I had a girlfriend, once, who was special to me. She held me with the strength of mountains, and she studied all the most fascinating things so whenever we talked she brought me glorious bouquets of new concepts, and whenever I looked into her beautiful wide eyes I longed to kiss her. Every. Damn. Time.
Yet I dated other women. That made her nervous. How could she be special to me when I loved other women, too? What assurances could she have that I wouldn’t leave?
So she asked for a special reservation of the term: “Girlfriend.” She alone was my girlfriend. All the others? Were sweeties. That term signified our special bond, the esteem we held each other in, and that was how she was special to me.
I still dated other women. And when she saw me speaking well of them in public, or heard that I was courting someone new, she got nervous. How could she be special to me?
So we reserved the nose-moop. When I touched her nose, I went “Mowp.” With every other girl, I went “Meep.” The fact that I reserved this one word for her alone signified how special she was to me.
I still dated other women. And when I talked about them on Twitter, she felt lonely. How could she be special to me?
So I got her a stuffed bear that was hers alone, the sole gift from her to me.
So we got jewelry we bought, and wore, specifically for each other.
So I got books that were only shared with her.
So I made special date nights that were reserved for her, and her only.
And each of these special moments were absorbed into the body of our relationship, and still she needed more proof. It was a steady drug I gave to her, and she built up a tolerance for it, to the point where I’d point at the “Girlfriend” and the “mowp” and the necklaces and the bear and the books and the date nights and all the other things I haven’t even mentioned here, and still she didn’t feel like she was irreplaceable in my life.
Because she didn’t feel it inside. All the external validations were merely quick-fixes that lasted maybe a month before vanishing into the lack of self-worth. I’d spend hours enumerating all the reasons why she held a special position in my life, all the wonderful things I loved about her, but they disappeared like dropping stones into the ocean.
Deep down, she didn’t feel like she could offer anything unique.
So she wanted more. And I was already getting snarled on the hundreds of special memories we’d set up like tripwire, these elaborate ceremonies we had made to make her feel better, except by now they didn’t make her feel better, they only made her feel more insecure if I slipped up and forgot one of the endless numbers of special things I was now obligated to do for her.
These weren’t rituals. Rituals were things we could have done together to grow closer to one another. But we were close. These were exclusions, designed to keep other people out rather than to grow us as a couple, labels designed to exalt this person above the other smoochy-folks I had.
Eventually, we broke up. I realized I could not reassure her and remain polyamorous (well, technically, given my wife, I’d become polyfidelitous). And I was tired, so very tired, of always having to reassure this wonderful woman of how goddamned wonderful she really was, because though she was smart and clever and sexy, I never found a way to communicate with her that she could everfeel that.
Maybe there was a way to make her feel loved in a way that didn’t strangle me in the process, but if so, I couldn’t find it.
And so I left. Because I wasn’t making her happy, and she wasn’t making me happy, and I worried that if I did go polyfidelitous that would just be another label that would wear off in a month.
To this day, I’m skeptical of labels. I think they have an addictive quality. Sure, sometimes you see a couple making a single rule and that’s it – “You can’t sleep with them in our bed” – but more often what follows are a cascade of additional restrictions, each designed to wall off the other partners in some way as a proof of love, each time the couple being convinced that this, this new thing will reassure them once and for all.
When the truth is, if you need a special label to survive, often they either don’t speak your love language properly, or the life they need to live is going to take such a great toll on your self-esteem that they can’t stay in good faith.
All the labels in the world can’t fix that problem, and it’s only going to make it worse to try.
They’ve gotta know why you love them, and all the restrictive rituals in the world can’t patch that hole.
And to this day, sometimes I’m sad. She’s not in my life, and can’t be. But some days I sit around, and feel the hole that she’s left behind that has never actually healed, missing all the little things that came from her and no one else.
Yes, I dated other women. Because they had their own unique charms, just like she did, except thankfully the women I date these days mostly understand just how incredible and unique they are to me, and I love them and crave them and need them.
But they weren’t her. They couldn’t be.
She was irreplaceable. Even more so now that she’s gone.
What label could encompass that?
This article was kindly lent to Utah TNG by Ferrett Steinmetz
More of his writings can be found on his blog: The Ferrett