By Bridget Keenan
The social construct of romantic love has proven itself to be a manipulative tool, especially towards women. Women, among other groups, are taught to center their lives around the attention of men under the deluded belief that monogamy will bring them fulfillment. This belief is not sanctioned by either experience or psychology, but rather a culture using romance as a means of controlling the actions of its oppressed.
Love is an obligation. You cannot be considered to have a secure life until you engage in a serious long-term relationship. You would be hard pressed to find a popular movie that does not end with the female lead finding “the one.” Society tells us we are incomplete without a partner. Dating for young American women is a Hobson’s choice; you can do whatever you want with your love life as long as you choose monogamous romance.
As if social conditioning through movies and media is not enough, the external pressure to pair off is insurmountable. We are taught to believe that no one can be happy, fulfilled or complete without romance in their life. In particular, women who abstain from romance are accused of being cold-hearted, misguided, inhuman or witches. We internalize this ethos to the point where we cannot tell this socialization apart from our own thoughts and desires, and are discreetly denied personal autonomy. People who defy these sacred boundaries are clearly ostracized and outcast by their social circles.
The most common rebuttal for this argument is that romantic love and desire are a source of pleasure when done correctly. However, there is nothing innately pleasurable about monogamy. There is no reason that we cannot fulfill our romantic desires through some other medium. Alternatives include polyamory, casual relationships, casual dating, queerplatonic relationships, passionate friendship, long-term but informal relationships, self-amory and abstinence.
None of these mediums revolve around a single partner or ideal having complete power over the relationship, but instead, focus on the decisions of the person who engages in them. These alternative forms of alleviating romantic desires are just as effective and valid as traditional means, and should not be considered a secondary option.
Even more suspicious is the lack of information and education surrounding healthy romantic habits. Many people who abuse their partners emotionally or socially get away with their crimes simply because everyone affected by it is too uneducated to say otherwise. Many of our paradigms for relationships are unhealthy, controlling, dehumanizing and overall unrealistic. Sex education is no longer considered an option in liberal areas due to the consequences of ignorance; yet, romantic relationships, which require much more effort and attention to detail, have no cultural equivalent thereof. Our ignorance towards our own emotional health is willful and intentional.
The fact that we focus so much time on successful romantic relationships when the overwhelming majority fail to maintain them proves the presence of an ulterior motive. Marriage is juxtaposed with independence or career success as a viable path to happiness. Real and fictional women gladly give up all they have ever valued in order to be with a desirable partner. By presenting romantic love as an ultimate form of success, we undermine any hopes a woman may have of autonomy.
The rate of relationship abuse is through the roof. It is only ever afterwards that we find out that two people were miserable together. Personal happiness is only secondary to the amatonormative pressure to not be single. Bombastic reports of wedded happiness exist only to assert the superiority of romance. Any implications otherwise will be immediately devaluated.
Romantically-driven monogamy was understandable in its origin. As a culture that once relied on platonic marriage for procreation, it makes sense that the separation between romantic and unromantic partnerships would start out unclear. Since the time of widespread plantonic marriage, the divorce rate has risen to over 50 percent, and society no longer strictly requires that we use this model for relationships. There is nothing inherently natural about the view of love we hold in popular society, and it is high time that these archaic traditions be abandoned. No one is forcing us to do this but ourselves.
The reasons these norms remain intact are the power and privilege given to those who validate them. To question romantic monogamy would be to question our ability to navigate our own lives and bodies. The entertainment industry profits greatly through badly written appeals to our desire to be part of the system, and weddings are just as much a business as an institution. Marriage and love are a cornerstone of many western religions’ inability to conform to these ideals, and are used as grounds for racism and sexism.
By assuming control over our love lives, we invalidate these systems that depend on us being too distracted with love to question their existence. People whose bodies or lifestyle choices do not validate true love can expect to live a lifetime of shame and unacceptance. If nothing else is convincing, the psychological consequences forced upon significant chunks of the population should disprove our conviction of love as supreme.
True love is a failed social experiment only preserved by oppressive factions that control the will of the public. Many women will never have the option of regulating their own desires, and virtually no one has the tools to wonder why they started searching for a soulmate in the first place. The “love” that we put on a pedestal is not a means of happiness and self-understanding, but a means of control and oppression.