You may remember that I signed
off last time with: "So tell mewhy am I single again?" OK,
confession time. I've been single for most of my life. I have
never been in a long-term monogamous relationship, although I've
slept with more people than the average New Zealander. Gasp!
As part of the research for my
offering this time I took my own sexual history, and a fascinating
exercise it was. Try it yourself. Write the name of the people with
whom you've had sex in one column. In the other write the nature
of the liaison. I included things like the particular sexual behavior
we engaged in, whether we kissed and/or came, how long we were shagging,
and whether I was in love or drunk. I was tempted to add people
I really wanted to shag but hadn'tuntil I remembered that
this was a sexual history, not a sexual fantasy.
So, let me share. I've got nothing
to hide. I'd like to say straight away that I remembered the name
of each and every one of my twenty-one sexual partners. All were
guys except one, a drunken but consenting one-night stand one week
before I turned eighteen. My enduring memories are of being hugely
disappointed with intercourse, avoiding the woman afterwards and
being intensely relieved I'd lost my virginity at a respectable
Before that I'd had many years
of what I'd term "fiddling" with boys from school, six in total,
half disabled, half not, and ranging from oncers in the school therapy
room (I know, tacky), to a two-year liaison with a close friendno
romance, just buddies.
I fell in love for the first
time when I was nineteen, with my first "real" boyfriend, who dumped
me after three months because his friends were hassling him for
going with me. That hurt. Then there was the guy who pumped my gas,
whom I recognized at a gay march. That lasted a month or so. The
one-night stand I took home from a club. The three-month spiritualist.
The one-night white Australian Aborigine, within twenty-four hours
of dumping the spiritualist. And half a dozen others, only one of
whom broke my heart.
So there you go, twenty-five
years of lust, love, passion and mediocrity in just two paragraphs.
Within that period, however, I would estimate I have only spent
one year actually or supposedly "in a relationship".
I'm faced with an interesting
paradox. On the one hand I surprised myself at the number of sexual
partners I've had in my life. That's something I will remember in
those few dark moments when I feel unattractive and rejected because
I'm disabled. On the other hand, I sometimes feel inadequate for
being so lousy at keeping things together with guys. I guess I should
remember that when I'm feeling cocky about being such a stud.
So why do I feel bad about my
pitiful long-term monogamous relationship (LTMR) success rate? Cynically,
I wonder if I'm disappointed that I've not had more casual partners
and more regular sex throughout my life. I realize that indeed I
am! There have been many men I would have had, had I not been impaired,
or had they not been afraid of impairment, or had I not been afraid
of their fear of impairment. (Ironically, impairment meant nothing
to the handful of straight men with whom I have fallen in love.)
Irony and cynicism aside, I have
long been suspicious of the social norm of coupling. The expectation
of being partnered pervades our culture to such an extent that I
can remember feeling relieved when I acquired a boyfriend, not because
I was no longer alone, but because I was no longer perceived as
being unable to find a partner. The pressure of proving oneself
capable of loving and being loved by another can be overwhelming,
especially if you're disabled, even more so if you're queer and
The LTMR seems to me to be the
last bastion of social acceptance and success. But is it all it's
cracked up to be?
One evening sometime around my
twenty-fifth birthday I remember making a fundamental decision that
changed my life. I realized that all experiences have an upside
and a downside, and that all behavior both serves and limits (a
basic Neuro-Linguistic Programming premise). With these realizations
in mind I made a pact with myself. I agreed to focus on the positive,
rather than the negative aspects of my life, including being single.
In fact, I went so far as to consciously identify the benefits of
not being in a relationship. These included lofty ideals such as
making plans without needing to consult someone else, fulfilling
my personal destiny without compromise, and lying diagonally across
my queen-sized bed.
Of course this is not to say
that the opposite advantages are not to be valued in an equitable
manner. Certainly planning together, striving for mutual goals and
waking in the arms of a loved one are all positive outcomes of a
relationship. But what intrigues me is how we are conditioned to
focus on the upside of being coupled and the downside of being single.
My osteopath's receptionist grimaced
at me the other day as she realized that, if she hadn't left her
husband fifteen years ago, it would have been her thirtieth anniversary.
Right now she is on her own and enjoying her independence. I shared
my observation that I believe most relationships are only really
good for three months, okay for another year and, by three years,
if they are not over, they have become habitual havens from the
curse of single life. I went as far as to say that I think only
five to ten percent of LTMRs are healthy and nurturing for both
partners. She agreed.
In the last ten years, I have
been determined and committed to reframing the stereotype that casts
me as being unworthy, unfit or somehow deficient for being single.
I've battled with the marginalized culture of singularity. I've
ended relationships after three months when I saw them going nowhere
and I've vehemently resisted getting involved simply because anyone
was better than no one.
Yes, it's been lonely and hard
and sometimes I've longed for the comfort and safety of the status
quo. But I see couples struggling with similar and worse challengesthe
fights, the misunderstandings, the compromises, and the hurt. Had
I been in a succession of LTMRs I would have reached collaborative
highs and lows and seen the world through the paradigm of a couple.
Society, that amorphous entity, would call that success. I would
call it fitting in for the sake of it. And I would not have achieved
what I have in my life.
If you are reading this and you
experience the culture of singularity and struggle with the lack
of acceptance it may bring, fear not, comrade, for you are not alone.
Rise up and fight against the
oppressive attacks on your attractiveness, your social well-being,
and your interpersonal communication skills.
Go forward confidently, bearing
the proud banner of the single, independent, self-determined person,
which reads: "Singleand glad to sleep diagonally!"
©2006 Philip Patston
Please feel free to visit me at www.diversityworks.co.nz
and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org