I’ve heard of asexuality, aromanticism and polyamory. Then a friend sent me this video talking about AMATONORMATIVITY.
Well-meaning friends have gently (or bluntly) told me that my experiences of abuse turned me against men/marriage. There may be some truth to that. The very thought of weddings – invitations, over-the-top engagement shoots, big loud band-baajas or excessive proposals – these have me sweating, struggling to breathe and starting migraines. Through my twenties, I was relentlessly shamed & attacked by family, friends & colleagues for not prioritising marriage and for pursuing a career. I stayed in bad relationships because I feared the fallout after and I was right. An ex best friend turned up her nose at me during her wedding shower & suggested “I know your value systems have changed but I think you should stick to one man.” Families that had known me even as a child, closed their homes to me because of a failed engagement. Men I’d never been interested in but whom I’d been respectful about saying no to publicly shamed me. Partners of friends labelled me with ‘khud to shaadi tod ke aayi hain, doosron ko sikhaegi shaadi kaise todte hain’ (she broke her own marriage, now she tries to disrupt other people’s marriages). I was told I must have not been serious about the relationship if I was still alive six months later & hence deserved no sympathy. No, I do not like marriage & weddings as they are normalised.
The idea of amatonormativity tells me, that I don’t even need to make an effort to like them. I don’t need to understand that ‘not all marriages’. I don’t need to accomodate people saying this is normal and I’m not. It also helps me process a few other things.
I’ve never been comfortable being set up and through my adult life, people have tried to do so. I refuse to think of this as ‘out of concern’ because if a person truly cared about me, they would learn who I am and what I want instead of imposing a generic store-bought idea of happiness on me. More than one boyfriend tried to set me up with people they thought were better for me. I know now what damage toxic masculinity wreaked on their self-esteem to make them think that was permissible. It doesn’t make it okay.
The years have given me a clearer sense of what makes me happy (or what doesn’t). I know myself a little better now. Yet, that self has come at the cost of being ravaged by what society decides is normal & enduring violence, abuse, gaslighting, cheating, assault and victim-shaming. It has taken its toll on my health, my finances, my peace of mind. There is nothing harmless about the act of deciding one way of being is normal to the exclusion of everything else. It’s poisonous & hurts people.
I don’t know if I identify as aromantic or amatonormative. But it is a far kinder space for me to explore my identity in, than the alternatives. Especially as a woman, with the constant erasure of my agency & identity. The slightest non-conformity is punished with dismissal from the human race. That is what is happening when someone tells me, “Why do you need a man? You’re a strong woman.” or “I thought you were a feminist. Why are you looking for a relationship or love?” If love or relating is membership to an exclusive club like this, I am not interested. The fee of giving up my identity is too high.
Friends tell me wistfully, that they’d love to see me settled or that I deserve my fairytale. Fairytales are brutal on the women in them and on women who reject them. Any alternative seems kinder. If ‘normal’ romanticism is about my way or the highway (and may you be roadkill as soon as possible), then amatonormativity feels like a far better place for my battered self to take refuge in.