“When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all: Grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it.
But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”
–Elton, from Doctor Who episode “Love and Monsters”
I’ve never heard truer words spoken.
And for those of us who are aromantic (an orientation comprised of a complete lack of romantic interest, behaviors, and relationships), we understand it in a unique way that many romantic people don’t often get to uncover.
The truth is that we’ve all been living under a cloud — choking on it — and hardly anyone else seems to notice it. It’s insidious, and it’s made a complete mockery of friendship and other forms of intimacy outside of romantic entanglements.
It’s so bad that even in the non-monogamous community, aros (a shorter name for aromantic people) are looked at strangely.
This toxic cloud is called amatonormativity — and it’s terribly harmful.
Amatonormativity is, essentially, “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 the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types,” according to Elizabeth Brake.
That is to say, it’s the relationship escalator everyone tends to ride: fall in love, move in together, get married, have kids, and forsake all (or at least most or many) others.
Anyone who doesn’t want those things, or who wants to do things like that (except for the falling in love bit) with their friends, family, or platonic lovers is considered defective.
The fact that I never wanted to marry, that my sis and I raise our kids together regardless of who we’re involved with, and that I want to live in a house with all of my friends strikes people as very, very weird.
At first glance, the relationship escalator and amatonormativity might not seem so terrifying for people besides aros. But I’ve got five oft-unexplored social side effects to share with you.
1. Amatonormativity Creates an Arbitrary Relationship Hierarchy
It’s built right into the definition.
It’s such a common thought that people automatically pair bond for the duration of their lives, that this pair bond is best supported by a romantic framework, and that this is natural and right for every single person to want.
And then non-monogamous people, in particular those that consider themselves polyamorous, simply extend this romantic and pair-bonding framework to include several other people.
Not only does this instantly exclude those who simply or primarily prefer sexual relationships, it makes deviants of everyone who values their family, friends, or selves more than their theoretical romantic possibilities.
It’s expected that you grow out of things like intimate friendships. It’s expected that you one day want to get married. It’s expected that you want to entangle your life closely with a romantic partner.
It is perfectly acceptable to place a romantic partner above all other relationships in your life, for no other reason than that you have romantic feelings for them. It’s the norm to rearrange your entire life, make all of your plans, and do whatever it takes for a romantic partner based on simply having romantic feelings.
Love is often compared to a form of addiction, and when aros see the lengths romantic people will go to in order to secure romantic love, it can certainly seem like one.