Heteronormativity isn’t just about the presumption that everyone is heterosexual. The expectation that boys woo girls feeds into your mind the expectation that relationships are necessary for fulfilment, and you are less than if you are not having particular kinds of sex with a particular, and a particular kind of, person at particular intervals. It’s about what Lauren Berlant calls the love plot, in which love is produced as a generic text enabling society to interpret your life as following certain conventions. It’s not about what you want, it’s about what you’re supposed to want. You’re not encouraged to think about what you want in relationships, if anything, so much as you are encouraged to fit a script. Heteronormativity messes things up for everyone, straight people included.
On the previous posts, we’ve talked about things like slut-shaming and sexual choices, cat calling, flirt and rape culture. In this last installment, I want to go back to ‘the basics’ and talk about all the small things we get wrong and lead to the downfall of a relationship. And in contrast to the other posts that were focused on heterosexuals, I’ll try including our queer friends here. Love and relationships aren’t solely for cis het people after all; it’s the dynamics that might be more or less problematic.
Let’s take one by one the ideas many people have for romance:
> “I am seeking my other half; that person will complete me”.
The myth of the ‘other half’ comes from Plato’s Symposium where one of the participants in the discussion narrates how at the start humans were much bigger and powerful and gods, afraid of a revolution, tore them in two and thus each piece seeks its other half. But that’s what it is: a story within a story, both of which are fictional. Although the statement “you have to love yourself first” is very often heard, it’s not true entirely, since in order to give love, you need to have been the receiver, and usually family isn’t the angelic place which will fulfill this. So we grow up as we get in and out of relationships. Nonetheless, people shouldn’t expect that their lover is the fairy who will make everything alright. They should work on themselves and their flaws on their own.
> “(S)He is the one and only; we’ll be together forever”.
There are 7 billion people on this earth; depending on your sexual orientation and your age, the number of the potential lovers for you fluctuates. It’s still quite big though. You won’t ever get to know all these people, especially if you haven’t ever and won’t rise to other countries. In your own small world the options get limited; how can you say that there isn’t a person with whom you’re very compatible in every town of this planet? How can you be so sure this person is and will be the one with whom you’ll get grey hair with? People don’t stay the same forever. People fall in and out of love. Eternity is a very heavy word which only certain inanimate objects only have come close to experiencing.
> “I’m going to find the perfect partner, who will know when and how to please me”.
The notion of perfection is otherworldly. Nothing is perfect; much more a human being. We are flawed and we strive to be great but there’s no single person who is perfect. Perfect for who? For everybody? Too many expectations, and that probably would be a being close to what we call ‘god’. For you? Your lover isn’t a robot manufactured with your guidelines. And of course, the way to make people mind readers hasn’t been found yet. Plus, I doubt you’d even like it in the end if you couldn’t hide certain things you think. Therefore, be clear of what you want and don’t ask of people to be the 2D picture in your head.
> “I can give up everything up for my love, since I can’t live without him/her”.
No, you can’t and you shouldn’t. Give up everything, meaning your family, your friends, all the people who care for you and have been there for you for much longer than your crush? You want to lose yourself? You don’t have anything more sure than yourself. Your partner has probably fallen in love with you for who you are. If not, and (s)he wants a puppet to manipulate, you’re in a relationship you shouldn’t be. Your psychological and physical health is in danger with someone who asks you to abandon all you have and are. You can surely live without him/her. (S)He isn’t oxygen or water. It’s understandable that love is a need as well, but be careful to maintain a balance in your life and remember that love isn’t about sacrifices rather than compromises. You have to be able to feel you’re yourself.
> “With my love I’ll change him/her.”
Love doesn’t do miracles outside of fairy tales. Simply because love means to respect and care not to intrude. Yes, gradually people can become better when they’re in love. However, don’t go into a relationship with a jerk, because the possibilities that will stop treating you like trash are very low. People’s characters rarely change and most of the times they just get worse as they grow old. When you say you love someone, it doesn’t mean you must like everything about him/her; it means though that you can accept those flaws as the minimum price for being together with a person who offers you a lot (the same goes for you, too). If the flaws are too big and crucial, for instance a gambling habit, don’t do the mistake to play the savior or the invincible spellcaster.
> “When you fall in love, appearance, sex, age don’t matter”.
Hm… you fall in love without being able to control these things, yes. This doesn’t mean that these things don’t play any role ever in you falling in love. Bisexuals or/and pansexuals might not be ‘picky’, but lesbians have sex with women, and others might not want to engage in sexual activity with trans* individuals. There might be a pattern in your lovers you sleep with and it can be a physical trait you might not have noticed before like a dimple or the distance between the eyes or the size of the hands. Although romantic love and the longevity of a relationship sure depend on common interests and the ability to understand each other, sex plays also a very important role (the exception being asexuals). If you don’t find your partner attractive, it’s hard to feel arousal. The thin line between friends and lovers is the level of intimacy which is related to whom you find special both physically and mentally/spiritually.
> “If you are persistent, you’ll win his/her heart”.
This stinks emotional manipulation. When the other person avoids you systematically or when (s)he is clear that (s)he desires absolutely no contact with you in a romantic/sexual way, you listen carefully and give up. Being persistent means becoming obnoxious, unpleasant and overbearing. It won’t gain you anything. And if there are signs the other party gives in, it will probably be due to not being able to handle this kind of bullying. No real love is founded on such grounds. You can remain by his/her side if (s)he has no problem but do not wait with expectations and moreover do not ever complain about them. It’s demeaning to the person you have feelings for, because then (s)he is just a trophy to be won. Forget the stories about the persistent princes. They don’t work and they’re not healthy for anyone.
> “Love means to spend all your time with your beloved”.
If you are in a monogamous relationship, exclusivity is expected. No matter what you believe, exclusivity doesn’t equal captivity. Everyone needs time on their own or/and with their circle of friends. Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you are glued to your significant other 24/7. Nor that once you enter married life, you’ll be in an invisible jail. As much as there is need for unity in a couple, there is also need for space. Because two people don’t dissolve into one and they actually shouldn’t, since each partner has to offer something unique into the relationship as an individual. And if you don’t make space, the other person will take it on its own, probably away from you.
“If (s)he isn’t jealous of you, then (s)he doesn’t love you anymore”.
Jealousy is like the stupidest and the most toxic feeling ever. What do you mean I have to log into my partner’s facebook or take his phone to check his messages? If there is no trust, then don’t get in any relationship. Trust is the foundamental condition to create and preserve a relationship. Jealousy is the exact opposite and on top of that such behavior is stiffling and annoying. Naturally it can only lead to breach of communication and the downfall of the affair. Whoever believes jealousy acts as refreshment should obviously reconsider and try something more creative and caring, like a dinner, a self-made present or watching a movie. When as a couple you have fun together and talk things over often, all will most probably be fine. I say ‘probably’, because a change of heart isn’t something you can avoid 100%. It just happens.
“The gentleman should pay for the date”.
We live in the 21st century, meaning women work and earn their own money. Why get obligated to a man when you can pay for yourself? You can’t ask for same rights but back out when it comes to obligations. You either have a balance or not. And balance is a must for a healthy relationship. If you think that there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of someone wanting to play it high and mighty, I won’t be the moral judge; but I’ll remind you that in turn he might demand other things of you or deny you miscellaneous conveniences. It doesn’t have to be dutch paying every single time: you can treat him once and then he can treat you next time. It doesn’t matter how many weeks, months, years you know him. Do it for your own consciense, so that if and when things go awry, you’ll know you don’t owe him anything and you haven’t ‘stolen’ him either. And dear men, stop trying to be the white knight while you try to buy our time and our favor.
I’ll close this post with the advice Jorge Bucay gives for a healthy relationship:
- To develop the ability to love.
- To abandon the expectation of perfection.
- To find the balance between the without conditions surrender to the other and the privacy.
- To develop our intuition in order to leave ourselves to be lead by it and, never ever, by the intuition of our partner.
- To work on the difficulties to give and to take without losing contact with our real needs.
- To give priority to the body messages and the pleasant situations against the prejudices of what’s ‘right’.
- To work earnestly to see till what point we can give what we’ve got, even if it costs us and there’s no left over. To give space and time the relationship and cease to be the absolute center of the universe.