Relationship dynamics are interesting. Not just how one person relates to another, but also how relationships are structured. I think for the most part, people and couples in general fall into two relationship categories, single or married. Those are the only two boxes available to check off on any form that asks, right?
But what about all the other kinds of relationships? What box do they fall into? Social normatives are extremely narrow for a myriad of reasons and the sad part is, whether it's preconceived gender norms like boys not wearing pink or broader social issues like women getting paid less in the workforce, that we often simply default to certain beliefs without really thinking through them.
One thing that had me thinking about all of this the other day is the way women connect and relate. There is a huge continuum of social interactions, and especially feelings, that we have towards one another as fellow human beings. Without throwing gender preference into the mix, I was thinking about how girls are often really intimate with one another. There is a deep emotional sharing that happens and I have seen how this also sometimes overflows into more of a physical intimacy as well. I'm not talking about sex (which is also a term that is fairly subjective), I am talking about more general touching, hugging, snuggling and the like. Maybe even kissing, in a sweet chaste way, is in that mix as well.
The acceptance of intimacy between women is very different than it is between men and women, and men and men. But if we think about all one-on-one, non-familial relationships we have with anyone, male or female, they will all land somewhere in the social realm of "complete stranger" to "intimate partner" (and by intimate, here I mean both emotionally and sexually). When it comes down to it, even when we are coupled or married or in whatever relational structure we subscribe to, we all still continue to have relationships with others and those relationships are still as complex and layered and valid as the ones we have formally committed to. We don't stop relating to, and feeling, towards other people.
Relationships are subjective and constantly shifting and there are infinite points on the continuum, where most of us exist, that have no labels or social definitions.
It is so important to think on our own terms about how we want to define (or even not define) our relationships with others, and to question what social norms say about those labels and how we are "allowed" to interact and feel. Because what happens is all of these narrowly defined boxes and black and white ideals create judgement, guilt and insecurity in ourselves and in others which ultimately limits our relationship possibilities. Shouldn't we be able to relate to our girl-friends and guy-friends in the same way and however we want? Because on that continuum, in our private thoughts and feelings, we actually do, it's just our actions that are carefully metered. It is the same formula of attraction, chemistry, shared interests etc. with every person we meet and form a connection with, or not.
A conversation needs to happen, and should be allowed to happen, with ourselves as well as with our partners about whether or not we actually do believe in monogamy and other expected social norms, just as we can and should be able to decide what religion we choose to follow. Single and married are not the only relationship orientations we experience, nor should they be the only ones acknowledged, accepted or discussed, which is exactly why we all have to talk about it! I'm not completely sure why we don't.
But are we truly willing to give up other relationships in the periphery, or even worse - feel badly about them, because they aren't seemingly acceptable and within in the context of relationship or gender norms?
Because what I see actually happening in most relationships is that intimacy is infinitely definable, gender preference gets blurred a lot of the time, sex is not always about love and that is more than okay, and blindly accepting one way of life is limiting the depth and breadth of all of our relationships.
The truth of the matter is, is that we actually do get to decide and create whatever kind of relationships we want to have and how we want to exist in them! For too many people this is a news flash, and really it should not be. We need to communicate honestly and more openly about it all, and accept all of our relationship needs even if they don't look like everyone else's. That kind of honesty and ownership is love and true intimacy at every level, and the payoff of the resulting freedom and happiness, as with any other shared truth, is pretty huge and not something I think we should so easily be willing to sacrifice.
We might do better as a culture if we all explore and communicate on broader terms more about our relationship beliefs and needs and less on relationship status and the accepted labels they fall under.