A strange phenomenon occurring amongst Millennials and Gen Z’ers has recently come to my attention. It starts with a hushed voice, trepidation in their voice, and a colossal deep breath as they struggle to utter one little phrase, “I want to be in a relationship.” Whew, they feel a slight relief in sharing their dirty little secret.
The first time I encountered this, I quickly attended to the person sitting in front of me and gave the experience no second thought. But I’ve come to encounter this “dirty” disclosure so many times that it finally caused me to pause and consider how wanting a relationship became taboo in an ever evolving and progressive dating culture.
Admittedly, I was also at fault for holding this sentiment in regards to my desire for something more than the modern situationship. While I certainly had periods where relationships were not aligned with my current needs, there were also periods I wanted more traditional courtships. I would struggle with what I can only describe as shame and guilt for wanting more than a “go with flow” unattached fling. I would criticize my desire and judge my motives. I then sheepishly indulged these longings in the privacy of my innermost thoughts.
As a licensed psychologist and sex therapist, shame and fear are often at the heart of our dirty little secrets. We judge ourselves for being deviant, wrong, broken. We fear those around us will misunderstand, judge, or criticize us for who we are. We doubt we can find what we actually need. Worse, we are terrified of speaking it into reality and still coming up short. To alleviate this tension, we stuff our truths down. We submerge ourselves in the latest trend until we feel accepted, safe, and completely hidden. The expansion of online dating and the dismantling of traditional relationship structures is the latest trend to elicit new dirty little secrets.
Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate the relational and sexual diversity that’s been able to explode in the last couple decades. Social media platforms and professionals are giving much needed spotlight to non-monogamy, casual sex, and pleasure as a goal in and of itself. No longer is the “walk of shame” a penance for healthy sexuality. Feeling more emboldened to liberate themselves from parenthood, marriage, and monogamy, these adults unabashedly celebrate singledom.
But is singledom for everyone at every moment? And what does it say about you if you do want the outdated tradition known as a relationship? My opinion…long-term relationships, monogamy, and marriage are NOT dirty secrets. As a sexual liberation advocate, I do not promote sexual liberation at the expense of more traditional forms of intimacy and bonding. Liberation is a matter of expansion and inclusion…not substitution.
What exactly do I mean by this? As I further explored these experiences, it became apparent that many young and middle aged adults denounced relationships in the spirit of progression and wokeness. For this group, relationships and monogamy have become synonymous with patriarchy, oppression, and ignorance. The desire to be a significant other was no longer encompassed as one of MANY ways to experience intimacy and connection. Instead of pausing to reflect on individual values, needs, and wants, many just swapped one autopilot for another. That is not liberation but does camouflage you well.
- What if wanting a long-term committed relationship is as evolved as wanting singledom?
- What if monogamy is as amazing and fulfilling as non-monogamy?
- What if you are able to freely move along these spectrums based on your current wants and needs?
- What if progression is one’s ability to pause, reflect, and discern these ever fluctuating needs unique to each of us?
True sexual liberation is your ability to identify and communicate your wants and needs in whatever way they look at a given time. Celebrate being single. Embody a liberated sexuality. Own when you want something different. You are closer to finding what you want when you feel confident in wanting it. Stop making wanting to have a relationship your dirty little secret.
Jasmonae Joyriel, PsyD
Dr. Jasmonae Joyriel is a sex and trauma expert who attended Spelman College before earning her MA from Northwestern University and her PsyD in Clinical Psychology from University of Denver. She is currently the owner of the Austin based psychology practice, Ignite Anew. Dr. Joyriel has received numerous invitations to speak locally and internationally about mental wellness; trauma and healing; burnout and entrepreneurship; and of course, relationships, sex, and eroticism. Her strong background in working with high-risk and high-achieving populations make her perfectly suited to hold space to explore complex and multifaceted conversations and begin to discover real solutions.