Yes, I was delayed in posting the next of harmful myths we tell about relationships because of [insert some really convincing reason that wasn’t “I couldn’t find the right words and TV is so good”].
Instead of Mars and Venus, I’d like to talk about the hierarchy of love. As I sit alone in a subletted apartment in a new city, unsurprisingly my thoughts turn to my comfort zone. How many times did people ask me why I would leave my husband for 12 weeks to take a job in a strange new place? Pretty much everyone I knew. A couple of my single friends also took on roles outside our home turf too, but while there were, for some, expressions of concern for very distant jobs, there didn’t seem to be the same questioning of motives, the same exhaling of their bravery to face the unknown.
We often look at a person without a romantic anchor and see their choices as unencumbered.
“Look at that person galavanting through the Alps! I WISH I could do that, but I have responsibilities!”
“Sure, I’d spend a year working in a remote community if I wasn’t in a relationship!”
The thing is that these sentiments absolutely only apply to romantic relationships and dependants. Those are placed at the top of the relationship hierarchy. They come first, and they are the most important. They are, in the long run, the only important relationships.
But why? Is it not possible to have a bond as strong as what we think of romantic relationships with a non-dependant parent? An adult child? How about a friend? I know someone who purchased a home with their best friend and are living out their retirement together. Why is their bond of 40 odd years dismissed as lesser because they don’t also have sex? Why is it not possible for a person not in a romantic relationship to also have deep and meaningful ties to their community, which would lead to the same level of discomfort as I felt leaving home?
Consider the space given to friendships over time. Kids make friends by way of having the same coloured sweatshirt or sharing a [irrefutably correct] hatred for raisins. As an adult, that apparently makes you weird. When a friend of mine tried that sort of approach by pointing out to another woman in her yoga class that they wore the same funky tights and thus should set their mats up together, the result was exactly what you might expect. Our conception of friendship is defined in childhood and freezes there.
It would be all too easy to blame it on the media. After all, how many stories are there about blossoming friendships in adulthood? And no, buddy cop movies don’t count – I’m not getting shot at just to make a friend. The short answer from someone who spends the majority of her leisure time (and some non-leisure time) fully immersed in said media is that there isn’t much. Maybe Grumpy Old Men?
Even before people married for love, marriage was thought of as a critical milestone required for every person. It was a duty to the community and a way to bind yourself to the people around you. There isn’t anything like that for your BFF.
At the same time, while our media fails to tell us HOW to make friends, the importance of strong, non-romantic bonds are implicit or explicit in nearly every movie, TV show, and book. Even romantic comedies always have a best friend or a circle of friends there acting as the emotional supports for the main characters as they go through their ludicrous mating rituals. Indeed, almost none of those stories would have their “happy” ending if it wasn’t for a friend knocking sense into the main character to “get off your ass” or “tell her/him how you feel” or “don’t make the same mistakes I did” or “I invited him/her because I knew that’s what you wanted – now go make babies” or whatever else.
Even worse is the common wisdom is that friendships don’t last once people make a romantic connection. We are devaluing our friendships by telling ourselves that it is not only normal but expected that we lose touch with people we care about because we have found someone to care about AND boink. We depict people who maintain strong connections outside of their romantic relationships as commitment-phobes and cheaters. As a result, even those who don’t want to break off friendships feel pressured to, lest the Love of Their Life not think that their feelings are genuine and deep.
This might seem simplistic, but I think this issue of hiving ourselves off, cutting ourselves away from experiences and people, at its core, one of the biggest problems we face as a global community.
The devaluing of friendships comes from the implied understanding that love is a finite source. That there are only so many units of love available to each person and as such, we must hoard them for that one person we might one day become co-dependant with.
The other coin to this issue is that it creates a binary – friend/romantic partner. You can be one or you can be the other. That sort of “more than friends” nonsense has been filling our collective brains since When Harry Met Sally*, further reinforcing both the binary and the hierarchy. There’s The Friend and the Significant Other, never shall the twain meet in the same body. It’s the same sort of faulty logic that gives us such pearls of wisdom as The Friend Zone.
Disputing this is pretty easy. Think of a happy couple. Not necessarily someone you know, not even necessarily a (real?) fictional couple. Just one that’s happy. Make them up. Do they have things in common? Do they enjoy each other’s company in ways that are not 100% sexual? Do they have friends and lives outside their Relationship? Guess what. They’re friends. They’re friends that boink. And pay bills together probably, but as I mentioned earlier, that’s totally a thing platonic friends can have going on.
The point of this now far-too-long post is that we really need to stop pressuring people to couple up. Instead, we should be focusing on making sure that everyone has some kind of deep, meaningful connection to another person or persons in whatever incarnation is best suited to their relationship (including introverts who want those connections to be low impact). To do anything else is to deny ourselves love for no other reason than That’s How It’s Done, and that just won’t do.
*I know. I harp on that movie a lot. What can I say, Meg Ryan flicks were a steadfast part of my formative years thanks to parents that are both practical to a fault and hopeless romantics.