Redefining Romance

Leveling Relationships & Redistributing Love in the Month of Eros

by Victor Warring

A white drawing of a griffin with outstretched wings in front of red flowers growing up a black brick wall.

Well, here we are. It’s February, the month of Love & Romance! And soaring in the skies above us, ready to swoop down like a fabulous, white-feathered winged griffin to bestow blessings and celebrations of holy eros and requited romantic love upon us is: Valentine’s Day!

This is a day where our culture’s deification of romantic coupledom comes to the fore, where dyadic erotic love is revered and placed on the pedestal above all else, and where lovers are invited to cherish and honor their deep bonds of affection and attachment. However, it is also a day of consumerist boon to the romance industrial complex and its siren call for spending on Hallmark cards, fabulous florals, precious jewelry, restaurant reservations and all of the baubles of love one is able to purchase and profer. Valentine’s Day has both a focus of love, and the machinated consumer of love focus.

Valentine’s Day is also a time of grief and longing; for in our cultural story of love triumphant, those who have not found or aren’t looking for everlasting romantic bliss in the state of holy coupledom are often left feeling excluded and hungry for love or unworthy and unable of achieving that which our social narrative holds paramount; the exclusive loving romantic union that fulfills all wants and supports all needs. The love that saves us from the fear and loneliness of being “single.”

But why is this? Love and romance are to be celebrated, yes, but why is it that the couple, the dyad, the undying romantic monogamous duo has come to be the revered paramount of exemplified relationship sitting atop the pedestal above all other types of connection? Why do so many people feel grief and suffering when they are not able to partake in romantic love’s dyadic call, especially on the day of its yearly celebration?

If we see romantic love as standing atop the pillar above the clouds, worthy of sundering us from all else, we tend to see other relationships — like our friendships and family — as coming secondarily to the romantic duo. We may pay attention to these other connections, but we have been instructed that the real connection worth nurturing is that with our romantic partner. In fact, we are often told that nourishing other relationships comes at the expense of our romantic relationship, and is actively harmful to it. We must protect the romantic dyad bubble at all costs. And we are certainly told that romance, eros and professions of love have no place other than within our romantic dyad.

And thus the potential woe of February 14th. If our celebration of love only exalts the holy romantic duo, if our sense of attaining what is deemed as culturally valuable is singularly focused on romantic relationship, what happens to those not in romantic relationship? What happens to those who intentionally choose a single or solo life? Or those with more than one romantic relationship in their lives? What happens to those in couple-hood who don’t feel the magic of the union? What about those in the romantic union who mourn and miss their lost ties of connection with friends and community, but who have forsaken them for the belief that all or most of their satisfaction must come from their romantic partner?

What if it were possible to redefine romance and love to be more inclusive of all the ways in which love can show up in our lives? Perhaps it is time to create a different kind of love and romance celebration that stimulates less grief in the partnered and unpartnered alike. Perhaps it is possible to experiment with spreading the wealth of love around.

Spreading the Love by Leveling Relationships

It may be possible to level relationships out a bit; to bring romantic relationships off of the mountaintop and to bring other relationships and singleness up from the valley to meet somewhere in the middle. What would that look like? What would that do to our feelings of love, or the anxiety and grief of not-love? Many people describe this leveling of relationships as deconstructing romantic love or decolonizing it since many of our notions of the primacy of romantic relationship come from our colonized and conquering past, and our capitalist and consumerist present. Some name this possibility as stepping off of the relationship escalator, stepping away from the standard narrative of what is expected of dyadic, romanic relationships, from exclusive pair bonding to the enmeshment of finances, domiciles and genetic material. Still others name this as relationship anarchy, holding that all of the relationships one is in have their own merits unto themselves and are subject only to the rules, boundaries and self-description set by those in the relationship.

There are many ways to describe this possible flattening of relationships, some more extreme than others. Many harken back to our pre-agricultural human past, when we were at our most naturally human, where dyadic relationships were more community-bound. When romantic relationships and pair bonding, though important, were likely just one type of relationship within a complex web of substantial, deep community relationships. The process of leveling relationships and romance in this framework could even be called ReWilding relationships, in acknowledgment of that harkening back.

In some ways it seems like our propensity to choose one day or one month to heap the celebration of the romantic onto coupledom is similar to the giving of free perks and swag to wealthy celebrities, or giving tax cuts to billionaires. It seems a little like offering abundance to the already abundant, more wealth to the wealthy. In terms of the romanic couple, it seems like uplifting that which is very already very highly vaunted and socially privileged, when it might be more useful and loving to distribute the perks of love wider in order to benefit more; to redistribute the wealth of love. Lovecare for all!

None of this is to suggest that the celebration of our romantic erotic relationships is not worth doing — not in the slightest! Romantic relationships and coupledom are beautiful things that should be nurtured and celebrated. But it is important to acknowledge that our society is heavily invested in offering couples privilege and in naming couple-hood as more socially valued than other types of relationship.

Consider all of the social cues and prompts you’ve probably experienced in adult life to move you towards romantic coupledom, longterm relationship, marriage of some sort:

Are you still single, aren’t you lonely?
Are you dating anyone yet?
Do you need us to help you find a mate?
Which app or dating service are you using?
When are you two getting married?
Have you thought about kids?
Are you ready to make me a grandmother?
Have you checked out the tax credit for married couples?
Have you taken advantage of the couple discount for your vacation?

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Over and over we are told (and sold) that our primary focus and value should be on romantic coupledom above all else and that finding romantic relationship is our best promise of happiness, health, wealth, security and never ending erotic possibility.

The point isn’t to denigrate romantic connection and coupledom, but to acknowledge the emphasis that our culture places upon it that might not serve everyone, not even those who most closely adhere to the promise of this ideal; those in romantic relationships. For though there are many who feel the weight of being uncoupled in a society that says everything hinges on being romantically coupled, there are those in romantic couple-hood that feel the weight of being in a community of only two people; cut off from their communities and disappeared into a bubble of economic, romantic and familial separateness. Some feel it as palpable loss. Some feel it as confusion or relationship disillusionment; anger and blame towards their partner for not being all they were supposed to be in this arrangement. And it is here that the heaping of expectation on the February love celebration and Valentine’s Day love can feel like a reminder of the grief of what is supposed to be easily and wonderfully available.

Redefining Romance

So, coming back again to this month of February and this Day of Valentine’s…the winged creature beckoning us to celebrate love, eros and the romantic: How can we bring the love celebration off of the mountain top and spread it down into the valley? What does it look like to level out relationships and create more equitable romance? How do we (do we want to) redistribute the wealth of love and romance and eros?

It’s not an easy, one sized fits all answer. Our society is deeply invested in the primacy of exclusive romantic love paradigm over all other kinds of love paradigm. No doubt, some reading this may even feel offended by this prospect of equating other types of relationships with erotic partner relationships. Not to mention that in this particular year, in these particular time of pandemic, any type of connection might be scarce and harder to come by in our global levels of isolation and connection anxiety. But there are still a few things to consider as we enter into the month of love!

Maybe romance isn’t only for romantic couples! What would it be like to have a gathering or celebration of friends where you acknowledge and profess the love you have for each other? Maybe it’s an online gathering, maybe it’s in person, as your own risk tolerances and situations allow. What would it be like to acknowledge romantic feelings within your “platonic” connections? For Lord of the Rings fans, think Frodo and Sam… those hobbits loved each other to the ends of Mordor and back!

What about non-couple exclusive connecting? Maybe a couple has a much beloved friend or friends that they want to share Valentine’s Day with. Maybe a gaggle of couples connect with each other. Perhaps a mixed group of couples and solo folk all connect and celebrate together. Or perhaps your entire polycule collaborate on an all together connection adventure with metamours and paramours all commingling. What about texts, emails and old fashioned letters to those you love, including those you’re not in partnership with? Get creative, get passionate, get as edgy as you feel up for, and find ways of leveling out the field of romance and love. Find your fun and playful ways to redistribute some of your wealth of love!

And for those in romantic couples that match the ideal of the social normality of love relationships, you might be surprised at how much widening your field of love actually gives back to your romantic relationship when the pressure of the “community of two” is eased up a bit.  When there is more space and permission for people in relationships to feel their erotic sovereignty, it is amazing how much that can catalyze the romantic and erotic connection in a couple that sometimes gets lost and grieved on Valentine’s Day.

Victor Warring Headshot

About the Author: Victor is an employee at As You Like It: A Love Revolution in Ashland, OR. He is also somatic sexuality and relationship educator/coach, erotic activist and public speaker. His focus is on “rewilding” sexuality and relationship; supporting people in understanding their innate human-primate desire for connection and eros and integrating that with their domesticated, socialized values. Victor works with individuals, people in relationships of all types and communities navigate their way into erotic wholeness.

To access more of Victor’s work, visit his website at embodiedintimacy.wordpress.com.

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