A few weeks ago, I was texting with an acquaintance of mine, a smart and passionate and kind woman. This friend started dating a white man this year and they already moved in together. I shared with her about my struggle to find friends who feel as passionately about friendship as I do.
“I fully believe in nurturing all healthy relationships, but there are only so many hours in a day and we can’t commit to everyone the same,” she texted. “It’s easy to get hurt when you go outside the script.”
I responded about how I feel that the script itself confines people into valuing romantic partnership above all else, how the script hurts people who do not conform to heteronormativity. In all honesty, I felt a bit annoyed at this acquaintance. Like, given her feminist leanings, how could she not discern how patriarchal and heteronormative romance is? But then she shared that she had tried to form a non-sexual life partnership with a friend who turned her down, an experience she found discouraging. Her sharing this shifted most of my annoyance into empathy, as well as anger at the heteronormative patriarchy.
I share anecdote this because sometimes I freak out about whether the script will consume me. I broke up with two friends this year who both started prioritizing their cishet white male romantic partners over their friends, over me. As I get older, I see more and more people following the traditional path of prioritizing their romantic partners along the route of dating, engagement, marriage, and kids. I spent a whole therapy session talking about how I cannot tell if I am aromantic, or if I just haven’t met any guy who’s interested me and that I find how most people date to be heteronormative and boring (it’s the latter, at least for now.)
At the root of this, I feel so, so terrified that, perhaps similarly to the acquaintance I texted with, I will have my heart broken by friends so many times that I will settle into the same script as everyone else, where I pour most of my energy into a romantic partner. I’m also scared that as I get older, and as men continue to disappoint me, that at some point I’ll settle for some guy who’s “fine enough” just to date someone, like I’ve observed in others around me.
At the root of this, I’m terrified of losing myself.
I’ve never been someone to give into what broader society thinks, though, in regard to friendship or romance. While I have lost a few friends this year, I have also maintained and deepened two friendships in particular I feel super strong about, friends who I have written about on this blog before. This year I have learned even more about what I value in my close friendships, beyond a baseline level of compassion and social justice orientation – friends who have an independent sense of self, who also invest in their friendships deeply, who have the capacity to process our friendship, and more. At the end of the day, I would rather have two close friends, or one close friend, or only a meaningful friendship with myself than to have more friends for the sake of it who may not meet my standards.
In regard to romance, I’ve never had a boyfriend, haven’t been on a date in about 14 months, and I’m thriving. Like, I’m actually the happiest I’ve felt perhaps in my entire life. I have a couple of amazing close friends and several other friends and acquaintances, I’m finding great meaning in giving back to people and communities I care about, and I love myself so much for how I have never, ever felt like I needed a man’s love to feel complete. I know myself and my values and no external source can steal my self-regard. Last week, I got a rejection from a peer-reviewed journal, and I literally walked down the street of Washington D.C. humming to Lorde and recounting all the ways I value myself beyond my work. At a conference I went to in Atlanta last month, a fellow attendee commented that I seem to have a very secure sense of self, after I told him that men’s opinions of me are completely irrelevant to who I am and what I want to contribute to this world. I want to bring this energy of self-love with me throughout the rest of my life, no matter how much the heteronormative, patriarchal script surrounds me.
Sometimes it feels hard and lonely to live outside a script that a lot of people follow. And even with that challenge, I still believe in friendship that can transcend a subordinate position to romance. I still believe that if I do ever find a man worth dating which is about as likely as someone stumbling upon a fountain of youth in the Sahara Desert that flows with Jeni’s ice cream and plays Ariana Grande’s iconic song “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored at the same time, I can make that relationship my and our own and not fall into the heteronormative path. Most of all, I believe in myself – not that I’m perfect, not that I don’t have areas to improve in – but in my ability to shape my own destiny, society’s expectations be damned.
Reactions to this post? How do you navigate your expectations of friends and relationships with friends? How do you live a life aligned with values that may not coincide with societal norms, or not? Hope everyone is well – I’m doing my best to relax a bit during this holiday period (watching lots of Queen Sugar, already through one and a half seasons, would highly recommend) and reflecting and treating my body well with lots of tennis and cardio to pop music. Until next post!