This idea of one day finding “the one” and settling down with a family of your own is everywhere, and those who do not want it are stigmatized by society. This is called “amatonormativity”, and our author is thoroughly fed up with it.
I enjoy romance – at least in theory. I love Pride & Prejudice, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Pretty Woman. I shipped The Doctor and Rose in Doctor Who. And yes, I do cry at happy endings. They take the weight off the sometimes heavy every-day.
Nonetheless, fairy tale endings never sat right with me. Even when I was like, what, five or six years old, I thought that “happily ever after” was an odd notion. Not because I had no real grasp of what it meant but because I couldn’t believe that all it took was getting married and then you’d be happy for the rest of your life. It didn’t feel attainable, because what does “ever after” mean? It is not so much a measure of time as a measure of memory: as long as this story is told, their ending is happy.
And so, “happily ever after” never seemed worthwhile pursuing to me. I thought I needed to pursue it because fairy tale endings are what everyone wants, right? Their soulmate, their one true love, their destiny? I believed that, too. For a long time after that belief had gone and died – not out of a personal disappointment, but the way your belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny dies –, I continued to tell myself that I believed, still. Even though I knew relationships are never that easy.
Until very recently, though, I never really understood how pervasive this belief really is. But believe you me, it is everywhere. It’s all over my social media, it clogs my “For you”-page. Talk about pushing an agenda on someone: I cannot listen to a damn song, read a damn book or watch a damn movie without encountering it.
By “it”, I mean this idea that one day, you will meet, are in fact supposed to meet your soulmate. The one person you want to share everything in your life with, the one person in whose arms you want to fall asleep, yada, yada, yada. For some, this might come true, and I am genuinely happy for them. Those, however, who do not have that one person yet, or maybe don’t want that kind of relationship, who prefer to be single, are laughed at, pitied, stigmatized and even put at a disadvantage by the law. (Think of the tax benefits offered to married couples, or adoption laws.)
Elizabeth Brake, a philosophy professor at Arizona State University, coined the term “amatonormativity” for this in her book Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Mortality and the Law (2011). She summarizes the concept as “the widespread assumption […] that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship”.
Why is it so unimaginable that someone doesn’t want to be in a romantic relationship? Why are people “broken” or “not normal” if they don’t want that? Why does this go for women, especially? Men are seen as these cool broody loners when single, women are “poor things” who should “get out there” and “back to dating” ASAP.
Why do my relatives have to ask me “So, when are you gonna get a boyfriend, hmmm?” and then smirk at me? Why do my friends, who are now at the age they get into lasting relationships, at the age where they get engaged, ask how my love life is as if that were the only source of happiness in life? Why are we so hung up on the idea that our lives need this second person to be complete and worth something? Why does the law have to favour and protect people in marriages, but not other relationships?
Maybe I don’t want to “get out there”. Maybe I enjoy the freedom of being single for now and will find that special someone later in life. Maybe I’ll never find that special someone, and – surprise! – be totally ok with it. Or I’ll find that someone, but we won’t get married, have two kids and move into the house with the picket fence, the family car and the dog. Maybe I’ve had bad experiences and need time to recover. Maybe we’ll be three or four special someones. Maybe I don’t like dating but enjoy occasional casual sex. Maybe I want someone, but only for cuddling and handholding, no sex required. Maybe I’d like to have my own biological children, or maybe I’d prefer to adopt as a single person, or co-parent a child with a friend of mine.
Have you ever thought of that, nosey Uncle? Have you ever thought of that, legislation?
Don’t tell me I need to be in a relationship. Stop assuming relationships automatically make a life better. Don’t tell me how I need to have a relationship. Better yet, stop expecting me to finally get into one, and don’t question my reasons. I don’t need to justify myself to you. I’m the one who knows what I want, and if I don’t, well, let me figure it out. This is my life, and I decide where my fulfilment will come from. I’ll ask for your help or opinion when and if I want it. (This goes for most of everything, by the way, not just love.)
Personally, I have never pictured myself as one to fall in love. I have never pictured myself in a long-lasting romantic relationship, either. It would not fulfil me, only leave me longing for something more, something different.
That does not mean that I can’t want love, or lasting relationships with a deep emotional connection; they just don’t have to be romantic. I want my family’s love. I want friendships I can come home to. That stability, I do need – and it is entirely sufficient, fancy that! But I do neither want nor need the kind of stability that leaves me choking on the toxic dust of the outdated notion of “happily ever after”.