A couple of years ago, I went on a date with a Filipino guy after I submitted my residency applications. We met at an Asian restaurant in northern Virginia sometime in December, late in the evening. We sat down, started eating, and talked about our work situations, music tastes, and dating histories. When I told him that I hadn’t dated a man long-term yet, he said “that’s surprising,” especially because I had been 26 at the time.
“What’s surprising about that?” I asked him. He said some vague jumbled string of words that didn’t intellectually satisfy me. A couple hours later, as we lied down together in the sheets of a nearby hotel room, he told me at length about how after having his heart broken in two previous romantic relationships, he wasn’t sure whether he believed he was a lovable person. I remember staring at the ceiling and thinking, wait a second, this guy thought it was odd that I’ve never been in a romantic relationship, yet I’m so much more secure in myself and my lovability compared to him despite of, or maybe even in part due to his past two romantic relationships. Excuse me??
Looking back, I think this cute guy’s comment to me at dinner reflected the assumption that wanting a romantic relationship is the norm and that everyone should aspire toward that. I notice this in a lot of areas of my life: in a call with some of my professional colleagues the other day, a pause in the conversation automatically shifted toward wedding planning
even though one of the two people getting married is a mediocre white man who is incapable of contributing to the planning process while his partner of color has to do the majority of the work, in one of my favorite television shows Insecure all of the main characters end up in romantic relationships, and I’ve met many people whose default way to cope with loneliness is to get on dating apps and swipe. Over the years, I’ve talked with several romantically single folks who express satisfaction with their careers, hobbies, and families, though they still feel like something is missing without a romantic partner.
Then, on the flip side, I feel like people assume that if you’re romantically single (note: I say “romantically single” intentionally because I’m very connected and fulfilled by my relationships with myself and my friends) and you don’t want a romantic partner, then you’re emotionally unavailable or have some unresolved trust issue. While that may be the case for some – also, people *in* romantic relationships can be emotionally unavailable, have trust issues, or engage in romantic relationships because they don’t know how to be with themselves – I am happily romantically single and quite emotionally available. I’m emotionally available to my close friends, my clients and students, myself, and more. I think these stereotypes and assumptions help create an amatonormative dichotomy, where either you are in a romantic relationship which is the end goal in society’s eyes or you are not in a romantic relationship and are thus either dissatisfied or emotionally unavailable.
A few days ago I felt angsty about life so I woke up and decided to buy Joan is Okay by Weike Wang for my Nook. I read a library copy of the book last year and enjoyed it a lot: the novel follows Joan, a thirty-something-year-old doctor who’s committed to her career while trying to cope with her father’s death. I cried hard rereading the last 50 pages of the novel the other morning; Wang captures the deep and complicated love an Asian American child can have for their immigrant parent in a way that resonates with my evolving feelings toward my own father.
That morning, I reread a scene between Joan and her brother’s wife, Tami, that I had forgotten about. At the beginning of their conversation Tami asks Joan about when she will find a husband to have children with. Joan responds by saying that her choice to focus on her work instead of pursuing a husband and children is just as valid as Tami’s choice to forgo work and prioritize her kids. Tami then tells Joan that she finds her “intimidating,” because Joan is “completely unafraid to plow right on ahead when most of us would be.”
Reading this passage made me feel so validated because of how I’ve been described as intimidating. Not by students or clients, but by peers and colleagues who’ve bristled at my firm sense of self and my direct way of communicating what I want. When I think of Joan or myself, I envision us less as intimidating and more as three-dimensional Asian Americans who chose a different path than what many people expected of us.
I turn 28 this May. Maybe a week ago I felt sad, something along the lines of like, boo hoo I haven’t met a man who meets my standards, ugh the patriarchy and white supremacy suck, blah blah. Then, I spent a night in and thought to myself: Thomas, you’re doing pretty fucking great. Indeed, I’m thriving in my career after coming out on top of the academic job market, I have amazing securely attached friendships, and I love spending time with myself and enjoying my own company. I’m already operating at 100% without a man. In fact, perhaps I’m operating at 100% *because* I haven’t settled for a man. While I always have room to grow, just like Joan, where I’m at now isn’t a pit stop on the way to a romantic relationship that will complete my life. I’ve already arrived at a complete life, one I created for myself.
Yes, I know, a fair amount of my blog posts as of late have focused on amatonormativity. I’m writing these posts to cope with a recent life event! However, I think I feel better about this event now and will shift gears to write about other topics. How do you meet or not meet other people’s expectations of you? How do you honor where you’re at even while you’re growing? General reactions to this post? Hope you are doing well and until next post.
7 responses to “Final Destination”
You are doing extremely fucking well and I’m sorry you’ve had a life event that’s made you have to consider all this stuff, but you carry on being your excellent self and the world will eventually adjust, right?!
I realised how fortunate I am in my life partner last weekend as I waltzed home and announced I am planning to accompany my friend who lives with rheumatoid arthritis and her elderly mum on a holiday this year (they are checking out a hotel soon that should work for them but she will be stuck there when it’s just the two of them as her mum can’t push her wheelchair) and he didn’t turn a hair. As of course he shouldn’t, but I know other people would push back at their other half prioritising a friend. (Having said that, the universe then decided to send him to the US for a week with work quite soon; this is also the universe giving me lots of reading time, of course …).
Yes! Thank you for this encouragement and affirmation, I am doing extremely fucking well even when some events outside of myself are uh, not so great. It’s so sad and angering to think of people who would push back at a romantic partner prioritizing a friend. Yay for your reading time and appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
I never heard of the term “amatonormativity” until I came across your blog. It’s been so drilled into my head since I was a child and maybe more so in Asian culture. I don’t think my parents actively pushed marriage, they never tried to fix me up with anyone (an uncle did). Even living alone is stigmatized. Anyways…
Yes you’re doing quite well in life and career and you’ve worked very hard for the successes you’ve had in both personal and career.
p.s. I just love how you casually slip in a bedroom scene in the middle of a serious topic.
Have a great week!
So glad it sounds like you’re receptive to the term amatonormativity! And yeah, I feel like society on multiple fronts drills it into our heads, from our families to the media and more. I love the concept of living alone while being connected to a greater community. (:
Thank you for honoring my hard work! Haha yes I appreciate that you appreciate the bedroom scene, it’s a little different from other scenes I’ve shared. I hope you are doing well and am sending much warmth and support for your recovery.
There’s a groundswell of support for more bedroom scenes. 😉
Appreciate the wishes for my recovery. Thank you.
One of the most satisfying blog posts I’ve read so far! What you share here reminded me of this bell hooks quote: “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
I feel like cultivating a nourishing relationship with yourself has made you even more capable of giving and receiving love, Thomas. And I am glad to see you experiencing that love from your friendships and from yourself. Considering how amatonormative society does not normalize or appreciate people who continue investing in themselves and in their values regardless of the presence or absence of a romantic partner, I find it empowering to see you and other role models in my life who have shown me this path.
I also find this blog post particularly resonating because of the present period of my life. Since the break up with my long-term best friend in the early November of last year, I’ve been trying to cope and make peace with the current lack of the love of a close friend, which I value more than any potential romantic relationship. And while I am willing and hopeful regarding finding people to develop close friendships with, I am also aware of my responsibility towards my individual growth, which is what I’ve learnt from the example of your personal independence. Thank you for being who you are. And I hope you are taking care. 🙂
Awwww so glad this blog post was satisfying! Love that bell hooks quote and that concept is something one of my best friends and I talk about often, how us being so comfortable with ourselves makes us even more present in our friendships with others. Yes, I totally agree with how amatonormative society does not normalize or appreciate people who invest in themselves. I feel empowered by your kind words and positive reinforcement of these values!
Ugh, that break up with your long-term best friend sounds tough. Even though I imagine the specifics of the situations were different, I’ve def been there, and I’m somewhat going through a shift in my relationship with one of my best friends now. It’s hard, and as I allude to/write directly about in my most recent post, that self-care is important when possible. Thank you for this sincere reflection, sending much warmth and compassion your way.