Why I’m Actually Dating All My Friends
by Emmy Liu
I love everything about love, even the bad parts like heartbreak and the ambivalent feelings of being single. So when I ended a two-year-long relationship, it definitely wasn’t great, but I tried to keep it moving because the pursuit of love has always been fascinating to me. Being single again is both freeing in many ways and also equally soul-crushing. I had a semi-fun and also pretty difficult year-and-a-half of being single, with periods of intentional celibacy (six months!) and then unintentional celibacy (can’t remember the last time I had sex!). Navigating the modern dating world of sliding into DMs and the complicated politics of social media flirting, on top of the standard messiness of love and relationships, is fun but also really complicated and exhausting.
In the time I became single until now, I’ve learned a lot, like how to go out without feeling disappointed going home alone at the end of the night. That process of learning to be alone and accepting loneliness was, to be honest, pretty hard. I spent a lot of time obsessively making to-do lists to feel organized and to create a sense of purpose in my everyday life, even if it was just accomplishing errands. I also worked on friendships that I had let fall by the wayside when I was busy and in a relationship. Admittedly, I started to go out more and come home late enough at night that I would be able to pass out ASAP, so I didn’t have to think about not having another body next to me in bed. For me, it’s the sleeping alone part that is the hardest. But with time and an enormous effort to ground myself in the present and in my friendships, the process became easier. I still struggle with it a lot, but I’m learning to accept that loneliness ultimately paved the way for my own personal growth. I find myself to be more present and in being more present, I’ve become a better friend and a better person.
I’m happy about my progress in weaning myself off of sourcing my validation from potential romantic and sexual interests and becoming more independent. By the sixth month of being single, I lost count and didn’t care about how many days it had been since I last had sex, but one thing I did miss was intimacy. After hanging out with someone I thought I really liked and realizing that he was pretty mediocre, what made me sadder was not that he wasn’t who I thought he was, but that it reminded me of how much I missed intimacy. I started thinking about this idea of intimacy and of romantic narratives. Half out of bitterness and half out of curiosity, I wondered why heteronormative, cis, romantic/sexual intimacy is heralded as the ultimate form of love and validation, and wondered when this particular narrative become so ingrained in us. Why does it hurt more when we are rejected by a potential romantic/sexual interest than when we are rejected by a potential friend? Why do I spend so much time searching for something that I don’t even know actually exists? Maybe it’s because, in my experience, the media we consume pushes romantic and sexual narratives way more than they do stories of friendship, and in doing so, we are taught that romantic and sexual relationships take priority over other types of relationships.
As I enter into my twenties, I’m slowly starting to realize that the relationships that consume the most time and require most of my energy and efforts are my friendships. My friendships have not only become deeper and more vulnerable, but also more dynamic and more complex. In having more time and energy to dedicate to my friends now that I am single, my platonic relationships began to fill my time as well as this void that I used to think could only be filled by someone I was romantically involved with. One day, as I was driving around with a close friend, blasting music on the way to IKEA, it occured to me that in that moment it felt like we were kind of dating? It was that familiar closeness that I felt with that person in that moment, of totally being myself and feeling comfortable, and how alive and present it made me feel. Then I started to look at all of my friends and I realized, I was basically kind of dating all of my friends. I was lucky to have friendships that not only were super fun, but also fulfilled my need for affection, for feeling loved and cared for, for feeling mutually committed to, all the while finding a mutual enjoyment in each other that bordered obsession…does that not sound like dating?
When I expressed to a friend of mine that I no longer felt the need to date someone seriously because it felt like I was in a fulfilling romantic relationship with all of my friends minus the sex (and occasionally the sex…yikes), he laughed and said, “Emmy, that’s called intimacy.”
Of course, I knew that I was close with my friends, but to call it intimacy, when intimacy has always, in my mind, been reserved for conversations about romance and sex, shifted a lot of things for me. Intimacy was no longer something I could only develop in a romantic relationship. Intimacy could happen anywhere and with anyone and in many different ways that don’t have to be romantic. That, to me, is really cool because I feel like intimacy is the cornerstone for love. If I could be intimate with my friends, then the love I felt for them was equally as important as love between romantic partners.
I’ve come to realize that it’s totally okay to want to feel romantic and sexual love. I don’t think desire should be shameful or repressed. I think instead, what is missing a lot of the time from the dialogue of relationships and of love is the idea that friendships are just as important, just as dynamic, just as meaningful, and need just as much work and effort to maintain as your romantic relationships. Friends can care about each other regardless of time and distance, but what I think we tend to forget is that friendships take work to demonstrate that care. Through your friendships, you are afforded the same space to explore concepts of unconditional love, of selflessness, of commitment, and of intimacy that you can learn in romantic relationships, and maybe even minus the drawbacks of romantic relationships, like the obligation of going to your significant others’ family functions with their micro-aggressively racist cousins. To quote bell hooks, “to love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds.”