Learning to love without ownership: Journal of an African bisexual woman pt II
What does being a non-monogamous, bisexual woman living in Ghana mean? How do I live out my love life? One woman honestly shares her experiences in this philosophical exploration of what love is, what it can be, how it can be felt or expressed outside the norms of what love has been made to be.
A new rule book
What does being a non-monogamous, bisexual woman living in Ghana mean? How do I live out my love life? In a series of heartbreaks, just like everyone else. Then in a series of magic-stars-exploding, universes-merging, sun-rising-metaphors, fireworks-and-confetti moments. Those times when you really see the beauty of the moon and stars and sun or how suddenly beautiful the smudge of purple paint looked on what was supposed to be a grey wall. My life is a journey into truly loving for love’s sake, not for what I get in exchange, not for the possession of the person’s body, time or emotions but for they themselves, as they are, without the confetti, for their spirit.
This love meant understanding that they did not by default owe you their time or their bodies or compromises. Neither did you owe them yours. Instead it was an honest exploration of feelings, real connections of spirits and bodies. When all that love is is pure emotion, without tentacles attached, free as a feather in the wind, where only real raw emotion guides you both. Where every action comes from the pure need to show or express love or care or whatever that emotion is that makes you genuinely want to know how the other person is faring, want to spend all day lounging in their arms, sharing a meal, arguing about the top ten legends of acting, smoking together, sharing intense moments reliving the pain of a childhood trauma, then making epic love with this person, all the while knowing that they can do these very same things with someone else and you can do these same things with someone else and that doesn’t mean what they feel for you and what you feel for them is not genuine.
This all sounds beautiful and dandy, but it isn’t. It is not easy to love for loving’s sake. From time to time I slump back into heteronormative ideas of love and become demanding, jealous of my partners’ other partners, needy and depressed. It’s not easy to love without ownership because for your whole life, from your very first baby step, you are taught toxic love. You are taught love as ownership, and the punishments are so severe that it can leave one scarred for life. So, for me, it has been a painful process of unlearning, a process that is still ongoing. But each day, as I grow stronger in being honest with myself, loving myself so much as to be ready to love someone else with the same intensity, I feel the rewards. I laugh longer, feel happiness deeper, love more intensely, and appreciate humanity better with clearer, non-biased eyes.
Loving someone should never have been tied to what you should expect to get in return. In ownership comes possession and in possession is an imbalance of power. Loving without ownership helps us erase all hierarchies of power that are embedded in the many oppressive societal systems we internalise.
Of course, as there are people like me who can feel this way with multiple people, there are people who can love without ownership in monogamous situations. Sexuality is not a static thing. Not everybody plays out one type of sexuality. Nature is fluid, sexuality is a very fluid thing. There are people whose greatest experience of sexual pleasure and loving another is when they experience it with one specific person. Then it is an intense experience of tumultuous pleasure. Some experience this with multiple people in a variety of ways, and to lose one of these people may be to lose the whole experience of it altogether.
My non-monogamy is not the status quo or blueprint for learning to love without ownership. And by all means, one can feel this love for someone of the same gender; for some people it is most intense with someone of the same gender. And sometimes this intensity of love can happen in moments – or sometimes in just one specific moment – when universal balance is shifted to other dimensions and in the next moment everything goes back to the old rhythm. The most important thing here is to be honest and true to self, to who you are and what makes you happy, without compromising self to fit spaces that would end up killing your humanity.
However, finding love and connection outside the traditional spaces, being brave enough to live life as my own, being this non-monogamous, bisexual woman in a conservative, hyper-religious African society, is not an easy path to follow. It means constantly negotiating in misogynistic spaces – and often these spaces are the beds I’m about to have sex in, with men who think that my freedom to love and choose love is their automatic patriarchal freedom to own my love and use it as they would with their warped misogynistic beliefs of love, or with women who slut-shame. But this struggle is something I am willing to bear to be true to myself.
When I learnt to love this way, learning to appreciate moments with people and really enjoy the time they had given me, sex became a thing of very intense pleasure. I started to ascribe language and importance to what I needed and felt during the best sexual or romantic moments. I realised how much pleasure it gave me to talk deep into the night with a woman or man who gave me intellectual pleasure. How pleasurable it was to end such a conversation with sex – sometimes. How pleasurable it was for me to discover for the first time, or every time, new pleasurable spots on their bodies. To hear them express their pleasure when I touched them on a pleasure spot. I loved it when I was with a partner who had no inhibitions about anything but rode the sexual wave with me, wherever it took us. And when I started silencing my patriarchy-induced shame and guilt, I realised how important a new sexual experience was for me to have. I learnt not to dismiss my feelings as nasty, insatiable lust.
The act of sex, whether it was a hard and rough fuck or a slow grind, became an act of lovemaking for me. The caress of a kiss, the tickle of a tongue, the tight hold as she or he shook in orgasm, all of it became an act of worship for me. Time could be a moment or forever. It did not matter.
Toxic love teaches you that you own the person and the person owns you. It is no wonder, then, that we are bound for disappointment and pain when our partners do not live up to this expectation. When they give their time to something else – chasing a career, work, interest in another person – it hurts. Worse, in all of this, is living with the constant fear of your partner breaking their promises to you in this paradigm of toxic love. It turns people into ugly versions of themselves: overprotective, jealous and controlling.
So I try to love without ownership, and I love hard. Loving this way has taught me a lot about respecting spirits, respecting bodies and respecting the time the universe has kindly granted me with these people. I make sure to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
Loving without jealousy, loving without bitterness, loving without. Because it really means loving as you love yourself. And the first step that everyone forgets in the divine rule is loving yourself. Loving yourself as you exist in your innermost thoughts and feelings, without your parents’ definitions of you, or society’s definition of what you must be or do or feel. Loving yourself to the fullest, such that another person does not validate or invalidate you. Loving yourself so much that you truly get it when it is time to love someone else; that they should be able to feel as they feel without having to compromise themselves.
Toxic love teaches us that we are inadequate in ourselves, gives us a ‘property’ mentality, which makes us believe that we lack something in ourselves that need to be filled. Imagine all the trauma that is inevitably caused when people set out to have relationships with this toxic mentality ingrained in their psyche. But really learning to love yourself and appreciating yourself frees you from all that.
Love is a free, illogical flow of powerful energy that spreads across the universe as wide and deep as the ocean. The universe lives and functions on pleasure – the pleasure of alliances, of giving to get to give. In this process of exchanging pure pleasure, the energy is healing, rejuvenation and birth.
And this is Love.
Read part I here
Also check out this piece entitled Love in a time of patriarchy.
The article is part of a series of articles under This is Africa’s collection titled, Flame, Fever and Fantasy – A collection of African desire and pleasure.
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