“This is my boyfriend, and this is my girlfriend.”
My friend gestured to the tall boy standing to her right, and then to me, standing to her left. Repeating a scenario we’d played out before, the tall boy and I waved politely, offering no explanation for our introduction.
The sentence is straightforward enough, and yet was met almost without fail by confusion. People tried to reconcile their notions of sexuality, romance, relationships and nomenclature all at once. They seemed unable to slot us into their hierarchy of relationships without a clear indication of which of us – (or maybe neither or both) – were having sex with each other.
This simple interaction speaks to many widely held preconceptions of relationships, several of which I find to be not only annoying, but in many cases harmful. Primarily, I think it speaks most clearly to a societal focus on ‘couplehood’ as the most important and desirable form of relationship. By ‘couplehood’ I mean the state of being in a romantic, sexual relationship with one other person.
But why should this be assumed to be the highest form of relationship? Is there something about romantic or sexual attraction that makes it inherently superior to platonic bonds? Of course not.
But when those assumptions are in place, like any generalized assumption, they have negative impacts. They can be mere annoyances, like people asking your partner something on your behalf, as if being in a sexual/romantic arrangement with someone makes the two of you a single organism, negating the need to interact with both of you. But they can also be more detrimental than that, having the very real ability to erase the possibility of other forms of relationships.
Consider the scenario I described above, where my friend introduced both a boyfriend and a girlfriend. By introducing me as her girlfriend, after she had already introduced a boyfriend, people became confused. Either I was not her girlfriend, or he was not her boyfriend. The need for this clarification posed absolutely no effect on them to save to be able to better classify us in their minds.
And what of polyamorous relationships? What if we were in a lovely three-person triangle of romance and sexual attraction? For the majority of people, considering this form of relationship is not even on their radar, let alone within their ability to accept it as legitimate and healthy.
And to consider yet another perhaps atypical type of relationship: what of those formed by people who simply do not, can not, experience romantic and/or sexual attraction? They are people too, and their love and intimacy is not any weaker because of these differences. To think or say so would be close-minded, hurtful, and condescending.
My friend chose to use people’s preconceptions of relationship hierarchies to her advantage, choosing her words to indicate not the type of relationships she was in, but rather their importance to her. She wanted to make it clear that, regardless of who she was having sex with or not, the both of us were incredibly loved by her, and she incredibly loved by us.
Let me make it clear that I am not harping on sexual/romantic couples. They’re wonderful! Even considering the theory of infinite universes, there exists no version of myself where I don’t love people in love. It’s beautiful, it’s special and it makes them happy. I would be a terrible person to say that their happiness is built on a sham. More than that, I’d be completely wrong. For some people, a sexual/romantic relationship is the most important relationship, and their partner is the most important person to them.
What I am saying is that for many other people, this is not the be-all end-all of human interaction. I am saying that we should all consider that being in love isn’t necessarily confined to sexual/romantic relationships. I am saying that for many people, couplehood is one relationship among many, each as special and unique as the rest, each having importance dictated by things other than feelings of romance and sexual attraction.
Some of you may still be asking, “So are you her girlfriend? Or are you just friends?”
Well, no. To both. She’s not my girlfriend, and I’m not hers. But to preface the word ‘friend’ with ‘just’ is equally inaccurate. We are friends, we love each other, we’re in love with each other.
I’m not asking you to feel guilty about your own relationships, or saying that you’re wrong if romance and sex help you feel close to a person. What I am hoping is that you’ll consider changing the way you think about relationships: those of others and your own. Consider that for myself, and many others, there is quite simply no such thing as “just friends”.