“Rebounding,” Internet Dating, and Oppressive Monogamous Conditioning

by Lindsay Miller


I’m a queer man who’s just come out on the other side of a 5-year relationship (and being in my early 20’s, that is a major chunk of my life) with a wonderful man whom I still very much care about, but it was time to move on and make choices for myself and be alone for a bit. We only officially broke up in the past week and a half, but I had been thinking about it and dealing with the possibility of the break up for a while longer than that time.

At the very end of our relationship I had a run in with an old potential love from back in the day (before I had even met my now-ex) and talked over why we had never been a thing in the past. Well, the breakup came and went and I have now been chatting/starting to see this new old potential future love, and really think it could go somewhere.

Aside from the fact that this new guy is beyond fantastic and a potentially-maybe-long-term thing, I have found myself feeling extreme guilt lingering from the recent breakup (while also dealing with moving out and trying to start again for myself) and trying to not let this be a quick rebound pick-me-up from the very long and committed relationship I have just ended.

How do I make sure that I am not putting this guilt onto my new friend and making him a rebound, while also not blaming myself for being ready to move on even though it is so soon after the recent break up?

If you were preparing yourself for the breakup for a long time, you might feel like you’ve worked through your feelings and are ready to jump back in the pool (is romance really that similar to a pool, though? Maybe it’s more like you’re ready to jump back in the raging whitewater river full of sharks and emotionally unavailable piranhas. You’re gonna have so much fun!). But the lasting effects of ending a relationship can be unpredictable and reverberate longer than you expect them to, so it’s good that you’re being cautious about moving on to the next person.

You don’t need to feel guilty about breaking up with your previous boyfriend. There’s no wrongdoing in ending a relationship that’s not making you happy — it’s really the kindest thing you can do for your sweetie, since being stuck with a partner who’s no longer into you is goddamn miserable. I assume that makes you feel better, since everyone knows the best way to get rid of an unwanted and irrational emotion is for a stranger to tell you to stop feeling it. However — in the unlikely event that I have not quite erased your groundless sense of guilt — it’s important that you work to compartmentalize that and keep it far away from your feelings about your new potential love.

Just about every serious relationship requires a palate-cleansing hookup or two before moving on to the next long-term lay. It’s a good way to recalibrate your emotional sensors and burn off whatever excess feelings are left from your breakup so they don’t get all over your new person. If you really don’t have time to do that because this dude could be The Last Person You’ll Ever See Naked and you have to jump on him before he gets away, at least make sure to spend some serious extracurricular time with your feelings. Start a journal, take up painting, befriend a few lesbians — whatever you need to do to express and work through all the baggage from your breakup before it can sabotage the new thing you’ve got going.

But you know what? Sometimes you handle your shit and you compartmentalize your relationships and you’re totally over your breakup and your new romance still doesn’t last. No matter how great things seem at the beginning, there’s no way to predict whether a relationship will make it in the long term. If things don’t work out with the new guy, don’t try to prolong it past its expiration date just because you’re embarrassed about “rebounding.”

Hey! So I’m in my mid-thirties, and up until this year had always identified as straight. This was kind of a default assumption rather than a lived reality, though, since I hadn’t been with anyone since I broke up with my first boyfriend 12 years ago after a 6-month long-distance relationship. This year I had a very short but very intense relationship with a woman who dumped me suddenly for confusing reasons — after being miserable for a couple months (or more than a couple months), I’m grateful now that she came along so I could learn how much I like being with women.

So obviously I am not skilled at dating, period. I’ve been on a lot of first dates through Internet dating sites, but at this point it feels like changing my default search from “men who like women” to “women who like women” is just opening up new possibilities for rejection and/or going on boring or awful dates. Mostly I just feel really alone in my newly discovered queerness; it doesn’t help that I’m pretty new to my area (a smallish city) and don’t know many people outside of work (where I am surrounded by straight people). So I guess my question is, how do I find the queer spaces everyone keeps telling me to find? My family and friends are bewildered but adjusting gamely to my new orientation, but I’d just like to hang out with folks for whom it’s totally normal, and all my queer lady friends live far away. It’d be nice if I found someone to date, but more than that I just want to find my people, you know?

God, isn’t internet dating just the worst? I know I recommend it all the time, especially to people who have very specific dating needs and/or a limited pool of candidates in their geographical vicinity, and I do think it can be a huge boon and is almost always better than nothing, but Jesus can it suck. And while it sometimes helps you get laid, it’s definitely not that useful when it comes to finding — or building — your queer community.

Coming out when you just moved to a new place is your basic good news/bad news situation. The bad news is, of course, that you don’t yet know where to cool queer people hang out. But the good news is that you can explore and find new things and discover both your new home and yourself — you don’t have lots of habits and routines and social obligations getting in the way.

You can keep doing your Internet dating thing or take a break, but either way, get off the computer sometimes and check out your city. Use a variety of modes of transportation — you’ll find different things walking than you will driving or riding your bike or taking the bus. Find the cool artsy neighborhoods, the best dive bars, the dust-choked used bookstore with the surprisingly good lesbian fiction section. Use Google to find the dyke clubs and bisexual speed dating events. Does your city do Pride? Find out who organizes it and volunteer to help — no Pride committee has ever suffered from too many hands, and you’ll make friends and find out who’s who, who’s single, and who’s notorious for being emotionally unavailable.

And if the queer community you want doesn’t exist, don’t be afraid to try to build it. Lots of people complain that there’s no gay social life in their town outside of bars; if this is a concern you share, ask your favorite craft store if they’ll help you host a queer quilting bee, or use Meetup.com to organize a bisexual hiking group. Get creative! What would your ideal community revolve around? If there’s an event you’d love to attend, but no one else has invented it yet, it might be easier than you think to make it happen. Start with whatever queer spaces you can find and use them to advertise and recruit volunteers. This not only gives you an avenue to make friends and meet potential dates, it makes you a busier, more interesting person who everyone will want to hang out with.

Finally — FOR QUEER EYES ONLY, STRAIGHT PEOPLE STOP READING — if you really can’t find any gay or bi ladies to kick it with, you can always use your Super Queer Recruitment Powers on your straight friends. Just turn the people you like gay! It never fails, plus if you do it five times in one year you ascend to Double Gold Star Queer Status and get VIP access to the next Strategies of Lesbianism Convention.

I just broke up with my partner of two years because they realized that they were polyamorous. I had kind of known this for a few months, and I even brought it up to them before, but we both pushed it away because we didn’t want it to be true. It wasn’t really something we could avoid, though, so both of us read up a lot on poly literature (The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, various websites). They realized that they identified as polyamorous, and I realized that it wasn’t something that I could do or even wanted. They want to be able to connect (emotionally, romantically, and sexually) with multiple people in a way that I want to reserve for just my partner.

I’m sad, but we both know it’s for the best. We’re both young; we’re both figuring out who we are and what we want, so it’s good that this is happening. I miss them like crazy, but this is the healthy choice for both of us.

I keep feeling, though, that my desire for monogamy, and specifically for the kind of monogamy that’s about finding one person who you want to spend the rest of your life with, is a personal (even political) failing.

The stuff I read talked a lot about how low self-esteem, possessiveness, and jealousy all get in the way of polyamorous relationships. I feel like maybe I’ve failed in these respects, and that’s why I can’t handle (and don’t want) a polyamorous relationships. Somewhere I don’t really believe this; I was a really good, supportive girlfriend without any jealousy issues, but I’m confused.

The stuff I read also framed monogamy (and especially the ‘Til-Death-Do-Us-Part kind) as being part of a restrictive, heteronormative, patriarchal system. I think of myself as someone with fairly radical politics, including/especially when it comes to gender and sexuality, and I feel like…maybe the reason why this relationship couldn’t work is that my politics weren’t radical enough and I can’t overcome my oppressive monogamous conditioning. I mean Simone de Beauvoir and Frida Kahlo and so many other incredible, intelligent, radical women did it.

I just feel like I’ve…failed, emotionally, personally, and politically.

OK, well, you wrote this letter to me and I mention pretty frequently that I’m monogamously married, so I assume you’re not looking for someone to talk you through becoming appropriately polyamorous so that you can be your best emotional, personal, and political self. Which is good news, because I’m definitely not going to do that.

Polyamory is fine. I mean, for some people it’s more than fine — it’s great! But it’s morally neutral. Having polyamorous relationships does not make you a better or worse person than being monogamous. I’d like to suggest, however, that acting like a sanctimonious juicebox about the Joys of Polyamory and the Patriarchal Institution of Monogamy does make you a worse person. I kind of understand the impulse — when the mainstream constantly invalidates your relationship models and tells you you’re slutty and selfish and gross and wrong, it’s super tempting to push back and say “Actually, I’m awesome and you’re a bunch of regressive prudes!” But the problem with judgmental monogamous folks is the “judgmental,” not the “monogamous,” so let’s agree on a species-wide policy of not talking smack about each other’s healthy and fulfilling adult relationships and move forward from there.

Sure, insecurity and possessiveness can destroy a polyamorous relationship. They can also destroy a monogamous relationship, a friendship, or a one-night stand. The character traits that make someone a good partner are the same no matter your relationship model. Not wanting to be poly makes you romantically incompatible with a poly person, but it doesn’t make you a failure. It’s kind of like how being straight makes you romantically incompatible with a lesbian. There are, of course, monogamous relationships that involve regressive, patriarchal, heteronormative bullshit, but you know what? Those things exist in poly relationships too, because those things exist in people. The Bullshit People are always among us, and no surefire way has yet been found to ward them off. You just have to keep trying until you find someone — or multiple someones — who isn’t bullshit, and who wants the same things you want.

And those people exist! There are plenty of awesome, progressive, smart, radical queers who would love to monogamously share their lives with someone like you. Once you’ve spent some time working through the pain of your breakup, you’ll realize they’d be lucky to have you. Good luck getting back out there and finding them.

Previously: “Too Many” Straight Friends, Hiding Your Sex Tools, and Life in the Queer Lane

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter, and you can peruse the AAQC archive here. Do you have a question for her?