“So what do you do for a living?” they asked me.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
“Ohhh,” they replied. “What sorts of things do you write?”
Everyone always asks this question. It’s interesting to me how reliable this is. Back when I held a variety of other jobs, I found that followup questions were rare. But when you tell people you’re a writer, folks pretty much always want to know more.
And it’s at times like these that I wish I liked talking about my job. I’m not one of those people that like to go on and on about what I’m working on for projects. I have to do it a little for my actual job –I have to talk about the writing in order to spread the word about it to potential readers. And when I’m on podcasts or being interviewed by a reporter for an article. Getting used to that was a big adjustment to me.
That’s more than enough to me.
So when I’m asked by someone I’m only just meeting, I try to answer the question and move on quickly. To get to other more interesting topics of conversation as soon as possible. In general, I want to learn about them, not talk about me.
Anyway, one of the things I say is that I write a lot of articles about dating. (Because this is true. I write about dating and relationships frequently on my own blog, but I also do publish quite a few articles for other places, typically women’s magazines.)
And the last time I told someone this, I was taken aback by their answer. “Dating? I thought you just said you were married.”
There is of course the fact that I’m not a person who has only been monogamous. I consider myself ambiamorous, which means I’m basically fine being monogamous or consensually non-monogamous (I don’t countenance cheating though, whether it’s cheating in my own relationships or aiding and abetting in the cheating of others). It’s all a function of what’s going on in my life and who I’m seeing at the time.
But honestly I’m not really dating at the moment. I’m currently functionally monogamous, more focused on writing and settling down after a cross-country move.
And if I’m being perfectly honest, I haven’t “dated” in a traditional sense for years. There was a brief period of a few weeks where I went online and did the traditional dating app thing — which did enable me to meet one partner (who is now a friendly ex). But aside from that, I’ve met my other partners over the past decade through mutual friends.
Anyway, I considered conveying all this in the brief span of about three seconds that I had to think after this person said that before someone else spoke. But it seemed pretty far to go into my personal life with someone I was pretty much just meeting. Particularly as we’re just taking crafting classes together.
And after those three seconds, someone else jumped in and replied, “Well, the fact she’s married is evidence that she knows what she’s doing with dating.”
I laughed. And the topic quickly pivoted and went off elsewhere, onto the task before us and what we were actually trying to accomplish.
The Reasons Nobody Gets to Be a Dating “Expert”
But later after I had left the class and my mind had time to drift, I thought back on that conversation with amusement. Because going by certain rules, no one is allowed to be a dating “expert.” Here’s why:
- If you’re married, people assume you’re off the market. So what could you know about dating? This of course assumes that all married people are monogamous, which is obviously not true, since some married people cheat (boo), and other married folks have agreements that they are permitted to date other people (which can look different depending on the people in question). There are also legal secular marriages that differ from religious marriages. Regardless, a lot of people make the assumption that married equals monogamous (or that it should), for a variety of reasons.
- If you’re still single, clearly you don’t know what you’re doing because if you did, you’d be married. (Talk about your double bind, right?)
- Even if you allow in the concept of alternatives to monogamy that are consensual (polyamory, ambiamory, open relationships, or swinging), a lot of folks will assume that non-monogamy equals bad at relationships. So you don’t get to be a dating “expert” either.
So going by these rules, there are no dating experts. Which is honestly fine by me. I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. Mostly just an essayist who trained as a psychological researcher and has had a lot of relationships.
The more I’ve learned about relationships and about social science, the less I feel I know definitively — although certain themes repeat over and over again and can be helpful and instructive.
But it’s funny because people are called dating experts all the damn time. So there’s some kind of impression that it’s possible to be one… but if you look at all the commonly held beliefs about dating, it’s like doing back flips through a laser grid.
Anyway, I had to laugh. Just at how it all shook out.
The Trojan Horse of Advocacy
I don’t imagine I’ll ever get to the point with this particular person that my deeper life story becomes something they’re interested in. But if that ever comes, for what it’s worth, I’m prepared. I’ve had that conversation a number of times, where people come to realize that I’m much different than they imagined me going in. That I’m not straight. And that my ideas about relationships can be a little unconventional.
I’m told I can come off proper, even a little prudish, when you’re first getting to know me in formal or professional settings, which is probably a function of growing up bisexual in a very small conservative town in the woods. I’m not ashamed of who I am, but I don’t force it on other people unless they’re really freaking curious. And even then it usually takes a bit of time. I’ve learned to let people in slowly, giving them a chance to fully absorb and understand my integrity before they prejudge me on being an “other.”
Those moments are kind of fun actually. When you change someone else’s mind about what a certain kind of person is like. A Trojan horse of advocacy.
It’s funny that it’s still possible, even with my life as it is now that I still can have those kinds of moments. Because while I don’t go around broadcasting my various proclivities, I’m not in the closet or anything. I’m about as out as you can be publicly. For example, I’ve had my picture and name in Self magazine with my sexual orientation and the fact that I was dating more than one person at a time (with everyone’s knowledge and consent).
And yet, I’m still able to sneak up on people.