Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and with it the hopeless romantic’s worst enemy: the bitter realist. Valentine’s Day is a product of capitalism, was made up by the greeting card industry, by florists…and many more such protestations are sure to come your way. But really, isn’t it nice to have a day devoted to telling the people that are important to you (including yourself) that you love and appreciate them?
On a day like this, where the people around you and the media are likely going to centre heterosexual monogamous romantic relationships, it’s more imperative than ever to remind yourself first of all, that your value does not depend on your relationships with others and secondly, that love is love in the most radical sense of the expression. This article shall focus on the latter because when celebrating all kinds of love, we mustn’t exclude ones we’ve never heard of or don’t relate to. In fact, perhaps there’s something to be learned from different conceptions of love and relationships that differ from the alleged ideal of heterosexual monogamy.
In the spirit of celebration, I would like to present a few ways of loving that are perhaps a bit less known and may even be confusing. One of these is polyamory. Often confused with open relationships, it has a decidedly bad reputation of partners continuously cheating on each other. When in reality, both polyamorous, (relationships between multiple people) and open relationships (relationships between two people) where one or both partners can have other partners, require an enormous amount of communication and honesty. Polyamorous relationships specifically can teach us a lot about partnerships and jealousy. In Xiran Jay Zhao’s novel Iron Widow, which features a poly “trouple”, they have scenes where the characters are shown to discuss whether they are jealous of each other’s time spent with another person in the “trouple”. One character specifically recognises that he is jealous, but that it is both an unnecessary and harmful emotion. He realises that “love isn't some scarce resource to battle over” and that “love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open”. And while not all of us are, or want to be in polyamorous relationships, I think that the sentiment of limiting one’s negative emotions - to make room for loving people and allowing the people we love to do the same - is certainly admirable.
Another conception of love that asks one to be less rigid about Western relationship conventions or even to leave them behind completely is that of QPRs. QPR is short for queerplatonic relationship which is a partnership that goes beyond what is considered normal for a friendship, like sleeping in the same bed or holding hands but is not romantic in nature either. Some people that identify as aromantic* – meaning they don’t fall in love with people romantically – may still desire to be in a QPR.
However, just as QPRs aren’t “merely” friendships, friendships shouldn’t be considered “just friendships” either. Surely, you’ve heard this sentence before or maybe even uttered it. Are they just friends or more? This can be incredibly harmful, not just to aromantic people. Something doesn’t have to be a QPR to be considered love. In fact, friendships can be just as important and intense as romantic or queerplatonic relationships. Putting romantic relationships above friendships at every turn suggests that someone who doesn’t engage in them or doesn’t experience them the same way is somehow less human and lacks an essential part of a fulfilling life. In reality, aromantic people and others who choose not to be in a romantic partnership can live perfectly happy lives.
Asexual* people who don’t feel sexual attraction towards anyone, often have to deal with a similar attitude. Not only do many people believe falsely that ace folks don’t like to have sex at all or even that they don’t want to be touched generally, but when that is actually the case they are often portrayed as less human because of it. Romantic relationships, however, are usually not defined by the fact that the people in it have sex with each other and so when you subtract that factor, what remains are the most important aspects of a partnership: trust and communication, liking each other and enjoying one another’s company.
Evidently, all of the conceptions of love mentioned above (besides from not being done justice in mainstream representation), can teach us something about extending empathy, extending the meaning of the concept of love and considering what is essential to it. Perhaps it’s even time to leave behind strict definitions and labels for relationships that most people only stress about anyways, and blur the boundaries between them.
Whether you feel inclined to do some more research on any of the concepts above or even just take care of how you phrase things in the future, I hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you can identify with any of these feelings, feel free to check out the LGBTQ+ Forum and come along to any of our events!
*Both aromanticism and asexuality are a spectrum and not everyone who identifies as asexual or aromantic adheres to the most basic definition I gave here.