I’ve seen an article on love doing the rounds recently, and I’m really glad to see this. People fall in love all the time, but society keeps telling us there’s only one type of love that counts, and we have an unhealthy societal expectation that we shouldn’t tell people that we love them unless they are “the one”.
Even without having studied relational psychology, it’s not hard to see that we’re using one word for many different things. Sternberg¹ splits love into three components: “Intimacy” (closeness, connectedness), “Passion” (physical attraction, sex), and “Dedication” (cognition, planning, commitment). A lot of long-term relationships end up having intimacy and dedication, and we call that love. A lot of friendships have the same, but many people hesitate to say “I love you” to their friends. And heaven forbid that you say “I love you” to someone you’re actually having passionate relations with, in case they’re not the one.
Just as importantly, we’re seen a new wave of discussions that recognise that there are many types of attraction other than just sexual attraction. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network wiki lists at least four types of attraction: sexual, romantic, sensual, and aesthetic. Attraction is not a single axis-scale.
Society teaches so many things about relationships which aren’t healthy. It denies that people feel different kinds of love, different kinds of attraction, and may feel these towards many people at once. We broadly define things as being “right” or “wrong” based upon expectations that relationships should fall into well defined categories: partner, friend, colleague, family member. These well-defined relationships come with well-defined behaviours that are acceptable and unacceptable.
But this is bollocks. So much friggin’ bollocks. As a society we’re stopping people from telling their friends that they’re loved. We have expectations that if someone is in love they must want to have sex. We struggle with people having multiple romantic or sexual relationships, and when we do accept people with multiple relations we still seem obsessed into classifying those into boxes. And don’t even get me started on sexuality, slut shaming, kink, and gender roles.
I’m sick of this. Not all humans, and not all human relationships fall into neat boxes. They’re dynamic, complex, messy, and fucking beautiful, and society be damned if your relationships don’t fall into the scripts you’ve been taught from childhood. Don’t let someone else tell you that your relationships have to be monogamous or non-monogamous, sexual or asexual, romantic or aromantic.
Instead, do all the things I struggle to do. They’re hard, I know, because I’m worried I might be taken the wrong way, because I’m terrified that I’ll be stigmatised, because I’ve been taught that relationships should fall into neat categories. Talk to each other. Talk about the relationships you have. Talk about the relationships you’d like to have. Tell your friends that you love them. Encourage healthy relationships, no matter what their form, no matter how suitable or unsuitable you feel they’d be for you personally. Enter relationships not with the expectations of society or the sub-culture in which you’ve been most influenced, but with the expectation that you’ll communicate about how you feel, and you’ll do that with honesty and respect. Follow a relationship path not because it’s what’s expected of you, but instead because it’s something you passionately want to do.
¹ Sternberg, R.J. “A Triangular Theory of Love.” Psychological Review 93, no. 2 (1986): 119.
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