Upfront talks about amatonormativity are heavily lacking in both my experiences with activism and my personal life. Considering its impact makes it easier to navigate romance as well as contribute to discussions on healthy dating practices as a culture.
Amatonormativity is the normalization of romantic love. It is the culturally engrained idea that every person wants a romantic partner, is searching for one and will not benefit from any decision that implies otherwise.
Like most other terms of its ilk, amatonormativity is never expressed directly, but is always present. Amatonormativity is present in films of every genre, featuring romantic subplots regardless of whether or not they affect the main plot. Amatonormativity is assuming a forced kiss between 6-year-olds is to be consensual because “it’s just a kiss.” Amatonormativity is asking your friends more about their love life than their mental health. Amatonormativity is never explaining or questioning romance concurrently with sex because there is nothing to learn that has not already been said to death.
Although it hurts people who have nothing to do with it, amatonormativity especially harms aromantic and polyamorous people. One such example is monogamy. Many people will not be happy in long-term relationships, and love marriage is notoriously unsuccessful already. However, the assumptions we learn about romance assure that many people are unaware of alternate options. Many will chock up any failure to adhere to this rigid standard to personal defect rather than an insufficient view on family or relationships.
This type of stigma is especially potent on polyamorous people, for which any sort of monogamous system is unhealthy. Poly people are told that they do not love their partners enough or that they have poor integrity. Many never learn to fully appreciate their body’s capacity for love or the pleasure of not defining their relationship in terms of how marriage-bound it is. Aside from the psychological effects, it is difficult to explain or validate their choices to people who have no understanding of polyamory. This leads to annoying or detrimental consequences.
However, none of this compares to how oppressive amatonormativity is towards aromantic people. Since those who identify as aromantic do not experience romantic attraction at all, they are especially prone to bigotry rooted in amatonormativity.
The term “aromantic” corresponds with aromance and asexuality networks and helps aromantics in explaining the societal pressure they are under to outsiders. The hierarchy set up by amatonormativity leaves no room for those who do not seek out relationships. Even thinking about it is a severe taboo. Especially for women, failure to find a partner is seen as a fate worse than death.
People who do not desire romance are likened to sociopaths or psychopaths—both completely invalid terms, but you get the message. If you are aromantic, then there is literally an entire fundamental system in our society set up around shaming and marginalizing your romance orientation. The psychological effects are catastrophic, and I will never have a healthy relationship with my identity because of it.
The media and society alike would benefit from being more open about different romantic possibilities. There are already plenty of people talking about how to improve the quality of romantic relationships, but few talk about better ways to navigate dating as a whole. Both Marginalized Orientation, Gender Identity And Intersex (MOGAI) people and relationship health organizations would greatly benefit from educating people on amatonormativity.
More of an effort needs to be made in both allyship communities and society as a whole to address the issues that amatonormativity causes. People who either do not want relationships or do not want conventional ones still deserve to have their needs discussed. I would genuinely like to see a series that presents alternate options for relationships in a more permanent and acceptable manner. Even simple things like asking if I am interested in dating before assuming I would want to date someone would really help.
There is virtually no way to end amatonormativity without being aware of its causes and effects. Amatonormativity is systematically left out of MOGAI and feminist discussions—even though it easily fits into both categories—but neither of these is really complete without addressing it in some form. I would really like to see more focus on self-awareness and romantic autonomy in both of these areas. I do not think we should have to wait for things to go awry to make information about forming healthy relationships available.
Anyone who speaks out against the most basic practices will be chastised, and even people who are fairly open about their romantic experience often have a hard time talking about dating and monogamy in a comprehensive manner. Altering our current situation will take work, but developing a new, better system in its place will definitely be worth the while.