I Only Have Eyes for You, or Else: The Myth of Exclusive Attraction

a close up of an opened gold pocket watch on a chain
Image by JetFuel501 / CC BY

“I don’t know how to say this,” I say.

“Just say it,” Jason says.

“Well, I’m confused. It confuses me,” I say.

And he frowns. “What confuses you?”

“I’m so happy with you. You’re great. Don’t get me wrong–”

“I don’t like where this is going,” he says.

“Oh Jason,” I sigh. “I’m just… finding myself attracted to other people.”

“If you’re breaking up with me, don’t let me stop you,” he says.

“No,” I say. “I love you. That’s not what I want at all.”

But he’s standing up from the chair. He throws his coat on in a flash.

“C’mon now,” I say. “It’s a blizzard out there. Don’t you want to stay? I’ll make you a Nescafé.” I point to my tiny dorm microwave. I’m not a Price is Right girl, and it’s not a new car. But I’m hoping he’s impressed.

He’s not. “Who is it?”

I sigh. “It’s not any one person. Just a bunch of people in my play.”

“Actors,” he says. “I should have figured. They have a way of being anything a person wants them to be. Why should it be different with you?”

“Well, actresses, mostly,” I say.

“Mostly?” he asks.

“Maybe an actor or two,” I confess.

Jason’s face screws up in disgust. “I can deal with you being confused about your sexuality. That’s fine. You’ve been like that the entire time I’ve known you. But I’m not going to stick around while you moon over other guys.”

“I’m not mooning,” I say. “I’m just… having feelings I don’t understand.”

“If you can’t understand them, how do you expect me to?” he asks.

But I don’t know what to tell him.

“I have a test in the morning I have to study for,” he says.

When I go to hug him goodbye, he won’t let me.

*

The next 2 weeks, he dodges my calls. When he does answer, he says he’s too busy with finals to hang out.

When we finally meet up, I give him his Christmas present: A pocket watch with a train on the front.

And he loves it but still won’t discuss what I said about being attracted to others. And dodges any questions about our relationship. Or what’s left of it.

“I miss you, you know,” I say.

“I’m done talking about it,” Jason says.

I’m confused because I feel like we never started. “Can I at least hug you?”

“Sure,” he says. And while I’m hugging him, he adds, “But you’re never kissing me again.”

Since I want to stay friends with him, I let the whole thing drop.

And he does an excellent job with the lights for my show.

But we are never the same as before.

Exclusive Attraction: I Only Have Eyes for You, or Else

Of all the cultural myths we perpetuate about relationships, few are as damaging as the myth of exclusive attraction. The belief that if a love is true and valid, we will never, ever be attracted to anyone else. Ever. And if we are attracted to someone else, this means that our love isn’t true. Or we’re a horrible person. Or both. Probably both.

We do not expect this in other contexts. If we visit a pet shop and find ourselves oohing and ahhing over kittens (or puppies, parakeets, iguanas, whatever), it doesn’t mean that we no longer love the pets we have at home.

If we make new friends, we don’t view our best friend as somehow deficient.

But the fact of the matter is that humans notice and appreciate new things.

Novelty is hardwired in us to captivate our interest. And instead of replacing what we have, it can have a way of changing us, and in doing so, it can give us fresh eyes to really see and experience the people who are already in our lives.

*

The saddest thing about what happened with Jason was that I wasn’t even going to ask him to open our relationship. At that point in my life, I wanted monogamy. But I needed a monogamy that allowed me to honestly acknowledge that I feel connected to others, even if I chose not to act physically on them. Even now, it’s the only kind of monogamy I can see myself doing.

For years, I felt like I had blown it with Jason. But now I’m happy.

Because whatever we were when we were together, it’s 100% not healthy that I could mess it up so easily, just by saying something.

 

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