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The World Won't Let Me Own The Friend Zone
Self-identified relationship anarchists like myself express discomfort with labels. The way society tends to use labels gets problematic pretty quickly. Polyamory still endorses the usage of hierarchical labels like “primary relationship” vs. “secondary relationship” in a way that simply doesn’t fly with relationship anarchy. Many of us are still searching for labels that express our affections on non-hierarchical terms that better match our feelings. When people offer more fitting alternatives relationship anarchists can use in place of the ones we like less, I often see the term “friend” popping up as the most desirable word to use. I get it; the word “friend” feels natural, safe, and affectionate word choice because it doesn't involve put force you to rank your relationships on an ordinal scale.
You're not being a good lover to anyone if you're not being a good friend at the same time. That’s why “friend” was my go-to term for so many years. To me, friendship is love and love is friendship. That includes love that isn't romantic. I was satisfied with using the term “friend” to describe my loved ones to others. The Friend Zone is a comfortable place for me to be as sexual and romantic as I please. It’s other people who weren’t comfortable with it. When I abandoned the usage of hierarchical labels in favor of the "friend" label, I didn't realize just how much effort I would have to invest in protecting my relationships from getting lost in mononormative translation. I found out the hard way that the word "friend" still has plenty of cultural baggage to unpack.
In the modern world as much of the United States knows it, people can hook up with each other and still be considered friends. Yet this fact don’t stop the perpetuation of the myth that The Friend Zone is a sexless, sexist hellhole. According to The Friend Zone mythology, non-platonic bonding like sexual activity and romantic behavior is your only ticket out of The Friend Zone. Apparently, we're “just friends” when we're platonic and become “more than friends” when we become romantically or sexually intimate with someone.
In my world, I'm not "just friends" with anyone. It's kind of like how monogamy isn't "just the way things are." Many people in my Friend Zone enjoy plenty of the so-called “benefits” of sexual and/or romantic relationships. It's the stigma surrounding platonic friendships that excludes all other kinds of love from The Friend Zone in the cultural imagination.
Many important dimensions of my connections disappear in the eyes of others when they find out I consider myself to be “just friends” with certain people, no matter how meaningful our intimacy might be to us. They also don't get how much it might not mean to us.The sexual and romantic features in our relationship work out comfortably for everyone except for the people I explain our relationships to. After facing these assumptions repeatedly, I had to accept that I had a problem on my hands much bigger than a series of isolated misunderstandings. I was up against an entire culture.
I honestly prefered the term “friend” until I saw the confusion it stirred in nearly every nook of my love life. I generally try to be as transparent as possible about being a relationship anarchist in any relationship. But I’ve noticed that no matter how open I am, people still don’t get it. People get so confused when they find out that *gasp* I have valuable romantic connections with people I consider to be friends. If I don’t explain myself to others, then they assume we’re “just friends” or slam their impression of me a host of negative qualities to me that I don’t actually possess. No matter how clearly I explain these friendships to other people, I can’t help but sense that they still don’t realize just how much these bonds mean to me because I didn’t use certain buzzwords as relationship descriptors. Yet in the problematic context of relationship hierarchies, all it takes is the absence of certain labels to decrease the relative importance of any given relationship. According to these unfair contexts, two people are “more than friends” if they are exclusive, but “just friendship” at best if there is any degree of romantic and/or sexual involvement. It’s as though we’d be considered any more or less friends without romantic or sexual elements to our bond.
I shouldn’t have to conform my relationships to prescriptive, mononormative, and hierarchical relationship norms in order for other people to consider them valid. With that said, I spend most of my life immersed in a mononormative culture. My social circle is mononormative and it’s a rarity for me to come across people (in real life, that is) who are consistently non-monogamous like myself. Most people I know go through spurts of non-monogamy before they find “the one” and default back to monogamy. I’ve found that others are just as hung up on labels as I am, but in a different way. I have a problem with how we use labels, but labels mean the world to other people. Using them in unexpected ways can cause unintentional hurt because it veers from Society’s idea of normalcy. We shouldn’t keep using labels as they are and perpetuate their problematic usage to spare mononormative feelings. But trust me: You’re better off being prepared to deal with than finding yourself plagued with negative consequences like I did.
I’ve been romantically involved with someone for over 11 years. As a relationship anarchist, I don’t believe that terms like “primary” and “secondary” convey affection on hierarchical terms. My heart doesn’t operate on an ordinal scale. But when I mentioned this to him and others, he was genuinely upset by what I said because he considers me his primary partner. After some explaining, he understood that just because he happens to be my closest connection doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with subjecting my love life to a ranking system. He understands what I mean, but the hurt from hearing me fail to acknowledge him as “primary” was still an issue I had to deal with. Not addressing such a vast difference would be negligent.
During my college years, there was a point in time when I had officially broken up with him. We continued to have a romantically-charged connection that lacked the labels most would apply to it. I didn’t feel comfortable calling us friends with benefits; I always got the vibe that term implies that “real” friendships didn’t have any “benefits” to offer. So while I wasn’t referring to him as a partner, I thought “friend” was the most benign label I could use to help other people grasp our relationship.
Needless to say, people didn’t understand.
I’ve been open about being a polyamorous relationship anarchist as soon as I discovered that my identity had names to describe it. Before I had the chance to be personal with someone, I found it hard to create opportunities to talk about polyamory or relationship anarchy without the topic coming across as forced or awkward. I’ll never forget how many times my crushes gave me awkward looks that never went away, nor how they would stop talking to me and throw a blank glance at me if they were feeling kind enough to acknowledge my non-monogamous existence. One of my crushes even started being stand-offish and dismissive to me. It took me a while to figure out that his hostility reared its ugly head into my life after he met the "friend" I'm still involved with. I can’t tell you how many times people assumed I was trying to hide something from them, even when I was totally honest and transparent about how I roll. My platonic friends didn’t understand and thought I was being sketchy about the rest of my intimate connections as well. Life becomes difficult when you slip between the cracks of labels.
If you’ve yet to try to substitute other relationship labels with the word “friend,” please be aware that this kind of conflict can happen to you and be prepared to deal with it. Believe me: Ingenuity was the absolute opposite of what I was going for. Nonetheless, people struggled to fathom how I could be non-platonically involved with the same people I consider to be friends. The term “friend” might cover all of my emotional bases when it comes to referring to my loved ones, but it certainly doesn’t complete the definition everyone else knows. I envy the people out there who’ve spent their whole lives referring to their loved ones as friends without others perceiving the reference as lesser-than, “not serious,” and the other misunderstandings people often have about friendship. Meanwhile, friendships are serious business. Anyone who claims that lasting friendships don't require healthy forms of commitment is probably not very good at being a friend to begin with.
How do I deal with it now? I wish I could further bedeck you with pearls of wisdom. Truthfully, I’m still trying to find a way to resolve relationship anarchy with the ever-expanding cultural definition of friendship in a way that leaves everyone on the same page. For now, I call my lovers “partners” if they refer to me as such first. I let other people know where I stand and try to be as aware of their feelings as possible, even if it means using relationship labels as momentary descriptors. On the same token, I have friendships that share plenty of features with my so-called "real relationships." Now, I start off with “friends” and then mention the "other stuff" later on if it comes up, but I have to be mindful of my timing. All I can do at this point is be honest about my feelings in regards to myself and others. The truth is that The Friend Zone as I know it is full of romance, sex, passion, and fulfillment
#Real #GhiaVitale #RelationshipAnarchy #OwnTheFriendZone #ProblematicLabels #MononormativeCulture #Feminism
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