I desire long-term exclusive romantic relationships. Save for the same-sex issue, my primary relationships are normative. I also prefer casual, take-it-or-leave-it friendships, the kind where it’s unnecessary to negotiate commitment, the future, or anything whatsoever. Most of those “friends” I have on Facebook… I actually consider them friends. My friendships are normative.
I’d have to be living under a blogging rock to not realize that there is plenty of ace discussion about non-normative relationships. Not just nonsexual romantic relationships, but lifelong friendships, queerplatonic partners, schrodinger’s relationships, polyamory, and relationship anarchy. I know my relationships have some privileges over these other kinds, because mine have the cultural infrastructure behind them.
I have an admission: some talk about non-normative relationships makes me uncomfortable.
But it’s not inherently a problem if a radical idea gives me discomfort. I’ll describe some of my feelings, and you can decide when they were justified.
I remember first feeling uncomfortable in 2009, when I heard some of the things David Jay was saying. In an “Asex 101” talk from 2006, he described the asexual community as a huge conversation all about how we form relationships–mixing and matching properties from friendships and romantic relationships, questioning monogamy, and forming relationships with communities rather than individuals. At the time, I didn’t like this because it seemed more wishful than descriptive. It was odd that in trying to present the positive face of asexuality, he presented something that neither reflected my personal experience, nor what I knew of the asexual community.
But history showed me! Now non-normative relationships really are a big topic. It turns out David Jay’s talk was more prophetic than wishful.
Another thing I’ve complained about, in 2011, was the idea of the “relationship hierarchy”. This phrase described society’s placement of the romantic relationship above all other kinds of relationships. The problem of the relationship hierarchy is symbolically encapsulated in the hated expression, “just friends.”
But for me, “just friends” is a perfectly appropriate expression! I do in fact spend less time with my friends than my romantic partners. I have, at times neglected friendships due to commitments with romantic partners. I abandon friendships left and right without really thinking about it. Is the “relationship hierarchy” problematizing the way I do friends?
In response, Captain Heartless made a sensible point. The “relationship hierarchy” is not meant to express that it is wrong for individuals to place some relationships higher than others, but rather that it is wrong for society to shame or pressure people who do not share the normative hierarchy. However, advocates aren’t always consistent about this. Most notably, The Thinking Asexual (who is the same person I criticized in 2011) has suggested that asexuals are capable of a “unique” form of love, and/or that allosexuals and asexuals who only want conventional relationships are under the influence of romance supremacy.
More generally, I feel that aces are so caught up in raising up non-romantic partnerships that they accept a hierarchy of a different sort. Even when it isn’t about romantic relationships, it’s still all about strong committed relationships. When a relationship is “more” in the literal sense, we think it is “more” in the figurative sense as well. This is great publicity–saying even aromantics form strong non-romantic relationships, which are equal to if not more than your standard romantic/sexual relationship.
On the other hand, no one ever cares to advertise how shallow their relationships are. Who here is willing to stand up for the value of devaluing friends? Here are some advantages to uncommitted friendships:
- You can have lots of them all at once.
- You can lose them and it’s not a big deal. Breakups are infrequent.
- There’s no obligation. If an individual can’t make it to an outing with friends, it’s not a problem.
- If you are bad at talking about your feelings, it’s entirely optional.
- With more people, there are more stories to be heard.
- You can tell your own stories over and over, as long as you tell it to different people each time.
There are also, I hear, non-normative casual relationships. Casual sex, for instance–not really a favorite topic among aces.
Discussion about non-normative relationships has come a long way since 2009. I wish for it to continue, even when I am occasionally made uncomfortable.