Finding your place in the social world comes with a lot of said and unsaid societal expectations. This gets even harder when your identity does not match up with the norms around you. If you’ve read our previous blog about the relationship escalator, you will notice that these societal milestones can limit our understanding of dating, relationships, and ourselves. Not everyone wants to find the one, get married, and have kids, not everyone wants to have sex or cohabitate with their partner/s. Ask people who practice polyamory. A lot of the time it seems that we are raised with marriage as our ultimate goal. This assumption that lives that are monogamous and long-term are better is called Amatonormativity.
Amatonormativity was coined by Elizabeth Brake and talks about 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 that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types.”
In other words, valuable relationships are those that are marital and romantic, and these should be the goal for everyone. This devalues other caring relationships like friendships and fails to recognize identities like aromantics, asexuals, polyamorists, and those who enjoy being single. Amatonormativity keeps separating these identities, coupled with the lack of education and awareness, it creates a stressful environment where people are unable to communicate and connect. Amatonormativity breeds infidelity. It can push people into staying in relationships that are not satisfying just for expectations of ‘settling’ and living out the rest of your life with someone particular, even if this relationship is harmful or just simply not what the individual seeks for themself.
Doesn’t this sound frustrating? To stay with someone just for the sake of having a partner? Would we enjoy our relationships if this is how we approach them?
Heteronormativity says relationships should be between two cisgender people. Its violations would be anyone who is LGBTQ+ and people who subvert gender norms. This is usually confused with amatonormativity, and while these may be similar, the two ideas overlap each other. Violation of amatonormativity would look something like this: eating out alone, not searching for romance, living with your friends, or putting friendships above romance. Both these ideas are widespread within society, which institutional laws and norms also reflect. Both are marked oppressive by those who identify differently.
These ideas can easily pollute our interactions with any partners or friends or even family. Viewing love to be exclusive can hinder us from exploring care from our other relationships. We can also be prone to pushing these restrictive notions onto other people. Yet again we can find similarities to the relationship escalator which creates an unnecessary hierarchy of ideal relationship structures.
So how do you challenge these ideals? What do you do to affirm your identity and wishes?
First of all, you must prioritize yourself and your needs! Have a clear idea of what you seek and don’t try to ‘settle’. Exploring who you are, helps a lot in building this clarity and finding what works for you best. Meet people, figure out what you like and what you don’t, and explore different types of relationship structures Are you polyamorous, or is it not for you? There are only benefits to investing in yourself.
If you can, find your community! Talk to people who are like you and indulge yourself in that place. It is very rewarding to finally meet those like you when you’re mostly surrounded by people who aren’t.
Also never forget your boundaries! Practice how to establish boundaries and what can be done if they’re violated. Understand how to heal by yourself and with your community. Challenge any internalized beliefs and question the social norms around you.
All of these things will help you find your place in the social world. This process is complex and time-consuming but its results are always satisfactory. Have hope for yourself and your future, you are not alone!