As sexist and misogynistic as it is heteronormative, this inordinate value placed on romance and marriage is consistently used to devalue single and unmarried women, painting us as inherently unworthy and pathetic, too difficult and too picky.
Romance is not universal, or necessary. However, due to the way that romance has been heralded as a fundamental part of human experience (and even non-human animal experience in some instances), this is something that many people will disagree with.
So, I will say it again. Romance is not universal, or necessary. The idea that it is necessary is one that is deeply embedded among societal expectations and permissions about relationships (and sex), and it is imperative for us to understand that our experiences with romance are not universal and that all orientations are valid.
To many people, romance is a necessary part of their lives, and that is fair. For others, however, romance is a foreign and sometimes impossible concept. For some, romantic entanglements easily become toxic. For some, romantic involvements easily trigger many anxieties. For some, romantic situations are traumatic.
The term amatonormativity, coined by Elizabeth Blake, refers to the “widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.” It constructs romantic relationships as inherently superior and more necessary than non-romantic ones. This pervasive idea is damaging for everyone, as Elizabeth Brake details in her scholarships on marriage and policy, but especially so for those on the aromantic spectrum and others who fall outside of the heteronormative monogamous model of romance.
Amatonormativity erases the significance of familial, platonic, and queerplatonic friendships/relationships. So much so, that we refer to romantic partners as “significant other.”
As a largely heteronormative concept, it is one of the driving forces behind mind-boggling and widely accepted cultural myths like “men and women can’t be friends,” because it assumes that romance, and by extension, sex are the default in relationships between men and women. It’s also why so many people abandon friendships and neglect other people when they start dating someone new. And why the contemporary concept of marriage is viewed as the end goal of dating, despite the fact that marriage is neither wanted or needed by many people for legitimate reasons.
Related: OUR IDEAS OF ROMANCE ARE ABUSIVE
This belief that romantic relationships hold the highest social significance of all relationships, coupled with the pressure to get married—and the pressure to want to get married—allows for men to critique women who fall outside of their respectability politics. They attempt to scare us with threats of “no man will marry you” in efforts to police our emotionality, appearance, and sexual expression.
As sexist and misogynistic as it is heteronormative, this inordinate value placed on romance and marriage is consistently used to devalue single and unmarried women, painting us as inherently unworthy and pathetic, too difficult and too picky. The racialized deployment of this leaves unwed Black women, especially mothers, at the mercy of harsh anti-Black stereotypes about emasculating Black matriarchs, Jezebels, Mammies, Sapphires, and Welfare Queens—each of these having either run Black men off with their masculinity and independence or inability to “keep” them.
Amatonormativity not only tells us that we are less valuable, less productive, and less significant without romantic partners, but also that we are incomplete without them and that a romantic partner should be our entire lives once we find one. It discourages us from finding happiness and fulfillment with ourselves, because we are taught to rely on someone else to complete us and fill a void that the world told us we were born with. We are told that we are born as one half of a whole.
I have watched too many friends, family members, and acquaintances endure abusive relationships or invest every part of themselves in someone who gave nothing in return or leap head-first into unstable situations, all for the sake of not being single. Because that fear of being unattached and “alone” can be too much. Because we normalize certain forms of affection, intimacy, and emotional support as only being acceptable in romantic situations. Because so many of us are shunned, humiliated, and ostracized for being single for too long.
But, thankfully, amatonormativity is a lie.
You are not unloved without a romantic partner at your side. Others in your life are allowed have the significance that society demands we reserve only for romance. You do not have to wait for someone to come along and complete you, because we are not born as one half of a whole.
Featured Image: Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash