“We’re not together, we’re just floating through time and space,” said my work friend Daniel about his current relationship status. In that moment, it clicked. For months I wrestled to understand and describe my own semi-romantic relationships — Some of which fall on a gray scale spectrum, somewhere between friends and lovers. “We’re not together, we’re just floating through time and space,” I repeated and smiled.
Months ago, a short-lived romance and in-person break up inspired me to start writing poems about men I’ve dated. A few girlfriends had also created dating-related art and writing, so we decided to launch a new project, an anthology called It’s Not Personal (But You’re Not My Person). It’s a growing collection of art and writing inspired by the female dating experience, which we hope will become a published book later this year.
So far, we’ve received around 50 submissions from women as far as Milan, Toronto and Los Angeles. The work is powerful and insightful with so many unique experiences and brave voices shining through. It’s Not Personal is becoming a new space where women of all backgrounds can be brutally honest about their dating experiences. And ultimately, we’re forming a collective testament of what it means to be a woman dating in 2016.
In just a few months, the project has transformed my perspective on dating. While I once felt ashamed to be single and that being a solo 27-year-old made me a social pariah, I now find myself embracing my singledom: I have never felt more open to whatever (or whoever) comes my way and there is no such thing as a bad date anymore: “Do it for the poem!” one friend cheered when I was recently presented with a not-so-exciting romantic opportunity. And while I haven’t gotten as many free drinks or meals as I thought I would, I have very fortunately received passwords/log-ins to Amazon Prime and HBO GO accounts.
I now find myself readily asking my dates more questions than ever before—questions about past relationships, dating experiences and sexual desires. As a result, dating has become a fun homework assignment with every date as an opportunity for dialogue, research and inspiration. With each experience I am reclaiming my independence and for the first time in my life, I feel empowered to be a free woman. I am finally seeing every encounter as a learning opportunity and I feel less self-inflicted pressure to be in a serious relationship right now. While being single has become a newfound positive, dating is now my chosen artistic medium through which I am learning to better understand myself and the world around me.
Though I lack the desire for any form of commitment right now, I still find myself craving companionship and a deep connection with the opposite sex. While I have never felt more open and confident in my journey, parts of me feel torn and held back by relationships I can’t seem to understand or define. There are men in my life whom I have feelings for yet I don’t want to be in a serious relationship with—At least not right now. The connection seems genuine and shared, yet the guys themselves have admitted they are not ready for a relationship either. After much wrestling with my own thoughts I began to ask myself: if I continue to engage in ambiguous, sporadic hang outs with these guys am I not practicing self respect? Am I hurting myself or doing something wrong?
At first, I saw this kind of relationship as a negative. I was totally confused and attempted to measure each situation by what they could or should be instead of accepting them for what they are. I questioned these guys’ motives and assumed they were in the wrong because they didn’t want to actually date me. But then I thought, if feeling a genuine connection with someone is seldom and special, what happens if neither of us is ready for something serious?
You see, I want a whole soul, but I, myself, am not whole-souled yet. I’m still working on becoming the best possible version of myself and I’m just not ready to give my heart to someone fully. I am still happy to be on a solo mission and before I settle down, I’m working on achieving some goals on my own. So if I don’t know what I want and I’m not qualified to truly love anyone else yet, how can I question those who don’t know what they want either?
Yes, the land of in between is full of conflicting emotions, mixed messages, ups and downs—It’s fickle, confusing and sometimes, annoying as hell. I’m still learning how to keep these guys in my life without expectations or boundaries but I can’t simply imagine them not being in my life at all. I mean, I’ve already tried it and it didn’t feel any easier or better than the alternative.
So how do you navigate relationship gray areas? For now, I will follow my curiosities and the people that intrigue me. I will attempt to accept the undefined and embrace the elusive ride. I will make room for these guys in my life, in whatever form that is. Because the thing is, they do mean something to me. All I can do is trust that there is a reason I keep coming back to them and that they offer me something I’m missing in other areas of my life. I guess that’s the beauty of these relationships, that they allow me to feel something but don’t totally restrain my own personal journey.
Finding comfort in my own relationship status hasn’t been easy but these days I feel less scared to put my heart into things that aren’t black and white. In the process, I’ve learned it’s okay to not know where it will all lead. And not every relationship has to follow the typical dating pattern. Perhaps the land of in between doesn’t have been so confusing after all. Sometimes, you just have to float through time and space.
Jillian Evelyn is an illustrator based out of Los Angeles. She contributes to It’s Not Personal by illustrating some of the story lines and helping to acquire West Coast submissions. Follow her on jillianevelyn.com, Tumblr and Instagram.
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Sara Radin is a writer, curator, collaborator and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. Full time, she is an Art + Culture editor for WGSN (a fashion trend forecasting publication). Sara runs two passion projects: Cultureisland (Instagram, Twitter) a platform for interviewing and collaborating with emerging creatives on pop-up events, and It's Not Personal, an anthology inspired by the female dating experience. Her writing has also been published by Huffington Post and Thought Catalog. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.