Every so often, I delve back into my dating past to share a story of those “BS” (Before Steve) days. It’s always an exercise in extreme gratitude.
“Jeremy,” the first man I met on Match.com, lived in a small town in North Carolina. Largely because of the distance, we traded online messages for a couple of weeks before getting together. Jeremy’s emails were smart, witty, and flirtatious. One day he sent me a lyrical note describing the silver crescent moon flanked by Mars and Venus he’d seen in the early morning sky, a hopeful sign that made him think of us.
When we finally met, he hugged me and told me I was even cuter in person than in my pictures. But things felt out of sync. In person, both of us were quieter, more reserved than our online personas. Dinner was okay. On the road to visit my parents in Georgia, I stayed at Jeremy’s apartment that night, while he slept at his buddy’s house down the road.
When he arrived the next morning to go to breakfast, he caught me absent-mindedly perusing a bookshelf. With more animation than I’d seen from him up to that point, he asked, “Did you see anything that scared or unnerved you? Because if you did, you can ask me questions.”
I hadn’t, but I hadn’t been looking that closely. I shook my head no, and gave the shelf one last glance as we headed out the door. No “DIY Guide to Murder” or “Bombbuilder’s Manual” I could see. Did I want to know?
I didn’t return to North Carolina after that week, but we stayed in contact. We’d both been alone for a while, and though I’d never done the friends-with-benefits thing before, Jeremy and I agreed to keep company until one of us found a better match. Secretly I hoped we might re-discover the spark of those early emails. He came up to Roanoke for a visit, and lying in bed in a post-coital cuddle, he ‘fessed up about those “scary” books: he’d been concerned because he had three or four volumes on polyamory.
The term was new to me (it had just made the OED one year prior), but I was linguistically savvy enough to be wary. Jeremy explained that polyamory, unlike “swinging” or broadly “open” relationships, meant sustaining multiple emotionally-invested, sexual relationships simultaneously, usually by committing to one primary partner, plus one or more secondary partners. He emphasized he didn’t want to pursue casual affairs or cheat (that was…comforting?). But he’d been in a long-term monogamous relationship and found it too stifling, limiting. So he’d been reading up on alternatives.
Funny, I didn’t recall any mention of any of this in his Match profile.
I’m a pretty open-minded gal. But I’m also a gal who thought friends-with-benefits was daring.
Any remaining hope I’d had was already fading faster than a middle-school crush when Jeremy hugged me and said, almost as an after-thought, “I don’t think you could ever be my primary. But you’d make a great secondary.”
I stiffened against him, and he quickly apologized. But it was too late.
I was a lot of things. I was thirty-six and single. I was lonely. And I was so scared I’d always be lonely, I’d settled for an “arrangement” in place of a relationship.
I was a lot of things. But I was nobody’s “secondary.”
Jeremy went home to North Carolina.