We talk a lot about unlearning these days.
But the trick about unlearning is - you first must recognize what you believe to begin to unlearn it.
Disclaimer: Please note that my thoughts or interpretations are coming from my perspective as a white woman in America, so expectations or traditions in other cultures or countries certainly will differ.
Regarding the American, specifically white lens, many of the institutions in our modern day world have been accepted for generations as ‘this is the way it’s always been.’
But that can’t always be the case - someone, somewhere had to make a conscious decision to spread an idea that would catch like wildfire - we’re just too far removed from so many of these decisions that we often didn’t question them.
It fills me with joy to see institutions, ways of living and legislation questioned - not just for the sake of questioning it, but because oftentimes, especially in this country, these beliefs were circulated from a place of fear, misunderstanding or want of control.
A topic that may not be so heated but seems well understood in our society is the difference between romantic and platonic relationships.
The idea that you build these incredible, often life-lasting bonds with people on the way to finding that one person to commit your entire life to is familiar and expected.
But what is also expected is that once you’ve found that ‘person,’ the other relationships are relegated to the sidelines.
This one person, your romantic partner, is there to fulfill your every need: lover, confidant, best friend, co-parent, accountant, consultant, therapist, the list goes on.
I know we’ve all heard, read, or even said some marriage vows and wow that is A LOT to sign up for.
That’s not to say that you can’t find a lot of that, maybe even all of it, in one person.
But what if that romantic partner was only one piece of the puzzle?
In an incredibly insightful article for The Atlantic by Rhaina Cohen entitled, ‘What if Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at The Center of Life?,’ Cohen points out the most simple yet startling revelation:
The idea of marriage has not always been the same, it has changed dramatically over the last several hundred years.
Initially a means of survival, lineage and economic preservation - until about the 1850s.
From that time until about 1965, the emphasis of marriage was love.
And from 1965 until present day, we see ‘self-expressive’ marriages, where spouses looked for personal development, self discovery and emotional support.
It is also of important note that these ‘guidelines of marriage’ are specific to the United States and more specifically geared towards white, heterosexual Americans. The irony is that the way in which the United States views everyone in the nation is through the views and legislation supporting the white middle to upper class. So while a large percentage of the population was not able to partake in these self-anointed rights of passage, this was the ideal standard that our population was held to.
Cohen goes on to give several examples of the ways platonic, or romantic friendships as they had been called generations prior, not only served as a place for comfort, connection and support, but they were also widely encouraged. It wasn’t until the turn of the century when women were gaining more power, a voice, and independence, that these friendships became a threat to the standards of society. Previously these friendships were viewed as harmless. But, with the strengthening power and personal resources of women, these relationships began to be viewed more as an alliance in the eyes of the patriarchy.
I’m 32, have never been married, but celebrate those in my life who are in a romantic partnership. I also relish daily in my relationships that are closest and most important to me - my friendships. Those are the relationships I have worked my entire life thus far for and the ones I would be the most heartbroken to lose. They are my chosen family.
Romance is something I adore and embrace (I’m a Pisces, afterall!) but I have never felt comfortable with the idea that everything else beautiful in your life must be upended for one person. I mean, if we look at that idea in any other context it seems like something a lot of people wouldn’t stand for.
This is a tender topic however you look at it and I in no way mean to offend or challenge those who have a wonderful romantic partnership. Again, I celebrate those but I also celebrate all the other wonderful relationships that exist outside of romantic ones.
I’m grateful that in this moment and time, we are not only questioning the way things are, we are envisioning ways of living that feel nourishing for lots of different people.
Personally. Within a household. Within a city, country or continent.
More and more, I am meeting people who are looking at the idea of partnership differently. Who maybe have or want a romantic partner but refuse to diminish other relationships in the process.
From my perspective, since we are ever-evolving, so should the concept of partnership.
A line from Cohen’s article I truly love highlights historian Richard Godbeer’s description of America’s centuries old idea of friendship, that it “not only conferred personal happiness but also nurtured qualities that would radiate outward and transform society as a whole.”
And in a way, isn’t that all we want?
Whatever that constitutes for us, don’t we all hope that our relationships nurture us in such a way that they would radiate outward to transform the world around us? Whether our relationships nurture our sense of belonging, love, respect, growth, or courage - they all are valuable.
So here’s my humble advice:
I highly recommend delving deeper into the article by Rhaina Cohen, which can be found here.
And more than advice, my deepest hope for you is that you’re able to nurture those relationships in your life (including the one with yourself!) so that your life will be filled to the brim, your needs met, your soul balmed and the world left a little bit better because of ALL the diversity of relationships you tend to.
Take care, friends.
Written by Ally B