Before I can make the argument I want to make in this piece, I need to define allonormativity. It can actually a mean a few different, closely related things depending on who you’re talking to, but we aren’t going to delve into that in this article. For now, to say that allonormativity is the idea that romantic relationships are somehow more important and meaningful than platonic ones will suffice.
We live in an extremely allonormative society. Think of phrases and sayings such as “you need a man,” or “I like like her.” Sayings like this are quite popular and widespread in modern culture. The general conception throughout the population is that no one is ever really happy if they aren’t in a romantic relationship. How many movies have you seen about a hapless protagonist trying and failing and then eventually succeeding in attempts to acquire a significant other? Sometimes, they’re after a specific individual, but often it’s just the concept of love that drives them. Think Romeo in Shakespeare’s classic play, who goes from pining “I am lost” when Rosaline rejects him, to commiting suicide in the name of Juliet over the course of only a few days.
Sometimes, even worse, they don’t appear to want a romantic pairing, but their friends prod them and goad them until they cave in to peer pressure and enter a romantic relationship. This is often viewed as character progression. An admirable step in the right direction. Think Sheldon in the comedy Big Bang Theory, whose entire character arc revolves around a single idea. He doesn’t want love or sex, and his friends must convince him he does. His dislike for love and sex- especially sex as the show wears on- is compared to his intense germaphobia and strong social anxiety. It is treated as a malady that must be remedied, and a character flaw to be laughed at and made fun of.
While I myself am not aromantic, it’s easy to see that this can’t be healthy for people who are. Of course, allonormativitiy has marginalized such people. Even large swaths of the LGBTQ+ community, referred to as Exclusionists, or occasionally Separatists, have pushed them to the side2. Exclusionists believe that asexuals and aromantics should not be allowed in the LGBTQ+ community, many going as far as to deny their existence. To them, not feeling romantic or sexual attraction is so foreign it can’t be real.
It’s no surprise they feel that way. Hollywood has told us again and again and again that everybody wants romance and sex, and they want it now. People who claim they don’t want sex or romance are just broken, were probably abused, and need some tender loving care to fix them. Either that, or they’re evil. The most prominent aromantics in fiction are the Joker, Voldemort and Moriarty. While Sherlock Holmes is often perceived as asexual by those around him, he is almost always ‘redeemed’ with a romantic or sexual interest at some point, usually the Woman, also known as Irene Adler.
Shipping culture reflects this. Shipping, for those not in the know, is when fans of a show, book, movie, or musical group believe certain characters or people belong in or want a romantic relationship with each other. Often, these characters or people express no romantic interest in each other. While shipping culture is driven by several forces, and I am not arguing that shipping is inherently bad, much of it is driven by the concept that certain characters are too close to be friends. If you hold your breath and dive into the discourse around any prominent non-canon ship— a ship not officially recognized by the shows creators and entirely created by fans— you will inevitably find long rambling posts explaining why the ship simply must be accurate. Some of the time there are valid reasons for this; much of the time, however, they fall into a single bucket. One character does something for another character to demonstrate love. The problem is, these posts routinely disregard platonic love. Look at the most prominent non-canon ships and you will see a repetitive pattern. Two characters who share a deep bond of friendship must be romantically interested in each other. Think Sherlock and Watson, Dean and Castiel from the cult hit “Supernatural,” or Steve Rogers and Buckey Barnes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Still don’t believe allonormativity exists? Well, I’ve got one more data point. When you hear the phrase “more than friends” what comes to mind? Presumably, a romantic partnership. But what’s the “more”? What makes a romantic relationship more than a friendship? Depending on the nature of the friendship, close friends may hug each other, hold hands, say they love each other, have sex, buy each other gifts or live under the same roof.
Now, I’m not arguing romantic attraction is the same as platonic attraction. As any alloromantic— a term used to describe any one who feels romantic attraction, whether they are homoromantic, heteroromantic, biromantic, panromantic, or whatever else— can attest, it feels different. There is no consensus about what that difference feels like, but there is a consensus that it’s not the same as platonic attraction. Maybe the difference is indescribable. I don’t care, to be honest.
What’s important is that romance is not inherently greater than, equal to, or less than friendship. It depends on the romance and friendship in question. Often times, romance and friendship coexist. According to psych central, strong friendship is the basis of most successful marriages. Marriages are, of course, is strongly correlated with romantic love.
When you put thought into this, it’s easy to see. You can feel romantic attraction for someone you’ve never met before, and form a romantic relationship with them immediately upon meeting them. Doubtless, this bond would be far weaker than a friendship of fifteen years. Likewise, a friend you made three days ago at the gym couldn’t possibly compare to the significant other with whom you were recently engaged.
Romance and friendship are equals. They are different, but quite similar and even correlated. Neither is worth more or less than the other in and of itself. Their worth comes from their depth, and is different from relationship to relationship.
By JohnCarl McGrady