Why can’t we be friends?
I think this is a question nearly everyone asks themselves at some point in their life. I’ve asked it quite a few times. It can be hard to figure out what went wrong, what was miscommunicated, what chances were missed out on. Despite its depiction in the media, keeping a true friendship going is hard work. For those who are serious about it it’s as hard as romantic relationships.
Why don’t they love me?
Another common question. From a young age in many Western cultures we’re all taught to search for our one true love. I mean, sure, everyone also makes sure to put in qualifiers like find someone rich or famous or beautiful but in the end your soulmate is supposed to embody everything. You are conditioned to be empty and incomplete. You are supposed to find your other half.
There are a shitload of things wrong with and, quite frankly, disgusting about the entire notion. Yet the most insidious damage that this idea has done is to poison friendship and non-monogamy.
Don’t burn me at the stake just yet. Listen-er, well, read-closely…
Amatonormativity. What the fuck is it, how is it related to the “one true love complex”, and how is it fucking up polyamory for everyone?
Let’s pull out our handy, dandy dictionary first:
Amatonormativity — the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types
Starting to get the idea? Humans in pair bonds, mated for life, producing offspring, til death do they part… It’s what we were all taught was the one and only way to be.
Which means that friendships take a back seat. Which means that assumptions of romance and sex color every interaction between men and women. Which means that when couples open up they treat their third like a toy. Which means these couples have to overcome their jealousy because, in so many ways, they own their partner. Hell, even the queers are jumping on the bandwagon (that push for gay marriage happened for a reason).
To be clear, I’m not here to bash marriage, commitment, or monogamy. I’m here to expose amatonormativity’s twisted ass. Because it doesn’t create a culture of consent. It completely distorts and bends any intimate relationship in the eyes of everyone else. How many pairs of intimate friendships and disabled folks and aromantic or asexual duos feel weird because of the technicality that they happen to live with their best friend or partner that they may also happen to be having sex with?
Or put it this way:
How can a non-romantic pair who have no intention or marrying and who aren’t bound up in amatonormative behavior have couple privilege?
Hint: they can’t (except for those random times in public when people assume they’re a couple, but that happens to most male/female pairs regardless of actual connection).
Amatonormativity is so ingrained it’s getting in the way of discussions around the actual types of relationships that exist! Aromantic relationships and friendships, queerplatonic friendships and relationships, intimate friendships and relationships of all kinds are overlooked, misunderstood, and erased in the ever-present fog of amatonormative pressure.
It forces people to make choices that may not be good for them, it lies to people about their capabilities, needs and desires, and it fucks up genuine connection in any kind of relationship.
No wonder it’s so hard and painful for so many people to transition into polyamory! Add to that the fact that dissecting and ridding oneself of that forceful narrative is even tougher work and you understand why most poly books and discussions revolve around how to deal with new partners, jealousy, managing new relationships, reigniting passion, and sex.
No in-depth discussion of abuse (until after it happens) and the ways that amatonormativity leads to it. No conversations about intersectionality. No acknowledgement of the experiences of the aromantic and/or relationship anarchist minority.
Which is a shame. Because we have a lot to teach about friendship, about transitions, about dedication, passion, and love. If anyone had sat us down and listened to our stories the community wouldn’t still be stuck with nothing but heterosexual, white, romantic icons to look up to. These are the examples that the new non-monogamous generation will be finding and it is not nearly enough if the non-monogamous community is actually as ethical as it claims to be.
I don’t think the romance has died. Far from it. But romance has become inextricably intertwined with amatonormativity and other oppressive and abusive structures. I don’t think the problems couples face of losing their connection means the romance is gone. I don’t think the complaints about the dating culture being impersonal are about a lack of romance. Not at all. I think romance is still alive and well as ever.
I think what everyone is really losing out on is friendship. Amatonormativity denies us all kinds of intimacy and demands that we place all our needs, desires, and hopes into one person, and a person who isn’t ourselves, at that!
I think we could all benefit from learning how to be friendly to ourselves and others again. That’s the very human element that romance can’t replace, and maybe it’s the only thing that has a higher chance of lasting a lifetime.
Even if you think friendship is for suckers you can still take a look at how amatonormativity has limited your own life and possibly hurt people close to you. Think of all the friends you could have made if friendship was more openly valued. Think of all the people who changed your life without romantic or sexual intentions.
And remember the rest of us.