I am a depressed person, but depressed is a verb. I consider my depression to be the result of social positions and the inevitable history of colonization, of racism, of fat stigma, discrimination and antagonism. I am on antidepressants, but they can only reprogram my brain chemistry and not my social-material reality. They cannot reprogram the ones I love to give me the care I need. They cannot alter the experiences of devaluation, deprioritization and disinvestment that others’ perceptions of and interactions with my body—and by extension, me—produce.
I’m in a transitory stage of my life, having moved across the country and begun a graduate program. The move is jarring, despite my having already known people in the area before moving. Building new relationships is difficult, and I find myself wanting to rely on those whose relationships have previously sustained me.
What Does My Survival Mean When I Am Perpetually Single?
I’m also at a point in my life when most of my friends are partnered while I remain singled. I have never felt incomplete or alone without a romantic partner, but I am beginning to feel particularly singled. When I think about the benefits of romantic partnerships as exhibited both in popular culture and my own observations via my friends’ romances, I recognize that these benefits are not purely financial or physical. They are about daily and mundane interpersonal interactions of reciprocity. In short: investment, and care. The practice of investing in and caring enough for someone to incorporate them into your life in such significant ways that their presence begins to feel necessary, if not compulsive.
When I say singled, I mean the position of being denied intimacy and care from those in my life, who reserve it for others.
But this does not have to be tied to romance. I find that these are the things I crave more than romance per se. The security to count on someone to take care of me when I’m sick. To care for me in a crisis. To share sadness and joy with me. This care does not have to be reserved, but we seem to have culturally agreed to distribute it selectively, and only to those we are in romantic partnerships with. I received these things from platonic relationships when I was younger, but as I get older and more and more of my friends enter serious relationships, it is less and less frequent to the point of being almost non-existent. Perhaps as we become less and less naïve, or more guarded from more years of hurt, or more exhausted from more years in the work force, we have less energy to dispense and more careful of where we do so.
Nonetheless, participation in these, what I am choosing to call, economies of care impacts us and has consequences.
Particularly for those of us who are singled and excluded from romance—not merely in-between relationships but who have bodies, positions, subjectivities that people have been conditioned to see and are complicit in seeing as unloveable.
Can Self-Love Ensure My Survival Under Capitalism?
As I’ve written before, this is where history has shown me to be. As someone who is fat, brown, and femme—whether I choose, or want to be, or not. When I talk about this, the feedback I often receive is that I need to love myself more, that others will return what I project. In some cases, this might be true—but I think it largely misses the point. The point is not so much about my own self-perception, but about a history of whose bodies and being cultivated to be desired and by extension loved and by extension given care. I would be more inclined to subscribe to this philosophy if there were not countless examples of those with culturally valued bodies who receive, care and attention care despite their own self-perception. Capitalism does not want us to love ourselves and few of us do; and some of us are fostered support despite this. These are legacies I refuse to take responsibility for.
This rhetoric places the burden on us to account for the shortcomings of those around us; to perform the labor of care not just for ourselves but for the care that others are not showing us. This burden disproportionately falls on already culturally devalued bodies who are statistically more likely to experience a depression that prevents this care. This aside, it is merely poor praxis to reserve care for those who are already cared for in a variety of ways.
I have to stress that this is not what I have always felt, nor it is something I want to feel. I think highly of and do try to love myself. I think I have great things to offer to those in my life. I consider myself a good friend to those I choose to care about and give all of myself to them. But experience and history has shown that there are limits to what others are willing to give me. Even when people are sexually interested in me (of which there are many), their investment does not seem to extend beyond sex. In every context, there appears to be a limit to the care others are willing to give me. And these dynamics are happening whether I recognize them or not, whether I name them or not.
And it is difficult to see it as anything other than a choice. To put it another way: those around me deprioritize our relationship for the sake of prioritizing their romantic and sexual ones. Relationships that, historically, are with people with more normative bodies than mine—whether they are white, or thin (or just not as fat as me), or cis, or not disabled, or some combination of these that allows those around them to access romantic feelings for them.
Frequently when I meet new people, I ask myself if I think they find me attractive and adjust my expectations accordingly. I recognize that this can be interpreted to be a bit narcissistic or shallow, but I’ve realized what I’m really asking myself with this question is: will this person let themselves care for me? Are they someone who will allow themselves to prioritize me when necessary? Are they willing to invest in me and do the work to keep our relationship positive and mutually beneficial? Will they let themselves be committed to doing the difficult, exhausting, uncomfortable. unthanked, invisibilized, rewarding work of keeping me alive, in every way? I do this so I can manage my expectations accordingly. I do this so I don’t participate in my own oppression by caring for others, cultivating them at the expense of myself when they will not let themselves reciprocate that care.
These are questions I have to ask myself, too, when I consider my own investments and, especially, my own disinvestments in people (bodies), what the implication is, where those feelings are coming from and what they are in service to. I don’t know if this is a process someone with a privileged, someone with a culturally loved and valued body has to go through. I don’t know if they would understand.
This is a conversation I’ve had with many friends repeatedly over the years. These are also investments I’ve utilized to much smaller degrees and contexts when available to me. But just because I have and, in some ways, continue to participate in these economies doesn’t mean that they are okay, neutral, or ahistoric. But it does mean I know that it happens, that this is how we operate culturally—even in activist spaces that employ rhetoric of new world-making.
More Radical Reads: Romantic Love is Killing Us: Who Takes Care of Us When We Are Single?
Can We Admit That Who We Choose to Love is Political?
I am tired of fighting my friends. I am tired of trying to convince them that I matter as much as their romantic interests and partners. In many ways, who we choose to love is also a decision of who we invest in, and who we distribute the resources necessary to keep one another alive—including care. I am tired of trying to get people who love me to see that I am worthy of love, care, investment and attention as much as their romantic partners. I am tired of trying to make those who love me see that I am worthy of care, time and attention as much as the whiteness and thinness they invest in through their partners. I am sick of reminding them of the simple fact that who we choose to love and, by extension, invest in is political.
Investing in people is also investing bodies and this does not exist outside out of historical priorities and possibilities. We can stop politicizing desire when we stop distributing our love and care based on it. When we stop using our desire as a rubric for who we are keeping alive—or at least making efforts to.
It strikes me that I’m writing in a moment of epidemic of femme suicide. There have been so many femme public figures we have lost over the years. Powerhouses. Legends. Icons. People who made art and community that touched many and kept many alive. And people who were not kept alive. And these are just the ones we know about. I wonder how many more there are who never made it to the level of queer microcelebrity.
I invoke these legacies not to fetishize, tokenize or exploit them, but to emphasize the severity. Suicide is a complicated and difficult decision, and perhaps that for many cannot be changed by care from others. But the relationship to the care I do or don’t receive and the intensity and frequency with which I experience suicidal ideation suggests a connection to me.
More Radical Reads: Treating My Friends Like Lovers: The Politics of Desirability
Can We Keep Each Other Alive Despite Our Sexual Capital?
There have been various moments in my life when it is structured such that there will be no great upset in anyone’s life if I am not there. Some people would not have someone to text occasionally, but there do not appear to be gaps that couldn’t and wouldn’t be filled by others. No one’s daily, material life would be changed by my absence. This is to say: no one has invested in incorporating me into their life, in distributing their care, in any meaningful way such that my absence will create a gulf.
This construction of love actually terrifies me. While, as a subject who is both personally and culturally historically disregarded and uncared for, I have a desire to be cared for and prioritized, the expectation to do this to another horrifies me. Not in a sense of a restriction of love, but I do not want to feel obligated to reserve the love and care I have for a single person, because this not just loving and caring for one person, but doing so at the expense of loving and caring for everyone else. I do not believe that this is what love and romance has to be, but it feels apparent this is the way it is practiced–if not unintentionally or subconsciously. It feels difficult to not consider this a product of capitalist individualism that works to divide and conquer. I want to give my love and care generously, and I want it returned in kind–regardless of a romantic obligation to each other.
I don’t want to be loved. I want to be cared for and prioritized, and I want to build a world where romantic love is not a prerequisite for these investments—especially not under a current regime with such a limited potential for which bodies are lovable. Which bodies can be loved, cared for, and invested in.
More Radical Reads: Super Fat Erasure: 4 Ways Smaller Fat Bodies Crowd the Conversation
It does not have to be this way. We can commit to keeping each other alive despite our sexual capital. We need to care for each other to keep each other alive. The myth of self-assurance is neoliberal victim-blaming in an attempt to obscure, neutralize and depoliticize our actions in the name of independent thoughts and actions and to skirt accountability.
Can we care for each other outside of love? Can we commit to keeping the unloved and unlovable alive? Is this a world that we have the potential to build?
In order to continue producing high quality content and expanding the message of radical, unapologetic self-love, we need to build a sustainable organization. To meet these efforts, we’re thrilled to share the launch of our #NoBodiesInvisible subscription service. This service will provide our community with access to additional content and rewards for your monthly investment in furthering our radical self-love work.
[Feature Image: Five fair skin and brown skin individuals stand together shoulder to shoulder and are pictured from the neck down. Pexels.com]