I’ve noticed a trend in dating. People are either emotionally or physically available at the beginning of a relationship, but rarely both. Growing up in the South, the conservative mindset meant you dated people for weeks, even months, before getting physically intimate. In the liberal North, people will be hooking up, dating, and spending significant time together without defining their relationships or making intentional commitments.
Either way, there is a fear of vulnerability; a fear that such exposure requisites a serious relationship. In its unique way, polyamory allows both physical and emotional vulnerability without and perhaps never being serious. I call this casual intimacy.
What is it?
“I don’t think he would react badly, It’s just that I think people assume when you say, ” I love you” it has implications attached to it. He might think, “oh no, she wants to get married tomorrow…”
Does that sound familiar? It’s what a friend told me one day, and I introduced the idea of casual intimacy. I’ll define it as the ability to express intense emotions without the typical unhealthy attachment in relationships with fewer obligations or expectations.
Okay, great. So what does that actually mean? It means that you can love someone freely and strongly, and at the same time make them feel safe that they don’t have to do a damn thing about it. Fear of love comes from a fear of losing freedom. Giving someone your love, and giving them back their freedom is a very relaxing feeling for the person receiving it. It releases more love, sex, and friendship they originally thought they were available. And yes, casual intimacy can exist in completely platonic relationships.
It means you can have the feels without ever getting lost in love.
“Yes, why isn’t this a thing!??”
It’s been suggested that it is easier for (men/women/me personally/people who are “naturally” polyamorous) to just love freely. Doing so without attachment indicates some higher form of love. I think it’s a language skill more than anything else. When you tell someone you love them, you’re telling them I love you but I’m not asking anything more. Love is just an expression of an emotion; it’s not commitment.
“So then why is it difficult? Why do I have all this baggage and fear around it? I’m trying to sort it out.”
So then why tho?
Have you ever liked someone, even loved them, but kinda always known they weren’t the one? You’ve known that someday you will, and you would like to, love someone else more? Or the opposite: maybe you’re not ready for a serious commitment, but you really really really like him. It’s so common in our lives to bumblefuck our way into a relationship. First, it’s casual sex, and then they called us hon. Oopshaha, I just said we’re dating….hon, are we dating??
I bet many of you have gone months or even years without ever having the talk. But everyone knows what’s going on. That doesn’t mean you feel comfortable. We are all trapped in monogamous mindsets of what love does and doesn’t mean.
-Loving someone less than you want to feel for someone else (someday) means you’re wasting someone’s time by being with them
-Someone feeling stronger for you means you’re leading them on if you date them
-Once you fall in love, it’s really really bad to fall out of it
-Love indicates you should be in a serious relationship
-Serious relationships should always be progressing to become more serious.
-Relationships that don’t progress are stagnant and should be ended
-Serious relationships cannot be scaled back to reflect changes in emotions
-Strong feelings create pressure for someone who isn’t sure how they feel or is sure they don’t feel as strongly
Try these pants on for size:
-How strongly you feel for people doesn’t need to be compared and assessed
-How strongly you feel doesn’t indicate how serious relationships need to be
-It’s okay to reassess commitments, agreements, and expectations when feelings change
-Relationship changes can preserve healthy and fun relationships.
-Indeed, such changes in seriousness will enhance the quality of the time spent together
-Disparate emotions can be enjoyed by both parties once expectations are adjusted accordingly
-No one is being led on if everyone is on the same page
-And probably most importantly: no one is responsible for your feelings of affection and love, no matter how strong they are.
On that last one: the great news is even the most fearful of intimacy and commitment will respond well to the love you give when you indicate powerfully they need do nothing but receive it to the degree that they want.
Language and Tone
Casual intimacy can and should be directly expressed. Your partner understanding how you feel is tantamount to their emotional agency in a relationship, which is just a fancy way of saying your partner is safe to receive your really strong love without feeling overwhelmed, obligated to return it, and especially change their behavior in any way.
How do you look deep into the eyes of someone you’ve known a week (or an hour!) and say ‘I think I love you already, but if not definitely by like, at most, 3 weeks from now.”
Vibes of pressure and eagerness are the enemies of casual intimacy. The personal work you’ll need to do is separating your feelings of loving someone and wanting to be loved by someone. It’s the empathy of wanting someone to feel free to love you. Or not! Whatever’s cool 🙂 Seriously though, such feelings are often conflated, and it’s a subtle but powerful distinction to feel them simultaneously but independently. Work on that, and you’re golden.
I think the coolest thing about this mindset is how to navigate unbalanced feelings. There is no true equality of emotions or opportunity. I say stop pretending the small differences don’t exist, and start embracing the larger differences. Be willing to love someone who seems either more or less into you.
Confronting fears of abandonment can be hard, and that fear CAN be exacerbated by casual intimacy, so what I can proffer is this: all relationships change. Whether someone breaks up or dies, or leaves, or you become friends, relationships are part of impermanence like all other aspects in life. Clinging to false notions of infinity will just serve you to create an unhealthy dynamic, or fear of embracing your true feelings.
Often times people say “I just don’t want to get attached.” And it’s true. We aren’t saying we don’t want love, but we can’t imagine not be attached when we feel such strong love. Removing attachment usually means holding boundaries for your freedom with others, and showing them that you will respect their autonomy as well. It’s a difficult but worthwhile exercise.
Is this unique to open relationships?
Monogamy typically requisites that you end up in a certain place at a certain rate. Even with intent to be casual, emotions guide you. You’re on train tracks. There isn’t an attachment to feeling love for someone in monogamy, but the structure itself doesn’t really allow for much backwards sliding, at least not in a mutually safe and fun way. Milestones which otherwise are meaningless mean that you can’t really go back and keep your relationship. Because exclusivity is the foundation of monogamy, it’s very difficult to emotionally navigate the gray area between being single and being in a relationship.
I’ll wrap it up this way. Casual intimacy is the liberating step to experiencing The Three Loves. It can also lead to a very serious relationship, and that’s great. This is a trust-building exercise more than anything else. By separating our emotions from our intent, we can lift our awareness out of normal relationship structures, which are often maintained knowingly or not in polyamorous relationships.
It will bring full circle the idea that we really CAN all love each other by not telling us how to do it. It removes fear, anxiety, and insecurity. It allows exploration of what kind of relationships we like, what and what kind of people we want to spend time with. It’s removing the safety tape from our hearts.
Now go fuck someone you love and love someone you fuck.