What Do I Bring to a Relationship?

Jun 15, 2021 | 2021 Winter - Finding Sex/Finding Love

By Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti

In December 2019, I learned about an upcoming event at She Bop (a women-owned sex toy boutique in Portland, Oregon). It was called “New Horizons in Kink & Polyamory: An Evening with Authors Kevin Patterson & Dr. Liz Powell.” Since this event was scheduled to take place the day after my birthday, I considered it a birthday present to myself.

Though I value both speakers’ opinions, Kevin Patterson was the one who gave me the most to think about. He shared three questions that night, and—to risk sounding clichéd—these questions and their answers were life-changing for me.

But before I share those questions, here is some background about my partners and how we met.

I’ve been with “G” for 14 years. I first saw him and his partner S when I sat across from them at a reading group for The Ethical Slut. But we didn’t start dating until 2006, when I expressed a desire to.

I met “J” in 2011 at the Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle and have referred to him as my partner since Fall of 2012.

Since I’ve been with both partners for more than a decade and was feeling secure and comfortable with them, I noticed in 2019 that I was starting to take them for granted. I became complacent, i.e. lazy and slovenly. I just took it for granted they would always be in my life, and that if one partner couldn’t attend an event with me, the other one would. However, I eventually learned that this wasn’t always the case.

Starting in the Summer of 2019, there were more events that neither partner could attend with me. For example, the Education Director at a sex-positive center near the Canadian border was in the process of scheduling me to teach “Transcending Shame,” a workshop I created and began presenting in 2017. We agreed it would be a good idea to schedule the class for October 5th, since a play party would take place afterwards. I could bring a partner with me so we could enjoy the play party after my presentation. Then we could spend the night and drive back to Seattle the next day.

But my partner G, who normally spends two weeks a month in Seattle and the rest of the month in another state, where his wife lives, would be out of town on October 5th. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just ask J.” But J’s long-distance girlfriend was scheduled to be in town the week before my class, heading home on October 5th, the date of my class!

After I completed teaching my class and getting something to eat, the Education Director and her husband drove me back to Seattle. Even though the class went well, I still felt disappointed and sad. Along with the disappointment and sadness was a feeling of déjà vu: “Here we go again!”

You see, before COVID, my housemates would frequently throw large parties and social gatherings, which were extremely problematic for me, being that I’m a person with autism and social anxiety. One such gathering was an annual event called “Dinner of Love,” which was celebrated instead of Valentine’s Day. I hated the first two I attended because my partners would always have schedule conflicts, causing me to attend the event alone. But I was so thrilled to learn that my partner J would be available to attend the 2019 event. However, when he didn’t show up, I called him, only to learn that he got the nights mixed up! By this time, I was beyond disappointed. I broke down, sobbing in J’s ear. “Once again, I didn’t have anyone to come with me to the Dinner of Love!” I cried.

This brings me to a phenomenon I noticed that is unique to polyamorous folks who are partnered, but partnered monogamous folks never experience: you can have more than one partner and still have nobody to accompany you to an event! I mean, my housemates who were monogamous and partnered never had to wonder who they were going to bring to an event at our home. They would just bring their partner!

Finally, one night, I was sitting at the kitchen table by myself, probably right after the incident at the sex-positive center near the Canadian border. One of my housemates could tell that I wasn’t happy (in fact, I was depressed). He asked how I was doing, and when I told him what happened, he became blunt with me (something I desperately needed somebody to do). He said, “Gloria, you really need to meet some other people!” He went on to say, “I mean, all I hear you talk about is ‘G and J,’ ‘G and J.’ It’s always ‘G this’ and ‘J that.’” Boy, did that wake me up!

At that moment, I realized that I just needed to be honest and admit that I was interested in meeting other people and finding other partners.

Years ago, when personal ads were all the rage, I would hate to tell anyone that I was using the personal ads to find a partner, since someone would always say, “Oh, you can’t find love when you’re looking for it!” Someone else would say, “I was always looking for love, and was never successful in finding someone suitable. But as soon as I gave up, I found the partner of my dreams.” And I remembered another person saying, “I couldn’t find what I was looking for; I just kept looking and looking, and I finally took the attitude, ‘Well, I guess I’ll just be alone for the rest of my life.’ As soon as I said that and gave up, I met my partner.” Finally, someone else would say, “Oh, I never looked for a partner. I would just be living my life when the right one came along.”

True, that does happen sometimes, when as soon as a person gives up on looking for love, they meet someone who’s right for them. But that doesn’t mean that you should never look for love, and that you only have to give up. In fact, giving up isn’t necessarily the best idea. Evita Sawyers says something insightful about that:

The only way to guarantee that you won’t find the partner you want is by giving up. Take a chance, keep hope alive, believe in your worthiness, and the lovers you desire will show up.

Besides, I know plenty of people who have looked for love and found suitable partners whom they wouldn’t have found if they hadn’t looked. I’m sure all of us know people who have met on OK Cupid or other dating sites and apps. They were clearly looking for love. Apparently, either way works!

Now, let’s get back to those THREE QUESTIONS Kevin Patterson asked, whose answers changed my life:

What do I bring to the table relationship-wise?

What is my superpower?

What kind of a partner am I?

I was going to answer the questions myself, but I decided it would be best if I asked my partners to answer them. At first, I thought it was because they know me way better than I do, but that’s not completely true. Sure, they’ve known me for years. But I believe it’s more accurate to say that they can see characteristics about me that I can’t. And when I received their answers, I was floored (in a good way)! I had to read their answers more than once, and just drink them in!

G’s answers (and I’m paraphrasing, because of privacy):

What do I bring to the table relationship-wise?

You’re affectionate and snuggly, which I love. You’re open-minded, thoughtful, love to explore ideas, and you’re fun to talk to. You also come up with great activities that don’t cost much.

What is my superpower?

You’re social and able to get along with most everybody. You have a positive and sunny attitude, even when life doesn’t go as planned. You have a strong self-identity, and you know how you want to live your life.

What kind of a partner am I?

Comfortable, affectionate, caring, and empowering. You allow your partners the same freedom you exercise for yourself.

J’s answers:

What do I bring to the table relationship-wise?

You are present and attentive when we are together. You are soft-spoken, thoughtful, and kind. You manage to come up with activities that we both would enjoy. I am glad to relate to you in your love language of touch.

What is my superpower (no longer paraphrasing, but quoting VERBATIM)?

Your own story. You feel deeply, connect deeply, and act with empathy, turning your own experience into a message of liberation for others: Transcending Shame.

[back to paraphrasing]

What kind of a partner am I?

You smile, but also relate seriously and honestly about your needs. I am glad you tell me about your other relationships and what they bring to your life. This makes me feel included and honored, knowing that you have other people who love and care for you.

As a result of reading these answers, not only did I fall deeper in love with my partners, but I also fell in love with myself.

You’d better believe I’m going to include these answers when I finally update my OK Cupid profile and compose new profiles for those other dating apps and websites!

Note: G’s partner S passed away on November 2, 2020.

(Adapted from Gloria’s May 22, 2020 Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit Facebook Live talk)

Gloria Jackson-Nefertiti (she/her/hers) is a workshop leader and panelist, in the process of completing her memoir with the working title, “A Different Drum.” She lives in Seattle, WA.

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