*Names have been changed
For almost three years now I’ve been in a (mostly) monogamous and committed relationship with my girlfriend, *Rosie. She’s the love of my life and I will marry her. To me, this seems very reasonable – and although I’m not a traditionalist, I’m excited by the prospect of ‘settling down’ in a stable marriage and making cute babies. However, to most people my age, this is a ludicrous concept. I’m 21 years old.
There are many reasons why I believe this relationship will last and why I’m committed to its longevity. Firstly, as a queer, black woman, the idea of finding a love like mine is beautiful, magical and in some ways revolutionary. Through feminist readings such as the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde and Black Girl Dangerous, I have come to understand that systemic racism and the stigma of being queer are often barriers towards being in love and finding happiness.
These works have taught me how the patriarchal society that we live in rejects the idea of women being romantically and sexually intimate without the involvement of men. I’ve been told on several occasions by men that they can ‘turn me straight’ or that I’m ‘too pretty’ to be a lesbian, asking what trauma I experienced that made me gay. To a lot of men, the idea that my autonomy, my agency, my sexual identity and most importantly, my long-term relationship can exist without any male influence is unfathomable. But we exist, we are in love and we don’t have any secret penis cravings.
I’ll spare you the soppy romantic details about how much I love Rosie, but my second reason why we’re committed is that, well, I love her a lot. I’m happy in the present and foresee a continuation of this warm fuzzy feeling for many years to come. But many people ask, how can you know she’s the one? And sometimes, I don’t know. I don’t know if she’s the only person in the world that can make me feel this way. I don’t know if in two or 20 years from now either one of us will meet someone who makes us feel even more special. I don’t know if there will be obstacles that we can’t overcome. But why does that mean we shouldn’t try?
Together we have been through so much. Long distance, depression, anxiety, university (probably the hardest), coming out, financial struggle, moving, death, health issues and so on… After all this in the space of only three years, I couldn’t be more ready to say ’til death do us part’ to this woman. Yet somehow, it feels weird.
Throughout all of history, up until about ten years ago, this choice would be totally normal (perhaps aside from the homosexuality aspect). Many people my parents’ age married their high school or university sweetheart, and some even had only one lover their entire lives. Yet to many millennials, this is an archaic and alien concept.
There are no religious foundations to my desire for a long-term relationship, and I’m just not interested in serial dating or hookup culture. There are some internalized reasons for this – namely, fear regarding consent and assault, the difficulty of dating as a ‘lipstick’ lesbian’, the pervasive heteronormativity of most dating sites and apps and just the general awkwardness and danger of intimacy with strangers.
However, my partner and I do have what we like to call a ‘relationship with benefits.’ Like many young people, we’re exploring different ways of loving and engaging in relationships. Does this mean that having some element of polyamory is an inevitable part of a 21st century relationship? Yes and no. I think the modern world gives us the opportunity to explore and try new relationship styles. Exploring polyamory helps keep our romance and excitement alive, especially at a young age. We want the ability to do different things with different people as we know we’ll be spending the rest of our lives together. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to do that now, while still remaining intimate, romantic and exclusive.
But roughly 80% of undergraduate students engage in hookups and casual sexual encounters, according to a study by the National Library of Medicine on sexual hookup culture. Many people are calling this era ‘the millennial sexual revolution.’ So, I figured I should ask some of my friends what’s in it for them.
My friend *Aliyah raised some really interesting points about the increase of people involved in hookup culture, especially women. She says that society has become so much more accepting when it comes to talking about sexuality that it enables young people to have more freedom and explore their sexual desires. Being able to express their sexual needs and engage in casual sex in a way that makes them feel good and fulfilled was a recurring factor among my friends. However, Aliyah was aware of how there is a far greater stigma for women who want to engage in casual hookups and tries to undo this by being fearless and confident in her sexual choices.
*Peter said that the great thing about one night stands is the option to be selfish – to focus on being satisfied and pleasured without thinking of the consequences (to an extent). He’s hooked up with over 40 people since starting university and says that it’s a great way to have fun, be sexually free and connect with people without the pressure of committing to a long-term relationship at a young age. Peter believes that exploring his sexuality and sexual freedom at this age will make him more ready to commit to a long-term relationship in the future. He enjoys the refreshing intimacy of hookups – the brevity allows for more exploration.
Another friend, *Ralph, said that he’s not a huge fan of one night stands but uses them to get rid of sexual urges that build up from time to time. He fears the loneliness that can come with hookups, as well as sexually transmitted diseases. Overall, he prefers long-term relationships because you get to know the other person (or people) intimately, learn about their quirks and can fulfill them sexually.
It seems like while a lot of my friends enjoy casual intimacy and short-term relationships, many of them are also interested in finding more committed partnerships in the future. At the same time, it feels great that my long-term partner and I are able to occasionally explore polyamory in a way that feels good for us while still remaining committed to one another. It’s a really exciting age to be in – young people, especially young women, taking advantage of more sexual freedom and finding ways to enjoy themselves, express themselves and connect with new people.
Written by Cicely-Belle Blain. Published in the Winter 2016 Issue.
Do you think we’re in a new age of romance? Let us know in the comments below!