With the annual celebration of white supremacist indigenous genocide just passed, it seems like a good time for a tasteless pun relating to the different (relation) ships I have dissected from the socially accepted means of having feels for another person(s).
The three ships as I see them are based on romanticism, sexuality, and amory. It serves to mention that “amory” in this context is not representative of romantic love, but the number of people one can feasibly develop and maintain feels for simultaneously. It also serves to mention that the word “monogamy” is typically used instead of “mono-amory” not for its literal focus on marriage but its colloquial understanding of only one ship with only one other person.
Side note: the main problem with breaking down traditional relationships outside of the norm is the lack of language continuity. As a communication scholar and someone who lives outside of the homogeneous identity Western/American culture forces upon me, much of the frustration and misunderstandings are purely based on the inconsistency of the words we use to categorize and explain our feelings. Even within these categorized communities, we are still evolving and learning who we are and how we individually experience interactions, and while we are content with living and letting live (for the most part), the societal powers that be require concrete definitions in order to accept us as additional ships.
That being said, my understanding breaks down relationships as follows:
romanticism: the “love” ship. Strong feelings of wanting to be together and missing each other when apart. Future plans of experiencing life together, whether married with kids or exploring outer space. The mainstream ship, closest to the traditional understanding of relationships.
sexuality: the sex ship. Fueled by hormones and turn ons, whatever those may be. Physical interest in touching and pleasuring. Direct sexual attraction, orgasm, and genitalia preference are optional. Commonly experienced with romanticism, rarely mutually exclusive.
amory: the number of people on the ship, or the number of ships in the harbor. Easiest to comprehend, yet most difficult to accept. Monogamy is one other person, polyamory is multiple people (though not necessarily all partnered with each other), and nonamory is no ship at all and incompatible with romanticism or sexuality.
Many aromantics and especially asexuals may disagree with my definitions here, and they are welcome to do so. As someone on both spectrums, I find the grouping together of sexuality and sensuality inherently problematic in our sexually saturated social climate, but these categories are for relationships, not attraction. I am not explaining to fuckboys how touching isn’t always sexual, I am separating social connections between two or more people into simplistic categories that I personally use to evaluate my own ships.
I also did not include friendship on here, because the concept of friendship is too vast and subjective to make its own category. Traditionally, friendships are valued as lower social connections than relationships, so examining them would not be relevant to the topic of this post. Alternatively, a relationship anarchist such as myself may see friendships as synonymous with relationships, or shorten it even further to “ship” to comfortably discuss their social connections without the restricting connotations that more specific words imply.
Now for the fun part: how these categories manifest with my obsessive personality and social limitations. For the longest time, I thought I was a romance-repulsed aromantic, but I can’t sit here and deny that I don’t initially feel things like crushes or romantic intimacy. In fact, this entire post was inspired by my latest mistake in the form of a cishet who came out of nowhere and “stole my heart” as the romos say.
Yet it’s 100% one-sided and unhealthy, borderline mentally unstable. I know because I suddenly care about my phone too much, looking to see if they’ve responded to my message or (on Facebook) has even read it yet. With every interaction, I am flooded with anxiety from past experiences, mostly the negativity stemming from what is in my mind considered acceptable communication between two or more parties in a companionship: joking around, sharing memes, and random serious conversations, scattered with pictures of whatever we find amusing or relevant or applicable to the other person.
It’s more complex than “why haven’t they responded yet,” spiraling down into “why do I care so much” and “why did I do this to myself again,” inevitably crashing down into the “they don’t care nearly as much as I do, so I must be wrong” fallacy. I become obsessed with the idea of this person, thinking about them at any given time when a situation calls for more than just me, and wondering whether we would be compatible in this game of life for the long term. I am still very much repulsed by marriage and family (and space travel), but I have become attached to this person as a companion when they haven’t even consented to being on the ship.
In regards to attraction, I’m all over the romantic spectrum (autochoris, akoi, quoi–look them up), but the biggest common denominator is that it cannot be reciprocated. Once the other person feels the same way, I’m caught up in a whirlwind of pressure and expectations and stress because “the same way” is misunderstood as traditionally romantic. I don’t mean flowers and candy and celebrating anniversaries and meeting the parents so much as the impossibility of living up to what’s in my head, regardless of what the other person thinks and feels.
The same applies to sex, albeit much more disassociated. I am firmly against using intimate details of my experiences to justify my sexuality, but I will say that my fantasies are far greater than the real thing. Trust and comfort are non-negotiable when it comes to physical contact, and there are too many outside factors that can “ruin the mood” and hinder my enjoyment. Alcohol helps, but needing to drink to enjoy being touched is problematic for different reasons.
That doesn’t mean the attraction isn’t there. If the wind blows the right way and I have the time and energy, I could very well experience a mind-blowing sexual fantasy about the object(s) of my obsession. This may even carry over into long-distance communication such as instant messaging or talking on the phone, one sided or not. The rarest of instances involve us not only in the same room, but on the same page about what we want to do with each other and what it means and doesn’t mean. In that last situation, it’s almost guaranteed that I will be some form of intoxicated and have already spent countless hours obsessing over my feelings–both romantic and sexual.
Honestly, it’s easier to keep it all to myself, because history has proven time and time again that trying to turn a fantasy into reality will result in broken ships and a broken heart. My therapist likes to say this is all or nothing thinking, and maybe she’s right, but she also agrees with me that it’s not anxiety if I’m using what I learn from past experiences to navigate future situations. That’s how undiagnosed autistics learn how to survive, after all.
Given that amory ships are likened the most to relationships, it’s surprising that I have an entire harbor of them. This is where my relationship anarchy thrives, with an amory ship for every person to whom I devote my energy regardless of any official status or attraction. Most of my amory ships are friendships, some of which stay docked for months at a time but still set sail every now and then. When I feel that the ship is no longer active, I’ll cut the ropes, and that is my version of heartbreak.
To me, amory ships are more important than romantic or sexual ships. For starters, amory ships are mutually beneficial. They represent longevity in a way that romanticism repulses me. If I set aside time to spend with someone, care about what happens to them, and intend to do both of those things in the future, they get an amory ship. All of my close friends have amory ships, including my datefriend. The current object of my obsession is in the process of docking one, though at the moment I am wary of letting them in my harbor. Whatever we’re building together is too new and unstable for any kind of commitment.
There is no hierarchy in my amory ships, and they are all equal in my heart. I don’t claim to understand monogamous people one bit, but I believe they only hold one amory ship at a time. Polyamory invites the most possibilities of ship coagulation, whether there are multiple people on one ship together, or various sizes of different ships. I feel like relationship anarchy lends itself to the most simplistic of harbors, but I may be biased.
The way I understand my three main ships is incompatible with the current social norms. Even if the societal powers that be were to accept desegregation of romanticism and sexuality, and recognize polyamory as a valid ship, I don’t have faith that their subscribers would be able to adapt to my variety of casual meaningful relationships that may or may not contain romantic and/or sexual elements. Currently, I find myself with monogamous sexuals who are down for casual intimacy until they find a “real” partner, and polyamorous romantics whom I have to practically drag away from their other partners to build any type of ship.
I practiced nonamory through my 20s and the beginning of my 30s, because it seemed the best way to experience life without the complications that other people bring into it. No ships mean no time or energy wasted on people who were not compatible with me, and no heartbreak when I inevitably had to cut their ropes. While the most comfortable and trusting, it makes for a rather lonely existence.
Just like I am not purely aromantic or asexual, I’m not nonamorous either. While there are many things I enjoy doing by myself, I don’t necessarily want to be alone all the time. By default, I keep people at a distance to avoid the constant pain of cutting off ships into which I’ve put a lot of effort. I love so much and so often that I have to carefully decide who will be around long enough to make it worth the pain, not just a convenient pit stop. It’s hard. And throwing romanticism and sexuality into the mix just complicates things.
At the end of the day, all I want is a group of people who care about me and want to make time for me individually, who share my values and interests and understand my social limitations. These people exist, because my fleets are plentiful, but I keep meeting more potentials. The beauty of polyamory/relationship anarchy is that I’m never satisfied, always looking for more people with whom to share parts of my life, and that can also be the worst feeling in the world.
And the more people with whom I become smitten (I’m looking at you, current object of obsession!), the more alleged life lessons I have to incorporate into the ship building. Except that everyone is different, and threatening their agency with assumptions based on past experiences is the best way to send that ship sailing before the anchor has even been lowered.