or monogamous definitions of self based on what is visible in their sexuality and relationships.  I want to decry the need to change what we call ourselves based on what is only visible from the outside when so much is going on inside and the complexity is so vast.  In her book Polyamory: the New Love without Limits, Deborah Anapol writes, “…polyamory has more to do with an internal attitude of letting love evolve without expectations and demands than it does with the number of partners involved” (p.4). 

I, too, have started talking about polyamory as a mindset and not necessarily something only to do with whom we have sex with or whom we have as a partner.  For example, I have a friend who is a playwright and in one of her plays, she shares experiences of going camping with one person, but remarks that often they both saw the benefit of opening up their camp circle and welcoming other people around their camp fire.  I told her that her play (or at least that part) was polyamorous in nature.  This is all said with the awareness that there may be times they only want to camp by themselves and not forgetting that sometimes we may only want to do something by ourselves, which is probably our most important relationship of all.

Longer is not better than shorter.  Shorter is not better than longer.  Sexual is not better than emotional.  Emotional is not better than sexual.  The intellect and spirit is not better than the body.  The body is not better than the intellect.  Living is not more intimate than dying.  One moment with a stranger can be as important as that with the love of my life.  My mind and self-definition is not more important than the fullness of my heart and body. 

I believe we live in a society that does not teach intimacy skills, relationship skills or how to live and die.  As opposed to what we often get taught about relationships in this society, I think relationships are to be lived creatively.  Life is to be lived creatively.  Our dying should be a creative process.  It is always important to remember that if we truly want to know how someone identifies, we have to ask what they mean when they use a particular label or word to describe themselves.  It is in that spirit that I identify as single, monogamous and polyamorous and something in-between and all of them alone and combined.

Copyright 2007 by Susan Miranda.  All rights reserved.  No part of this writing may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright holder. For reprint permission, email