I considered calling this “What Is Love?” but that felt too cheesy. Besides, that question has been around since the beginning of time and I’m not here to quantify people’s feelings and explain the chemical reaction that makes someone addicted to someone else. Love is complex, felt in many different ways, and could be a debate that goes on for the rest of time. Or maybe it is as simple as “it’s a spectrum of chemical reactions that equal affection toward a person, place, or thing.”
I thought of this post because of all the posts and content I’ve been seeing talking about how people want relationships where the other person won’t think of anyone else and even has a “small body count”. It just felt to me that people were really throwing around these sort of “requirements” without really knowing what makes a healthy relationship. The very concept of “if someone has slept with a lot of people in the PAST, then I can’t be with them in the PRESENT” just infuriated me and made me wonder why people felt like this was acceptable to demand of a partner.
Regardless, I’m here to talk about healthy relationships. Love is a part of that, but what I really want to look at is what makes up a “healthy relationship”, especially in today’s society. In conjunction with my other slut shaming posts, I felt like this is something we needed to talk about because slut shaming comes in a lot of different forms. I’m sure the mere thought of an open or polyamorous relationship disgusts some people, makes them instantly think, “If I’m not enough then they don’t love me.” I need everyone to take a deep breath, take a step back, and realize that “healthy relationships” don’t have a defined structure, and aren’t solely monogamous. In this post we need to explore all relationships to really understand what makes them happy and healthy.
A quick google search will show tons of articles saying that polyamory is on the rise. This NPR.org article says that more than one-in-five single adults have been in a non-monogamous relationship. Of course, popularity doesn’t necessarily mean something is “right”, but there is something to be said about how wide-spread it is. Polyamory was hardly invented in the 21st century, and definitely isn’t considered outdated.
The same can be said about open relationships, and in general with a resurgence in “intimate” positivity we see people getting to know what they come to desire in a relationship. What we see most often is monogamy is rooted in religion, or worse, jealousy. People assume that love is supposed to be incredibly passionate obsession over a single person, forgetting the rest of the world.
In reality, a lot of expectations (drilled into us by Hollywood and the marriage industry) are in general unrealistic and often unattainable. In PsychologyToday, they discuss how scientists believe the feelings of love fade, with the longest reported length of time the feelings last is two decades. The average time it takes for “love”, or the body chemistry that makes up physical and emotional attraction, to fade is about two years. If this is the case, then relationships aren’t just about this intense feeling, since monogamous relationship goals are to have the rest of your life, or even eternity, together and in love. In general, your brain will grow accustom to any stimuli, including the chemicals of love. No matter how perfect someone is for you, these feelings will fade and once you’re accustomed to these feelings you need to make sure there is more than just feelings holding your relationship together. So, what else is there?
As discussed in my Hook-Up Culture post, some of the leading destroyers of relationships are lack of intimacy and trouble in the bedroom. Knowing your desires is a great way to prevent any resentment and feelings of missing out, but more importantly, knowing your desires means you can communicate them to your partner to make sure they’re meeting your needs. Maybe it’s just about knowing when and how to show affection, or maybe it is getting more attention from multiple people, regardless, knowing is half the battle. Even physical attraction can fade over time though, which is why we always hear that talk about “spicing things up in the bedroom”, so is this really a part of a healthy relationship?
I think what it all boils down to is communication and trust. Being able to talk with your partner(s) about your desires involves leaving a lot of shame and distrust you might have and knowing that the person(s) you are with are willing to hear you out without harboring negative emotions or thoughts about it. No matter how faded feelings get, having someone respect you when you say, “I’m not in the mood,” can go a long way. Relationships, much like people, will transform over time and normalizing a non-stagnant, non-obsessive love-life is a good start to finding a healthy relationship. Even if you do go for a monogamous relationship, to want to be every aspect of someone’s life and thoughts is incredibly toxic. Life is an emotional rollercoaster filled with family, friends, sometimes even enemies. The only constant in life is that things are always changing, and you won’t be able to go to every event, hear every conversation, be a part of every situation, so you can not and should not be attached at the hip.
Most importantly, no one person should be fulfilling all your needs. There are friend and familial social needs that are a lot for a single person to fulfill. You should have someone you “click” with because you’re so alike, it gives you the support and trust that will help you feel confident in yourself. However, you also need someone very different from you that will call you out on problematic traits so you learn and grow as a person. Those two contradicting needs alone show that a single person can’t do it all, let alone the myriad of needs you’ll want for some self-actualization.
So, maybe you won’t have someone obsessively in love with you. Maybe you won’t find someone who will make you want to rip their clothes off every day. That’s okay. Finding someone who wants to spend a large chunk of every day with you is already saying a lot, and finding what works for you outside of the Hollywood expectations is key to really becoming content with who you are and what you want. So, plan when you want to get intimate, work at turning each other on, work at finding things in common and understanding each other, work at being in love. The simple act of caring and wanting to try is a precious gift all on it’s own.