Let’s stop pressuring people to be in relationships this Valentine’s Day

A woman holding a pink heart
Photo: Shutterstock

“You complete me!”

“You’re my one, true love!”

“My Sweetheart!”

“You’re my soulmate!”

“You’re my one and only!”

“All I need is you!”

That’s just a list of statements that society oftentimes expects partners to say to one another on Valentine’s Day.

Open up any Hallmark card for Valentine’s Day, and you will find a card with one of those above statements in it to some degree.

Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest commercial events of the year. In 2022, U.S. consumers spent a total of $23.9 billion on celebrating the occasion. February 14 is a major cash cow, as people in relationships often feel obligated to make endearing statements – often with gifts – to their partners, regardless of whether they mean it.

From a young age, we are trained to celebrate Valentine’s Day with things like giving Valentine’s candy and cards to classmates in school. I’ve always found it rather bizarre that we still celebrate a Roman holiday originally known as Lupercalia in which people ran naked in the streets whipping people to bring forth fertility.

However, I digress.

Society preaches constantly that everyone has to be in a relationship, regardless of whether we even want to enter relationships. This is all defined under the concept known as amatonormativity.

Amatonormativity is a term coined by Dr. Elizabeth Brake at Rice University and she defined it as:

“The belief that marriage and companionate romantic love have special value leads to overlooking the value of other caring relationships.”

Amatonormativity isn’t limited to societal stigma. It can work in ways like housing discrimination against single people, with many landlords and real estate agents refusing to grant leases to single people out of fear.

There has been some research that indicates heterosexual people are intentionally biased against asexual people and would likely avoid them and discriminate against them in housing, and jobs, sometimes even preferring other sexual minorities over asexual people.

From a young age, amatonormativity is inundated to us collectively from society. From movies featuring characters trying to save a princess, to music videos about being head over heels in love with one another, to depictions of a winged enfant terrible shooting people with love arrows, society preaches the notion that romance is an inevitability that everyone feels and that you’re not a mature human if you don’t wish to date or marry.

Once a person starts nearing puberty, people are expected to begin having crushes and start having their first dating relationship. 

Growing up in school, kids would ask one another who they had a crush on. As the questions started, I would make up crushes to try and fit in with everyone else. I didn’t ever have feelings for the person, but I just said I did in order to fit in with everyone else.

While I never really carried out my crushes in any capacity (as I’ve never been on a date and have never wished to date), I’ve faced – and still face – intense pressure from others to do so.

Growing up in a religious home in the Bible Belt, my family constantly prods and pokes about why I haven’t yet married and why I’m not in a relationship. They constantly make derisive, judgmental statements like “You’re not getting any younger!” and “I would love to have grandchildren someday!”

Those are the not-so-mean statements.

My parents worry that I’ll end up alone, which is apparently a bad thing.

The irony is that as my parents are religious, they know that the Bible says that it’s preferable to remain single, as stated in 1 Corinthians 7. According to their own religion, it’s better to fly solo. 

Yet my parents still give me grief.

They like the rest of society believe that being single is an inferior status in life — one filled with misery and woe.

This is how amatonormativity works in action, and it often leads to people getting involved in harmful relationship structures.

Dr. Brake states:

Amatonormativity and its privileges can also pressure people to enter and remain in exclusive sexual dyadic relationships — even when such relationships are bad for them, or costly, or simply not what that individual needs. For example, think of advice to “settle” for a mediocre mate, just to be partnered or coupled!

There is an inherent stigma attached to being single, and society attaches greater stigma if you dare say you are happy and single.

Often, articles about being asexual are written in a way that makes being asexual sound like a lonely existence—unable to find dates, unable to find love. However, those articles leave out that many asexual people like me are also aromantic, in that we don’t experience romantic attraction. Articles that only focus on being single and alone as an asexual still reinforce the idea that everyone must be in a relationship of some kind and that is not all that asexuality is about. 

Being aro-ace and single is more about joy than it is about sadness, at least in my case.

Being uninvolved in any romantic relationships gives me the freedom to enjoy time with my friends, pursue my passions, and go after my dreams. The relationships with my friends give me all the fulfillment I need in order to be happy. Even as many of them are in relationships themselves, I never feel left out as a third wheel. They include me as a central part of their lives, as I do the same for them.

Being single also allows me the space to feel free and find solace in solitude. My friends know me well enough to know that I am introverted. They allow me the space to back away and introspect when I need to. They also call in to just see how I’m doing and reach out to me. I am always appreciative of them for doing so. Our relationship may not be one that society calls “significant,” but to me, it’s as significant as any other relationship. It gives me all the emotional fulfillment I need.

Growing up in church, my favorite Bible story was of the relationship between David and Jonathan, the son of David’s rival Saul. After David killed Goliath with the slingshot, David and Jonathan grew up as best friends and lived in the same palace together. In one vignette, Jonathan is described as loving David as he loved himself, giving David his royal robe. 

As Saul went mad and attempted to have David killed, Jonathan, in defiance of his father, went out of his way to make sure that David was okay. Jonathan, in the midst of the chaos, went to David while in hiding and the two made a covenant of friendship to one another. The story turned into a tragedy as Jonathan was killed in battle fighting to defend his father. 

In the book of 2 Samuel chapter 1, David heard the news of Jonathan’s slaying and he lamented. David, in his lamentation, affirmed his deep love for Jonathan, stating Jonathan’s love was “more wonderful than the love of women.”

Jonathan and David’s friendship was so intense with love that no one else could compare. In the end, David in 2 Samuel 9 would go to Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, and grant him a permanent seat at the royal table, out of a promise to Jonathan.

That’s the kind of relationship I have with my best friend. Who is to say that kind of relationship is not significant? My relationship with my best friends may not appear on a funeral note saying “X was survived by…,” but it’s those relationships that give me life.

It’s so bizarre how society disparages friendship to such a degree. There have been boundless iterations of strong friendships in literature, mythology, and other media, from Damon and Pythias, to Steel Magnolias, to Thelma and Louise. There are countless instances of everyone finding fulfillment and merriment with friends and pals, inside and outside professional contexts. There isn’t a need for amatonormativity constantly pressuring everyone into relationships. 

If we let relationships form organically and affirm all relationships – regardless of their name – as significant, people would generally be happier.

There isn’t a pot for every lid, and that’s okay. You are complete without a partner, and you don’t have to have one if you don’t wish to.

That should be the message every February 14.

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